Flat screen TVs


Finally figured out why I get so uncomfortable at that thing when Tory tabloids hold up having a half-decent TV as shorthand evidence of how good those scrounging poor people have it.

It gets me because TVs are both very cheap and bait in the poverty trap.

Take this 39” HD LED bastard. It’s currently £230. £230 is less than 6 days of the average London rent. Are we really saying if you can afford to spend £230 you’re not poor enough? If being less than a week away from homelessness and destitution isn’t poor enough for these people, then what IS?

This is why using cheap TVs in the way Tory tabloids do is a predictable political grindstone. They push, almost always, that if you want money off me, then you’re never quite poor enough until you’ve got nothing.

Screaming at perceived scroungers, layabouts, foreigners, poor people with “flat screen TVs” and other ne’erdowells are all grist to the political mill of ensuring We get out and vote for the people promising not to give too much of Our money to Them. It is part of the collective bargaining we do over the social contract, such as it is.

The TV question is a material example of this bargaining process.

I would suggest that we revolve significantly around our TVs. They’re the portal for news, current affairs, political engagement, entertainment, learning, interactivity even. It’s hard to make any case that they are a luxury; they are, realistically, essential household items.

You could disagree and argue that a TV is not essential. Indeed, there is nothing that is essential. A home isn’t essential, for instance, because you can always wrap more and more sheets of cardboard around yourself to keep warm and dry. Once you accept the idea that “essential” living standards are a matter of collective opinion, everything else is just haggling over the price.

Clearly we are all prepared to support, for everyone, some sort of unwritten (and sometimes actually written into law) agreement of what is “essential”: a home, a bed, clothes, some warmth and light, enough food, maybe some white goods… a TV. This is basic shit that defines large parts of our society and its institutions.

Arguments on those standards can and will rage. No-one really needs, say, white goods: one can live on precooked ambient foodstuffs that need neither chilling nor heating. No one really needs washing machines: one can hand wash clothes. But you’d lose both those arguments, because they’re stupid in the UK in 2015.

Crushing the genuinely stupid argument is something democracy and collective bargaining does well: when we all get a stake in deciding where a line gets drawn, in deciding which of several ideas of where that line should be, assholes on any of the outlying edges of the distribution of opinions can’t usually plough through too-wacky ideas for that line. Simple probability means a healthy democratic process that reveals a broad consensus prevents, for the most part, outlying lunatics from pushing weird decisions though and drawing lines that most reasonable people find ridiculous.

Which takes us back to the Tory press and their obsessions over £230 TVs.

Sure they have an ideological commitment to oppose any aspect of socialism and I respect that. Despite this I personally think anyone that actually thinks such a TV is, in any context whatsoever, excessive spending on what is effectively an essential household item is crazy.

And here’s why it upsets my political gland. I’m clear that I think £230 on a TV is peanuts. However it’s also anything but to some people, and we should care about that. It’s a lot of money for some poor folk and that’s the unacceptable political double whammy: they want to say you can’t have this because it costs way too much for you, but to us it’s actually hardly any money at all in any meaningful sense.

If you’re poor, sorry if this is blindingly obvious. You’ve got no savings or capital. You’ve got a small amount of income that isn’t already allocated to bills and food. Say you can save £20 a week – which is a lot for the genuinely poor, believe me – then three months later, you’ll have the TV.

Sure, great. But that £20 is all your spare money, everything you have, for like twelve straight weeks. That’s an awful lot of time in your local library, assuming it hasn’t been shut down, reading and drinking water. I’m assuming here that you can and do read. Many can’t, or never did and so don’t – especially very poor people, which is who we’re talking about here.

Also, you better hope your two year old doesn’t need anything in that time, or no other costs of any kind come up, because all that’s got to come out of the £20 a week you’re now saving for your TV.

On the other hand, you can have this this 32” HD LED bastard right now for just £7.50 a week. That leaves you with more than £12 a week to live on, like a king. Of course at 69.9% APR that TV will cost you a total of £1170 over 156 weeks – but it’s only £7.50 a week, which you can more easily afford.

That’s the poverty trap in a nutshell circa 2015: scrape savings from your very low income until you can afford it, and live like a pauper; or pay punitive interest to make it seem more affordable, and hamstring any long term ability to save.

This is what makes the whole Tory tabloid flatscreen TV thing so perverse in my opinion – that what it actually does is attach a deserving/morality narrative to the concept of someone being just *just* above destitution, e.g. 6 days away from homelessness and by extension expulsion from their current community and life. Such bullshit brutalises our own communities.

A TV is a pretty basic fucking thing, come on. £230 is a pretty tiny fucking amount of money, come on, it’s less than a week’s rent in London. And so to imply that if you can afford a TV you’re somehow fine for money is to fail so badly to understand what it’s like to be very poor that it insults and shames poor people for no good reason at all.


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