What hits you first is the shame. Turned away, unable to conjure even the faintest energy required to greet the day, jokingly scrawled on like a passed-out drunk at a juvenile party, or left at the very end of the line–face down in the gutter.
Who wouldn’t feel dejected? The trusted friend who delivered Olympics and Super Bowl cheers and kept us up-to-date on Snowmaggedon, the Iran-Contra Affair, and the pursuit of O.J. down that L.A. freeway rudely evicted from the relationship. Years–decades, even–of loyal service at their masters’ beck and call tossed out over night. It’s a cliché: the family member at the center of the home and intimate partner in the bedroom broken up with for a younger, better-looking model.
Where would a soap opera like this play out? We’re speaking, of course, about the television set. As ubiquitous as the units are in (seemingly) every home, bar, restaurant, gym (I’m told), waiting room, lobby, transportation hub, and high-profile public thoroughfare, they’re also quite literally littering the sidewalks and back alleys just about everywhere you go. To continue a theme, we’re calling these sad TVs.
American cities were clearly not ready for the arrival of big, cheap, flat-screen televisions and all the various technology that came along with it. The bajillion old cathode ray tube sets that lived anywhere and everywhere were seemingly rendered useless over night. With all the creative souls out there turning discarded t-shirts into fiber art and your (grand)parents Montovani records into fruit bowls, still no one wants to deal with a TV set.
What it’s produced is a bizarre landscape where TVs still show up just about anywhere–but now we can also add outside public spaces in that measure. In the back alley, left out for a trash collection that will never come, sure, but also just randomly on sidewalks, stashed behind shopping malls, next to retail storefronts, and dumped in the woods.
We sat on this story for a while. The Portland Orbit had already scooped us on this one. They use the term “street TVs,” but the first line from their 2015 post describes the phenomenon as “sad, dejected, and lonely,” so we’re coming from the same place. The topic just didn’t seem either particularly Pittsburgh-centric (it’s not) or all that news-worthy.
But, in the spirit of capturing this moment in time–a very visible landmark where an old, pre-Internet appliance is literally thrown out with the trash to be replaced by a next-generation fancy new feature-enabled and home theater-ready future–it just seems like an important marker of what the world looks like now.
Plus … they’re kind of cool. Waste, environmental catastrophe, disposable culture–these are abhorrent things–but I don’t know what options we realistically have here. Nobody wants these old TVs.
As long as this legion of useless television sets is going out the door, it’s kind of fun–and bizarre–to trip across them along the sides of commercial buildings and out in front of nice apartment houses. They look as out-of-place as one could imagine and yet they’re so common as to be skipped over entirely.
While we most commonly see the old, big box, cathode ray tube sets left out in the rain, the phenomenon–and its attendant waste-disposable challenges–have gone on long enough for us to begin experiencing sad flat-screen TVs too. These aren’t typically as interesting, but we’re including a few greatest-hits in the collection here.
How many episodes of Golden Girls and Meet the Press, Judge Judy and Monday Night Football were consumed under these glowing pixels? How many laughs did Norm and Sam, Rerun, Raj, and Dwayne deliver from their tiny speakers? Where did the news from the attacks on 9/11, the nailbiting Bush-Gore presidential election, and the pre-me too Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings come in?
These are rhetorical questions, sure, but it’s interesting to consider both how absolutely central the television is to so many households and also how quick we are to throw it away. Each unit itself is filled with enough toxic components that the trash guys won’t even take them, so they end up here, abandoned by the side of the road.
Consider that not-too-subtle metaphor for a minute–the very same item that we bring into our home and invest countless hours in its presence is too lethal to go the dump. This, your author supposes, is the cruel fate of twenty-first century (American) life. That may be something we should all feel shame for.
What are your thoughts? Is there something great–or, at least, interesting–you can imagine doing with a more-than-you-can-handle supply of old TV sets? We know where you can find them! We’d love to hear about it. Leave us a comment below.