Loughborough University
Leicestershire, UK
LE11 3TU
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Loughborough University

Screening Socialism

TV, Domesticity and Privatization

In the early years of television, private TV ownership was rare, and state socialist citizens often encountered the medium in public and semi-public settings such as workers’ clubs, local community halls, or simply in the streets of major urban centres. Before long, however, television became a predominantly domestic medium, consumed in the privacy of one’s home. As such, television, like radio before it, posed a challenge to the public-oriented nature of state socialist culture. The adoption of television as a domestic medium meant that television viewers were hidden from public view, and could choose how they reacted to the content broadcast on the screen – or even to turn the television off. At the same time, television also enacted a revolution in the ways audiences organised their domestic space, and became an integral feature of a modern socialist home. In many homes, television now held pride of place, and formed the centrepiece of the living room.

Television also effected changes in the ways people spent their leisure time. Many a source mentions that the “streets were empty” when a popular programme was aired, attesting to the popularity of television in a situation where individuals enjoyed fewer cultural choices. Television’s popularity was such that some commentators worried about the negative consequences of individuals who watched television “from end to end”, and raised concerns over the medium’s consequences for public engagement and mobilization for the communist cause. Nonetheless, the continued rise of broadcast hours and TV set ownership across the region throughout most of the period of communist rule suggests a captive audience was a net positive for the socialist regime.


PHOTO: Home interior in Hungary in 1959, featuring the Orion TV set. Source: Fortepan/ ID 13814, Szent-Tamási Mihály.











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