I’ve decided I’m going to age myself yet again, but only because it’s one of the few things I truly excel at. With that semi-depressing warning out of the way, I need to raise the following question: am I the only one with any recollection of a time when we knew nothing about movies or television shows until they’d already been playing for several weeks? Hell, I’ll even go one further and say I remember back to a period when I didn’t know some films were even made until I saw the cases sitting on the shelves of my local video rental store. With any luck, I’ve also just dated some of my more mature Outlaws to the point they have most likely forgotten how (and why) they found this blog in the first place.
I digress though as my rant has a point… hopefully. What I’m attempting to do is harken back to an era before we as a society had this little contraption called the internet. During this segment of human history which seemed to last a lifetime, the latest in entertainment news was relegated to newspapers and magazines, both of which were outdated before the presses they were printed on ever had a chance to warm up. Any type of substantial movie or television news was confined to magazines such as Starlog or Cinescape, both of which provided the latest and greatest rumors in the business at brisk 30-day intervals. Indeed, it was an innocent time for us all. The less we knew, the less we argued about things that truly mattered, like who scares off members of the opposite sex with greater effect: those who dress up as Star Wars or Star Trek characters on a daily basis.
Thanks in large part to the inventive mind of former vice president Al Gore, the World Wide Web was thrust upon the human race like the digital version of Styrofoam cups attached by strings with the added bonus of sending photos at a rate of four pixels per hour. For all intents and purposes, the internet’s availability to the masses was the beginning of a new age of enlightenment, and most importantly, a new exciting way to access porn. It took our ingenious species a few years, but we soon realized that the whole internet thing was quite literally a digital superhighway delivery system that provided instant information and gratification (see porn mention above.) Fast forward to today and not only has the web become a large warehouse of useless information (ex: blogs written by grown adults who wear action figures strapped to every limb of their body), it has also become a vital component of our day to day living.
That said, this post is not about a coma-inducing topic like how the infrastructure of the internet plays a significant role within human society. No, what I want to address is the impact Mr. Gore’s self-proclaimed brain child has had on how we approach, absorb and, in-turn, appreciate our pop-culture media. In other words, the AAA of geeking out.
Let’s begin with the first A: approach. In the olden days before everyone had their corneas surgically fixated to pocket-friendly LCD screens with enough power to launch a nuclear warship, seeking out info on ones’ favorite filmed entertainment was akin to finding a needle in a haystack the size of Warren Buffet’s bank account. Now, with just a few strategically typed words, not only can we find the filming schedule for the next Star Wars movie, but we can learn about Harrison Ford’s bowel movement schedule as well. On the plus side, having a wealth of information on your favorite pop-culture property at the touch of your fingertips is an enticing prospect. So appealing in fact, I find myself Google-ing the ever-loving heck out of a certain topic whenever I am so inclined. Regrettably, I’ve also found myself wasting countless hours reading about the pros and cons of how a Sony executive’s choice to eat eggs for breakfast food could affect the chances of a third Ghostbusters film being made. It’s this insane amount of research that not only keeps me perpetually single, but adversely influences my potential viewpoint of the end creation; a viewpoint I may not have had before my internet binge on the topic. This leads me to my next A: absorb.
It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out—lucky for me since I’m the furthest thing from one—that the quantity of today’s entertainment pre-release news in relation to yesteryear’s updates have skyrocketed. I would cautiously argue that the quality of this specific type of news is also up, although even that’s debatable seeing as not every piece of info on the internet is unequivocally accurate. (Unfortunately, I know this is news to many, specifically the crowd that thinks Elvis is still alive and continues to mow their lawn every other Thursday.) On top of misinformation, one must also consider the ‘me too’ contingent of the web who republishes unconfirmed rumors like mindless drones without taking three seconds to do a bit of research. How does this relate to content absorption you ask? I’m glad you asked because it’s quite simple actually. With such an abundance of information —be it right or laugh-out-loud wrong—in just trying to sort through the mess on the web, we are involuntarily absorbing an Optimus Prime-sized U-Haul of data on a subject which, arguably, isn’t going to change the world in any significant way.
