July 28, 2004


Have you ever noticed how much TV old people watch? I mean, I know, a lot of kids do too. Half the time when we go to someoneís house on a play date, their TV is permanently set on PBS Kids or the Cartoon Channel. Audible wallpaper. And a lot of people come home and immediately after they put the mail down and listen to their answering machine messages, they grab the remote to turn the TV on. And it stays on. I know this. But still. They all also turn it off, go outside and play or work sometimes. They turn it off and talk to each other occasionally. Donít they?

But old people. Thereís a group, and I suspect it's a majority, octogenarians and nonogenarians who use the television set as best friend and spouse and most especially time filler. Theyíve lost their lives; maybe theyíre too achey and enfeebled to do more interesting things, and so they turn to the easy companion. The one thatís always there, the one that talks and walks and thinks for you.

I like television. Partly because it pays the mortgage but also because, well, some of it is good. Interesting, educational, fun, satisfying. Ironically, Iíd like to watch more than I do. I miss a lot of quality shows. But when I see someone waiting to die, whiling the hours away until the final hospital visit, and all theyíve got from morning to night is a too-loud TV, thatís unutterably sad. When they fall apart because you tell them itís too loud, when they tell you that this will leave them with nothing, thatís heartbreaking.

Itís also a new phenomenon. TV became popular in the late Ď40ís and was hardly available around the clock. What did older people do back then? Did they just sit staring at the clock on the mantel, watching the minutes tick by until it was bedtime? Somehow I doubt it. Have our lives changed so much in the past sixty years that weíve lost whatever personal resources we used to have? Has TV leached it all away?

What is life like when you get up in the morning, turn on the TV, eat your breakfast, put your dishes away, and settle down to a hard dayís work of passive staring? How does that feel day after day after day? How can they stand it?

Posted by Tamar at July 28, 2004 08:42 PM

I think it's the result of a bigger phenomena, which is that over the last sixty years, the family nucleus of everyone living in pretty much the same place where their parents live has completely changed. Most people don't even live in the same town as their parents, much less their grandparents, and it's pretty common for people to move to other states. The multi-generational family unit has essentially ceased to exist, particularly with two-income families who now have no one at home to take care of the grandparents / older aunts/uncles, etc. And the substitute families these people have made over the years -- friends -- dwindles with age as people die off, so they're left without family or friends. I don't think they want to have TV as the ever-present friend; I think they think they have no other options, particularly if they've hit a point where they can't drive and can't afford to hire someone else to drive them.

Posted by: toni at July 28, 2004 09:36 PM