Thursday, January 25, 2018

Everything Available On Demand But Desire

Musings on how we electronically entertain ourselves in the latter part of the second decade of the 21st century.

These 25” screen floor models were as good as it got
in the 1960s. My family had to settle for a 19” black-
and-white screen until 1974, when we traded up to a
color 19” screen. Still, whatever your station in life, if
you wanted 
to see the hot new show everyone was
talking about, you needed 
to have your backside
planted at the appointed time.

Something I’ve noticed when older folks talk about how media was consumed—or, as we called it, “watchin’ TV/goin’ to the movies”—is that, for all the usual cliches about how There Was Only Three Channels and PBS, et al., no one brings up how you couldn’t just watch “on demand,” as the surprisingly apt expression goes.

If you had a favorite show, you either made time to watch when it was broadcast, or you waited for the summer reruns. VCRs didn’t come down in price to be popular until the late 1970s. “Getting your kid to program the VCR for you” was a joke clear into the late 1980s, as interactive menus didn’t catch on with video recorder manufacturers until then. 

Until the release of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, you had to wait a year for the movie to go to video. It was a big deal that the film, released to theaters in late June, would be available for video purchase by Christmas. If a movie was popular enough, it would run in theaters for up to, and sometimes over a year. (This happened with 1973’s The Sting, a then-hugely popular comedy no one remembers anymore.) Tim Burton’s Batman changed that forever. Now, even the most popular films are out of the theaters within six weeks, and in a spinner rack in the supermarket shortly after.

Sometimes when my tinfoil hat is pinching, I’ll wonder
if the reason once-smash hit films like these aren’t
celebrated is because they would forcibly remind
audiences how insufferably weak today’s “stars”
and films are today.
One can go over this again and again—I have—and it’s still difficult to appreciate the enormity of how we’ve changed our habits as a mass-media consuming audience. 

Or maybe people are sick of hearing (or even remembering for themselves) when there were only three national broadcast networks plus the snowy-pictured PBS station, which your humble scribe does remember.  Nothing personal, Grandpa, but that story’s been told over and over again, so much so that it’s matched that half-century old (and still going strong sentiment), “I don’t own a TV” for tediousness.

I joined the “I don’t own a TV” crowd upon moving to the San Luis Valley in 2016.  There is no broadcast television whatsoever in this vast, slightly tilted flatland between the San Juan Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo range. We’re entirely dependent on the Amazon Fire Stick, and whatever we can bring in from the Internet through it.

As it turns out, this is all I’ll ever need. Or don’t, given that I hardly watch anything at all anymore. I can watch a decent variety of movies on my Prime account, but I simply cannot commit to putting my backside on that sofa cushion.

I often reflect how, as a boy, I would have been beside myself knowing I could watch any one of my favorite half-dozen Star Trek episodes whenever I wanted, instead of having to wait for them to come up in the syndication queue, and hoping I can get some uninterrupted quality time when the day and the hour rolls around. Yet I can’t even be bothered to sit and watch the things I actually like.

I don’t know if this is some depression-generated anhedonia or me getting cranky with old age or all of the above. It just is.