The Changing Face of Pop Culture

Now that I’m 50, I’m going to channel my inner old fart, and go totally When I Was Your Age here. Not only did I walk uphill both ways in the snow everywhere I went. Oh no. Even worse than that, I had to watch my entertainment when it aired, or miss it altogether – or until summer reruns, if I was lucky.

Okay, not so terrible in the grand scheme of things. And not a particularly important subject for an article, either. But it’s been on my mind, so I thought I’d throw some words at the page and see what stuck.

The fact that I refer to it as a page instead of a screen is, in itself, telling, I think.

Yes, I am a dinosaur. I still buy books, and CDs, and DVDs. Unlike many, who are unwilling (or unable) to give up the space required to store physical versions of their entertainment, I find a pleasing aesthetic in a well-organized set of shelves.

Plus there are no ownership questions. Once I buy that physical copy, the only way anyone’s getting it away from me is if they break into my house and take it, and there are laws against that. It’s not like digital, where even after you’ve spent your money, the service can cut off your access with no warning or explanation on their part, and no recourse on yours.

There’s another reason I still buy physical copies of my entertainment, though. As online shopping has grown in prevalence, I’ve learned that I hate it. Scrolling through a bunch of images on a screen just doesn’t do it for me. It may be called browsing, but for someone with a tactile nature like mine, that’s far from what it is. Picking things up, flipping through pages, hearing the cases clack together, holding two similar yet different items next to each other, one in each hand, and letting that ineffable something in the back of my mind choose one – these are all integral parts of my decision making process.

As a result, I’ve never much been into streaming.

I had Netflix for a while, but after realizing I’d been paying a monthly fee for it, yet hadn’t logged into it for the better part of a year, I cancelled it. I went quite happily without for a long time after that, until earlier this year, when my love of John Oliver overcame my dislike of online entertainment, and I got Crave.

But it’s an expensive service for a couple of hours of entertainment a month – if that, taking Last Week Tonight‘s breaks into account – so I made an effort to get my money’s worth, scrolled through the selection of available shows, and flagged a bunch of things I might like to watch.

When I finally got around to watching something, I chose Watchmen, partly because it interested me in its own right, but mostly because it was recommended to me by my friend and pop culture soul sister, Liane. We have similar tastes, and I find real joy in having someone to discuss shows and movies with.

It was at this point that I started to warm up to streaming a bit.

See, I started working night shift a few years back, and it’s completely fucked up my ability to sleep. Transitioning between nights during the week and days on the weekend doesn’t work well, and routinely leaves me lying awake in the middle of the night, staring at the ceiling in the dark. Because I don’t live alone, it’s not like I can get up and start turning on lights and making noise doing stuff. So I’ve taken to watching an episode or two of something until I can get back to sleep, and streaming means that I have a wealth of programs available, instead of a bunch of late-night informercials. Or, worse, this:

That’s a test pattern, for you young’uns. Back in the day when there were only, like, three TV channels, they used to go off air for a few hours a night. That image, the bane of insomniacs everywhere, was what they broadcast during their dead time, along with a high-pitched tone that made me feel like my head was going to explode.

As I made my way through the Watchmen series, I’d message Liane when I was done my most recent viewing, and we’d chat back and forth about the episode(s).

But those conversations were often the launch point for something more far-reaching. One of them was about the modern way of consuming entertainment. Liane asked if I knew that Saturday morning cartoons were no longer a thing. (I didn’t.) She said:

I didn’t know til I had a kid, and yah, I know they’ve got everything on demand, and they’re overly marketed to as is, but it’s just so … something.

And while that’s kinda vague, it’s also kinda perfect. There’s a lot to be said about how we can see what we want, when we want these days. I’ve certainly grown to appreciate it.

But in exchange for that convenience, it also feels like we’ve lost … something. The something that can be said for the sense of anticipation I used to feel, waiting for this week’s episode. Especially if it was a two-parter. And especially especially if it had been a season-ending cliffhanger. (Lookin’ at you, Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

Perhaps the most clear example of that loss lies in Star Wars. I’ve been a Star Wars fan for over four decades. Growing up, there was nothing more exciting than the release of a new movie. But unlike many, the announcement that Disney had bought out the franchise didn’t make me happy. It made me concerned – concerned that the mouse would do what the mouse does, and completely oversaturate the market.

Oversaturate it, they did.

I gave up on Star Wars some years back. There’s no excitement when a new movie comes out, because there’s always a new movie coming out. I don’t play the video games. I haven’t seen The Mandalorian. I don’t even read the books anymore.

Except, that is, for when I reread Timothy Zahn’s excellent Heir to the Empire trilogy. So when I heard that Disney may – may – be adapting the books, and that Karen Gillan is being considered for the role of Mara Jade, I was intrigued. I love the Mara Jade character, and the idea of seeing more of her has a certain appeal.

But it also doesn’t.

Another thing Liane said in our conversation about the easy availability of entertainment was a line from Frasier – a show that, as an aside, we had to wait to see every week, and dedicate a specific half-hour to do so. In one episode the title character says:

If less is more, think how much more more would be!

Of course, Frasier then ruins the good thing by going completely overboard.

Much, as Liane pointed out, like Disney so often does.

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