It Turns Me On: Coming Clean About A Shameful Addiction

(From the Vault: I wrote the column “Confessions of a Dangerous Film Student” for INsite Boston magazine from 2005-2007. Yeah… that was a long time ago. Those were the days before internet streaming and BluRay, so a lot of the material is dated. Funny how things change. The following column captures the shift in the last decade between TV being strictly appointment viewing to the ability to watch your shows whenever and wherever you want. So here it is…)

In high school, I was a junkie.

It’s taken some time and distance to admit it, but here it is: I abused daily, and my addiction became more important than school, family, or friends who didn’t use. Some loved ones tried to intervene, but I’d just stare into a vacuum for countless hours, taking in images and sounds in a way they could never appreciate. I may be putting my esteemed reputation as film scholar extraordinaire on the line by admitting it, but now’s the time. Yes, I was a TV junkie…

And this is my story.

Back in the days when money was scant, transportation was a privilege, and indies were just a bunch of islands out west somewhere, my entertainment came on a smaller screen. Child molesters kept me amused through calculus homework thanks to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit; meanwhile, my stalwart VCRs ensured I didn’t miss ABC’s forgettable comedy lineup or the ooga-chaka antics of Ally McBeal.

The next day, my friend Tiffany and I would spend calc class dishing over the evening’s highlights. When our teacher asked us when we planned to actually do our math, we replied in unison: “At 8PM Pacific Standard Time / 7 Central.” Duh! Math class is for talking; homework we saved for primetime. In retrospect, I guess it’s a good thing TV took priority over calculus — I work in the entertainment industry now, but I haven’t thought about infinite limits since the AP test.It wasn’t until college that I kicked the habit. Surrounded by dorm friends 24/7, pledging a fraternity… suddenly I had what all my favorite characters on The WB had — a social life! Besides, now that my curriculum actually revolved around watching and discussing movies, in-class tube talk was no longer taboo (and thus, no longer fun).

How quickly I buried my disgraceful small-screen roots, trading up for a life of midnight Scorsese screenings with film school classmates who must never know of my past. When I went home for the holidays, old friends asked me to “stop by sometime, to do whatever,” I knew what they meant — and I wasn’t about to fall into that trap. Instead, I’d reply, “Oh… I don’t really watch TV anymore.” It’s a withering statement that harkens back to the first homo erectus dismissing his less-progressed Neanderthal friend: “Sorry, Gruk, I’m just so over cave drawings.”

I had evolved.So for years I lived in remission, cold turkey. My methadone was a vast library of movies on DVD. I’d done away with the stress of remembering certain shows at a certain time on a certain day on a certain channel, and the agony of sitting through the same eight commercials every fifteen minutes. I could push that sinful little button of ecstasy, “Power On,” so long as there was a reputable film in the tray. Almodovar, von Trier, Aronofsky. It was a good life… until a curious thing happened.

My worlds collided.

TV.

On.

DVD.

Whoa

It was like stepping into Technicolor Oz.

It started innocently enough — I caught up with favorite shows I’d missed, like Buffy The Vampire Slayer. For the first time I could take hit after hit, devour a whole season in days. What a rush! Whereas Alias once kept me cliffhangin’ for weeks at a time, I now unraveled the fate of Syndey Bristow in minutes. Next, my TV writing class provided an excuse to sample the highly addictive first season of Nip/Tuck; I went through an agonizing period of withdrawal until the release of Season Two.

Then I experimented with something more illicit — The Sopranos, which I’d heard wild raves about but couldn’t obtain, since HBO was a premium dealer. I ponied up for two seasons before I’d even laid eyes on the stuff, indifferent to the dangerous gateway I’d opened. That risk factor became part of my high, leading me to purchase full seasons of shows I’d never seen, like Entourage and Firefly, in hopes of unknown, exotic stimuli. Insatiable, I completed every collection: Sex & the City, The Sopranos, Angel, Buffy… then I bought Buffy’s “Chosen Collection” although I already owned all seven seasons. It never occurred to me that one of the most appealing aspects of TV is that it’s free — watching television when it was actually on seemed a stupid, archaic practice, not unlike cave drawings.Currently, I own a couple hundred movies on DVD — they’re my pride and joy, but I haven’t watched ‘em lately. Unlike films, episodes of Seinfeld and Arrested Development come in bite-sized snippets perfect for dinnertime diversions, a nightcap before bed, or breaks from writing a film column. My most recent purchase, two-disc sets of Citizen Kane and Casablanca, will remain unwatched until I figure out why Mary Alice did herself in and if Carrie and Big ever stay together for real.Sure, okay, I’m kind of an addict again, but this time I’ve got the good stuff — pure, without any advertiser’s noxious additives — and at my newly-restrained rate of just one fix a day, my stash will last for months.

With TV on DVD, a designer drug, I’m no longer afraid to open wide my closet doors, shed some light on the resident skeletons, and let everyone know that, somewhere in there, Mulder and Scully are investigating the appearance of a mysterious dancing baby. See? I’ve evolved!

Though the silver screen still turns me on like no other, at least I’ve got a potent alternative when time and money are scarce.

For some of the wildest trips, there’s no place like home.*

Thoughts?

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