As I touched on with personal biases, based on the current glut of available updates I wrangle my way through on the web, I’ve recently found myself guilty of forming harsh opinions (or incredibly high expectations) on the subject at hand well before the studio executives have made a final decision on the project. That’s not to say these biases don’t already exist within the troubled mass of cells known as my grey matter, but I can’t help but feel that the internet has a majority of geeks (myself included) extolling an incalculable amount of energy on things that—outside of a nerd civil-war—are for the most part out of our control. As I’ve read in some book my memory-challenged brain currently forgets the title of: “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Hell, it’s bad enough I sweat like a broken sprinkler system while just sitting still in a movie theater chilled to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
On a somewhat final note, I think it’s also important to point out that the internet is a 2 billion-way street. The info coming down from the production side of things is only one part of the equation. If there is anything positive the internet has done, it’s been to cut out a pathway for geeks to make their thoughts known to those on the other end creating their favorite works of art. Studios and film makers in general have learned that financial success in the nerd world can be achieved by properly paying homage to what us nerds love about the source material in the first place. Undoubtedly, many of today’s directors and producers are fans of the subject matter they take on, although they are also inherently artists who want to put their own spin on things. If the World Wide Web has done anything within this industry, it’s let the masses have a voice (even if just a tiny whisper you can barely make out down the hall) in how certain elements are handled within the medium.
The larger matter at hand, though, is how our approach and absorption of the internet’s endless stream of content effects our appreciation of the final product. One of the things I’m slowly starting to experience with association to this is what is known as Information Overload, or more simply put, geek burnout. There is no denying I’m a fairly up-to-date geek, but there are only so many stories I can read about studio executives arguing with producers about whose genitalia is larger and more attractive to the opposite sex before I start zoning out. Nevertheless, there are those that enjoy the slow burn, the piece-by-piece construction of a new film, from the lead actor all the way down to the guy who brings the coffee to the guy who ordered the coffee on set. While I can see the fascinating aspects of this process—it’s not without its consequences; the major one being spoilers. Opening one’s self up to every available news update also makes one vulnerable to information which could ruin a surprise or twist that may have been best experienced without prior knowledge. (Hint: Not all internet stories warn of spoilers before spilling their guts.)
More to the point, isn’t one of the chief motives for watching any type of entertainment-based media the element of surprise? Isn’t part of the journey discovering everything anew for the first time? Maybe I’m alone—and it wouldn’t be the first (or last) time—however, I wonder what kind of joy can be found in watching every single tiny step taken during the creative process. Even if I’m able to use my limited common sense and frail will power to avoid spoilers, I feel the like the magic of the show is lost if I saw all the behind-the-scenes footage prior to the release itself. Call me a traditionalist, but the wonderment is sucked right out of the room when you have quite a few pieces to the puzzle already sitting in your head. I find this particularly true for the science fiction and fantasy based genres that require a suspension of disbelief to pull off the stories being told. Personally, if I’ve seen the “how to guide” before the end result, I’m always a little less enchanted with the final product when it’s sitting in front of me.
To be fair though, I honestly can’t imagine myself going back to a world where films and shows seemingly fall out of the sky at a moment’s notice; yet there is also something to be said for the element of true unadulterated surprise. You know the kind—like the feeling of reaching into your pocket to find a $20 bill you thought you never had and then going to spend it on an unnecessary Ghostbusters Ecto-1 toy that you had no clue was released over a month ago.
As I’ve learned in my 30-plus revolutions around the sun, life is all about balance and I personally feel that balance can apply to how we use the internet for our pop-culture fix, if not our online usage in general. Obviously I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to follow your favorite franchises or media (like you’d listen anyway). It’s a free country and in the famous words of a big-boned foul-mouthed fourth grader, “whatever, you can do what you want.” Nonetheless, I think it’s not unreasonable to heed the warning that too much of anything is never a good thing, unless it’s money, sex, or Ghostbusters memorabilia. Yet when it does comes to the web, fellow Outlaws, try to tread lightly and proceed with caution, “for the net is dark and full of spoilers.”