Friday, January 24, 2014

The Bitter Loneliness of Being a Late-Comer to Pop Culture

by Sara N.

He's relevant. I promise.
I caught up with some long-overdue entertainment over the holidays and consequently learned that there's no more isolating feeling than consuming pop culture waaaaay out of sync with the rest of the world. I'm not talking about watching Sherlock a few weeks after its U.K. premiere. Even catching up on Game of Thrones when it's finally available on DVD isn't quite what I mean.

No, I'm referring to entertainment that's widely available, such as on network TV or Netflix/Amazon streaming. These are shows that pretty much anyone who's going to watch already has, which means they've had the subsequent freakouts and mind pops months or even years ago. Being an audience member so much later than everyone else made me feel out of step with the other members of my tribe, and I've got to be honest, I didn't like it.

To be more specific, I recently caught up on the last season and a half of Once Upon a Time that was sitting on my TiVo. Naturally, it gave me the Captain Hook rabies. Bad. I mean, the scruff and the eyeliner and the sinister and the black leather and the kissing. Oh, the kissing. Mercy.

This picture captures pretty much everything I'm talking about.
But my discovery of the attractiveness of Colin O'Donoghue is really, really old news for every other person who's been watching the show. I knew that the Internet had been not-so-quietly losing its mind over Hook for more than a year now, but I'd ignored it because I was behind on the episodes. And now I'm all caught up and have a new obsession, but there's nobody to squeal about it with, because for most of the world, the heartbreaking hotness of Hook is not a recent revelation, so their girlish squeals aren't as fresh as mine.

Ditto the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics. I plowed through the Buffy season 8 graphic novels a few weeks ago. Like the show, the comics swept me along an epic story arc, and the ending socked me with a pretty serious emotional wallop. For days afterward, I was a little hung over, feelings-wise, by everything that happened in the comics, which really did follow the general pattern of a season of the TV show: a season-long Big Bad interspersed with smaller storylines woven throughout, all mingling humor, action, surprise and tragedy.

Problem is, these comics were published in 2008. There isn't a built-in community of people freaking out on Twitter or chatting up a storm on message boards about the big reveals the way there would be with a contemporary TV show or a newly released book. Oh, sure, there's commentary and discussion online about the comics, but that's almost half a decade old by now. The people who really cared read it ages ago and have processed the roiling feelings (Seriously, comics writers, why? Whyyyy?) that are all brand new to me. And I don't know anyone personally who's read them, so I don't have anyone to talk about them with in life, either.

This is similar to the kind of emotional isolation you might feel when you pick up a gorgeously written older book or finally get the newest season of a cable show on DVD. But a show like Once Upon a Time is a network show and much easier to access immediately than something on HBO or AMC, where you have to subscribe to the channels, pay per episode or wait for the DVDs. With OUaT, most interested parties are watching as it airs, either on TV or at, which leads to a much larger online conversation immediately afterward. Likewise, Buffy was always a communal experience for its fans, with discussion threads and episode recaps going live as soon as the credits rolled. To walk a path with the Scooby gang and then not have the contemporaneous input from other similarly gobsmacked fans was awfully lonely.

We're now a nation of binge-watchers, time-shifters, and wait-for-the-DVD consumers, which screws up our ability to enjoy our entertainment en masse. But even with Netflix's Arrested Development and Orange is the New Black, a critical mass of people dove in and watched them all at once, lighting up the Internet for a few heady weeks with griping and speculation and praise. Breaking Bad aired on a cable channel, but that didn't stop an online furor as people devoured the final episodes. I pity the viewer who picks up the series in a year (or five or 10) who doesn't get to experience that delicious thrill of waiting for the finale to air and then yelling about it with equally stunned coworkers the next day.

DVDs, streaming, marathons, time-shifting ... they're all great tools. But they can take away the communal aspect that unites us with others who were also just buoyed or destroyed by a show. Anyone else ever felt late to the party when you started watching or reading something new?
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  1. Completely. I have never been one to watch TV when it’s on TV. I have time commitment issues. I also do not have a PVR (I know, what?). Add to that my complete inability to watch a new episode if I’ve missed the previous one… I may be a little neurotic in my TV watching rules. What it boils down to is my Netflix list is filled with all the shows I have wanted to watch and still don’t have time to. When I finally do get to see them everyone who may have cared about my feels has already been there, done that, bought the Blue Sun t-shirt.
    I propose a Stellar Four resurrectionist message board where we can unashamedly fangirl about stuff we missed the first time around. How about a watch along? I need to catch up on OUaT too (it fell victim to my can’t miss an episode rule :( ).

    1. Yes, I would love a catch-up message board! It might keep my fangirling on the actual blog to a minimum.

      And when you catch up on OUaT, let me know. I'll totally squeal with you.

  2. I was SUPER late to the Downton Abbey party. And so everyone I know was Facebooking about this very tragic ending to Season 3, where a MAIN character dies. At the time, I didn't understand what the hell the big deal was or who this character was. As I was getting caught up on the show, it was always in the back of my mind. But I guess it made it less heartbreaking also! As for the Hook cooties...I've got a fever, and the only prescription is MORE HOOK!

    1. Excellent. On Monday, we'll need to have a small shrieking session about Hook.