Why we watch so much television today is a question that will have many and multi-faceted answers. But in his book Media Unlimited, Todd Giltin offers solid statistical evidence for at least one of the answers. Here is a small table outlining the cost for a general laborer to enjoy the entertainment of that day, given as a proportion of his daily wage.
|18th century (theater)||More than a full day’s wage|
|Early 19th century (theater)||1/3|
|1840s-50s||A little less than 1/3 (25¢)|
|1870 (minstrel, variety shows)||1/6 (still 25¢)|
|1880s (melodrama, vaudeville)||1/13 (10¢)|
|1910 (nickelodeon)||1/40 (10¢)|
|1920 (movie theater)||less than 1/40 (10¢)|
|1960s (television)||1/360 (amortizing cost of $200 black-and-white set)|
|1998 (cable television)||1/100 (amortizing cost of $300 color set plus basic cable|
I guess this help explains the fact that the average American currently watches in excess of four hours per day!