Sofa as church
David Thomson on the formative powers of television
“It’s older than most of us, parental yet uncritical, if not unconcerned. It poses as some kind of comfort, but you can’t kid yourself it cares. So when did you start to think about television?
“I admit ‘thinking’ may be an inadequate word for what happened between you and this medium. So much that is formative in television has to do with the loose textures of ease or unthinking — ‘I’ll go home and I’ll watch . . . and then I’ll feel all right.’ As if you hadn't felt all right out in the world. How could you, with that horizon getting grimmer from 1914 onwards? But television’s magic has always embraced safety, the possibility of ‘useful’ intimate company, and the thought of time elapsing restfully but constructively. It’s the sofa as church. Or rather, it is church reduced to the soft status of a sofa, minus guilt, redemption, or moral purpose.
“There is this added, rueful comfort: Whenever you started thinking, it was too late. For the thing we used to call television doesn’t quite exist now. The sacred fixed altar (the set) has given up its central place of worship and is now just one screen among so many, like the dinner table kept for state occasions in a life of snacking. The appointment times of TV have eroded; the possibility of a unified audience (or a purposeful society) has been set aside. In the dire 2015–16 presidential election campaign, it was obvious that the thing — the talent show — had found the frenzy of other game shows, with drastic but meaningless dialogue and monstrous celebrity better suited to daytime soap operas. As a democratic process it was not just shaming; there was the portent of worse to come, even a fear that ‘the vote’ might be buried in some instant TV feedback derived from American Idol. ‘You like to vote — let’s do it all the time.’ The more debates, the less subjects were debated. Journalists were alive with jittery, spinning self-importance. They said the election was the most important ever — that sweet dream. We knew it was just a nightmare show our trance had allowed.”— from David Thomson, Television: A Biography (Thames and Hudson, 2016)
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