Saturday, July 22, 2006

Another (Rather Nice) Obsession Made Possible by Technology

So this week I've been enjoying a proto-Waldenian retreat at a pond. Okay, so it was a lake. And it wasn't just me, but also my 9 nearest relations. At, not a small cabin with bare furnishings, but a 4-bedroom cottage with most of the trimmings. No phone, it's true, but a full kitchen complete with microwave, a TV with 20 or 30 channels. No DVD player, but then we brought one with us, along with an iPod with speakers (not a video one, but lots of music and podcasts) and 3 laptops we could have watched movies on (though mostly my brothers played Civilization 4 on opposite sides of the room and chatted about it).

So that's all to explain that the retreat was only proto-Waldenian. But that's okay. It was nice, but I must say that I'm rather glad to be back to email and Internet again. Thoreau I'm not, and that's okay.

But that's not what I wanted to blog about. What I wanted to talk about was my viewing of the first season of House last week. And, since I never blogged about it a couple of months ago, I thought I'd also mention my super-West Wing first-five-season marathon of a couple months ago, in which I gulped down five seasons' worth of my favorite show in a little over 10 days (it was before my spring/summer classes started).

The thing I noticed most during both of my DVD TV-show marathons (something almost everyone I know, even those who don't watch much TV on TV, seems to be doing lately) was the impressive sustained storytelling in these shows. When you watch the shows week by week, you're excited to find out what's happening next, but you don't notice to nearly the same degree how much ongoing character development and big-picture plot development is going on slowly over the course of a season and even from season to season. It's pretty amazing, really, and quite creatively stimulating for me as a novel-length storyteller.

Of course, the sustained storytelling, when you have an opportunity to see it all at once like that, makes it like one long movie. Which means it's sort of hard to stop watching. Soon you find yourself staying up till 4 a.m., watching some over breakfast, etc. It's easy to get obsessive when it's a show you really like (I know I'm not alone in this). It's also amazingly easy to finish a season in less time than you would have thought possible.

The nice thing, of course, is that because you can pause at any time, you can stop at any time to go do other stuff. Which makes me wonder what Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 character Faber would think about this way of viewing TV shows. After all, one of the things he liked about books (as opposed to the TV "parlors" with ongoing programming) was that you could "play God to them" by shutting them to think about them, digest them, and develop opinions about them. DVD TV shows seem to be about halfway in-between: on one hand, they're pretty visual and compelling so they're hard to turn off, but on the other hand, the pausability (and natural breakup into episodes) is a beautiful thing. The latter does give you time to think about what you're viewing.

Of course, TV has had these capabilities for at least 25 years, since VCRs came out, but the DVD TV show trend (and the iTunes selling-shows extension) moves the ability to watch whole seasons from organized TV viewers like my dad into the mainstream, where anyone can not just buy, but also go to the library and borrow whole seasons of shows.

And the fact that so many people are doing it fascinates and amazes me. I don't know if it's a completely good or bad thing or not, but it's certainly an interesting trend, and there are at least a few genuinely good shows worth watching this way. And let no one say that today's generations have no attention spans or senses of dedication and commitment. :)

1 comment:

Jodie Boyer said...

I miss having a show to watch at the appointed hour. In fact just last night I discovered that The Daily Show and the Colbert report were on CTV at 12 and I was struck by what great things this could do for my life. For example, I might stay up working, or talking with Doug, or doing my laundry for an extra hour so I could watch.

On the other hand, I have been considering buying a couple of seasons of Monk lately. However, your post clued my into the possibility that it might be at my local library. Beautiful!