I have a (Black and White) Dream

An early television (source)

The year was 1956. It was a warm Friday night in the coastal town of Cronulla and the Goddard family (who consisted of my grandmother, Sue, her younger sister, Kathy, and their parents, Ethel and Tom) were crossing their front lawn to join their neighbours, the Telfers, to watch television. Resources were scarce and the family could not purchase their own television set for about twelve months. “It was a choice between the sewer and the television”, remembers my Grandma. Her family had forgone a television in order to update from the pan system (the sewage disposal system of the time) to the current one.

The Goddards lived in a small, two-bedroomed house when they purchased their first television. The box was placed in the living room, in front of a lounge suit which consisted of a three seater and two arm chairs. The carpet was grey with pink flowers, “a very popular design in those days”.

“You didn’t have multiple spare rooms in those days. The room was both formal and relaxed and certainly the only room in which a TV could be located”.

In 1967 Marshall McLuhan proclaimed ‘the medium is the message’. That is to say, the impact of a new technology on society prevails over the messages conveyed in that same technology. The television is no exception. It revolutionised the domestic world. Television effectively replaced the hearth and impacted on the overall layout of a house. It caused new habits and new relationships. For example, television acted on a schedule and family life had to adapt to accommodate this. All sorts of new etiquette had to be devised. Could one talk whilst the television set was playing? How loud could it be? Who controlled the remote (when it was invented some decades later)?

The whole Goddard family would sit together to watch shows. Kathy and Sue, the children, would mostly sit on the floor, although Sue could see the television set from her bed. The Goddards would watch family shows, like Perry Mason , a crime story, together.

Perry Mason (source)

“All the family tried to guess who the baddie was”, remembers my Grandma.

She and Kathy were also allowed to watch the children’s shows of the time; Mickey Mouse Club, Superman and Kit Carson.

Powerful memories from those times remain with my Grandma. Indeed, whilst my Grandad emailed me the answers to the questions I sent them on this topic, she sung him the theme song to Mickey Mouse Club, which was “the thing” for children to watch.

A frame from the popular children’s show The Mickey Mouse Club (source)

One television memory in particular which, Grandad tells me, is regularly exhausted by my Grandma at social gatherings, is the story of Kathy’s nightmares. After watching cowboy ‘flicks’, Kathy would experience nightmares about being chased by Indians. She would scream in her sleep, “the Indians are after me!” Her mother (my great grandmother), Ethel, would tell her to turn over so the Indians would be going the other way. I’m not sure how much logic was in that response, but it worked nevertheless, and I’m loving the sass coming from my Great-Gran!

The part of this interview which interested me the most was Grandma’s revelation that she dreams in black and white. Colour television did not reach Australia until March 1975. By this time Grandma was married with two small children. Much research has been done on the impact of television on our dreams. Between the ages of three and ten is allegedly when our ability to dream is formed, thus it makes sense that those who were young during the era of the first black and white television dream in those same colours. It has been suggested that this is true for thousands of people (source).

“the moment when Dorothy passes out of monochrome Kansas and awakes in Technicolor Oz may have had more significance for our subconscious than we literally ever dreamed of” – Richard Alleyne, 2008


Interestingly, research also shows that before black and white television, the majority of dreams were in colour (source) – so that really shows the power of the television’s message on society (#McLuhan); it didn’t just cause physical changes to the house, it manipulated the way humans dream subconsciously. If this isn’t a strong message, then I don’t know what is.


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