When televisions die

The dead television

Upside down and facing a blank wall. Is there a more ignominious death for a television? It’s not uncommon to see televisions smashed to pieces in their disposal, as if subjected to an explosive, deranged act of vengeance for everything they have delivered to our lounge rooms – they are the instruments of the devil, after all – but this is a more subtle and, in some ways, crueller form of rejection. There is no indication that this television has reached the end of its working life. Sometimes televisions are set free with hopeful, hand-written notes attached to them proclaiming ‘Yes, I still work’, like a Depression-era plea for compassion and charity. Free to a good home, willing to work for a new pair of eyeballs – that’s all I need: someone to turn me on, tune me in and drop in front of me again as I resume streaming forth the contents of the airwaves.

Even televisions that no longer work are often left with a residual dignity, carefully placed by the roadside, blank screen facing the world defiantly as if proclaiming ‘OK, so I can no longer beguile and enchant you with my moving images, but at least I am still intact. I am television.’ How faintly comic are such displays of lingering pride! Is there anything more useless than the dead-eyed reflection of an empty screen? There is no alternative use for a dead television. Its demise is irredeemable.

But to turn the screen to the wall and rest it on its head is an especially calculated form of rejection – upside down and back to front – as if explicitly rejecting its very raison d’être, like a car without wheels, a chair with no seat. Such an act seeks to neither obliterate nor rehabilitate – it simply humiliates.

We can expect to see more scenes like this one on our streets. The age of the old CRT TV is coming to an end as the shift to sleek new flat panels, driven by consumer demand and the switch to digital transmission, renders the Tube, the Box, increasingly obsolete. From now on, it is the age of the Display. All over the land, these squat, corpulent magicians are being turfed out like naughty boys, expelled to endure the elements, disconnected and alone. Face the wall and do not move until you’re told. There are schemes planned to help with their recuperation – ensuring that the damage they inflict is limited only to our minds – but there’s no doubt too that the scent of revenge is in the air. The spell has been broken; the small screen is being made to feel exactly that.

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