History of Television

Over at Gori Girl, she has been working on a series of suggested questions one should discuss prior to making a serious commitment in an intercultural relationship, including one that encourages you and your partner to discuss differences in your childhood to help understand different cultural perspectives.

So I found myself amidst a similar discussion the other day while at a neighbor’s dinner party. There were 9 Nepalis and one American (guess who that was). The topic of television came up because N starting singing commercial jingles  (have I ever mentioned that N likes to randomly break into song?) and S-di mentioned that her daughters speak better Hindi than she because they have had more exposure to Indian movies and television than she ever did.

To begin… my childhood was probably typical for my generation– I grew up watching way too much tv. It’s actually kind of embarrassing now that I think back at just how many hours each day I spent in front of the “boob-tube.” I grew up in the woods, and spent a lot of time running around outside as a kid… climbing trees, skinning knees, bicycling, swimming, sledding, taking the dog with me on adventures through the springtime mud. But much of my afternoon/evening schedule revolved around favorite television programs (sometimes even mid-day… like summer vacation lunch time watchings of the Price is Right!) My dad, who works outside for a living, used to get mad at my sisters and I when he got home from work and found us sitting zombie-like in front of the television. He’d say, “no wonder they look so pale! Forget vitamins, they just need sunshine and fresh air! It’s such a waste to be in the house in the summer!”

Tv was never “new” and “exciting” for me. It was always there. I remember in middle school my eighth grade history teacher told our class about the first time she saw a color television back in the early 60s. Her father brought the new tv home and hooked it up in time for the family to watch the movie “The Wizard of Oz” air on a local network. She was upset when the movie started because the picture was still in black and white (she forgot that the movie switches to color once Dorothy makes it to Oz) and my teacher pouted until the tornado dropped Dorothy’s house on the Wicked Witch of the East and she stole the sparkling ruby slippers.

Thus, my parents and their siblings grew up with tv. My grandparents all watched a lot of tv when I was young, so I never thought about their television deprived childhoods. To put it quite simply, in my lifetime, tv was everywhere.

However, according to Wikipedia, India didn’t have color tv available until 1982 and according to our dinner conversation, Nepal didn’t have tvs until 1986 or 1987, and even then only a few people had televisions, mostly in the Kathmandu valley. It wasn’t uncommon to have the whole neighborhood turn out to crowd around a single tv to watch an episode of the late 1980s Indian miniseries Ramayan. Some of my friends mentioned that their families didn’t have tvs until the early ‘90s! By then I was already clocking several hours of television a day, not realizing it was a rarity in other parts of the world. It’s kind of wild to think that P was born and spent the early years of his childhood pre-television. Pre-television sounds so ancient!

However, with tv’s ubiquitous-ness, I revolted against it… but I admit that I am a hypocrite. I banished tv from our house so that it wouldn’t be distracting, only now to find myself watching streaming videos online. However it is nice not to have tv around all the time. It’s liberating to know I can’t just switch it on for background noise (this happens a lot when I visit relatives) or get pulled into a show just because it’s on.

My mom struggles with our lack of television when she comes to visit. She don’t know what to do with herself in the evening without a remote to flip through the channels, so we find streaming news broadcasts for her and watch more movies, but I think to her it still feels unnatural. At Thanksgiving my bachelor uncle was shocked, “what do you mean you don’t own a tv? I have three tvs in my house and I’m the only one who lives there! One in the living room, one in the kitchen, and one in the bedroom!”

I explained to my uncle, “who needs tv when you can watch any program you like on demand and with limited or no commercials online?”

“It’s not the same!”

Anyway, the moral of this story is… intercultural childhoods can be very different from one another, even with something as basic as television. P’s family enjoys watching tv these days (although they only have one in a household of 6 and they can’t watch tv during the daily power outages– compared to my uncle who has 3 tvs in a household of one and never has power outages), and when I’m not watching streaming videos on a laptop, I like not having a tv in our living room… that way when guests come we can have debates and conversations, play games, sing songs and not feel like we need to turn on a television.

Now that I think about it… one day my hypothetical kids are going to talk about how their “ancient” mom was pre-computer! We didn’t have one until I was in mid-elementary school. At least their dad will be more “ancient”… he bought his family their first computer in 2004. Now who sounds like a dinosaur! ;)

5 responses to “History of Television

  1. When needs TV’s when there is youtube and online episodes. I feel the computer is much more distracting than the TV ever was.

  2. Eh, I think a TV is still useful since it’s a better viewing experience than watching on a computer monitor. Thus, we rarely watch live television, but instead watch the shows we’ve DVRed (and fastforward past all of the recorded commercials) or the TV series/movies that you can get through InstantWatch on NetFlix (through the xBox), or, most important for our house, illegal live streams of cricket games via the laptop (with a dead screen) that’s permanently hooked up to the television. About the only thing we watch live on cable is American football & European soccer, where HD on a big screen completely dominates any level of quality you can get on a computer.

    From that description, it sounds like our lives revolve around the boob tube, but they don’t, really. ;-) Or at least not in the same way it was when I was a child – the new media experience is much more about consuming the exact media that you like, when you like it. I suspect that’ll be the big shocker for our kids – that we didn’t grow up with such an environment, and that it took so many devices (DVR, xBox, laptop, etc) to achieve it once on-demand media became possible. (I’m lumping internet/web in with media, since I suspect they’ll become much more unified as time goes on.)

    Slightly more on the topic of interculturalness, Aditya reports that his family always had a television when he was growing up, but it was black & white.

    • It is kind of funny, since we are in the age of HD and high quality viewing experiences, P and I are used to watching lower quality online stuff. Sometimes when I watch a movie on DVD or go to the movie theater I think, woah… so clear! Although over time online viewing is getting clearer and nicer as well (thank you Hulu!) Now if only P could find all his soccer games commentated in English.

      Did you see the article in the BBC today about bringing Cricket to the US? I thought of you guys while reading… http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8470796.stm

  3. Didn’t catch that article – thanks for the link!

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