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Monday, March 31, 2008

Cackles from the Balcony




Yesterday, Eric proposed a definition that cracked me up:
Window, the ultimate idiot box.

At the risk of spoiling it, the comment happened in the context of watching another one of those design shows on homogayteevee over lunch that seem to draw our attention like freeway accidents draw rubberneckers, and observing the curious panic which seems to seize so many designers when confronted with television sets.

Get that damn thing into a cabinet! Hide it in a drawer or possibly an antique suitcase! Cram it behind a shoji screen! Banish it to a corner angled away from the couch! Conceal it behind a some crappy scrolling faux-impressionist painting above a faux fireplace (classy)!

I have observed this very sensibility in actual interior designers (yes, I've dated my share), so it's not just the would-be designer spokesmodels of teevee design-shows who exhibit this odd panic before the tube -- but you have to admit that making an endlessly reiterated spectacle of this sort of thing on a television network seems especially symptomatic and weird.

Well, this leads us to another peeve Eric and I complain about in these shows. Often at the end of the shows, in the "reveal," where the homeowner finally surveys the devastation, as everybody is casting about to capture le mot juste for the wholly wholesome transformations that have taken place in their homes over the course of the episode, they often find themselves quacking about how the designer's furniture choices are about "texture," or the arrangement is about "space," or the window treatment is about "light," and so on, as though the room lacked somehow, in its earlier incarnation, texture, space, or light, as if it was some sort of holodeck projection or something, or perhaps an opaque gelatinous cube they were force to wriggle awkwardly into before the designer liberated the room with a Roman shade and a couple of new throw pillows.

(Speaking of HGTV pet peeves, can somebody explain to me what in the hell gave Americans such curious ideas about what "Tuscany" looks like?)

Be all that as it may, it was the juxtaposition of homeowners going into transports about a light filled window while trying not to exhibit their discomfort at finding the television -- which is probably the only reason they ever go into that room in the first place -- curiously, gone (it had been banished to the back yard under a mulch mound or some such thing), that prompted Eric's observation and new definition. Maybe you had to be there.

I can only assume that the drear consumerist bildungsroman of progressive enlightenment reduced to the conspicuous indication of upward class mobility through one's decorating choices, which is a deeply troubled discourse in faux-meritocratic America in any case, sits especially badly with the presence of the television set, our comfort, our company, our secret shame as these things are reckoned given the ongoing force of reactionary high-low culture distinctions for our inner-bourgeois voice of conscience (and conscientiousness). Our homes, no doubt, are little more than stage-sets in which we joylessly perform the scripted, disavowed class warfare playing out interminably within our own souls, a fact that is ferociously italicized whenever Martha Stewart pulls on her pastel-hued garden gloves or David Bromstad's "Color Splash" crew arrives in one's drive, certainly, but which is there nonetheless even when the cameras are not rolling, as they never will, not even for fifteen minutes, for the rest of us.

Given this transformation of our homely once-restorative shelters into broadcast advertisements for the grow-or-die swelling of our consumer-capitalist egos into the lebensraum that is their right destiny come what may it is enormously intriguing that a successful room makeover will now be couched in awful commercial terms: the homeowner will gasp in joy that their bedroom has become indistinguishable from a hotel suite, the living room a plush lobby, the kitchen a professional restaurant-quality constellation of stainless steel surfaces...

Eric and I live in a rented 1922 bungalow in Rockridge, run down but very comfortable. Our television, which is, frankly, the most enormous we could afford, is quite frequently tuned to Reality TV programming or DVDs in which spaceships explode like popcorn chrysanthemums with some regularity. We are not ashamed, that's for sure, nor do we feel particularly diminished intellectually by the joy we take in the spectacle of our tube. It rests atop a credenza and dominates the living room the way a drive-in screen dominates its parking lot. Our living room windows are always curtained, letting in the glow of afternoon light but revealing none of the details beyond the glass (our house is separated from our very nice lesbian neighbor Karen's by a narrow sidewalk, and an open curtain would reveal a bank of windows featuring a row of hooks on which an unchanging array of coats are hanging on one side and Karen herself, hard at work at her computer with a coffee mug in her fist on the other side). We love our neighbor, and find joy in feeding her cats when she is away, but we cheerfully prefer the view on the screen, even when there's nothing on but HGTV and CSI or Voyager re-runs are still hours away.

3 comments:

jfehlinger said...

> Get that damn thing into a cabinet! Hide it in a
> drawer or possibly an antique suitcase! Cram it behind
> a shoji screen! Banish it to a corner angled away
> from the couch! Conceal it behind a some crappy
> scrolling faux-impressionist painting above a
> faux fireplace (classy)!

Of course, back in the real world -- at least in all
the houses I've ever lived in or visited -- in any room
containing a TV set, the tube itself, in all its uglitude
(which is, after all, in the eye of the beholder),
**is** the focus of the room.

> Often at the end of the shows, in the "reveal," where the
> homeowner finally surveys the devastation, as everybody
> is casting about to capture le mot juste for the wholly
> wholesome transformations that have taken place in their
> homes over the course of the episode. . .

I catch these shows at the diner I frequent on weekends.
(I don't know what the attraction is, exactly, but if
there's not a game of some sort on, it's generally going
to be one of these -- Extreme Home Makeover, or Flippers
[or whatever the hell that one's called]).

The thing that I'm sure is going through everybody's mind
as they're led beaming into their new abode is
"How the hell am I supposed to keep this place clean?"

Anonymous said...

but you have to admit that making an endlessly reiterated spectacle of this sort of thing on a television network seems especially symptomatic and weird.

I suspect that this is more of a time/budget issue, - if there is visible TV on the set, it would look odd if it's always turned off, and you start to get all sorts of issues if you turn it on, from purely technical, like frames per second mismatches, to IP (if you aren't XX Century Fox, - TV sets in their movies always show (really-)faux News), to actual contents, - it should "fit", be non-distracting, etc... So, let's just hide the thing!

Dale Carrico said...

Interesting, that didn't even occur to me.