Media Saturated

I recently broke down and decided to pay for the cheapest Netflix account possible — one disk in the mail, unlimited streaming video. After I ploughed my way through the last two seasons of “Xena,” my boyfriend started using my account more than I did, and I decided that, if there’s two of us using it, it makes sense to pay $9 a month for unlimited entertainment.

Of course, this got me thinking about what a media slut I am, and specifically, what kind of media slut. Obviously I’m into theatre. I make an effort to go see at least one play every weekend, whether I write about it here or not. This doesn’t always happen, as in the case of this past weekend, because of illness or lack of funds or prioritizing my personal time in other ways. But I do go see a whole lot of theatre.

On the other hand, I haven’t actually gone out to the movie theatre to see a movie on a big screen in months. 10 months, to be exact. The last movie I saw on the big screen was “It’s Complicated,” and that was because I was visiting my family on the East Coast and I needed to get out of the house and have some one-on-one time with my boyfriend, whom I had dragged with me to meet my folks. Before that, I think the last movie I saw in theatres was “9.” Not the big cabaret atrocity that came out around the holidays, but the computer-animated crap that most people didn’t even notice. It was awful, to say the least.

And that’s the rub, for me. I can spent a little more than the cost of a movie ticket and go see a mediocre play and at least support a theatre company that’s trying to do something interesting, even if I disagree with their definition of “interesting” or “worthwhile” theatre, or I can pay for a movie ticket, sneak in a soda and some candy so I don’t have to pay for it at concessions, and see a complete piece of crap that numbs my brain. I haven’t seen a movie I really, truly enjoyed since “WALL-E,” and even that I had some issues with.

I cannot watch another love story about some suburban boy who falls in love with a beautiful, anorexic girl, overcomes some teensy obstacle like school bullying, and they live happily ever after. Nor can I watch horror movies — “Alien” and “Ravenous” are my only two exceptions to that rule. There are movies on my list to watch, sure, but I don’t feel the tug of the big screen anymore. If I can watch them on the cheap, on my own time, at home, I will. There’s other things I can leave the house for that are far more important to me — like time with my friends.

That said, I watch a LOT of TV. There was one point in my life when I didn’t, and, oddly enough, it was when I had cable. There was never anything to watch, and my internet connection was too slow to watch illegally reproduced TV on Asian websites, so I played a lot of video games instead. Now, between Hulu and Netflix, I watch a lot of TV. Some of my favorite shows are “House,” “Lie to Me,” “Torchwood,” “Dr. Who,” “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Fringe,” “30Rock,” “NOVA,” and “Cosmos.” I plan to watch just about every documentary on homosexuality and transgender politics that’s available on Netflix, mostly because I like gay people and am interested in their history, but also because I will someday soon be directing a locally-written and produced play about the Stonewall Riots, so this knowledge is very important. However, I’m known to indulge in the trashier side of TV, primarily with “Mythbusters” and “America’s Next Top Model.” All my friends have to do is mention a scifi show in passing and I will hunt it down and watch it for at least three episodes (the only exception to that rule was “Warehouse 13.” I have no idea why that show is still bring produced).

I also go on radio binges. Podcasts are a favorite past-time, particularly the Savage Lovecast and Poly Weekly. I have been known to listen to a lot of NPR, although I stopped for awhile after overdosing on news about the oil spill in the Gulf. I also used to listen to a lot of the MNAtheists podcast, but their radio show was taken off the air from lack of funds, and their internet-based podcast wasn’t quite up to snuff last time I checked.

I don’t listen to music on the radio anymore, because I don’t want to hear pop music on a loop unless I put it on a loop myself. But I do take a lot of recommendations from friends regarding music. My library is miniscule compared to that of several people I know, but I’m proud of what I have, including my growing collection of modern blues/rock, and early 60’s rock and R&B.

I mentioned video games earlier. I wasted most of my unemployed time playing video games. I recognize how addictive they are, so I desperately try to limit my exposure. Although the greedy part of me wants an Xbox very badly, I know that would pretty much doom my productivity, so I haven’t asked for one or saved up to buy one. I have a Wii, but there’s precious little worth playing on that system, which is good for me. My laptop doesn’t run modern video games well, and I refuse to own a desktop ever again, so I will probably never be able to play Bioshock or Left 4 Dead on my own system, which is just fine. I play quite enough of Age of Mythology, Rise of Nations, old school SimCity, and Evil Genius to satisfy my gaming needs. I tried to get into Diablo II at one point, but apparently it’s borderline impossible to play melee characters in that game, and melee characters are all I play in fantasy games. I refuse to play WoW. Ever. Too addictive.

And yes, I do read books from time to time. OSHA requires certain breaks during work hours, which I follow to the letter, and since I commute by bus most places, I have to do something during that time. I fill those blanks with books. My literary tastes range from scifi/fantasy, to erotica and trashy novels, to nonfiction (particularly nonfiction about evolutionary biology). I’ll read just about anything these days, although I have stopped reading certain books because they were too bad to finish. Dianetics was one of those. Boneshaker, oddly enough, was not.

And then there’s blogs. And Facebook. And ICanHasCheezburger.com. And Thisiswhyyourefat.com. And Pandora. And a smattering of webcomics.

There’s plenty for me to do in my spare time. When I think about it, I’m frankly amazed that I ever get anything done. I’m frankly amazed that many people get things done — I know a lot of my friends are just about as media-saturated as I am. I suppose this is where prioritizing comes in handy. I do tend to drop everything when I’m working on a show. I have let entire seasons of tv shows go because I was in rehearsal for something. I’d rather go out and see something live or take part in a workshop that interests me than listen to NPR and do the dishes. But there are so many opportunities for people to just indulge their pop culture cravings that I wonder how many people miss opportunities to have dinner and drinks with friends, or go hiking, or quietly enjoy the sunrise.

And, since I’m an evolutionary biology nerd, I wonder how often our distant ancestors did those things, or if that’s a fairly recent cultural drive (since at least Thoreau). In thinking about it, I suspect hominids 200,000 years ago or so were media sluts, just like we are, but they had to socialize with each other to get their entertainment. The great story-tellers had to tell stories to eager children, the musically-inclined had to play whatever they were good at, and I’m sure there was a lot of dancing throughout the day. The big difference between them and us is the level of activity involved. My brain is reasonably engaged in just about any media I throw at myself (television being the exception), but how much of it requires me to stand up and move around? Or to weave my own story into the narrative? Pretty much none of it, not even most live theatre. Not even video games, which require some interaction.

It makes me wonder what we’re missing. If homo sapiens sapiens evolved to think our way out of problems, then aren’t we stifling our creativity by having stories told to us? I think there’s a sympathetic element, of course, in learning someone else’s story and relating it to the narrative of your experience — and I think we all talk about our experiences in a narrative way, which is probably why we all want to write our memoirs or blog about ourselves at some point. But there’s an element of participation missing in most of this, which is dwindling even further I’m sure due to lack of arts education in school. Not everyone is amazingly talented in the arts, just like not everyone is a math genius, but I definitely think creativity should be encouraged and supported, if for no other reason than that is what our species evolved to do. There’s a lot we can fill our spare time with, obviously, but I think more of us should spend some of that time with our own minds, rather than distracting ourselves.

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