To celebrate the holidays, my wife and I gifted ourselves an enormous Samsung TV. It’s luxuriously large — 65 inches of high-definition, flat-screen technology mounted on our wall like a minimalist painting in an art gallery.
Our previous TV set, a Vizio, was 5 inches smaller, which worked fine until our 6-year-old smacked it with a telescoping back scratcher while watching “The Empire Strikes Back.”
The back scratcher cracked some magic juice tubes inside the screen, creating an ever-present, foot-wide blob of brilliant color just to the left of center. It felt like whatever we were watching was being censored by a government agency. When the new set came in, we put the old one out on the curb with a note: “Works!” (It was gone in 10 minutes, and I hereby apologize to whomever picked it up.)
Our new TV cost $1,250, which is hilariously cheap compared with the aforementioned blob TV, which cost $2,000 back in 2014.
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That TV, in turn, replaced our workhorse 32-inch Sony, which cost $2,750 in 2007. The Sony is now mounted in our kitchen — its lack of enormousness an affront to my new audio-visual standards.
Our son doesn’t understand that the Sony is a TV. I caught him standing on a chair the other day, fiddling with it, trying to play Angry Birds. He thinks it’s an iPhone.
It’s not his fault. As far as he knows, TVs have always been huge. I tried to tell him about the 19-inch Zenith I grew up with in the 1970s. Sensing a teachable moment, I took him to our wall-mounted microwave oven, which, like the Zenith, has a smallish window and knobs on the side. I popped in a bag of popcorn and fired it up.
“That’s about the size of the TV we had when I was your age,” I said as we watched the bag slowly rotate and expand. “It was wood on the outside, and it had two metal chopsticks coming out of the top, to help the picture come in clear. My dad used to call it the boob tube.”
As the microwave timer went off, I chuckled. “Feels like we just watched a show about popcorn popping, huh?”
He paused, then patted me nervously on the arm and said “That’s OK, Dad. Let’s get some rest.”
Thinking back, the boob tube must have seemed like a revelation to my dad. In 1946, fresh out of the Army, he would have been well-acquainted with the first mass-produced television set in America — the RCA 630-TS, which was roughly the size of a Willy’s Jeep and featured 13 channels and a 10-inch screen. It cost $375 — which equates to nearly $5,000 today.
By 1975, the picture resolution of the boob tube was a miracle to Dad. It was like you were actually there in the room with Columbo, enjoying the aromas of his smoldering cigar as he schlumped back into the frame saying, “… just one more thing.”
I have fond memories of the boob tube. Many evenings were spent in front of it, camped out on our copper-colored shag carpet, sipping Hawaiian Punch and jamming Funyuns into my face as the glories of the adult world revealed themselves to me. I remember watching “Roots,” its haunting narrative unfolding over the course of a week.
I remember cheering the Americans on as they beat the Russians in Olympic hockey. I remember Farrah Fawcett scrambling to get over the obstacle course wall in Battle of the Network Stars, her starched white tube socks contrasting with the bronzed, bouncing rest of her.
And speaking of bodies, it should be noted that a lot of weird things happen when you have a 65-inch set on your wall. First off, it puts the characters of many shows in the same scale as real life, like they’re hanging out in the room talking to you. Ryan Gosling, for instance, sulked around the room with his shirt off the other night. It was like he knew us … or knew my wife, at least.
How did he know my wife? I asked her what was going on, and she just left the room, red-faced.
My wife also left the room recently when a Victoria’s Secret ad came on. My son and I stuck around and marveled at the image quality as the full-scale models waltzed around in underwear and angel wings. Again, it felt like they were in the room with us, beckoning like Sirens. To waltz with them. To sing with them.
And perhaps to give them a glass of lemonade and tell humble stories of my past victories, like in high school when I played second base and didn’t make an error my entire senior season.
“Are those underwear girls mad, Dad? Or happy?” My son asked, breaking the spell.
Hmmmm, at full scale, 6 feet away from us on the screen, they did look a little pouty. “Sometimes, people are both mad and happy at the same time.” I said.
“How can you be mad and happy?” he asked.
“No more questions.” I said.
Aside from shifting our perceptions of the human body, big TV sets also shift the architectural balance of a room. Even our Vizio threw our living room’s spatial juju out of whack as it dominated nearly an entire wall. We rebalanced the juju by installing a bank of built-in cabinets, which reduced the visual effect of the set by making it just one component of a much larger composition.
The upper cabinets are handy for storing books and displaying photos and other meaningful objects. The lower cabinets are similarly handy. Our sound bar rests on top of them. It’s impressively unobtrusive, and together with our subwoofer, adds an impressive sonic thump to our TV experience. We cranked it up to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” a few weeks ago, and when Linus gave his “tidings of great joy” speech, his voice boomed with resonance. It sounded like he was addressing the United Nations.
Aside from restoring visual order in our house, the cabinets also serve another important function. Even if size keeps increasing and prices keep dropping, we’re landlocked. We cannot fit a bigger set into our living room without rebuilding the entire wall.
And we’re obviously not going to do that — yes, we enjoy TV, but we refuse to let it dominate our lives. There are books to read, conversations to engage in, musical instruments to strum.
We’ll just have to put the new one in the kitchen. Yes.
And then we can put the Sony in the hallway, outside the bathroom door, above the litter box.