The trees are strung with TVs in Berlin. The cables that hang from them creep along pavements toward the bar or restaurant that rigged the public screening. It’s the World Cup and the whole city’s a living room. The streets are filled with seats, and eaters become watchers, sharing their team allegiances with staff who let them linger over empty plates. Passersby slow as they approach the action, pausing long enough to catch the score. The screen, like every screen, is a magnet. It’s virtually impossible not to look, not to keep looking, not to feel its incessant pull on your attention. But there’s something about the TV trees that feels different.
I just had this Shirley Valentine-referencing Prudential ad pop into my head, in which a deluded husband declares, “We just want to be together,” as his wife divorces him with a look. (The ad’s from 1991 and is for a pension aimed at women. Haaa pensions.)
Togetherness is a volatile sensation. It’s possible to feel it for a few seconds with a group of strangers, but it can fail to show at an intimate dinner. It’s not about the just being there, it’s about the shared interest. Maybe that’s why I’m enjoying watching people watching football. The street screens don’t nag me the way my phone does. They say “gather round,” rather than “look at me until you die.”