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The Shift from Movies to Television in the Federal Republic (May 8, 1965)

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The historical course of events plays a role as well. A smart aleck once said that if the railroad had been invented after the automobile, then everyone would be riding the train today. Cinema has had the bad luck of being the neglected older sister of the baby of the family. But the luster of the favored child begins to fade as he gets older. The American experience confirms that interest in TV-viewing declines noticeably five years after the purchase of a television. If we are not mistaken, then the number of “post-fivers” who have turned gray in the TV harness, and are gradually tiring of it, is on the rise. Also the – usually excessive – interest that children show in television is becoming more differentiated. Later-born children who have had a television at home for as long as they can remember are far less obsessed with TV-viewing than their older siblings, who used to have to resort to spying on the neighbors’ TV before their own family “finally” bought one as well.

There are other opportunities for television in an age without domestic help. Grandmothers live too far away or are too busy with their own lives to want to mind the house at their grandchildren’s place. Only millionaires can afford servants; even student-babysitters are too expensive. Many couples avoid these costs and ensconce themselves at home until their children are grown. In such cases, the television is a comfort: you are in the midst of life and don’t miss the theater, movies, concerts, and socializing with friends as much as you would have otherwise. It can’t be denied that television, even aside from the babysitter problem, encourages an immersion in family life. More than a hundred years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville had [already] opined that democracy and affluence would lead to a situation in which no one had to rely on anyone else anymore – and that the ties of human affection outside of the family would weaken. Television greatly promotes this intra-family focus. Married couples with little to say to one another hardly sense the emptiness when the TV is on.

Gradually, however, the craving for an exchange of ideas with others, the desire for good old-fashioned sociability returns. Having the world in your own home was extremely enjoyable at first, but it is just as unenjoyable to be at home all the time in the long run. The Mainz Shrovetide carnival programs might still be watched in large groups of friends, as they have been traditionally, but people certainly don’t visit each other to watch TV to the extent that they go to the movies with other couples and then go out for beer or wine afterwards. How about going to the movies again some time? This question is beginning to pop up more often again. It also reveals a certain sadness: after all, a “post-fiver” doesn’t enjoy staring at the TV screen the way that people used to enjoy going to the movies. Professor Dolvifat classified the magic of the cinema under the heading “displacement,” a term that expresses the viewer’s level of participation in the events taking place on screen – something much more achievable in the semi-darkened rows of a cinema’s orchestra seating than at home, where you are also never safe from disturbances.

[ . . . ]

Source: Jürgen Eick, “Zwischen Kino und Fernsehen. Wandlungen im bundesrepublikanischen Feierabendverhalten” [“Between Movies and Television: Changes in Evening Leisure-Time Habits in the Federal Republic”], Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, May 8, 1965.

Translation: Allison Brown

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