[23 March 2005]
I officially became part of the problem this week, when I illegally downloaded a pirated TV show episode off the Internet. I don’t want to name the show, in case it comes back to bite me somehow, but I’ll give you a hint. It starts with an “L”, it rhymes with “cost” and it’s about a bunch of plane crash survivors on a mysterious deserted island. Except that it’s not deserted because there’s apparently some big-ass monster in the jungle, and there’s definitely a crazy French chick out there, and holy-moly Kate is a total babe, but Sawyer’s rakish bad-bay shtick is sure wearing thin, and ooh that Jin makes me so mad and I’m glad he left Sun because he doesn’t deserve her . . .
I normally don’t get this stupid over a TV show, but when I do get stupid, I get really stupid. Stupid enough to lurk at the online forums and spend about four hours figuring out how to download an episode I missed. Getting movies and TV shows over the Internet is ridiculously complicated to figure out, but if you’re interested, it can be done. You just have to get comfortable with bit torrents and codecs and a vaguely unethical feeling at the base of your skull.
You also have to accept the idea that you’re running non-commercial “open-source” software on your system. This is a famous way to cripple your PC with viruses, but you know, we underground technobandits like to live on the edge. It’s part of the outlaw glamour of Internet piracy. (Just typing that, I can feel myself getting physically geekier. Dammit! What the hell is this? Acne?)
Anyway. It took about a half hour to download the show itself, which ran as 45 minutes of full-screen high-def video (no commercials!) on the computer. Now that it’s all set up, I find I have a whole new dilemma on my hands: you can get anything online. Any movie you can get in theaters or on DVD (plus many you can’t), and TV shows that go up online within minutes after their initial broadcast. Plus porn, of course. Lots of porn. I’d jump on that immediately, except my tastes run to a particularly obscure genre of druidic S&M you have to mail-order from Rio.
No, my immediate problem is this: with endless TV shows and movies a click away, every day is Christmas, potentially. Setting aside the ethical concerns of commercial file-swapping (I’m very good at setting aside the ethical concerns of commercial file-swapping), I could easily get myself into trouble watching back episodes of The Daily Show or Arrested Development or (God help me) 24.
What I’m worried about is that I actually spent half a day chasing down this one particular episode of my mysterious island show over the Internet. Do I really want to be that guy that downloads TV shows on his computer? No, I don’t wanna be that guy. I hate that guy. That’s the guy that stays up until 3am eating Cheetos and burning DVDs of Dr. Who and The Prisoner. I’d like to be that other guy, the guy that doesn’t even own a TV, reads weighty hardcover literature in the evenings and occasionally deigns to attend a Fellini film festival.
Ah, well. Such is my lot. I grew up on TV, lots and lots of TV, and still have psychic scars from that time my Dad grounded me and I couldn’t watch the two-hour Dukes of Hazzard special. In terms of hours invested, TV is the single most important mass media/cultural conduit in my development. Which probably says a lot about my attention span and weird affection for Joyce DeWitt.
The truth is that my attitude toward TV is fundamentally ambivalent. Because mostly, let’s face it: TV sucks. It’s bad. Bad, bad, bad. Not ironically-good-bad or so-stupid-it’s-funny-bad, but just pure bad. Individually and culturally, watching TV is the passive equivalent of eating a fistful of slightly hallucinogenic barbiturates. Reality programming and 90 percent of the scripted shows only fill me with sadness and ennui. I’m not one of those people that can enjoy TV on some vague ironic level. Click on Jerry Springer, and I’m likely to either weep for our planet or immediately depart on a tri-state killing spree.
But neither can I be snooty about it, because I do enjoy some bad TV just on a very genuine and earnest level. For example, I love America’s Funniest Home Videos. This puzzles and disturbs my family and friends. Cute kids, funny pets, guys getting hit in the crotch with stuff I’m there. I have no idea why. Then there’s this weird new trend of short-attention-span theater, like Top 100 TV Celebrity Meltdowns or whatnot. It’s perfectly disposable television; 90-second totally irrelevant pop-culture blips that I cannot stop watching. Who’s responsible for this? I hate being target-marketed so effectively. I’m looking at you, VH1!
And, of course, I’m invested enough in my new paranormal castaways drama to pirate the damn thing online. How sad is that? I sat there at my desk, watching it on my 17-inch Sony Triniton monitor, with my stereo headphones on, and thinking, this can’t be right. This is no good. I’m watching TV on my computer.
Ah, but I loved it, I did. I’m hooked on that show. Just another cheerfully post-punk consumer addicted to tricked-out prime-time soap opera. What happened, people? How did my life end up like this? Where did the dream go wrong?
And most importantly, will Kate choose Jack over Sawyer? I sure hope so. Because that Sawyer is just so conceited, and Shannon’s nothing but a skank, and Sayid should be paying attention to Sun, and I’m worried about Michael and Walt, and . . .
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/mcdonald050323/