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Ominous Television

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Gaze into the space between the pixels on the screen
There, you'll see a place between the signal and the screams
Feel the oscillation of the crystal in your dreams
Just switch off your brain and let it sizzle in the beams
The Stupendium and Dan Bull, "Tune Into The Madness"
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You wander into a dark house. A clap of thunder and a flash of lighting cuts through the heavy rain outside. The house dark, as though the power was cut in the storm, but this can't be true because the TV is on, nothing but white noise with static on the screen. You don't remember turning the TV on, so why was it on?

Televisions are a scientific marvel of sight, sound and ingenuity. They let you see and hear things recorded or in real time and they provide so much for you from the comfort of your own home. However, they say that they can rot your brains and make you less smart-brained, with Conspiracy Theorists believing that televisions can brainwash you into obedient sheeple for whatever Shadow Dictator or Satanic-Illuminati they happen to think is really in control. This gives us an uneasy feeling that whenever we're watching Saturday Morning Cartoons or The Price Is Right, we are being used.

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Are we watching the TV, or is the TV watching us?

Perhaps there is an Ominous Visual Glitch, maybe it's showing footage that you wish you hadn't seen, or maybe you're looking at yourself and someone's recording you in real time andyoureallyshouldturnaround! They're also used in a variation of the old Mirror Scare; a person can't watch TV right now, so they go to turn it off, only to see someone standing behind them from their reflection in the screen.

When there are multiple screens used to create a similar effect, then you're looking at Ominous Multiple Screens. Is often employed in Analog Horror and is the result of Electromagnetic Ghosts. Also see The Television Talks Back and Your Television Hates You.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Cowboy Bebop: In the episode "Brain Scratch", the center of the eponymous cult is a dimly lit room with a tower of stack TV sets, which show the uncanny face of the cult leader talking at whoever enters the room. Far from being a mere psychological effect, something about his dialogue also allows him to brainwash or even to kill any intruders.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Await Further Instructions, a family is trapped inside their own house by a cosmic horror, whatever alien sentience that is in control giving them commands through their television. Such messages include "STAY INDOORS AND AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS", "WORSHIP ME", "I AM YOUR SALVATION" and "I SEE YOU." Since the family's father is a firm believer of Blind Obedience (he and his father are both Control Freaks who abuse their family), he takes these instructions to heart no matter how sinister they become.
  • The Babadook: While suffering from insomnia and trying to escape from Sam, Amelia watches a news report about a mother who kills her son. Then she sees a grinning version of herself in the background of the report, holding a butcher's knife.
  • Censor: Enid obsessively watches Frederick North's films while trying to unravel the mystery of her sister's disappearance. She also firmly believes that films drive people towards psychosis and violence.
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has an amusing, but still unsettling, example when Indy gets abandoned in a lifeless Stepford Suburbia that turns out to be a nuclear test site. The house he enters has a family of plastic dummies sitting around a TV that's playing Howdy Doody for added Soundtrack Dissonance.
  • In Poltergeist (1982), the TV is presented as a conduit for the malevolent spirits that haunt the home, Carol mesmerized by it as the hauntings grow malignant and her parents being able to hear her voice through it.
  • The Ring: Every version of the story makes copious use of the television even before we see Samara/Sadako. Notable examples include the television turning on by itself at the end of the US version's stinger after Katie tells Becca about the tape, the creepy crawlies coming out of the TV, and the amount of discussion in the original version about urban legends to do with local television stations and rogue broadcasts.
  • Videodrome: After encountering Videodrome, Max is able to communicate with the television and uses the screen as a medium; he crawls through the TV screen, and the TV gives him a gun, as well as growing into a mouth.
  • White Noise features a man who thinks he sees and hears messages from his dead wife in the static and ghost images on audio recordings and television screens. Turns out he's not imagining the messages, but he is wrong about their source.

    Literature 
  • In American Gods, Shadow encounters Media — a New God manifesting as Lucy Ricardo — who talks to him through his Hotel Room's television. She explains how she subsists on the "time" American citizens sacrifice simply watching television and tries seducing him into betraying Wednesday. Not only does Shadow, who at this point doesn't know the full-extent of what is happening yet, find her attempts at seduction off-putting, but he then unplugs the TV and avoids other TVs when he can under the assumption that he is being watched.

