Patton Oswalt infamously wrote, earlier this year, that the problem with internet culture was that it made everything too available, and less cult, than geek culture used to be. I thought that I didn’t agree, but then I realized that I have a similar problem with the abundancy of content on the internet: It makes fond memories hard to maintain.
Picture the scene recently; looking around Netflix Instant, killing time, I came across Seaquest DSV, a show that I vaguely remembered as “Star Trek, but underwater and not as good.” It’s a show that I didn’t see that much of when it aired, because I had just moved towns for school and was busy settling in and doing all of those things, but what little I do remember wasn’t that bad; I thought I’d take a look to see what I’d missed and oh my God, it was maybe the worst show in the world. Actually, no, I take that back; there are also episodes of Earth2 and other also-ran sci-fi shows from the 1980s and ’90s on there to compete for that title.
But that’s the thing; all of these shows are available now, on DVD and streaming and whatever, even the shows that got cancelled and would, in the world of old television, been forgotten about sooner rather than later. The internet doesn’t forget, you see, not this kind of thing – You should see some of the Seaquest footage I saw, this is some kind of future ironic cult waiting to happen – and I feel like there’s something kind of sad about that; not only does it lay everyone’s embarrassing past out for everyone else to see (Seaquest‘s third season features the TV screenwriting debut of Lost and The Middle Man‘s Javier Grillo-Marxuach; somehow, I doubt that he’s that thrilled to have that particular old ghost up and available again), but it offers some kind of oddly foreboding permanence to everyone’s baby steps, in some way.
I’m a big fan of the idea that not only does everything not necessarily deserve to stay around forever, but also that some things are better left forgotten, for whatever reason. That feels somewhat against the ethos of content providers and suppliers online, though, who seem determined on some kind of entertainment singularity where every single audience has everything they could ever want, no matter how small or misguided they may be. The democratization of the internet is great thing in so, so many ways, but the removal of an active editorial voice – combined with a desire to monetize everything available in back catalogs – feels like it’s going to eventually create so much noise that signals (in this case, good programs) get drowned out and lost amongst everything else.
The same thing with people’s memories of shows; it sounds melodramatic, but I feel as if the constant availability of things threatens the viewer’s co-authorship of what they watch, because the objective record is always there, waiting to contradict and correct you. You think that The Goonies was great? Watch the DVD and see how wrong you are. You liked Stargate SG-1? Fire up Netflix and think again, and so on and so on. It’s not enough to just not watch them, I think; we need them to go away and not be around, because we need the distance and vagueness that comes from their absence, so that any future reappearance for whatever reason more special.
I don’t know; maybe I’m wrong. I feel conflicted with all of this, because I do love the openness of the internet in so, so many ways. But there can be too much… everything out there, I think, too much everything available all at the same time, all at once. We need space and memory and the chance for movies and shows and music and popular culture in general to be “rare” in some way – or not omnipresent, perhaps – in order for it to mean more and be important to us, I suspect. The more we have, the less it all seems to mean.
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