18 October 2011

Open Air Living Rooms

In 2008, smoking bans took effect in Portugal – and as the smokers moved outdoors, apparently, so did the televisions. At least in Guimarães. At first, I assumed it was part of the national soccer obsession. But the celluloid flickers didn’t die down after the last Gooaaaalllllll. During the day, soap operas and game shows played. In the evening, sports and the news. Latenight was dedicated to subtitled American movies and television shows. One night, this bar was playing Seinfeld. That probably doesn’t even translate well! No matter, tv is tv is tv.
Most establishments with an outdoor television also have at least one, often two, sometimes three indoor ones. In these cases, they’re all tuned in to different things. People face in the direction of their choice, and nudge each other if there’s something interesting going on in another corner. Since they’re all on mute, it’s not really a disturbance – just a peculiar part of the local scene.
This place got fancy with it, projecting onto a neighboring building. Cars and people passed by just low enough not to become accidental projection screens. It felt less like a television set and more like a window – a live interaction or, more, a connection with something happening at the very same moment. Live sports always feel like that, I guess, but something about the scene occurring outside the (literal) box of a television in the fresh, night air accentuates that. The fact that they're life sized helps, too.
The first time we encountered an abundance of televisions was in the former Soviet countries. We’d walk into a bakery or store or cozy family restaurant and a flat screen would be showing music videos (unfortunately, not muted). So, we’re very used to the anachronism of it. It’s funny to see soap operas playing at a upscale restaurant or terrible airplane-at-best, straight-to-dvd-at-worst movies being ignored by elderly newspaper readers at a bar.
Who knows if people watch more television in public spaces here because they watch less or own fewer TVs in their own homes. All I know is that outdoor televisions will always be a uniquely Portugeuse thing to me – and that flipping through our photos of this city makes a wonderful game of “Spot the TV.”

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