Areas of Unrest
27 June 1999 - Entertainment On Demand
Just as a quick followup on the last entry, I stopped by the warehouse Friday morning on my way into the office and picked out a chair. It should get delivered some time next week. I then spent much of the rest of the day trying to straighten out various odds and ends of paperwork. For example, I haven't been getting credit union statements for several months. It turns out that they had never processed my change of address when I took my leave last year. Apparently, if the post office notifies them of the change of address they put a "no mail" flag on your account until you update your address. In January I stopped in to find out why I hadn't gotten a statement for a couple of months and corrected my address. But the clerk didn't know she had to take the flag off, so my account was still set to "no mail." It should be corrected now but was annoying as it is part of a long string of change of address hassles. Out of all the address changes I filled out, only Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, one bank and two (out of five) airlines I have frequent flyer miles with updated things the first time around. The credit union has now topped the company I have my VISA card with, whose form on the back of my bill I filled out and sent in three times before they updated their records.
Anyway, I went over to the Beverly Center after work on Friday becuase I needed a gift for someone and hadn't been there in ages. In addition to the errand I was actually running, I made the dubious decision to stop into the record store next to the movie theater there. I have no idea what the name of this store is, but they have pretty much the best show tune section I've seen in a long time. (Footlight Records in New York is better, but a bit out of the way.) I ended up seeing enough CDs that I couldn't live without (notably the cast album of The Golden Apple which is a marvelous musical and very hard to find) that I knew I'd have to pay with a credit card. In which case, I figured I might as well add to the damage with a couple of videos I had wanted for a while. So I finally have the three tape boxed set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And an anime video I was interested in largely because of the cover blurb. It's called Master of Mosquiton and the blurb read "he's a vampire; she's a pain in the neck." It turned out to be pretty entertaining, with nice artwork and a fairly clever plot.
But buying videos reminded me of how entertainment has changed within my lifetime. When I was a kid, you had to watch a TV show when it was on or wait for a rerun. There were certain shows that everyone watched (Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in, All in the Family, M*A*S*H) and talked about in school the next day. One could argue about whether or not this was a good thing but it created a unifying popular culture. Similarly, there were just a few movie theatres nearby (none at all in my home town and one in each of the neighboring towns) so people tended to have seen the same movies. Not that there are more movies out now, but I can go to the video store and rent something old or odd if I'm in the mood for it. So, with the possible exception of a handful of blockbusters, there isn't a common culture there either.
Similarly, I heard a news story on the anniversary of the invention of the Sony walkman. Before the walkman, music was a public thing. You could play a phonograph at home, of course, but other people in the house heard you. When I was in junior high I took advantage of this by going downstairs, putting a record on the stereo and turning the volume just loud enough for it to be heard upstairs but not so loud that my parents would complain. Then I slipped out the back door to see my friends. I did eventually misjudge the volume and get caught, but in this day of the walkman, I'd never have been able to pull the trick off at all.
Of course, there was an earlier age in which music was even more public, when you couldn't buy records and had to go to concerts or the town square or, at the very least, the homes of your friends.
So what we end up with a culture in which entertainment is primarily private and people don't know how to handle pubic events. While I like being able to listen to (or watch) whatever I want to whenever I want to - and, face it, some of my tastes are not exactly mainstream - I see the downside of this in the fragmentation of popular culture. If I want to talk about a TV show or movie or a piece of music, I have little reason to believe that any given person would necessarily have any acquaintance with what I am talking about. If I want to talk about anime or Buffy or show tunes or tropicalismo or whatever, I end up having to seek out a community of interest. Which is easy enough to do on the internet and was part of why I first thought the net was cool when I started reading newsgroups back in 1985.
But I still think we've lost something. I have no social need to expose myself to the unfamiliar unless I want to. So the greater apparent diversity of what is available there can actually lead to diminished tolerance. As well as bad behavior in public (e.g. people who talk loudly in movie theaters) because people are used to thinking of behaving just as they do in their living rooms. Unfortunately, I don't see a solution to this. Except maybe just encouraging people to get out of their houses every now and then.
In the interests of which, I drove down to Orange County to see Limbo with a couple of friends today. The movie was interesting enough, a bit weird and not entirely satisfying. David Strathairn is gorgeous (the others drooled over him too) except he should really have kept his shirt on as he has a strangely stringy neck and I prefer my objects of drool to have chest hair. I could have seen the movie much closer to home but then I wouldn't have had the few hours of conversation over drinks and munchies afterwards. Ah, it is so much nicer flapping my social butterfly wings freely than being scrunched up in my cocoon!
Copyright 1999 Miriam H. Nadel
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