How Television Kills Film as an American Artform

That television has affected the film industry is a well-documented phenomenon. It was, after all, the introduction of the TV set as a ubiquitous household appliance, coupled with antitrust suits and the growth of the suburbs, that led to a precipitous decline in Hollywood box office in the early 50s from which the film industry has never truly recovered. Of course, when television's affect on film is discussed, it is typically in this historical context, and the primary reason offered for the ascendance of the device is convenience. Since the television set involved a one time expense and sat in the home, consumers were able to free up not only capital but also time (they no longer needed to venture to the movie theater for their passive entertainment).

There is no doubting the validity of the above statement, both as to the fact that television was and is less expensive than the movie-going experience on the whole, and also that the 'tube is more convenient than going out to the movies. But the real impact of TV on American film ultimately has less to do with box office receipts than it does with fundamental differences in the mode of consumption and even the expectations of the audience. That this effect is uniformly negative is unfortunate and inescapable.

French filmmaker Chris Marker describes the difference in consumption between film and television in metaphorical language. In his words, the difference between that of watching a film and watching television is summed up in the mode of observation: The audience looks up at the screen when watching a film in a theater, and down their noses at the television set which sits in their family room. Since Americans spend a great deal more time watching television than film, it should come as no surprise that the mode of presentation of the former should begin to usurp that of the latter. Unfortunately, what the television experience has done is cause the audience to become too accustomed to looking down their nose at the visual image, to the point that the theater going experience in recent years has come to more and more closely approximate that of television viewing. This phenomenon also helps to explain increasing occurrences in movie theaters that would have been unheard even a few years ago, such as people freely answering phone calls, or parents bringing infants and very young children to the theater.