what did movies think of tv in the eighties?
March 28, 2012 5:40 PM   Subscribe

I just watched Poltergeist, which I am now thinking seems right-wing, almost Catholic. at the end of the movie, the husband kicks the tv out of the room and serene music plays. is this a common feature of the movies of the time? did people kick the tv out of the room a lot in the movies of the 80s?
posted by parmanparman to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Didn't the husband kick the TV out since that is how the girl got sucked into the other side? I always read this as not trusting that it wouldn't happen again as opposed to any sort of thing that common people did to TVs.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 5:43 PM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

If my daughter got sucked into our tv set I would definitely get rid of the tv. And I'm not Catholic.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:48 PM on March 28, 2012 [33 favorites]

No, why would they?
posted by empath at 5:57 PM on March 28, 2012

I was kid/teenager during the '80s, glued to that new thing called "cable tv" and don't recall that being a trope. I don't think the ghosts were a metaphor for tv being a tool of the devil. Remember, it was a psychic who 'saved' the girls and said psychic specifically told the family to let go of their religious views, as they would be no help.

"Ah HAH," you say. "That just means the female psychic was God, saving the family from the evils of television."

Right wing Catholics would not make god a woman.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:03 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Almost all ghost stories, and horror tropes in general, are conservative at their core, simply because it's the easiest vein to tap. Poltergeist having the TV as a locus of supernatural phenomena capitalises on the very ''80 fear of newly ubiquitous media fracturing the nuclear family unit (a popular myth which itself receives some excoriating in the form of the cynical housing developers who, eager to sell this myth, have constructed their 'perfect' family homes in sacrilege to the dead).

Several other horror movies of the era featured haunted TV's, stereos, etc. and later the '90's gave the same treatment to video games.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 6:03 PM on March 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

The TV plays a very central role in Poltergeist, so its treatment of the TV can't be taken as some sort of time or genre-indicator. You might as well ask if there were a lot of movies depicting De Loreans as time machines. Short answer: No.
posted by yath at 6:10 PM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Themewise the tv had more do to with the corruption of suburbia/mass media than it did with religious fear of the modern, I think, though yes, kicking the TV out of the room was done for a very literal reason in that movie.
posted by furiousthought at 6:32 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Maybe this is a Spielberg bias. I have seen a video of him watching tv in his office waiting for Oscar nods. it made me think he did not own a tv.
posted by parmanparman at 6:34 PM on March 28, 2012

They got rid of the TV because the poltergeist first infiltrated their house via the TV.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:50 PM on March 28, 2012

I'm not sure you're understanding the TV thing. It isn't any kind of anti-TV message; they were just paranoid about having a television in the room after the craziness that occurred with the one in their house. There isn't any reason to think Spielberg has an anti-TV bias.
posted by Justinian at 7:51 PM on March 28, 2012

Can you explain why pushing the tv out seems "almost Catholic" to you? I don't think I can answer until I understand what you mean, even though I am both Catholic and someone who has seen Poltergeist too many times.
posted by donnagirl at 8:55 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The movie doesn't really end, definitively. Evil is not destroyed, it just goes elsewhere (and takes the house with it), while the venal home development agent (who only moved the headstones) gets a visible comeuppance in front of the neighborhood. That doesn't put a button on the ending for the family you've been following and identifying with this whole time.

Therefore, the audience needs some kind of indicator that "order has been restored for this family," and in this case it's a bit of light comedy and a kind of breaking-the-fourth wall wink at the audience. "We know you're all thinking you would never watch television again if this happened to you, so we're going to show the father thinking the same thing you are, so you'll know that everything is going to be OK for them."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:26 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's a joke! I remember it getting a really big laugh in the theater. Tension relief, and like Cool Papa Bell said, a wink at the audience... an acknowledgement that "we're not dumb enough to go through THAT again!"
posted by tomboko at 1:17 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

did people kick the tv out of the room a lot in the movies of the 80s?

No. Nor in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 90s or 00s. IMO the world would be a better place if we had a lot more kickings of TVs out of the room, but I can't recall anything like that ever happening, on screen (except when Brando threw the radio out the window in A Streetcar named Desire; plus the opening of SCTV, which pictured multiple TV defenestrations).
posted by Rash at 9:06 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think both interpretations are correct--it was a lighthearted moment for the audience to break the heavy tension of the movie, but it could also be seen as a rejection of the infiltration of mass media.

The husband and wife are seen sinking into the conservatism of middle age--earlier in the movie, the husband stands in front of the mirror looking at his gut, bemoaning his youth. And when the wife first shows him the chair-slide in the kitchen, she says something like "remember when you used to have an open mind."

I always felt that they had lost the idealism of the 60s and 70s and were now in this weird 80s reality of greed and media drone, as shown by their cookie-cutter housing hive, where you can't even change the tv channel without affecting your neighbor.

Poltergeist was a hugely successful movie, but I've always liked it because it works on multiple levels. It's a shame the sequels got all goofy with the killer braces and all.
posted by Kafkaesque at 9:48 AM on March 29, 2012

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