I don’t buy movies. I own about six, all gifts, naturally. Apparently, Aussies still spend close to $1 billion a year on DVDs and Blu Rays. Are people really watching them?
I like to watch, but don’t make me re-watch
Do people just like the idea of having them? Are they just an ideal, last-minute, easily wrapped, unimaginative Christmas present? Or are they like books? A racked up, visual history of the previously consumed, which can also double as a social display of taste. “What, you’ve never seen Blade Runner? Who are you?!”
Perhaps they are merely the latest milestones in the affluenza journey. Mementos slowly gathering dust, while everyone sits glued to reality TV.
I file away my favourite films as memories and always move on to new ones. In fact, if I really loved a film, I am even more reluctant than normal to watch it again, save it loses its sheen, its magic. For me, it can be like returning to significant locations from your past and through the return journey, wiping their nostalgic power.
I had a friend who confessed to the following in broad daylight : “I’ve seen Star Wars 31 times”, to which my serious reply was, “What! Don’t you understand it?”
I’m still perplexed as to how he can still enjoy something so much when he knows every line, battle, alien, and intergalactic alehouse verbatim and the plot twists have become as surprising as the sun coming up.
Particularly baffling is the purchase of comedy movies. Isn’t the primary ingredient of the laughing act a spontaneous reaction to the unexpected? A wry line, taking something to an extreme, sarcasm, someone falling over, etc. If a scene is repeated many times, how does the comedy retain its efficacy?
Pondering why I am evidently among the minority in the movie-buying fervour, got me thinking. A hypothesis emerged that it might just all be about the comfort of the familiar, the known. People may want to watch A Fish Called Wanda again because they are essentially using it to rekindle a particular emotional mood. Familiarity with plot could be completely irrelevant. It is just another dependable drug.
We all do this. The repetition of habit in the quest for familiar results. I quickly realised that I simply do it in other areas. I would perhaps go to a restaurant and order a dish I have had several times before. I may put on a particular T-shirt to begin a day with a specific feeling.
One way the comfort of the known reveals itself in behaviour is the choices people make regarding their annual holiday. There are the people that like to go to the same campsite, for the same two weeks of the year, in the same town and have to get the same pitching spot, surrounded by the same neighbours. I couldn’t think of much worse. Actually, maybe a cruise would be worse. And yes, I know, as I get older I may change my mind, but who first thought it would be a good idea to go on holiday with 4000 other people? I know the saying goes that it’s all about the journey and not the destination, but I kinda like more to look at than a horizon.
Cruise lovers don’t really like ships any more than you or I. They are, in fact, closet foodaholics. Listen to what your cruise-loving friends say upon return. They get more excited by the fact they can get chicken kiev in three different restaurants at 3am, than the meagre three hours they were allocated ashore in Tahiti. “Yes, but one night we actually got to eat at the captain’s table!”
The quest for the comfort of the known permeates all aspects of our lives. Sitting is another — the way people sit in the same seat on the bus or train, every day, or stay in the same seat for a week-long conference. Some people buy the same brand of car their whole driving lives and sometimes even go to the same petrol station to fill up.
My very first job was serving in a petrol station and one guy, either a) in the top one percentile of the ‘hooked on the familiar’ crowd or b) evidently a tad unhinged, would only ever use one petrol pump. He would wait an eternity to use it and never strayed to the other, clearly untrustworthy bowsers.
We often like to think we are rational and logical beings, yet it is evident that we are led by our emotions and, therefore, on many occasions, driven by the desire to reconnect with old positive ones. The internet has opened up new possibilities for this. The search for ‘first loves’ is one use already well documented. but there are also more subtle examples, such as the new middle-aged pursuit of going on eBay to re-buy childhood toys. Who do you know who has just re-bought Action Man, Cluedo or a slinky?
Granted we should not get carried away here. DVD acquisition can be merely, “I buy ’em, coz I like them”. But arguably, it may often be further evidence of what the advertising industry often tells us. We buy because we are emotional. When people watch a movie, lives are suspended and we get taken on an entrancing, emotional journey. The intoxicating, strong feelings involved could be the only catalyst needed to unwittingly lead to an extensive film library. What could be more natural than to try and bottle the laughter, tears, thrills, shocks and spine tingles - and make a little IKEA shrine to that, either side of the lounge screen?
More from Michael Sampson at medium.com/cushion