Television’s Daily Bread
There will be different reasons for why the routine of viewing television will momentarily leave our day-to-day lives. Major rituals and life events may require of us to turn it off, to be somewhere else, or we may consciously decide to have time away from the set, wherever and however that may be technologically constituted. A family gathering; the death of a loved one; a delightful wedding ceremony; a broken heart; an exotic holiday; and a lifestyle kick are some of the reasons we may have for abandoning television and for removing it from the way we normally schedule our day. Moving home is another potent and portentous reason and in this blog I would like to concentrate upon this type of television removal, albeit within the frame of Western culture and with a focus on the family unit.
Emotionally speaking, moving home is driven by contradictory impulses. On the one hand it is often about moving on and forward, and is cut on the myth of fresh starts and new beginnings. There is hopefulness to moving home, although the flip side of this is forced removals or shifting, sinking circumstances such as a family break-up or house repossession. On the other hand moving home produces a sense of nostalgia, of loss, as memories and moments are recalled and remembered as they are carefully packed away. Homes are emotionally charged environments, affecting spaces of yesterday and yesteryear, of laughter and forgetting, that in the process of removal are filled again with the voices of what once was and maybe again.
Television and the television set are intimately entwined with this remembrance, and with the way new houses are immediately fashioned into homes. Not only do families (still) come together around the television but it provides the pleasurable material out of which conversations grow, relations and points of difference are cemented, arguments developed, producing layer after layer of memorial, familial membrane. It is this quilt of family history and herstory that gets packed away with other keepsakes, mementoes, family photographs and old ornaments and the like. We relocate television memories when we move home; removal followed by transference.
When I think back on the stories of my young life I can hone in on the role and function of television shaping pleasurable pastimes, drawing me effortlessly into affective economies of longing and belonging. Tomato soup and white bread in front of Mr Ben in our red brick Newcombe Rd house. The Flash Gordon serial at Auntie Peggy’s more palatial residence, where I was served up homemade chips doused in salt and vinegar. Watching soccer with my Dad on a soft orange sofa as the hard rain fell relentlessly outside. Staring at my Mum’s mahogany television set knowing she would no longer turn it on again – would no longer cackle or quiver in front of Bread or Only Fools and their Horses, as she liked to call it. Moving home removes the past that once was and yet transports it to another time and place. Disappearance and reappearance, now you see it, now you don’t: television removal the home of the quick wristed trickster or magician.
Televisions often organise the way a domestic space is used and utilised: the layout of the lounge often orchestrated so that the television is central and centralised or placed to ensure collective communion. When one moves homes the removal of the television is a highly charged moment. It is carefully bubble wrapped, boxed and gently lifted and the space where it just sat is emptied of its signification. The room collapses in on itself with the disappearance of the television set. Memories are lifted out of the room and placed on a truck and driven quietly away. The house becomes a loneliness room.
Television content plays on the architectural and discursive importance of it to everyday family life, with programmes such as Royal Family and GooggleBox fictionalising and factualising the way TV makes and shapes us. Home design programmes also play their part in showing what makes a perfect and perfected family lounge. Television sits within the home of the myth of the media centre, creating and forming ripples of hyperreality.
(VIDEO NO LONGER AVAILABLE)
In the KFC family dinner advert, presently being aired during the Big Bash Cricket on Australia’s Channel 10, we witness an imagined time-lapse narrative as a family grows, ages and reproduces itself over many decades. The repeated scenario is the same: the cricket is on the box (which changes from cathode ray to plasma, from small screen to big screen size); boxes and buckets of KFC is in plentiful supply; and smiling family members gather around the food, the set, and the cricket, clearly enjoying each others company as they do so. Mum and Dad age, kids grow up, grandchildren are born; with fast food, and cricket on the box the entwined or cohering and unifying consistent of extended family life. Of course, the advert will produce its own self-reflexive echo down the track – it will become part of the way families today will remember this Australian summer and the time they spent together.
I have a very recent affective memory of watching the Christmas edition of Dr Who with my seven-year-old son, Dylan. We lay on the couch together, his body pressed to mine, his fingers clutching my shirt, his head buried into my chest when the scariest moments surfaced. We were experiencing together the pleasure of television terror and surprise. All the values of parenthood and all the intimate proximity of a loving relationship circulated in and through those moments. Dylan doesn’t live with me so I call our time together enchanted time. I recall this here because I have just moved home and it is that memory that surfaced, that shone out like an exploding star, as I packed and wrapped up the television we watched it on.
Enchanted Time in the House of Who
When the television arrives at its new home it often becomes the focal point for the way the space is arranged. There is an attempt to capture the magic of its previous positioning, alongside a desire to create a new environment for the family to gather in. The television helps enculture a house; it is an enchanted object imagined to hold the family unit together. Where it is positioned will determine how happy the family will be, what type of social relations will take place, what sort of new memories will be countenanced and memorialised.
There is something fundamentally existential and phenomenological about television removals: because it exists as membrane, memory box, and pleasure trove; and because it occupies and signifies space and place, it is sentimental and elicits sentiment. Television’s physical nature if removed leaves a gap, an absence, and because it holds such affecting power, to see it absented is stressful, creates anxiety. It is as if a living thing is being taken away.
When the television is turned off one feels as if one is removed or divorced from the world since it still is a major carrier of meanings and messages, information and communication. There is something deliriously disorientating about television removal as if the world has somehow gone on without you. I have always had that fantasy that when I would turn it back on again there would be nothing left of the world to see.
As noted above, I moved home last week. At the end of a weary day, with boxes of chaos around us, we had carefully unwrapped and set our television in the place we felt most comfortable with. We would be able to stretch out on different sofas and the light from the bay window wouldn’t hit the screen. It was only when we turned on the television and light and sound and imagery filled the room that we felt at ease in our new place. We felt at home watching Family Feuds.
As I shut the door behind me on the home we were leaving behind, I took one final glance at what once was. Sounds, noises, images, photographs, and laughter filled the empty spaces one last time and away I went drunk on the memories of yesterday….
For Su and Tabitha Holmes, on the cusp of television removals.
For Josh and Caitlin, my removal men.
Sean Redmond is an Associate Professor of Media and Communication at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia. He writes on stardom and celebrity, science fiction, screen aesthetics, and authorship. His latest book is The cinema of Takeshi Kitano with Columbia University Press (2013).
Sean Redmond, Deakin University, Melbourne: email@example.com