I had five television sets at home. Three of them were in the living room and two were in the back, one in the bedroom and the other one in the kitchen. By “televisions” I actually mean windows. The three windows in the living room had the most interesting and varied shows and actors, since they give out on the main boulevard with its constant flow of people and situations. But I also enjoyed the daily shows in the backyard featuring a more regular cast of actors and private moments.
This kind of programming had a loose schedule and no guarantees that shows would play on time.
For the most part, it was all silent film and the story lines were pretty much repetitive. However, I started noticing subtle nuances and differences from day to day. Repetition helped me understand actors’ basic characters; nuance and difference offered me clues into their hidden stories.
Before I knew it I was addicted and fell into the channel 247 day by day and for several months. Sometimes the channel had special seasonal broadcasts such as J’Ouvert, the West Indian American Day Parade at 4 o’clock in the morning; Mister Softy’s ice-cream truck during the summer, or middle-of-the-night backyard parties where illegal tattoo services were offered to ex-convicts who were full of confidence, laughter and loud cursing.
In my teens, I couldn’t help but think that somebody was watching me all the time so I had to act as a main actress in some kind of movie which made me feel self-conscious wherever I went. This might be typical of many other teenagers and it might even play a part in how one creates a sense of self. I remember when the movie, ‘The Truman Show’ came out in 1998. It opens with the question: “What if you were watched every moment of your life?” It completely matched my imagination. The movie went on to show how Truman would really feel after he realized the truth of his condition. ‘The Truman Show’ brought to an end my life on an imaginary movie set. Which leads me to ask: how different is our behavior when we are conscious of others around us? And what do involuntary actions tell or reveal about us?
There are moments when people are oblivious of others, or simply don’t want to be mindful of anybody other than themselves. These moments happen between things, such as when we are rushing out to work in the morning, taking out the garbage, coming back from the deli with ready-made food, or maybe just sitting on a stoop daydreaming. Since I started watching people that I don’t know anything about - name, relationship, occupation, age, personal history - I have noticed that those moments can be more revealing of their personalities than when they are trying to make a good impression on others.
Leaving home, I sometimes bumped into some of the actors on the street unexpectedly. It was the only time that I got to see them up close and I almost wanted to say hello and thank them for the shows, but I couldn’t.
I hoped they would never realize they had been constantly watched for months and want to escape from my TV set as Truman did.
When I eventually left the neighborhood, I had to unsubscribe from Channel 247.