    Live-Action TV 

    Video Games 
  • All throughout the plot of Alan Wake, Alan finds various televisions that turn on as he walks by them. Sometimes they will be showing the Show Within a Show Night Springs, or Alan will see himself narrating the events happening to him, as though the Player Character is just a fictionalized version of a Horror author. During the DLC episodes, he will hear a maddened version of his narrating the events that are happening as though he is desperately trying to kill the Player Character, all the while flashing ominous footage of an eye, "The Signal" ending with Alan hunting down a floating TV.
  • In The Binding of Isaac, Dogma, one of the two True Final Bosses of the game, is a monster made out of TV static that represents televangelism. It crawls out of Isaac's TV just before the fight.
  • Control:
    • The Benicoff TV is one of several Objects of Power Jesse encounters in the main story, finding it possessed by the Hiss in the Panopticon. While normally the object is only known to float around, when Jesse tries to cleanse it, it warps the cell that its in to where it becomes much bigger, levitating larges chunks of concrete and creating an entirely different room that remains there for the rest of the game. When Jesse cleanses it of the Hiss's influence, she is able to bind it and gains the power to levitate.
    • In the mission "What a Mess: Burn the Trash", Jesse is tasked by Ahti to feed toxic waste to an incinerator that is implied to house an Eldritch Abomination that needs to be fed. If the player explores the room, they will find several televisions displaying an open flame.
    • In the mission "Found Footage", Jesse finds a television showing Ahti mopping at the bottom of a chasm. This television is the result of the Bureau's attempt at researching Ahti, only for the VHS tape housing the footage they took to become an Altered Item in the process. The tape is impossible to remove from the TV and plays the footage on a loop even if the TV is unplugged. Anyone who watches the TV (except for Jesse) becomes hypnotized and is incapable of looking away or doing anything else.
  • Televisions are used as a recurring theme in Little Nightmares II. The game's world is full of old televisions littering the landscape, the Player Character Mono is first found sleeping next to one and can use them to teleport to different locations, the Big Bad The Thin Man using it to hunt down the good guys, most of the people in the City have a homicidal/suicidal need to stare at their televisions and it is implied to all be because of an ominous Signal Tower using the TVs for some nefarious agenda.
  • NieR: Automata: A hidden elevator in the Amusement Park leads 2B and 9S into an underground bunker with a tower of eerily flickering TV sets. While its exact nature is never explained, there are indications that that room is the origin of the logic virus, as it is there that the pair encounter the first infected machine lifeforms.
  • In the climax of The Park, Lorraine stumbles into an illusory replica of her home recreated in the basement of the House of Horrors; here, the television is always on and playing nothing but static. As the house loops in on itself, it becomes increasingly more horrific with every repetition, complete with distorted voices issuing from the TV; in the later loops, it even projects the voice of the Bogeyman, mockingly whispering the final stanzas of "Five Little Ducks" as he lures Lorraine onward.
  • In Persona 4, the Midnight Channel is a special program that airs at exactly midnight during foggy nights in Inaba. It only appears if you're staring the TV alone with the TV turned off and would supposedly show your soulmate. In truth, it turns the TV into a gateway into a "TV World" full of Shadows, monsters born of the repressed parts of the human collective consciousness. Then it turns out that a Serial Killer has been pushing people into TVs to be found strung up somewhere in town the following morning.
  • In Until Dawn, Sam walks out into the living room in her towel when the power to their cabin cuts out. As she wanders, the tv briefly flashes a scary face as a jump scare. While Sam didn't see it, the player certainly did.

    Western Animation 
  • The Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode "The Cloning" reveals that Frylock has been cloning the TV because Master Shake keeps breaking it, but the particles break down every time it's cloned, leading to it showing a vision of Frylock killing Shake, Meatwad and Carl.

 
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The Thin Man

Televisions are used as a recurring theme in the game. The game's world is full of old televisions littering the landscape, the Player Character Mono is first found sleeping next to one and can use them to teleport to different locations, the Big Bad The Thin Man using it to hunt down the good guys, most of the people in the City have a homicidal/suicidal need to stare at their televisions and it is implied to all be because of an ominous Signal Tower using the TVs for some nefarious agenda.

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