November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Casual Observer/Mark Levy

Fooled in TV Land

by Mark Levy
Illustration by Nadja Asghar

Some time ago, I moved into a small, one-story ranch house in Queens. That moving day was unusually warm in September, as I recall, so I opened the windows in every room. I should tell you that the new house was only a few miles from LaGuardia Airport, as I soon learned, directly in the flight path of approaching aircraft.

The movers had already unloaded and placed most of the furniture in respective rooms. All that was left was to unpack boxes. I had just unloaded a number of heavy boxes of books and, unaccustomed to physical exercise as I was — and as I still am, in fact — I decided to rest a bit before continuing the mindless task of unpacking. So I switched on the TV and plopped myself on the unmade bed for a short rest.

The TV happened to be showing a United Air Lines commercial, culminating in a jet taking off into a very blue sky. From that image, I knew the jet was not flying in my new neighborhood, which is normally covered by a low ceiling of milky clouds the local weather forecasters insist on calling “partly sunny.” No, the deep blue sky in the airline commercial looked like it was over Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon or some exotic place so pollution free I thought this must be the first airplane ever to fly over it.

As the plane took off smoothly in the commercial, a pleasant jingle played and an announcer implored me to fly United. I heard a crescendo of music and jet engines, too. In fact, the sound of the engines eventually drowned out the announcer’s voice.

The next event really surprised me. The volume of the engines increased and increased, even as the commercial faded out and the Jerry Springer Show resumed. And then my windows started to rattle.

“Wow,” I thought, “this is one realistic airline commercial. It’s sensorama. I can still hear and feel the engines long after the TV image is gone. My bedroom feels like it’s in an earthquake. How did they do that?”

That’s when it occurred to me that the sound was no longer coming from the TV. Jet engines were overhead. I felt foolish, not only because I thought the TV could shake my windows, but because I realized I had purchased a house that would force me to experience this thrill every few minutes, summer after summer.

It is now about 30 years later. I no longer live in Queens. I have a large, flat screen TV with an auxiliary sound system, including expensive speakers that the sales person told me would make the difference between merely viewing television programs and actually living them.

“You’ll hear the crashing of football helmets, Dude, like you were on the field with the players,” he stated. “Singers will sound like they’re in the same room with you, Bud. Car chase scenes and NASCAR races will make you reach for your seatbelt, Sparky. You just have to have this X-3000 Super Sound System, amigo. There’s no sense having a large screen TV with little, wimpy speakers. It really defeats the purpose, don’t you think? Go with the X-3000 Triple S, Bro. Take it from me: you’ll never regret it.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll buy it.”

I don’t live near an airport anymore, I’m happy to report, but the place where I reside is fairly open. If the TV is playing in the living room, I can hear it in the kitchen and in the hallway and in the spare bedroom for what I hoped would be my office and private sanctuary.

Sometimes when I’m not watching the set, I hear a siren that sounds like it’s right outside. I can’t resist looking out the window for the ambulance. The sound from my TV is realistic enough for me to think a police car is about to crash through to my condo on the 26th floor.

Sometimes a telephone rings in a program, causing me to hunt for my cell phone. This is most embarrassing when friends are visiting, especially when I have to ask them to stand up so I can search under couch cushions for my phone.

Frankly, I’m concerned that if my condo ever does start burning, I’ll lose precious time racing around the place through the billowing smoke, turning off TVs instead of preparing to be rescued.

Today, none of us is taken in by the scratchy, blurry sounds of 1914 Charlie Chaplin movies or of Orson Welles’s 1938 radio broadcast of the “War of the Worlds.” I suppose in a hundred years people might be amazed at how unsophisticated we were in the early 21st century, when the X-3000 was able to fool us.

All I can say is my TV does too good a job convincing me that the sounds I hear are real. Coupling that phenomenon with bigger-than-life close-ups of pizzas and ice cream, it amazes me that I ever switch the set off long enough to escape back into reality.


About the author:

Mark Levy, Ragazine.CC’s “Casual Observer,”  also occasionally contributes “Feeding the Starving Artist,” pro bono legal advice for working artists. You can read more about him in “About Us.”

About the Illustrator:

Nadja Asghar graduated with a degree in illustration from London Metropolitan University. She lives in Norway. You can read more about her in “About Us.”