Photo: Public Domain
When I walk into my gym and head toward the locker room, I pass behind rows of machinery – treadmills, elliptical trainers, small revolving escalators – each topped by a person struggling to move. In fact, the whole point of the machine is to provide a person with a struggle, a resistance to be overcome. If they weren’t difficult to use, after all, they wouldn’t be effective. Because the exercise is tedious, at the eye level of the joggers are carefully positioned distractions: rows of television screens. The televisions face the joggers, engaging them in visual conversations. They are alluring no matter their display, transporting the mind of the jogger away from the struggle of exercise, enabling the jogger to jog farther and longer than she might have otherwise jogged. No matter how long you stare at them, televisions continue to deliver. Even the most rancid sit-coms are colorful displays of light.
Televisions are mesmerizing. Unless you actively resist them, they seduce you. When I walk behind the rows of exercise machinery and their television screens, even though I have no interest in the silent images they project – a razor-sharp knife that not only slices pork chops effortlessly but also bends, a reporter mouthing words I cannot distinguish from the jumble of other gym sounds, some fancy awards show, tiny red-and-yellow soccer players against a field of bright green – and even though I know that I should be watching where I’m walking instead of watching the televisions, my eyes, nevertheless, are drawn toward the screens. The rectangles are crystalline doorways across time and space, glittering passages into other realms: a newsroom in Atlanta, a black-and-white canyonland with cactuses and cowboys, the set of a morning talk show plush with teacups and sofas. The portals suck me in. In between sets, I will just stand there and look up at the screens, dazzled by the silent display despite my best intentions. The illuminated images floating inside the television seem so alive, so compelling. I stare and stare and stare but I can never pin them down.