It’s that time of year when the flowers are blooming, the weather is beautiful, and the warmth of the sun shines down on you, making you feel as if everything is going to be alright. It’s that time of year when, generally, my body decides to throw a monkeywrench in any great plan and just get bonkers sick for no particular reason. This past weekend, while the weather in New York was comfortably in the high 70s and 80s, I was cocooned in a comforter on the couch drinking water and Emergen-C; shivering, sweating, dry, and unable to breathe. Did I have a fever? I’m not sure, it may have been menopause…but I’m too young and the wrong gender for that.
At any rate, in my convalescence and burritoed as I was, I turned on ye ol’ Netflix on my Xbox and looked for something to comfort me. Luckily, Netflix is just the sort of service to help me along on that, with its handy-dandy suggestions and impossibly specific genres. Eventually, I settled on two early 90s classics which happen to be all-time favorites of mine: Groundhog Day and The Addams Family. Watching these familiar movies was comforting and allowed me to escape my revolting health situation via a vicarious fantasy that I’ve already experienced many (many!) times before. I won’t spend too much time here talking about how amazing the two particular movies I chose are…Harold Ramis and Bill Murray’s amazing story of a curmudgeon stuck to endlessly live the same day over and over again, or Barry Sonnenfeld’s clearly Tim Burton-esq take on Charles Addams’ property starring Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd, and a young Christina Ricci. Another time, perhaps, just rest assured I know just as well as you do that these are kick-ass, fun movies.
As I lay there, illin’, I was thinking about how comforting these movies are/were to me, which inevitably led me to think about why they are comforting. You would think that after a certain amount of time I would never want to see them again. My wife often asks me how many times I can watch: Superman, Ghostbusters, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Back to the Future, etc. and I always tell her, ”not enough times.” No doubt the same reason she can never see Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Wedding Singer, and so on, enough times (and me neither, come to think of it). I’m sure you’ve also wondered about your own favorite movies.
Well, it was theorized by NBC’s Paul L. Klein in the 1960s that people tend to gravitate towards the “Least Objectionable Programming” or “LOP.” What he found was that no matter what day, time of year or what was on the TV, generally speaking, the same number of televisions were being viewed consistently per time slot. He claimed, and I agree, that this was because television is a medium unlike reading, theater, or cinema. The difference is that watching television itself is the desired activity and desired object. Viewers turn on television and then consider what will be watched because the act of watching television is comfortable, passive, and in the home. It trumps all other forms in terms of effort and travel, and changing channels is much easier than perusing a bookshelf or marquee.
As such, you turn on the TV and surf the channels looking for something that bothers you the least rather than entertaining you the most. We’ve all done this. It’s practically the defining characteristic of the American Living Room. The experience is no different when you are streaming movies or a series on a device like an Xbox, or some other internet powered device, through a service like Hulu or Netflix. In fact, I daresay it’s even more true. I’ll watch the same things over and again on my queue rather than braving my way through the endless tide of New Releases. In my illness, I took suggestion of “Like Ghostbusters” to heart, and since you can’t get more “Like Ghostbusters” than written by Harold Ramis and starring Bill Murray, I got right to business on Groundhog Day. Then it routed me to Addams’ Family. Netflix offered me to LOP with no problem, and eliminated the thinking and choosing process for me altogether. It’s a hell of a service, and worked almost as well as chicken soup. A few hours later (in conjunction with that wonderful Emergency-C, Musinex, and Advil cold and Sinus cocktail I took) I was feeling better.
So, the next time you sit down to watch an old favorite you might want to ask youself, am I watching this because I actually want to or am I watching this because I don’t want to invest in something new? There’s no judgment on which it is, but you might want to experiment on your personal consumer psychology and learn something about yourself.