I need to take a break from doing class work regularly these days. Sometimes I get home from work and I’m worn out, and I need to turn off my brain for a couple hours before starting on class work for the evening. Sometimes I just want to distract myself for a bit before heading to bed. In either case, I don’t have the brainpower to write a good blog post (as evidenced by my lack of posting) or even read a book.
The interesting thing I noticed is that I’m much more prone to watch TV rather than movies when I want to be braindead. It’s not a matter of channel flipping – I only watch DVR’d TV without commercials. But for some reason, starting to watch a TV show feels like less of an investment than starting to watch a movie.
Part of that is the time commitment. A TV show without commercials is about 40-45 minutes, whereas a movie is double that length. But I’ll often watch two episodes of TV, so that negates the “I didn’t have time” argument. So what’s going on here?
I was talking about this with my friend Rebecca over Thanksgiving, who had noticed the same tendency in herself. Her explanation? “Movies are a thing.” This is the sort of argument that would be better handled by Grant McCracken, but I’ll take a swing here at what she means, which resonates with my own experience.
Watching TV is just watching TV. All of our connotations about TV are relaxed and comfortable. We flop onto the couch, grab the remote, flip on the TV and see what’s on. It’s the ultimate in informality. If we don’t like what’s on, we change the channel or turn off the TV. Many people leave the TV on while doing other activities, just to have some background noise and chatter. It’s an acquaintance, one that we can drop in on anytime we want.
Watching movies is a “thing”, a cultural experience and ritual. We make a trek to our local shrine (theater), and pay obeisance in the form of purchasing tickets. We are ushered into a temple for worship purposes at specified intervals decreed by the movie gods. Suddenly, the curtains are drawn back to reveal our object of worship, with images that are literally larger than life and surround us with a wall of sound. We shush others who dare to interrupt our experience of the movie, and leaving the theater in the middle of the movie would be sacrilege. Watching movies, at least in the theater, is a far more formal experience than watching TV ever is.
Even though watching a movie on DVD isn’t the same as going to the theater, I think these sorts of connotations and cultural archetypes affect my perception of how to consume the different forms of media. I feel like when I start a movie, I have to block out two hours of time to watch it uninterrupted, and I have to be in a frame of mind where I can focus on the movie. This rarely applies when I’m just looking for some distraction in the evening before starting class work or going to bed, so I end up watching a TV episode from my DVR or DVD collection instead.
I think I might feel differently if I were a Netflix subscriber. My sister has a much more relaxed attitude towards movies than I do, where she’ll start DVDs and stop them, leave them on while doing other things, etc., and I wonder if some of that is due to the fact that movies come to her in her living room rather than being part of the cultural ritual. The effort of going to rent movies, even back in Oakland when I lived a couple blocks from a rental place, was enough of an obstacle that I rarely did it.
The anthropological observation of my friend amused me, so I figured I’d blog about it. Plus, we got out of class early tonight, so I’m a bit more awake than usual and figured I would procrastinate productively for once. But it’s time to take another look at my master’s project.