The Joy of Sets: A Short History of the Television

Author(s): Christopher Horrocks

Movies | No Category | Reaktion Books

We watch television for hours at a time, but the television set is never itself the object of our attention. We forget the tv is in our room as we engage with images from afar. How do we account for such an everyday piece of furniture? This book focuses on the tv set's contradictory presence both as a material object and as a receiver of images. Chris Horrocks traces the prehistory of television as a fantastic vision in nineteenth-century culture, and charts its emergence through the fears and desires that society projected onto this alien presence in the living room. He follows television's journey from its strange roots in spiritualism, imperialism and Victorian experiments with electromagnetism, through its contested 'invention' by heroic figures such as Baird and Farnsworth, to its arrival as an essential consumer product. Along the way the tv acquired a significance and role that advertising, literature and cinema amplified. The tv appears in culture as a sinister object capable of controlling thought, monitoring its audience and causing mental and physical harm.The design of the television console and cabinet imbued it with signs of status and good taste, and more radical designs drew on the space race and avant-garde design.
The set has even become a radical medium in the work of artists Wolf Vostell and Nam June Paik. Yet the television as a classic object began to disappear once the cathode ray tube became obsolete and flat-screen versions merged with the wall. The Joy of Sets brings this most elusive object into critical and historical focus for the first time.


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Chris Horrocks is Associate Professor in the School of Critical Studies and Creative Industries at Kingston University, and a film-maker. His previous books include Genteel Perversion: The Films of Gilbert and George (2014), Cultures of Colour (2012) and Marshall McLuhan and Virtuality (2000).

General Fields

  • : 9781780237589
  • : Reaktion Books, Limited
  • : Reaktion Books, Limited
  • : November 2017
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Christopher Horrocks
  • : Hardback
  • : 256