The Power of TV at Christmas

Movie entertainment was initially designed to be watched together as an audience – the first Hollywood movies were shown exclusively at movie theatres or Vaudevilles in the US as a mass culture and had the ability to bring together a nation. From the awe and attraction of ‘It Girl’ Clara Bow to Charlie Chaplin’s hilarity, Early Cinema appealed to everyone from American families to immigrants who could understand the silent films.

Today, the way we consume TV day to day can be very different. Platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and TV Catch-up sites allow us to watch whatever we want and at whatever time we want to watch it. People increasingly put on ‘background TV’, something easy that you can keep track of whilst scrolling on your phone. We’ve become lazy and unengaged with the way we consume entertainment.

However, there still remain, at specific times, moments where you will watch something properly as an audience. In 2019, it could have been going to the cinema to see Avengers: Endgame, or watching Love Island with your housemates – whatever it was, there is certainly a completely different experience created when you choose to watch something as part of an audience. It is the experience of feeling that the emotion evoked by the film in you is also shared by those around you – whether it is laughing, crying, jumping out of your seat or struck still in suspense. Perhaps we validate each other’s’ reactions, encouraging one another to surrender to the narrative, or maybe the atmosphere of an audience forces us to focus entirely on the film which further pulls us in. Either way, the feeling of walking out of a movie theatre is far more satisfying than closing a laptop and going to sleep after half-heartedly watching a film.

And then there’s the family TV ritual. My Dad has always found TV to be an important part of our family routine, and whether growing up it was Doctor WhoTop Gear or The Apprentice, we watched episodes religiously.

However, as my brother and I have grown up, with me living part-time away from home for almost four years, watching TV seems to have become almost our last resort to bond the family. It is clear the distance between us is growing – returning home isn’t as easy as it used to be. My parents are focused on getting my brother through his last few years at school, and I feel as out the loop as ever with their friends and, in particular, what they are watching on TV. With their insistence that “it’s too complicated and we’re too far in for you to catch up”, I’ll end up continuing with my current Netflix serial killer documentary alone upstairs.

Whilst I know that they don’t mean for me to feel left out, and after all, they’re only sitting next to each other watching something – why is it that it makes me feel more distant from them than ever?

Then comes the Christmas holiday – the time of year when a festive pressure falls upon my family to spend time together, get along and ‘bond’ … and with this, Christmas TV arrives as a welcome relief. Whatever it is we’re watching – an Agatha Christie adaptation, a Christmas special, an old Christmas film; the tension is released, and we seem to remember how to enjoy one another’s company once again in the same way we did when my brother and I were kids.

My Dad bellows out his loud chuckle whilst my Mum giggles at absolutely any slapstick humour that no one else finds funny, I laugh at her reactions whilst my brother makes his comments that make it clear he has absolutely no idea what’s happening on the TV. Whilst so much has changed about our Christmas over the years – traditions, places, company – sitting down at the end of the day to watch something together is the one thing that has always stayed the same. No one argues, no one feels left out, and at least for that evening, we feel like a family united.

Charlotte Weston

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