I can't do without TV

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 5, 2013

The text message came at 9.15pm as I was driving home from the office on a Friday night.

"The TV is spoilt."

Oh no, I groaned loudly, peering at my phone at a traffic light junction. Cars beeped impatiently behind me as the news stunned me into momentary inaction.

There were two reasons I was so upset. The first is that my TV is no ordinary TV - it's a Pioneer Kuro.

First manufactured in 2007, audiovisual geeks mourned its passing after the Japanese company exited the plasma TV business in 2010.

It's still the gold standard against which all TVs today - LED, LCD or plasma - are compared. Somehow, no TV has been able to produce blacker blacks than the old Pioneer Kuro. If your Kuro breaks down, you cannot buy a replacement and no one that has one seems willing to sell it.

Second, this has never happened to me. For as long as I have lived, I have never had a television set die on me.

The order of the world is that people upgrade their TVs before they break down. Whether it is flatter screens or bigger sizes, technology has almost always moved fast enough to bring prices down.

Instead, this vexing problem has been unexpectedly dumped on me on a Friday night. The weekend that loomed before me suddenly appeared barren and desolate.

I was so looking forward to finding out if Michelle, with her Canadian offbeat punkish style, would beat Patricia, the native American fabric manipulation genius, to win Project Runway 11.

The supposedly fabulous opener of the sixth season of Mad Men was also waiting in my hard drive, along with the new episodes of The Americans, The Good Wife, Nurse Jackie, It's A Brad Brad World and Veep.

How long would it take to repair the Kuro, I wondered, picturing several more weekends of depressing emptiness. Can it even be repaired, now that Pioneer doesn't make TVs anymore?

I would just have to buy a new one, I concluded with a sigh.

But which TV?

I stopped the car in a nearby carpark to google "best TV since the Pioneer Kuro". Some Panasonic model came up.

I looked at my watch again. Would Harvey Norman still be open at 10pm? Courts at Tampines? Can it deliver immediately?

I decided, in the end, to go home first and try and revive my five-year-old Kuro. And if I failed, to maybe give it a final hug and send it on its way.

Later, I realised that this kind of attachment to a television set was not just foolishly melodramatic, but it also revealed my vintage.

My little story would not resonate one tiny bit with the generation of 20somethings.

It's not because they have stopped watching TV. They still do, perhaps more than ever.

But in the age of YouTube, iTunes, Netflix and bit torrents, they watch TV on their computers, tablets and smartphones.

They will sneak in an episode on the bus or while cycling at the gym, with their headphones on.

No one really knows what they are watching and what they think about it. In place of a loud laugh or a groan, there is only a discreet smile or frown.

A recent study by Pew Research showed that just 29 per cent of Americans aged 18 to 29 now think of a TV set as a necessity. An MSN Money article put TVs at the top of a list of 7 Things You Don't Need Anymore.

That's why the young heroines in the TV series Girls never sit around and watch TV in their living rooms, unlike their counterparts in the 1990s sitcom Friends.

In the teen movie Pitch Perfect, a pivotal moment occurs when Beca watches love interest Jesse's favourite movie - the seminal 80s Brat Pack classic The Breakfast Club - on a laptop alone in her bedroom.

In the series Breaking Bad, Jessie - the younger half of a meth-manufacturing duo - buys an awesome 80-inch television screen with his drug money. But he uses it only to play games such as Resident Evil.

Face it, TVs have become the latest visible marker of the generation gap. If you don't believe me, just walk into any Best Denki store and take a close look at the age demographic of the uncles lurking around the newest flatscreen behemoths.

Call me a dinosaur, but I can't be part of this brave new TV-less world.

For one, I cannot fathom regressing from watching bright and big pin-sharp images to small low-quality videos on these piddly little devices.

But more importantly, watching TV has become such a pleasurable communal activity for me.

At the end of a long day's work, I can't think of anything better than to unwind in front of a gigantic telly with my family or friends.

To fight over our critiques of the performers on American Idol or our theories as to what's really happening on Lost.

To be laughing together at the antics on Louie or Episodes, only to later cringe behind the cushions watching American Horror Story or The Walking Dead.

More than ever, a flatscreen is the glue that holds the members of a household together - especially at a time when they will be quite happy and content absorbed by computers and tablets.

There is now even a new TV series on people watching TV (and yes, I watched that too).

Called Goggle Box, each episode of the British production shows snippets of television programmes that aired in the past week, juxtaposing them with the reaction of real-life families watching them.

You see people laughing, crying, swearing, arguing, dozing off, even farting and taking their pants off - but it ends up being a celebration of what a piece of electronic hardware can bring to life.

If you're wondering, my story has a happy ending.

I went home and found the Kuro lifeless, its little red standby light extinguished. But I was too tired to do anything and went straight to bed.

The next morning, I unplugged all its wires and re-plugged them carefully and securely, muttering a prayer under my breath. Then I flicked the switch, hoping for the best.

Like a cheesy soft focus episode of Touched By An Angel, the little red light magically came back on.

I didn't even bother to ask what had happened. I just stretched my arms around the jet black hunk of metal and glass - and hugged it.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 5, 2013 

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