From the Blog

The Cost of Electric Sex



Last week’s blog came about due to a discussion in my office about the best holiday movies of all time. We had a rousing debate about the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles and whether it qualifies as a holiday movie, which led us to calculate the carbon output of the trip the two characters took to get home for Thanksgiving.

I have been receiving lots of inquiries from blog readers about that conversation. Each reader has asked what my favorite holiday movie is, which is A Christmas Story.

It is an epic tale about a young boy named Ralphie (played by Peter Billingsley) and his quest to get a BB gun for Christmas over his mother’s objections that he will “shoot your eye out.”

At one point in the movie, the father known as “the old man Parker” (played by Darren McGavin) wins a major prize in a crossword puzzle contest, and that prize is what would become the legendary “leg lamp.”

“Would you look at that? Would you look at THAT?”

The leg lamp was promptly placed in the parlor in front of the picture window and the old man Parker went outside to view it from the street where he proudly proclaimed to the neighbors that it was a major award while, as Ralphie put it, “he basked in the glow of electric sex.”

Now this story takes place in 1940 (based on the fact that Ralphie’s “Little Orphan Annie” decoder pin displays “1940” on it) in the northern Indiana town of Hohman. There is no such place as Hohman, but it was based on real-life Hammond, Indiana, where writer Jean Shepherd grew up. Therefore, I have wondered how much it would have cost to fill the parlor room with the glow of electric sex in 1940’s Hohman, Indiana.

It is hard to estimate the cost of electricity in 1940’s Hohman, so I looked to some averages for time periods somewhat close to the movie’s setting, which would put that cost close to 2.6 cents per kWh.

The Leg Lamp was a modern marvel of plastic, lace, and electrification. It would have used a 40-watt bulb, which means it would use 40 watts of energy in an hour or .04 kWh. Since this was a major award, old man Parker wanted the lamp on for everyone to see, thus we can assume it was on from dusk til dawn, or twelve hours, which would consume 480 watts a day (.48 kWh).

Over the course of a month, the Leg Lamp would have used 14.4 kWh or electricity x 2.6 cents per kWh.

Now we all know that the Leg Lamp did not live to see Christmas morning; but if it had, the cost to illuminate the parlor of Ralphie’s house with the “glow of electric sex” would have cost a whopping 37.4 cents, or in today’s dollars, $6.64.

With the cost only being $6.64, that would leave plenty of money left over to buy an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle.

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