I hate choices; or The pitfall of owning DVDs

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I hate choices; or The pitfall of owning DVDs

In a time where almost everything is available online, there is little reason to own physical media right now (although there is reason to believe it will make a come back). Nevertheless, I began to acquire DVDs of TV shows and a few movies I love before online streaming was so common, and when it comes to a favorite show, I'd feel remiss to stop partway through.

South Park seasons 1 and 2 I got before southparkstudios.com made it possible to watch any episode in one click. Since I got those first two seasons, and having loved the show since I started watching the new ones (which probably was season 9 or 10), my ambition was to get them all. And to pay for none. Thus, every Christmas list and birthday list since has included a season. Chronologically building up my empire of cartoon comedy, I have the first 7 seasons on DVD now. It seems silly to buy more with all the episodes online in high quality, but I love physical copies for one reason - the lack of choice.

When I stream video online, it's hard for me to go more than 3 or 4 minutes without opening up new tabs, and contenting myself to read something else while still just listening to whatever I was supposed to watch. The only exceptions are brand new episodes, like Community on hulu, which I would never flip away from. But I struggle to watch South Parks online, because I've seen them so many times, that despite the joy and comfort they still bring me, my impatience pulls me away. The effect is exacerbated by certain physical conditions which are often present when I watch cartoon comedy (you know what I mean). I love my TV because it has no internet, no phone. I can't talk to anyone I know through it. All I can do is sit and watch, and that's what I want. To be without doing, to consume without producing, to be a transparent eyeball.

The only reason for me to watch these shows I've seen so many times is because it's comforting. I do worse with new things than most people, unless they're hiding it much better than I can tell (which is indeed quite possible), so I've always used TV for comfort. In middle school, I watched Nick's U-Pick Live daily, and in early high school I would watch Comedy Central from 7-9, when it was usually repeats of Scrubs, another show I've seen all of way too many times (and have seasons 1-5 back home). I still often use Comedy Central's 9 to 11 block to decompress and calm myself, which is usually Futurama or South Park.

I always expected that owning DVDs would offer me access to that self-administered therapy 24/7, but it doesn't. Because picking a season and then a disc and then an episode are all choices, which build expectation for the time. The beauty of watching pre-selected re-runs on TV was that it comes without expectations and without pressure. With my DVDs, I find myself on wikipedia skimming through 7 years of episodes, trying to pick which one is just right for my mood. It's impossible, it's stressful, it's the sort of thing a good Radiolab broadcast is made of. Some will say having lots of TV channels is the same problem, and that's true, but I've conditioned myself to really only check 4 or 5 channels out of the 50 or so I have here and hundreds at home. I have no such guide for episode selection. The choice problem pulls me to the internet to research, where society invades my peaceful me time, or perhaps my peaceful me time invades society. In either case, there is no Reese's Equilibrium here, as society obliterates my me time. My phone is just as bad, texting being another little tie to the world, so that even when I'm alone in my room with the TV on, I'm not alone. I'm less alone than the people in the 50s-90s who complained about reliance on TV pulling society into our alone time. And so, owning DVDs is tough. And reruns on networks with commercials still have their purpose. In fact, I prefer them.I watch more South Park reruns on TV than on my DVDs, and I don't expect this to change even if the show stops and I finally get every episode (I'll skip a season or two though, it has gone a bit downhill).

As someone who writes about economics a fair amount (although I profess no particular aptitude or inclination for it) it's interesting to see who individualized value is. No one, not even myself, could have predicted what I wanted from those blocks of TV. When given more choices, I became less contented. The market for smallness and an option for little choice is a peculiar little persistency in history.

I like it, I guess.


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