“One Big Old Box of a TV” – Television Past and Present

Margaret is a mother, a daughter, a sister and a friend to many. She was brought up in a traditional Italian family in Sydney’s Western suburbs. As a child of first generation migrants, Margaret understood the importance of hard work from an early age, and as a result has taken nothing in life for granted. Not even television, a novelty in today’s contemporary setting.

Since its first inception, television has been a means of entertainment for individuals, families and the wider global community. With its introduction into the Australian landscape in 1956, the television has come a long way. From monochrome to colour, box shaped to slimline, HD to 3D, the television has no doubt altered individual experience immensely. Personally, a life without television is a life I would find hard to come by, and I was curious as to whether my subject – who is also my mother – felt the same way.

Margaret’s memories of television in the home she grew up in revolve around her childhood and adolescent years. At this point in time, television in Australia had been around for ten to fifteen years. Living with her mother, father and four siblings, Margaret recalls the first television she remembers as being “one big old box of a TV”, monochromatic with regard to colour, centred in the family’s living room. Margaret distinctly remembers watching programs such as Welcome Back, Kotter’; an American sitcom featuring the ever popular John Travolta, Happy Days’, ‘Bewitchedand ‘The Bill Cosby Show’; a program now surrounded in controversy.

She then ponders the Australian television programs she watched in her youth, noting “the one where they sang – Dannii Minogue was in it” (Young Talent Time‘) and Molly Meldrum’s hit music programCountdown’.

The Cast of 'Young Talent Time'

The Cast of ‘Young Talent Time’ (Image Source)

For many families, watching television is a pastime. Margaret states that her family occasionally gathered around the TV set when “there was an Elvis movie on”, alongside Dean Martinfilms and the airing of movies like ‘Gidget’. Margaret also declared that Prisoner was a family favourite, a program that more of her siblings watched together.

Elvis Presley in 'Blue Hawaii'

Elvis Presley in ‘Blue Hawaii’ (Image Source)

Despite having vague memories of television’s past, Margaret did admit to not watching very much television. She claimed “I don’t have a vast memory of TV.” I decided to follow up with questions of news as it is believed individuals will remember more vividly an occurrence that was “beyond the norm” (Bowles & Turnbull, 2015). Margaret responded with the memory of Princess Diana’s death, a tragic event that stopped the globe, alongside the death of music legend John Lennon. She also recalled news broadcasts relaying the passing of Elvis, a personality her family had grown to love. More recently she remembers seeing footage of the Twin Towers in New York City come crashing down in one of the world’s largest terror attacks. Sounding regretful she remarked “unfortunately it’s the sad events I remember. I can’t really think of anything happy happening on the news that I can remember more vividly.”

After pausing for a while, the discussion of television took a turn as we delved into the contemporary TV culture of the twenty-first century. Margaret has never had access to cable television, and prefers free to air programs. When asked as to whether she would ever make the move to a Pay-TV plan she declined. In contrast to her childhood, there are currently four television sets in Margaret’s household – one in each bedroom and one in the living space. Despite this Margaret jokingly remarks “I don’t use mine, I don’t even know if it still works!” This just begins to hint at how significantly times have changed with regard to television access, costs and the standards of modern day living.

When deliberating on modern day television content, Margaret clearly highlighted popular themes that seemed to coincide with a contemporary audience. She expressed her loathing for reality television programs and claimed there are “way too many cooking and renovation shows on television now. There is too much of the same thing!” Margaret also addressed the issue of television’s depiction of violence and sex. These two themes were not overtly present in the television content she was exposed to as a child, however she does not believe contemporary depictions are necessarily bad, asserting that this makes the programs appear more “realistic.”

Margaret’s access to news has also significantly shifted from the time she was younger. She notes that social media is partly to blame for the way in which she receives information regarding news items as she does not rely on television news programs to enlighten her as heavily as before. She does however state “you don’t really know if what is shared on Facebook is true or not”, adding an element of trust and reliability to traditional news broadcasts on television.

I proceeded to ask Margaret whether she had an opinion on online streaming services. She made a point of stating “in our household, even though the TV is on, nobody seems to be vigorously watching it. Everyone is on a device, multitasking.” Thus she believes television is not as popular as it was when it was first introduced to the mediascape in the late fifties.

Upon the conclusion of this interview, I was intrigued by Margaret’s clear interest in sitcoms, something that I similarly have been drawn to in my own TV experience. Her reflection on traditional television content proved helpful in comparing the contemporary media landscape with that of the past. Margaret’s enthusiasm when describing the programs she watched as a child engaged me the most in this conversation as I saw the memories of the past run wild through her eyes. Consequently I believe the power of television cannot be underestimated in evoking vivid memories of past lives and experiences.


References:

  • Bowles, K. & Turbull, S., 2015, ‘Television: Strange Objects and Media Spaces’, Lecture, BCM240, University of Wollongong, 3 August 2015.
  • Mackay, M., 2015, Interview, 9th August.
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2 thoughts on ““One Big Old Box of a TV” – Television Past and Present

  1. Pingback: Collaborative Ethnography and TV: Why Watch Masterchef? | A Blog in the Life of Melissa

  2. Pingback: Jaffas and Jaws: Cinematic Experiences of the Past | A Blog in the Life of Melissa

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