Unite or Divide: How the First Television Generation Watched TV in Viet Nam

Despite owning an Ipad or an Iphone, television is irreplaceable to my father when it comes to watching. My recent chat with my dad has just revealed some reasons why he is obsessed with TV.

TV gives a ticket to childhood

My father grew up in the post-Vietnam-war era in the North with his family of six members. Living in an extended family at that time was tough, as there were too many people to feed and poverty seemingly could swallow the whole family at any time, yet kids still enjoyed their playtime with traditional games and their creativity to make use of simple things. Nevertheless, that situation changed when TV arrived.

In the late 1960s of the previous century, only a few households could have a TV. These families mostly belong to the local authorities that receive the government’s black-and-white TVs. As my grandfather was a  First-Indochina-War veteran, he maintained good relationships with his colleagues and superiors in the army, and one of his comrade’s family agreed to share the TV with my grandpa’s big family. Every Saturday evening, my father and his siblings all looked forward to the after-the-dinner moment, as they could have their “TV visit”, despite the long walks and the meagreness of the TV broadcasting only a few Vietnamese and pro-communist shows. During these shows, people often remained silent as they were enchanted by the little screen.


“I remember we walked about 2 kilometres to get to his house. On rainy days, we were all upset because we couldn’t go due to the slippery road, dark night, strong wind and the uncooperative TV antennas”


TV connected family members

Ký ức ti vi xóm 1
Image: A television shop in Saigon before 1975 by thanhnien.vn


Until 1975, when the war in the South reached to an end, many households welcomed their own TVs, including my dad’s family. It was a second-hand black-and-white TV that my grandma purchased during her business trip to Saigon, which was left behind by a Southern family after moving overseas. This “new” TV added a final touch to the media rituals in the house, leading to the actuality of my dad’s “family television”, which considers TV as an object to strengthen the bonds within families after a busy day working (Livingstone, 2009).


“That box was so expensive that cost a middle-class man two cows and one pig. And you know, at such time we didn’t even have meat to eat. Your mother told you about eating rice and congee with sugar or fried fat, didn’t she?”


Dad said he sometimes still joined the neighbours to watch TV even after the family owned it. There was a tea street stall in the neighbourhood that often brought their TV to the street to attract customers. “Adults would buy some cups of tea for themselves and candies for the children” – dad told me. It was similar to viewing at my grandpa’s old friend’s house, except that it seemed like an outdoor cinema and people could even watch during the day. Furthermore, it created a public sphere where people could talk about the shows they had just watched – unlike the “family viewing” or “TV visits viewing”. Eventually, in 1989, the family bought the first colour TV and later upgraded the models, which my father prefers more because of their high quality, yet no modern version could bring up vivid memory like the black-and-white TVs that he watched.

Image result for quán nước vỉa hè
Image: The tea street stall is always busy by soha.vn


It can be seen that TV captured the socio-economic picture of Vietnam during the post-war period. Television integrated deeply in the collective culture of Vietnamese people and “acquired a meaningful place within family” (Livingstone, 2009). Television adjusted the domestic timetable so families could enjoy its entertaining schedule together while the harsh real life went on elsewhere (Scannell, 1988). Also, the television usage reflected conditions of different classes in the society at that time, as well as the political ideology of the communist party.


The rise of individualisation 


Nonetheless, television is deemed to refashion the traditional families in the direction of individualisation. The level of interest that a television program generates directly disrupts the level of inter-family interaction during viewing (Family and Community Development Committee, 2000). In my dad’s family case, the whole family much engagement in the TV content damaged the family communication, separated members when living together (Flichy, 2002). Also, television enhanced some negative traditional patterns of the old lifestyle. It might not happen to all families today, but in my family, the gender roles between my mom and dad remain unchanged from the old traditional Asian family. After working hours, my mom still belongs to the kitchen and do all chores (despite that she is the breadwinner), while my dad sits down doing nothing except owning the remote control.


Whether the impacts are good or ill, the arrival of TV has revolutionized the media in Viet Nam since the previous century. Television has come beyond functionalism (Couldry, 2005), transforming into a storyteller of family and society. Thus, my dad might welcome the next generation of technology, yet the very first watching experience lies deeply in his heart.




Couldry, N 2005, “Media rituals: beyond functionalism”, in E. Rothenbuhler & M. Coman (Eds.), Media Anthropology, USA, pp. 59-69.

Family and Community Development Committe 2000, Inquiry into the Effects of Television and Multimedia on Children and Families in Victoria, Parliament of Victoria, Victoria.

Flichy, P 2002, “New Media History” in L. Lievrouw & S. Livingstone (Eds.), Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and Consequences of ICTs, London, pp. 136-150.

Livingstone, S 2009, “Half a century of television in the lives of our children”, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, no. 625, pp. 151-163.

Scannell, P 1988, “Radio times: The temporal arrangements of broadcasting in the modern world” in P. Drummond & R. Paterson (eds.), Television and its Audience: International Research Perspectives, London, British Film Institute.


Featured Image: Walk to the Generations of Television #Infographic 

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Trang Bùi

BCM-BINTs | Class of 2021 | UOW

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