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OPINION | The TV is going the way of the dinosaur, and I’m not sad

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MY youngest daughter graduated from college last year and moved with two roommates into a first apartment, a milestone some mothers might see as sad evidence that the all-important parenting phase of life is over.

But I saw it as an opportunity — to improve the décor in my house by making an unwanted TV set disappear.

I’m not a coldhearted, unfeeling woman attempting to dump her junk on her child. But Clementine does have an empty apartment, and I’ve been trying to get rid of my bedroom TV set for years. With its harsh black screen and claw-like pedestal, it lurks like a raven on top of the dresser. No one has been able to watch the thing since the painters disconnected it. “Someday I’ll fix it,” says my husband, who reflexively hoards electronics.

But for Clementine, the TV could be a step up in the world. Baby’s first TV!

“Hi, sweetie: Do you want the TV from our bedroom?” I texted.

There was a pause, during which I could only imagine she was searching for the appropriate words to express her gratitude.

“No thank you!” she typed. “I think Gabbie might have one.”

“You think?” I asked.

What is wrong with these people?

This is the third daughter who has refused to take the TV set off my hands. My oldest, Zoe, recently said, “I’ll get back to you if my needs change” (apparently they haven’t). My middle daughter, Ella, has a problem TV of her own (wallmounted) that she wants to get rid of. And now, Lear-like, I’ve thrown myself on the mercy of my Cordelia, who thinks one of her roommates “might” have a TV.

Who doesn’t want a perfectly good flat-screen TV set? Millennials. It turns out that my three daughters’ preference for watching TV on a mobile phone or laptop screen is typical of their generation. In fact, only 16 percent of U.S. adults ages 18 to 29 say it would be “very hard” to give up watching TV on an actual TV set, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted last year. Young adults’ lack of interest has caused the average number of TV sets per household to decline for the first time since their invention, dropping from 2.6 sets in 2009 to 2.3 sets in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

This is a positive development because it will vastly improve the home décor of an entire generation of Americans. No more black screens sucking the life out of rooms, snaky tangles of ugly cords or stacks of remotes.

Even though it doesn’t solve my problem, I have to admire my daughters for turning their backs on decades of bad decorating-around a-TV habits. I only wish I’d been so brave at their age. But as baby boomers, we were, like our parents, in thrall to our TV sets.

After they were invented, they became the center of family life, muscling aside fireplaces, pianos and game tables where people used to gather, said Lynn Spigel, a professor at Northwestern University and author of the forthcoming book “TV Snapshots: An Archive of Everyday Life” (Duke University Press, Fall 2020 )

“It’s wacky what people did for their TVs,” said Prof. Spigel, who for the past five years has been collecting photos that people took of their homes in the 1950s and 1960s. The snapshots reveal strange obsessions with television sets: TVs sitting inside nonworking fireplaces. Portable TVs stacked on top of older, obsolete console TVs (“bizarre assemblages,” said Prof. Spigel). People posing proudly, standing next to their new television sets placed in the center of the room as if they were objects of worship.

Today’s flat-screen models also dominate a room. I have a huge one myself in the family room, because like other baby boomers, I still crave what Prof. Spigel described as “that cinematic feeling of a big screen that frames the picture.”

But millennials don’t. “Their whole idea of the frame is completely different. They’ll watch anything on any size screen,” Prof. Spigel said.

Unless they change their minds, the death of the television set is inevitable. But in the meantime, what am I going to do with the extraneous one in my bedroom?

“My husband says if none of the girls want the TV, he’ll plug all the cords back in and make it work,” I told Prof. Spigel. “But what should I do in the meantime?”

“Stack a portable TV on top and call it a sculpture?” Prof. Spigel suggested.

There has to be a better solution.

For advice, I phoned Nina Farmer, a Boston-based interior designer who specializes in strategies for hiding problem TV sets. In her own home — a Beacon Hill townhouse with formal plaster moldings and a marble fireplace — she hid a wall-mounted flat-screen TV above the mantel, camouflaged in a shallow custom cabinet behind handblown mirrored panels.

“The trick of it is I didn’t use any hardware at all on the mirrored doors so you would never know what’s going on behind it,” Ms. Farmer said. “To open the cabinet, I have to use a $2 suction cup.”

Ms. Farmer said she generally recommends hiding a TV, if possible, unless it is the set in a “dedicated” TV room or den where the television defines the room’s purpose.

“A good trick is to build a recess on a wall and hang the TV in it so it’s flush with the rest of the wall. Then hang a painting over it,” Ms. Farmer said.

She said that these days most of her clients — even the older ones — have fewer television sets than they used to. So maybe there’s hope that my baby boomer husband will eventually agree to get rid of the bedroom TV.

“If not, hide it in a cabinet and remember — no visible hardware,” Ms. Farmer said. “You can get a suction cup at Home Depot.”

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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