Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Collector

It's no secret that I'm an avid thrift store shopper. There's nothing like the momentary confusion of trying to map out a new store, or digging through a pile of CDs to see if that one disc you've been hunting for years is there, or that little leap in your spirit when you find "it": the deal hat you know you can't pass up because you'll never get it again. I had two of those on Saturday: Sports Night 10th Anniversary Edition DVD for $8 ($52.46 on Amazon) and Battlestar Galactica Seasons 1, 2.0, 2.5, 3, and the movie Razor for $29.95 ($115.35 on Amazon). Of course, I always seem to bring home more items than I'm able to reasonably consume, but that never seems to stop me, even though it should - especially with books. It's no secret that I enjoy cataloging and organizing and listing and shelving, and that part of the joy I find in thrift shopping is adding to my collections: DVDs, books, video games, board games, CDs. I keep updated lists and inventories of all of my collections - what I own, what I'd like to own, what I'm checking out - both in my own files and in my social networks. But every once in a while I get overwhelmed by the breadth of the task facing me not only in cataloging it all, but in assuming that by ownership there is some intent of consumption someday. Allow me to explain.
I have completed a cursory examination of some of my social networks to see how much I have on my radar for future consumption. I have 240 movies on my Flixster "Want to See" list; I think that close to 50 of those movies are ones that I own that I have not yet watched. I have 427 books on my Goodreads "to-read" list, and it's a good bet that over half of those are on my shelves waiting for me. Of the 134 board games I have listed on BoardGameGeek, I have only a dozen I haven't yet played, though there are some I certainly would need to relearn because I haven't played them often enough. Of the over 200 video games I own (many of those being classic system games), I have at least a dozen I haven't finished yet and one to two dozen more that I've barely played. And if I were to watch all of the TV shows I've downloaded or purchased and have yet to view, it would take me over 300 hours. This does not, of course, include any re-reading, re-watching or re-playing of any current parts of my collection, nor does it allow for any new items to come into my awareness as being of interest for consumption or collection. When I factor in the continually reducing amounts of time I have to consume, I figure that I could just play/watch/read new games/DVDs/books I own for at least two years at my current paces (approximately 1 book and 1 movie per week, and between 4 and 6 hours per week watching TV and playing video games) and still probably not finish it all in that time span.
I also find it really challenging not to push into the entirety of an artist's work. If I like an album and add it to my collection (even just by becoming a fan), I feel an almost compulsory need to investigate their other works. And I have this strange desire to try to find as many of the unreleased b-sides and rare songs as possible, and to catalog them correctly, and to make sure I don't have duplicates, and generally spend too much time on renaming mp3 files. The same goes for authors, directors, writers, game designers, and sometimes even actors: once they're in my collection, I will keep on digging deeper to discover more of their works. So as I encounter new artists, I add more to my collections, while rarely deleting artists.
Okay, so this really is a great example of a "first world problem" (a common meme on reddit); sure, there are people starving and dying from lack of clean water, but I have too much entertainment to reasonably expect to consume in the next few years! I recognize the somewhat narcissistic/materialistic/consumerist perspective of this train of thought, but I'm indulging myself anyway as an exercise in working this through. So this is me thinking about what I can do to remedy the situation, as it seems as if I have a few options as solutions. Firstly, I could just not go to thrift stores and buy new stuff; this is perhaps the most immediate solution, though it still doesn't address the root problem, only stemming the in-flow of new items to own. Secondly, I could get rid of stuff and try to narrow my focus. I'm trying to do that all the time, especially as our limited house space only allows for a finite amount of shelf space, but even that doesn't fully address the issue. Thirdly, I could try to figure out what the root of the issue and see if I can tweak it from there. Actually, let's start there for now.
Why is this an issue for me? I think it's because I act as both a Connector and a Maven in the area of pop culture and entertainment. (I'm currently re-reading Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, if you didn't make that connection already.) It's largely social for me, as I have friends for almost everything I consume (ie. music friends, movie friends, board game friends, etc.) and a way for me to connect with others. (I'll tell you more about my "movie friend" test sometime later; for now, let's just say that not everyone passes.) I love being able to make connections with people based on media, and I'm continually discovering new entries in my awareness through others. I also really enjoying knowing a lot about these fields, and I like that I have defined and refined tastes. I know what I like, I know why I like it, and I know how to avoid what I should avoid. I rarely now read a book or watch a movie I don't like (or at least appreciate), and it's not because I only read or watch things I like on purpose; it's that I've learned how to avoid certain things I know I won't like, or even if I feel some need to endure them, I have found a way to appreciate them for what they are. But I like being the guy that knows that stuff, as well as knowing the stuff. It's one way that I get to use my brain, and I think because I have a very good memory and ability for making connections critically, my scope is wider than most other people. I know this doesn't address the issue, but at least it helps me begin to understand it.
So, back to the question at hand: how can I deal with this? I think the best way - while continuing to incorporate the aforementioned suggestions - is to keep doing what I'm doing in prioritizing in those lists and using the time I have as best as I can. In each of those areas, I keep a mental (or sometimes written) inventory of "what's next" to experiment with or conquer. I often refer to them as "projects", and they may be based in maintaining a balance between genres, experiencing the works of a particular writer or director, trying to fill in long-standing gaps, or just plain what I feel like at that moment. It's a constant process of evaluation, and the challenge is to enjoy it for what it is, rather than being overwhelmed by what I haven't done yet. I'm enjoying writing my regular media updates (though I may experiment with creating a podcast out of those in the future), as they help me figure out where I'm at and what I've accomplished in the past few months. And I'll keep praying about it, too; after all, I believe that, to some extent, God directs me to different things because that's where He wants me to be (though I'm certainly not so arrogant or self-assured to assume that everything I do is at His direction). So, for those of you hoping for some kind of resolution after almost 1500 words of over-analyzing my consumption of entertainment, here it is: I'm going to stay the course. Anti-climactic, to be sure, though strangely cathartic for me. On with the collecting!

