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

West German cultural critics had mixed feelings about the shift from movies to television in the first half of the 1960s. They were ambivalent because they saw this change in leisure habits as indicative of a move toward social isolation in one’s own home.

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Between Movies and Television
Changes in Evening Leisure-Time Habits in the Federal Republic

Two handymen are working in a house. One says: “Did you see the TV movie last night?” The other responds: “I watch TV as rarely as possible. But my father, with him it’s like a disease. He turns the thing on when he gets home and stays parked in front of it until the bitter end – every night.” Based on the experience of the United States, it wasn’t hard to predict that the incredible allure of the TV screen would totally revolutionize the evening leisure-time habits of German citizens. To be an eyewitness to everything that is happening in the world from the vantage point of your own home is a small miracle – actually, a big one. So millions of people sit in front of their television screens every evening. When exciting soccer games are broadcast in the afternoon, the streets are deserted. Thieves prefer to break into empty buildings after 8 PM because the eyes and ears of Germany’s citizens are totally fixated on the tube. At the end of an episode of a murder-mystery series, so many toilets are flushed at once that the water pressure drops rapidly during the span of these few minutes. That’s the extent to which, thanks to TV, we’re all marching in step: An entire nation goes simultaneously – as if on command – “to where even the emperor walks on foot,” as the saying goes. In March 1965, 10.5 million television sets were registered in the Federal Republic; in 1959, the number was only 3.4 million. Ultimately, there will be a television set in almost every household – that’s as good as certain. Not at all certain, however, is whether Germany’s whole population will continue to worship the flickering idol to the fullest every evening. That would in fact be devastating.

Television, of course, has an ally that makes its omnipotence virtually imperturbable: the penchant for comfort and laziness, which has practically become a dominant feature of consumer behavior by now. TV is the pinnacle of laziness. The world is delivered to your home: all you need to do is collapse into an armchair. All other options for spending evening leisure-time would be less convenient. To go to the movies, for instance, you’d have to get dressed, undertake the drive to the movie theater, look for a parking space, and be at the box office at a certain time. And who knows if the movie in the theater is even any good? Better safe than sorry; avoid any and all unnecessary movement. Television is much better in that respect: it is the laziest form of leisure-time consumption, and in this regard it is absolutely unbeatable. Many citizens confirm that it is excellent preparation for and a preliminary stage of going to bed. People don’t do anything anymore other than turn on the tube; instead of entertaining themselves, they are entertained. They aren’t subjects but rather objects of what’s happening. In this role, they act as passively – as apathetically – as they possibly can. When these ideas were presented here for the first time (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, July 7, 1960), we still believed that we would be filled with horror by the thought of a future time when the Federal Republic would have multiple channels and people would have to decide which one to watch. Today, we face the agony of choice, and it’s basically a thorn in the side of the run-of-the-mill TV-viewer. If I have to think about what I want to watch – and possibly have to make that clear to the rest of the family – I’d rather just go to the movies.

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