Thursday, May 12, 2011

Movies on cable: Why we love the limits of what's not on-demand

On last week's Pop Culture Happy Hour they discussed movies that, if one comes across them while flipping around channels, one will stop and watch, irrespective of how many times one has seen them or even of their artistic merit. That's a phenomenon that may not be something the generation being born now may grow up to experience, as the notion of broadcasting without everything being available on-demand may be seriously outdated, and although this is undoubtedly romanticizing the notion of being subjected to limited choices I do kind of feel bad for those future people who may never get the joy of that sort of unexpected discovery.

As noted on the podcast the criteria for these movies they selected could include the fact one owns the movie on DVD (and thus could put the disc in and watch at any time one chooses), which goes along with the nostalgic aspect suggested by my lamentation for the world of today when viewed through the lens of this proposed future of access to everything whenever one wants it. An on-demand world sounds good, but I think the reality is that much of the time we don't have the overwhelming need to see something that would necessitate demanding it; we want to be entertained, sure, and some of the time we will seek out something very specific, but other times we want to be presented with a limited number of choices, because we don't feel like exerting all the effort to demand something out of the everything out there. Unlimited options requires a greater level of input as to what we wish to see and sometimes we merely want to see something that holds some appeal with which we are already familiar, without having to wrack our brains to cull down a particular piece of media to satisfy a need that is too vague to provide us with a means of narrowing it down.

I doubt that desire for effortless amusement will not go away in the future, even though the current means of having the necessary limitations may. And I have no doubt that in this future someone will create an application of some sort that will approximate the just-give-me-something-to-watch solution that flipping through channels has, but it won't cannot possibly be the same.

Right now any broadcast medium with specific programming is offering something that someone else decided to make available at a given time; the decisions that limit the choices were made without we, the consumer, having had to make them; we merely needed to select whether what was offered was worth pausing to enjoy. Much as we fancy the notion of being able to get what we want without it being denied to us, we fancy more having someone else do that culling out much of the drek—or perhaps specifically providing the drek, depending on our mood—to narrow the proverbial entertainment menu to only the movie/show dishes we wish to consume.

Now when one has the desire for lazy amusement the channel showing a favorite movie (even if it's a so-called guilty pleasure) on cable that's part way through that's preferable because it requires nothing but not pressing the button on the remote again. To put in a DVD would obligate us to get up from the sofa, go retrieve it from its case, load it into the player, wait through the FBI warning, and make a selection at the menu to start playing; that's too much of an undertaking unless one really has an overwhelming desire to see the movie in question from the beginning.

And let's not even get started on how much of the time we never find ourselves quite in the mood to watch that DVD we requested from Netflix… two months ago, when we had some inclination to see the Oscar-nominated films. That's worse than the immediate on-demand, because it's delayed demand that has to extend the mood one had when putting the film atop the queue beyond any reasonable human limit, and then overcome the distractions of all those aforementioned movies on cable that don't require getting up.

It's amazing we don't just keep re-watching The Shawshank Redemption on a loop.


Anyway, some examples of this from just this past weekend that I watched part of: Live Free or Die Hard (mostly because parts of it were filmed in downtown L.A. and I delight in seeing that masquerade as Washington D.C.—and Maggie Q is pretty hot in it); Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle (mostly for Neil Patrick Harris and the scene with Gary Anthony Williams as the overly accepting prisoner).

And from my past, here's an ill-advised admission: While there's many great films of the Western canon I've never seen, years ago I watched Deep Blue Sea in parts—never on purpose—more times than it could possibly deserve.

Ah, the curse of cable. And the glory of it.

1 comment:

  1. I was watching the first "Die Hard" last weekend, on lo-def AMC of all things.

    At our house, "GalaxyQuest" is on a permanent loop. And any movie starring Greer Garson.

    Maggie Q looks cute in "Priest," out tomorrow. But the movie overall looks pretty lame. I didn't realize she's mostly deaf from on-set explosions during filming.


So, what do you think?