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The List: Favourite Sitcoms

It was about five years ago that I wrote a piece about how the sitcom was dead, after I had watched through the second series of the HBO comedy Extras, in which the main character gained notoriety as the creator and star of a cheesy Britcom named "When the Whistle Blows". The show satirized the stunted nature of multi-camera sitcoms with laugh tracks and ridiculous set-ups, and it made me realize how little that style of comedy appealed to me, or has appealed to me in the past. As it turns out, the past decade has produced a lot of comedic brilliance both on network and cable television; I've realized that some of my favourite shows ever are on right now, and that any new comedy is being measured not only against its peers, but also any previous sitcoms on my list. Then that got me thinking about what my list would look like, were I to rank my favourite sitcoms. To start out, I cut out talk shows, sketch comedy shows, or variety shows, so The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, The Muppet Show, and The Joe Schmo Show were cut out off the bat. Then, I decided to make a list of shows I'd include and work it out from there. I ended up with a total of just under 50 shows in my radar. I thought I would only rank the top 20, and the rest I would be able to categorize appropriately. So I'll start with the extra categories before I get to the list.

First off, there are some shows (fifteen) that I haven't watched enough of to decide on whether I would include these on my list. There are some shows on right now that I haven't finally decided on or checked out yet: Archer, The Big C, Bob’s Burgers, Enlightened, Episodes, House of Lies. There are some shows that I think I'd enjoy, but have not yet found the time to invest in: Andy Richter Controls The Universe, Bored To Death, Clone High, The Critic, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Larry Sanders Show, Scrubs. There are also some Britcoms I'm sure I'll enjoy but haven't watched yet: Black Adder, The Dead Set, Fawlty Towers, Spaced.

There are a few shows that I wouldn't put on the list but that should still be mentioned. There are a few shows I appreciated, but that weren't on long enough to make the list: Andy Barker, P.I. (only six episodes, but really funny), Running Wilde (ultimately flawed, but with a few moments of brilliance), and Undergrads. Then there are a few shows I would watch for primarily nostalgic purposes: The Cosby Show, The Drew Carey Show (the first 2-3 seasons), The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Frasier, and NewsRadio - though I concede that the latter two might have made it onto the list with further review.

There are a few shows I've watched lately that couldn't make it on the list. Though The IT Crowd has some really funny moments, it ultimately comes up short because of some of its trappings: a laugh track, stock characters, and unfortunately raunchy and often quite offensive jokes. I've also watched through both seasons of Louis C.K.'s FX comedy, Louie. The first season was a little rough, but it had some great moments; the second season was sustained in its comedic and dramatic brilliance. Another strong season this year might bump it on to the top 20. So without any more delay, here's my list.

20. WKRP in Cincinnati
19. The Big Bang Theory (Seasons 1 to 3)
18. Get Smart
17. Daria
16. Extras
15. My Name Is Earl (Season 1)
14. Better Off Ted
13. Modern Family
12. Sports Night
11. The Office (US) (Seasons 2 and 3)
10. The Office (UK)
9. 30 Rock
8. Parks and Recreation
7. Flight of the Conchords
6. Simpsons (Seasons 3-10)
5. Corner Gas
4. Seinfeld
3. Futurama
2. Community
1. Arrested Development

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