In the 1990s TV series Beverly Hills, 90210, whenever Tori Spelling’s character appears on the screen, the world goes Thin. Everything on screen, including her, is stretched vertically. It’s easiest to notice this in scenes that include a second character. First, there is Normal Jason Priestley by himself, then a cut to Freakishly Thin Jason Priestley standing next to Tori Spelling, then another cut to Normal Jason Priestley by himself again. Presumably this arrangement between Tori Spelling and the producers of 90210, whoever they were, was intended to flatter her with the appearance—frankly unnecessary—of even more skinniness. Instead, it’s uncanny.
Even a square—a literal square, not a figurative one like me—next to 90210’s Tori Spelling, wouldn’t be square. It would be taller than it is wide. The ratio of that no-longer-square’s width to its height is called its “aspect ratio”. Proper, Jason-Priestley-type squares, have an aspect ratio of one to one, or “1:1” in the language of the industry. A Next-To-Tori-Spelling-Square would have an aspect ratio of about 0.8:1 (equivalently 4:5, because only the ratio matters).
Your TV also has an aspect ratio. Its image is wider than it is tall, so it has an aspect ratio greater than 1. If you are a grumpy old fart, you will remember the TV that you used to have had an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (or 4:3). You will no doubt also remember the elation and freedom you felt with your first “widescreen” TV, with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (or 16:9). At least until you discovered that there was not in fact any widescreen content available for your expensive new TV. All the analogue channels steadfastly presented their content in 4:3 until the day they died. But dammit, you paid for that extra screen real estate, and dammit, you were going to use it. So you stretched the too-narrow picture horizontally so that it filled the whole screen. Or, perhaps, that was the TV’s default setting and you couldn’t find the button on the remote control to adjust the picture. The result? Everything is fat. The people are fat; the squares are fat; even the test pattern is fat.
TVs in hotels are the worst offenders. They are fed by 1980s-era analogue signal distribution boxes, happily churning out 4:3 pay-per-view movies to brand-new widescreen LCD televisions. On the assumption that you are a thieving remote-control hoarder, the hotel gives you a special hotel-only remote control with, invariably, no button to fix the aspect ratio. You are forced to watch your movie full of fat people. But dammit, you paid for that movie, and dammit, you’ll watch it.
This is why, when I stay at a hotel, a little part of me hopes that they are screening old episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210. The Fat of the hotel TV would be cancelled by the Thin of 90210. It’s probably the only way I’ll get to see Normal Tori Spelling. (And Freakishly Fat Jason Priestley, but let’s not think about that.)
DEBORAH PICKETT (@FUTZLE) is presented in 1:1.