Curse of the 42-Inch Plasma

by Brian on September 22, 2006

in A Parent in Israel,Just For Fun

There’s an old saying “the only thing that separates men from boys is the size of their toys.” When my wife Jody and I were first planning out our recently-completed home renovation, trying to decide about such critical issues as whether to redo one bathroom or three, the one thing I held out for was my toy: my TV.

Not just any TV though. I had my heart set on one of those big screen plasmas with the surround sound home theater – five speakers and a scary sub-woofer to pound out the bass. I wanted to be able to really feel the drama and excitement of Jack Bauer going after the bad guys in 24; to be scared silly by the smoke monster in the jungle of Lost across a breathtaking 42-inch widescreen display.

Well, Jody got her bathrooms and I got my flat screen…and, so I soon learned, a whole lot more, at least in terms of family drama.

We hired a company specializing in home theater to recommend and install the system. We debated between LCD and plasma, the future of high-definition connections, and the right size for our viewing distance (“no one ever complained about having a TV that’s too big,” our home theater consultant Max assured me).

The installation process was unbelievable: it took two guys a whole day – pretty much non-stop from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM with only one short break for lunch – to hang the TV and the speakers and connect everything with some $500 alone of the highest quality audio and video cable. They tweaked and tested and tried out every possible parameter.

At the end of the day, the cable guys came to install the Yes Max PVR (personal video recorder) – a TiVo-like device that allows us to digitally record programs with the push of a button.

For a gadget-head like me, this was pure heaven. When I die, skip the pearly gates, just take me straight to F.A.O. Circuit City.

When the system was finally in place, there was no question as to what would come next. We had to watch something. Our first film on the big screen as a family was nothing to write home about – Sweet Home Alabama, a sweet little comedy starring Reese Witherspoon. Still, the picture was spectacular and the sounds of birds chirping and country music came at us from front, back and center. Nothing like a scary sub-woofer to bring out the dulcet tones in a banjo.

The next night, we were back in front of the screen again. And the night after that too. Our previous experience going cold turkey on TV had long since stopped being enforced. That much was clear by where we located the TV in our new house: not in an out-of-the-way little TV nook but in the living room, right in the center of the house. After a few days with our new toy, it was clear we were back on the road to entertainment addiction.

What was I thinking? I figured we could handle it. As a family, we were older, more mature than when we banned the TV outright. Having a state-of-the-art system shouldn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with the loss of will power. But, apparently, the larger the screen, the greater any existing familial tendencies will be exacerbated. Ours, we quickly learned, broke down into three main categories:

1. Social life? Who needs a social life? Or put another way: “You wanna go to the movies?” “Nah…”

OK, that’s not entirely fair. One of the reasons I bought the TV in the first place was to avoid having to go out to the theater. I mean, what’s the point of paying the equivalent of $8.00 to sit in an either over- or under-heated auditorium with a crappy sound system where you can hear the blam blam from the latest Vin Diesel film next door better than the contemplative Sofia Coppola you intended to see and, in any case, everyone around you is telegraphing the end by talking on their cell phones. If you ask me, you might as well stay home where you can at least hit the pause button.

But the TV with all its big screen and Dolby goodness has become such an allure that we’re finding ourselves turning down other offers…and not just to go to the movies. The other night, a hot new band was playing at a free outdoor concert. Did we get the kids in the car and head out? Of course not. We watched an episode of House MD on the big screen.

(The flip side of this is that now friends all seem to want to pop over to our house. But are they coming to see us…or to see what’s on?)

2. “There’s nothing to do. Can we watch TV?” Beyond eschewing invitations out, there’s also the amazing phenomenon that everything else in the house that once held some interest, particularly for the younger set, suddenly has become entirely and utterly boring.

Nothing else to do? Let’s make a list…hmmm, you could ride your bike, or read a book, or go to the park, or play the piano, or take a dip in the pool, or learn Java programming, or cook dinner, or do some mall hopping or floor mopping …so what do you mean there’s nothing to do but watch the same episode of Family Guy for the 17th time in a row!

3. Quit hogging the remote! Or in the case of our new TV – remotes. Three of them, in fact. There’s the remote for the receiver, which controls the flow of video and audio in and out of the system; the remote for the personal video recorder which is where all the “taped” programs are now stored; and the remote for the DVD player. There’s also a fourth remote for the TV itself, but we only need that when we’re hooking up the laptop to play something we’ve downloaded…legally, from iTunes, of course. Max, my home theater guy, said he’d be glad to sell and program for us a single “universal” remote for us – for “only” another $500.

Whoever controls the remote gets to decide what program the rest of the family will be “allowed” to watch for the evening. This happened, of course, with our old TV. Somehow, though, the shift to 42-inches – ostensibly a mere doubling from our previous 21-incher – has led to proportionally much greater battles.

Despite an escalation in tensions likely to rival a spirited debate over cucumber prices in a Middle Eastern shuk on a particularly humid day, I don’t regret buying the big screen. It really is a sweet system. And, after two months, there are some signs that the novelty may be starting to wear off. Eight-year-old Aviv has made a list (posted prominently on the refrigerator) of “things to do that don’t include TV.” Jody and I got out of the house last week – twice – with friends.

But the truest sign that there may be light at the end of the boob tube came the other night. As we sat down for – you guessed it – another family movie night, we reviewed our selection on the PVR. There were three top contenders: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Elf, and Million Dollar Baby. Now which one would you pick?

•    A cute but mostly fluff-filled romantic story starring Kate Hudson
•    A slight comedy about a human somehow mistaken for one of Santa’s elves, or…
•    The Oscar-winning best picture of the year!

The kids voted for Elf. Jody and I vetoed them.

Thirteen-year-old Merav opted not to watch at all and went downstairs to read – itself an inconceivable possibility just a few short weeks before – though not before spouting off the siren call of the teenager girl: “it’s not fair, why do you always get to do what you want?”

Oh, I don’t know, because we’re the parents?

Fifteen-year-old Amir, however, chose to stay and watch despite being on the losing end. He spent the first half of the movie scowling, but by Baby’s devastatingly ending, though he would never admit it, he had clearly been won over.

And the best part: I got to hold the remote the entire time!

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