1969 – the year that the illustrious Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon’s rugged surface. Growing anticipation of this momentous occasion was the very moment that spurred the acquisition of my Grandma’s very first television set when she was 35 years of age. My father, aged 4, and my uncle, aged 6, received an early mark off school to watch the makings of history on their brand new television set.
“What did it look like Grandma?”
“It was a bulky old thing… a very unattractive piece of furniture”.
The television, purchased only 10 years after such technology had reached Brisbane, made its home in a downstairs room of my Grandmother’s townhouse.
“It had an aerial on top. There was a bookcase near it. I can’t remember the make”.
Grandma’s voice was dull; trembling almost as she recounted her memories of the television to me.
“We never watched during the day – we had better things to do”.
My heart sunk. I felt the eyebrows on my forehead draw inwards into a frown. Could something so revolutionary really have been more of a burden than what I imagined would have been a catalyst for family time? Maybe I was overthinking this. We pressed on.
“Watching TV was not common in Brisbane in the 1970’s” Grandma stated firmly. “The boys were only allowed to watch it on Friday nights and on weekends – we sometimes made exceptions for educational documentaries. It was kept downstairs so it couldn’t be seen and wasn’t a temptation during the week.”
It seemed as though there was some sense of embarrassment associated with the ownership of such a device. Grandma made it clear to me that having the television downstairs saved her from covering it up in the presence of guests. Was this an attempt to mask signs of affluence? A polite gesture to protect the feelings of those who may not possess the same items of luxury? It didn’t matter. The TV lived downstairs and it was to stay there until colour television made it’s debut in the mid 70’s.
Grandma’s only joyous memories seemed to involve her favourite television programs: The Sullivan’s, A Current Affair, Hey Hey It’s Saturday, the Olympic Games and a variety of police dramas. Even though viewings were limited, when she did watch, she did so with the family.
“Neville and I had our own chairs, and the boys had a bean bag each. We watched the news quite a bit.”
Although I wouldn’t label my Grandma as an ‘advocate’ of television in the family home, I did get the sense that she was still capable of deriving some degree of satisfaction from it. She witnessed history with her husband and sons, she shared a laugh or two over Hey Hey It’s Saturday. I guess I’m proud of her in the sense that she didn’t let the excitement of a new toy overrule day to day activities. As I lie bed right now, one earphone blaring the latest episode of ‘Forensic Files’ on Netflix, the sense of control that she exerted really got me thinking…
Television lacks intimacy; it lacks interaction. It is not a lifestyle, it is not always reflective of family. Television viewing is a practice with a value subjective to the individual, but when you prepare to connect, what must you prepare to disconnect at its expense?