Wednesday, February 16, 2005

 

Big butt TV

I have a confession to make. This past weekend, I cheated on my TV. I spent the weekend in a hotel room in New York City with a slim, sexy, flat-screen TV.

I stayed at one of these hipster “boutique” hotels with tres moderne room furnishings, including a flat-screen TV on the wall. It’s the first time I’d ever seen a flat-screen for real. Sure, I’d seen them advertized on my old TV, but I’m not one for browsing at places like Circuit City, since I find a wall of turned-on TVs disconcerting, the visual equivalent of a dense underbrush of barbed wire.

The flat-screen was the only thing mounted on the wall – no hotel art. It occurs to me that flat-screens lend themselves to a sort of minimalist design ethos. On the one hand, you don’t need to enshrine the TV, as in former days, in its own corner of the room with a special cabinet or stand. The flat-screen hovers unobtrusively, at a standing-eye level, only a little boxier than a large dry-mounted poster. You can easily ignore the dark blankness on the screen, but it stares out at you, ready, waiting to catch your gaze, and remind you that it is there for you, a portal into the Alice-in-Wonderland World of Reality Shows, Fox News and a fictional President whose wisdom and judgment makes for uneasy comparisons with the actual smirking one giving the State of the Union address. You don’t need, indeed want, anything else on your wall, since that would only distract from the TV screen image. And so, in its subtle and almost perverse way, the flat-screen becomes more of a TV shrine than the TV it replaced.

If I were to buy a flat-screen it would be like taking on trophy wife, expensive, showy and light in your hands. I think about the TV waiting for me back home. A 19-inch Mitsubishi I bought for $289. It’s not like its screen is bulbous, and in it’s day – so the Circuit City guy assured me – it was near the cutting edge of TV technology. “This is ‘Diamondvision Technology,’” he had said. “This is what you see at the ballpark.” But as with all TVs that are not flatscreens, it has a very large behind. To the rear of a screen that could still be called “flat-ish,” my TV has about two feet of boxy, cathode-ray-tube action going on back there. That means it cannot be moved any closer to the wall, cannot be slid neatly onto a bookshelf and cannot be carried under one arm, but must be instead cradled with two arms like a 50-pound struggling dog whose weight is so unevenly balanced that it’s prone to tipping out of your grasp and crashing spectacularly to the floor.

I bought my TV back in 1987. That’s right – it’s 17 years old, more aged than most household pets. Even more bizarrely, it has been with me far longer than the ancient cabinet-style Magnaovox Home Entertainment Center, with TV, speakers, hi-fi stereo/radio with built in record-player was with my family. That Magnavox was in my parents living room the day they brought me home from the hospital, was the first TV I ever knew, was the TV whose screen, I am told, I would kiss as a five year old when models for Alberto VO5 shampoo would flaunt their shimmery hair. If you could see that ancient dinosaur of a TV, you could only assume that it had been in my family forever, but I’m pretty sure it was replaced after no more than 12 years.

My TV’s sound is getting somewhat fuzzy. It can’t be hooked up to a computer, and its days of interacting with newer model DVDs and VCRs are undoubtedly numbered. When it was in its first year in my possession, my apartment was burglarized and my TV remote control was stolen. The TV itself had been moved slightly but left behind, as if the burglars thought about stealing it but then concluded, “how am I going to get away with a TV with such a huge ass?” For the next 16 years, I could turn it on and off and adjust the volume only by getting up off the couch and touching the controls on the set itself – it was incompatible with several generations of “universal remotes.” But, magically, the remote for my new DVD player, purchased just a few months ago, works on the TV. Now I can stay on the couch and let my butt get as big as the TV’s.

I’m saddened to think that an entire generation of TV design may be wiped out by a social aesthetic that overvalues thin. There’s nothing wrong with a big behind. Unless the manufacturers of this old school style of TV plan to dump their products exclusively in places like Brazil and Cuba, then you have to wonder whether they have a long term marketing plan to make the big butt beautiful again.

Comments:
I'd read somewhere (can't remember where) that flat-screen intenders love the concept of hanging their TV on the wall like a painting, but rarely actually do so once they get an estimate of the electrician's bill for running the cabling through the walls. Nevertheless, it defeats a significnant part of the purpose of having a $5,000 or $10,000 TV to hide it away in an armoire. To confirm your observation, outside of This Old House, I've yet to see a flat screen that hasn't served as altarpiece to the TV shrine.

Anyway, as long as I have toddlers who occasionally insist on pounding on the screen of our traditionally bulky 27"er, flat screens will remain in the realm of lifestyle pornography for us.
 
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