Musings on Desire, Technology, and TV
For a long stretch of years, while I was very busy in school, raising my son, and working, I didn’t watch any television whatsoever. It definitely wasn’t a stance and not so much a decision; it was a side effect. That was interrupted several years ago when I was extremely sick with bronchitis compounded by a most dreadful "inversion" in the Salt Lake Valley during Christmastime.
I had slept off a lot of it dozing 20 hours straight, and awoke at midnight weirdly refreshed and wanting to watch a movie. I had nothing unwatched from Netflix or the library, so I decided to open the doors of the entertainment armoire, blow the spider webs off the TV, and flip around to see if I could find anything of interest. O Brave New World: I had HBO! I really hadn’t known. I caught a holiday marathon of Sex & the City—amazingly beginning with the very first episode of the very first season. It was so fabulous in my delirium.
For years, it spiraled from there, one-at-a-time, season-through-season, first-to-last, in obsessive fits: Murder One, The Adventures of Superman, The Wire, Oz, Twilight Zone, all the Law & Orders, Farscape, Earth 2, Homicide: Life on the Street, The X-Files, all of the Star Treks several times through, Jericho, Babylon 5, Lost, The Bob Newhart Show, and on and on.
And then it happened: about halfway through the second season of Seaquest DSV, The Future had arrived again. I had already gone through this with movies and information in general with the advent of the VCR in the 80s and the personal computer in the 90s respectively, this everything-at-your- fingertips feeling. It’s great, I guess. It beats scouring card catalogues and microfiche in 1982 at the Topeka Public Library for any reference to Flying Saucers or David Letterman.
But within this information-agey-feeling that The Future has arrived, there comes some kind of critical mass of information ingestion in which I began to question everything—in the 80s it happened when I found myself setting the VCR to tape Howard the Duck. It is a sense of boredom.
Not boredom exactly—I think that’s a dismissive word generally, but it fits better than any other single word I can think of. Non-single words include: overstimulation, trivial, saturation, novelty, entitlement, whimsy, spoiling, ease, void, meaningless, waste, simplistic. All these things spliced together is what the feeling is. It reminds me to stay focused on quality vs. quanity. “Quality,” being completely subjective, of course—we’re talking about television.
I appreciate the convenience of having access to so much and I take advantage of it—I love it. But I miss the desire for the inaccessible and the cheap thrill of perhaps finally being able to access it, just once, after all.
An example: growing up, my sister and friends and I loved classic movies. This was in the late 70s and early 80s—before VCRs were household objects. Many films simply could not be viewed ever, in Topeka, Kansas.
All was through a veil of mystery—we got what “they” gave us. Some of it made us really happy. Gone With the Wind and Dial M for Murder at the theatre during some strange revival. Of Human Bondage at 3:00am on a channel from Kansas City that we could barely receive. It really meant something—it was special. But it was at the expense of being so starved and probably forever, too--we couldn’t foresee cable, VCRs, actual cities with weird theaters, Netflix, or Hulu. No, this all would have been indistinguishable from magic.
So what am I lamenting about-is it just that there is never enough? Oh, I think there’s enough now. Yet I find myself seeking out and desiring things still unavailable. While I realize this may be a metaphor for larger issues, I also realize it’s not necessarily exclusive to myself. Desire and longing is essential to discovery, understanding, finding, and learning. The quest itself somehow imbues a thing with value. What happens when the quest is negated in the name of convenience?
These are certainly not new questions and ideas, and I don’t mean to rehash the obvious—this isn’t the overdone barbaric yawp regarding the dumbness of reality shows, etc. Stupid junk has always been a part of television—that is part of its entire point. This is about accessibility, the act of seeking, and how it informs experience. Actually, I think the notion of technology enabling access to media and information is just still so experiential and embryonic that it’s impossible to reconcile everything just yet.
I began thinking about these issues recently when I was browsing at Netflix and elsewhere and looked up a few shows I was hoping had been released on DVD or made available on Hulu. I’d really like to see the show Sightings be released on DVD. I know Unsolved Mysteries has been released in DVD collections, which I own, but I’d also love to see all the old episodes released by season. However, the new Unsolved Mysteries does nothing but replay the old stories, so I’ve gotten a fair fix on that.
In Search Of links: