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The Night I Met Tommy Wiseau

November 23, 2010

Tommy Wiseau doesn’t smell weird.

Hours before meeting Wiseau at a midnight screening of his cult sensation “The Room” I was catching a friend’s band at a local bar and my buddy Nick told me to try and get a whiff of Wiseau because, Nick surmised, “He looks like he smells like some people’s basements, you know, where there’s wood paneling everything is moist and smells weird. Not terrible mind you, just sort of off.” I hadn’t previously considered what Tommy would smell like, but thinking about it I figured it might be what Nick was describing, only masked by the overwhelming smell of incense and exotic oils.

It turns out though that Tommy smells perfectly normal, or at least you can’t smell him over the popcorn in the movie theater lobby. And this makes sense. Tommy has enough money to avoid smelling bad, and he’s concerned enough with appearing American at all times to avoid smelling like some stereotypical Eastern European.

This wasn’t the only surprise to meeting Wiseau, but we’ll cover the rest of the night in a minute. It’s possible that some of you aren’t familiar with the man or his movie.

“The Room” is a film directed, produced, written, and starring Tommy Wiseau. With a budget around $6 million (all raised with no studio support and largely self financed by Wiseau himself) it had a theatrical release at a single theater in Los Angeles and closed after a few weeks. However the movie was so terrible, so laugh-out-loud bad, that a small group of fans emerged and encouraged Tommy to screen the movie once a month. Those screenings, in addition to a large billboard featuring Wiseau’s weathered and surgically altered face that stood in LA for years, slowly accumulated more and more fans. Though the two films aren’t necessarily comparable, “The Room” essentially became a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” type of phenomenon, with fans attending screenings regularly.

Soon the movie was picking up some famous fans and getting written about in Entertainment Weekly and various blogs and entertainment sites. A DVD was released in 2005 and at that point The Room really began to take off. There are now regular showings in cities across America and Tommy himself tours the country attending them. Like ‘Rocky Horror’ there is now an informal set of audience participation guidelines. Yelling out your own jokes is highly encouraged, as is dressing in costume.

The story of the film centers around a love triangle between Wiseau’s Johnny, a San Francisco bank executive, his fiancé Lisa (Juliette Danielle), a young woman struggling in the competitive “computer business”, and Mark (Greg Sestero), Johnny’s best friend.

To understand how bad the movie is and the unique way in which it is bad, one must make an attempt to know Tommy Wiseau, who for unexplained reasons, likes to make himself a completely unknowable figure. Judging by his thick accent he is Eastern European but when asked where he is from he will say only that he is American and grew up in New Orleans (though he has said he moved back and forth between Europe and America often). Even Danielle herself says she never learned where he was actually from. When asked how he raised $6 million to realize his dream he is evasive and vague, the most direct answer he has ever given on the subject was to tell Entertainment Weekly that he imported leather jackets.

But enough about the movie, there’s been a lot of good writing already done about the movie itself and the many ways in which it is bad (I’ve linked some at the end of the post for you). I want to talk about my evening with Tommy.

We showed up at the theater about an hour early. There a few people outside but most everyone was crammed into the small lobby between the entrance from the outside and the doors that let you into the theater itself. Initially I thought this was because of the ice storm going on outside but soon camera flashes and excited giggling made it clear that Tommy was in the same cramped space packed with dozens of fans.

I made my way around to get a better view and there he was. His face hung weird and plastic-looking and he was wearing shades (indoors at 11pm). Standing next to him was the tall and incredibly handsome Sestero, who it was surprising to see as he hadn’t been advertised for the event. I was able to shove my way near Wiseau who was signing things and posing for pictures and being very bossy.

One can see what he would be like as a director (he fired cast and crew members regularly). He tells everyone how to stand in pictures, what pose to do, where to put their stuff, who should take the picture, etc. He likes to twirl ladies like they’re ballroom dancing before and/or during taking a picture with them. Tommy was whisked into the lobby before I had a chance to meet him.

Once in the lobby an orderly line was finally formed and I waited with giddy anticipation. I thought about what I could ask him or what I’d say about how I loved his movie. I love the way in which it is completely unique. I love the way it contains many of the qualities a film is supposed to have but in the disjointed fashion that makes it appear as if it was created by someone who’d read about movies but never seen one.

Tommy is the white arm pointing at someone.

Finally it was my turn. I walked up to Tommy and…nothing. I could barely squeak a word out. I asked to sign my Tommy Wiseau bobblehead and shook his hand before doing the same to Sestero. We posed for the picture and Tommy grabbed the bobblehead out of my hand and started muttering about having it out of the shot. He then picked it back up and handed it to me and told me to hold it facing out. Then he said it was my choice, but with a finality that indicated it wasn’t. I realized at that moment I was being directed by Tommy Wiseau. I gave a hearty thumbs up and the picture was snapped. I felt dizzy and giddy for minutes afterward. It was the first time in my life I had been legitimately star struck.

Greg Sestero, Me, and Tommy Wiseau.

I took my seat and my friends and I hung out until Tommy and Sestero’s Q and A session started (considerably late as they were no longer going to stick around until the end of the film because of the ice storm). The Q and A was glorious. People had paid $15 to come see a movie they had already seen and they were dying to ask Tommy questions. How did he react? Like a complete dick. He was curt and dismissive of their questions. He derided a fan for poor English skills (irony!) after he thought the fan called the movie “A Room” instead of “The Room” (I think the fan said “the”). A girl asked where his accent is from and his response was to say he’s in America and if she didn’t like his accent that’s just too bad (though he also allowed the possibility that she had a crush on him for his accent).

Sestero was kinder, but his answers were canned and pandering. Someone asked him what it was like to work with Robin Williams in “Patch Adams” and his answer was “It was great, but no one beats Tommy Wiseau!” which got the desired hoots and hollers of the crowd. I asked Greg if he felt pressure as an actor given Tommy’s propensity to fire people and keep numerous understudies ready to replace anyone he wasn’t liking.

Sestero: No. I mean, I got the part the night before filming and… I don’t know, I wasn’t worried.

Illuminating!

Tommy made vague complaints about all the questions having been asked before, as if he didn’t realize touring the country and taking questions before his movie would mean he’d be asked the same questions about his movie all the time.

One girl came up to give him flowers. Tommy declared her friends were going to take a picture, something neither she nor her friends had apparently planned on. When they didn’t get to the front quick enough Tommy began barking into the microphone that her friends were taking too long and he was getting annoyed. Then it was over. He had taken around 10 questions and actually answered none of them. He walked down the aisle giving high fives, then appeared with remarkable quickness in the balcony giving more handshakes and high fives.

Just like that it was over. Tommy was gone and the movie played. Everyone had a great time. Tommy is a strange guy who made a horrible film. He’s contemptuous of anyone asking him a question but then tours the country doing Q and A’s. He barks orders at his fans and is dismissive of them all at once. And yet we love him anyway. And I did manage to learn one new thing about him that night, he doesn’t smell weird at all.

Further Reading on “The Room”:

http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20246031,00.html
http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-room,25723/
http://www.avclub.com/articles/a-viewers-guide-to-the-room,25721/
http://www.avclub.com/articles/tommy-wiseau,29598/
http://www.praxismagazine.com/interview/jdan.htm
http://www.ifc.com/news/2009/03/a-primer-on-the-room.php

This is by far the best article on The Room I’ve read anywhere. It’s brilliant. Unfortunately you can only read it if you’re a subscriber to Harper’s magazine.

http://harpers.org/archive/2010/08/0083066

Around Town Photos #3

November 19, 2010

From the 2010 Minneapolis Zombie Pub Crawl

Random Link

November 12, 2010

Scott Tobias of The Onion’s AV Club has a pretty good write up of one of my favorite comedies of all time, Clue.

Lynn and Landis are playful with the board-game references—divvying up the weapons like Christmas presents is cheerfully ridiculous, and giant envelopes play a prominent role—but they’re film historians first and foremost, and they use this opportunity to pay grand homage to genres that haven’t been in fashion for decades, if they ever were.

The Pizza Ordering Bible

November 11, 2010
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by

Recently at work a team I was on was given free lunch by the company. I walked into the conference room and saw cardboard Davanni’s Pizza boxes sitting there like pretty maids, all in a row. My mouth twitched as I anticipated the rapturous feeling of shoving piece after piece of delicious pizza down my craw.

But as I got closer to the boxes I felt a tightness in my chest. My knees seemed like they could buckle at any moment. Tears welled up in my eyes. As I looked at the options it became clear that the head of our project turned out to be one of those horrible, misguided souls that have no clue how to order pizza for a group of people.

Here was the spread she had ordered for us:

2 sausage and mushroom
2 pepperoni and black olive
1 chicken alfredo
2 veggie

WHAT KIND OF A SICK MIND DEVISES THOSE OPTIONS I ASK YOU?!

This disaster made me realize that there needs to be a definitive guide to pizza ordering and I was the man to write it. After all, I’ve been an avid pizza eater my whole life. I’m a 27 year old man who still lives a piping hot pizza pie with all the fervor of a 7 year old. We got pizza so regularly in my childhood (every Friday and occasionally other days) that we once got a Christmas card from our delivery driver. When I spent a semester in London I so frequently ordered pizza from a small neighborhood place owned by some friendly Germans that eventually when I called they would tell me my order as soon as I gave them my phone number. In the 5 years I’ve been working at my present place of employment I’ve eaten lunch at a nearby pizza place so many times that I consider the owner a friend, he gives me free food on special occasions and occasionally just because, and he even gave me a free t-shirt out of the blue even though he sells them to everyone else for $20.

I also spent a year on the other side of transaction; when I graduated college and couldn’t find a job I took up delivering pizzas for Papa Johns for just under a year or so. I made pies, I took orders, and I schlepped them off to rich people in south Minneapolis and parts of Richfield and Edina.

So when it comes to pizza, my credentials are bonafide. You can trust the words of this post to be the definitive word on how to order ‘za, brah.

The Rules:

1. Keep it simple, you moron.
In addition to the travesty that inspired me to write this post I can remember another work related pizza-tastrophe. It was the last day of a woman who worked in the credit department. Her boss ordered pizza for the department. Every single pizza she ordered was what we call a “specialty pizza”, such as “all the meats” or “supreme.” The problem was the woman leaving was a picky eater and din’t like a single pizza that was presented. Her boss failed to provide something she would like because she got too fancy with the order.

Pizza Fact: If most of your pizzas have more than 1 ingedient you’re doing it wrong. Stick to one topping pizzas: pepperoni, sausage, mushroom, cheese, etc. Remember that everyone in your group probably has things they don’t like on pizza. Every topping you add to a pie eliminates the people that don’t like that topping and decreases the amount of people that will enjoy that pizza.

I can tell you from my delivery experience that a simple pepperoni pizza is by far the most popular pizza you can buy. According to this Pizza Industry page I found, pepperoni is found on 36% of pizzas ordered in America. Cheese is second. I can’t speak for the entire country but I know that mushroom was #3 at the Papa Johns franchise I worked at.

Bottom Line:Half the pizzas you order should be around a 60/40 split between pepperoni and cheese. At least 3/4 of the total amount of pizzas should be single topping.

2. Vegetarians don’t matter.
Or at least not as much as you think they do. Yeah, you’ll probably have a few of these in any large group and you should consider them in your order. But just as vegetarians don’t make up anything more than around 15% of your group (probably) you don’t need any more than 15% of your pizzas to be vegetarian.

And remember, just because someone doesn’t eat meat doesn’t mean they love every vegetable you can throw on a pizza. Remember Rule 1 and don’t order 3 veggie pizzas and call it a day. Get a mushroom only pizza, or just onions.

Bottom Line: Keep veggie only pizzas to 20% or less of your total order. Remember that cheese does not count towards this number.

3. There’s Always Exceptions
Now that I’ve stressed the importance of simplicity it’s time to reintroduce the complex. As long as you have a firm base of one topping pizzas anchored by your pepperoni and cheese pies, you can use a few of the remaining slots to bring in some more specialty varieties. First and foremost you should consider the Hawaiian pizza. It has ham (Canadian bacon in pizza parlance) along with pineapple. Everyone seems to love this. Personally I can’t stand it, but this isn’t the bible of ordering pizza for me, so I have to stress it’s popularity.

More recently various chicken options have to prominence. Andrea’s Pizza, my lunch time home away from the office, serves a very popular “Chicken Bacon Ranch” pizza, which is exactly what it sounds like. Again, this isn’t something I like at all (can’t stand ranch dressing), but it’s very popular. Another option is BBQ Chicken. Chicken alfredo is good for people who like creamy sauce.

You could get a meat lovers, but I wouldn’t recommend much more than one pizza, and maybe only a half (depending on group size).

Bottom Line: A few specialty pizzas sprinkled throughout your order is fine, but stick to what’s popular, and don’t overdo it.

Examples:
So let’s say we were ordering pizza for 40 people. A typical delivery pizza has 8 slices per large pizza and we want to make sure everyone gets at least 2 slices. That’s at least 10 pizzas, but we’ll bump it to 11 for the fatties.

Here’s the Pizza Bible’s recommend 11 pizza order:

3 pepperoni
3 cheese
1 mushroom
1/2 onion 1/2 sausage
1 veggie
2 Hawaiian

Bam. Your department at work just had a satisfying lunch that left everyone happy. Except probably still the fatties.

What if your kid has 7 of his dumb little friends over? You’re an adult so you just finished your dinner of cavaier and chablis, so there’s 8 kids eating. They’re growing boys so you’ll need 3 slices for each kid. That’s 24 slices, which is only three large pizzas. And remember, they’re young kids not effete vegens who will whine about gluten or processed meat. This is not the crowd to start ordering artichoke hearts or even a regular Veggie. How can you provide the options kids want with only three pizzas?! Well, you can go one of two routes that you should decide between based on what particular deals and specials your specific pizza place has. You can either get 3 large pizzas with toppings divided in half on each pie, or you can get 5 mediums which also have 8 slices, but less total surface area.

3 Larges:
1 pepperoni
1/2 sausage 1/2 mushroom
1/2 cheese 1/2 Hawaiian

5 Mediums:
1 pepperoni
1 cheese
1 sausage
1 Hawaiian
1/2 pepperoni 1/2 mushroom.

Those are some happy kids!

There, you now have the basic principals of succesful pizza ordering. Happy eating!

Around Nature Photos #2

November 6, 2010

Dells of the Wisconsin River

Nerds: Setting Trends Since 1950

November 3, 2010

When we hear the word nerd our mind brings forth various stereotypes and conventions. We think of George McFly’s lack of social skills. We picture the 2D caricatures spitting out tired punchlines on “The Big Bang Theory.” We picture the mathletes, Quiz Bowlers, and Speech Club members of our high school years.
We know these people are out there somewhere now designing our spaceships, fixing our computers, and keeping World of Warcraft a cash cow years after it stopped being any fun to play. But I don’t think we realize how much of our pop culture is determined by nerds, how often nerds set the standard for what’s cool, or how long we’ve had the tastes of our times dictated by the nerdly class.

I’ve uncovered a key social trendsetter from each decade since the 50’s that is a Spock Fan Club card carrying nerd.

1950’s: Allen Ginsberg

Geek.

Irwin Allen Ginsberg was a bespectacled skinny dork who spent his teenage years writing letters to the New York Times and reading who grew up to look like a David Cross character. He was also one of the most public figures of the hippie movement, advocating drug experimentation and sexual freedom. Ginsberg wrote poetry (super nerdy) but also convinced the Hell’s Angels to leave Vietnam War protestors alone using nothing more than LSD and chutzpah. Contradiction was often a part of Ginsberg’s life; he was brought to Cuba to speak to the masses as Castro considered him an enemy of capitalism, but he was soon deported for publically speaking out against Cuba’s anti-pot laws. Ginsberg was a nerd, an egghead, a poet, a writer, a trendsetter, a hippie, a drug user, and an early American advocate of sex-positive attitudes. Fuck yeah, Ginsberg. Fuck yeah.

1960’s: Bob Dylan

Dork.

Robert Allen Zimmerman shares a lot more than a middle name with Irwin Allen Ginsberg. He was also a seemingly unlikely hero of the turbulent American 60’s (note: it is legally required when describing the 1960’s to refer to them as “turbulent”). He was a shy and introspective boy when he first dropped out of college to pursue folk music in New York. And despite years of accolades, praise, and serious academic consideration Dylan today seems just as fidgety and weird as he did when he first broke into the folk music scene in the turbulent turbulent 1960’s. Dylan may seem classic rock star cool in a lot of ways (the guy introduced The Beatles to LSD after all) but he also stands out as a misfit who can’t understand how to interact with other people.

1970’s: Muhammad Ali

Only nerds like comics, Muhammad.

Ok, I get it. Muhammad Ali doesn’t fit the easily defined nerd stereotype of our previous two entrants. But let’s look at some facts here. Muhammad Ali joined the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam wears bowties. Only nerds wear bowties. Remember Brother Mouzone from The Wire? Sure he was scary and totally badass, but he was also a Harper’s reading nerd. Ali also was loquacious in a way that only a closeted nerd could be. He loved trash talk, but his trash talk was peppered with rhymes and metaphors. Nerds love Superman, Muhammad Ali actually fought Superman for charity! Joe Frazier and George Foreman were big dumb boxers. Muhammad Ali was a nerd, and he knocked those punks out.

Honorable mention goes to Jimmy Carter, who was a huge nerd. He lost out because he certainly wasn’t considered a popular trend setter and he wasn’t the first nerd president (see Wilson, Woodrow).

1980’s: Mark Mothersbaugh

Neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerd!

The 1980’s provided a bountiful harvest of nerds to choose from, as nerds were becoming a popular part of mainstream entertainment. This was the decade that gave us both the “Revenge of the Nerds” movies and Anthony Michael Hall. But the nerdiest thing about the 80’s was New Wave. Pop music was being created by a bunch of dorks with synthesizers and dumb haircuts. And there was no band who embraced their inner nerd quite like Devo and no front man as unabashedly weird as Mark Mothersbaugh. Devo started as a weird art project centered around the idea of human devolution and eventually grew into one of the hottest bands of the 80’s thanks to their major hit “Whip It” and its heavy rotation on Mtv. Their literate lyrics and sci-fi trappings are some of the nerdiest music around and paved the way for bands like They Might Be Giants and Soul Coughing.

1990’s: Rivers Cuomo

Spaz.

The precision and fussiness of Weezer’s first and third albums (The Blue and Green albums, respectively) suggests the anal retentive personality of a big ol’ nerd. The middle album Pinkerton is the dork at his most vulnerable, baring his soul on a gloriously messy pop record. It’s weird to think of now that most of Weezer’s biggest fans from the 90’s hate the band at this point, but Weezer was a big deal when they first took alt-rock stations by storm with “Buddy Holly.” Rivers’ lyrics express a fondness for many things nerds love: comics, dungeons and dragons, asian girls, etc. I remember reading a Rolling Stone piece years ago about Rivers and the author described him going to a cool nightclub where he had to spend 10 minutes convincing the doorman he was very famous and should be let in. He finally was allowed in whereupon he walked along the periphery of the club in one lap without speaking to anyone. Then he left with the writer still in tow and said something like “That place was fun.” This is the behavior of a socially terrified skinny little nerd. Hopefully that nerd makes another good album before Weezer spends all the goodwill they banked from their original trilogy.

Honorable mention: Bill Gates. One of, if not the, most financially successful nerd of all time. He’s just not cool enough to be considered much of a societal trendsetter.

2000’s: Steve Jobs

Take this dweeb's lunch money!

The natural evolution of nerdery has brought us to this point. A nerd doesn’t have to set trends by venturing into spheres of influence most nerds can’t navigate (sexual advocacy, music, boxing). Steve Jobs has shown that a nerd can influence American popular society by fixating on the stuff nerds already enjoy, specifically technology. Jobs had already established a mostly succesful career in the tech world by the time 2000 rolled around. Macintosh computers had a small but dedicated band of followers and even those that didn’t know how to use a Mac or what made them different knew what one was. The 2000’s is where Jobs began to exert considerable influence over what was “cool” in our society. 2001 saw the dawn of the iPod. Portable mp3 players were already available but hadn’t quite caught on yet. Apple and Jobs saw the potential in these devices and rightly surmised that Apple’s crackerjack design team was the perfect answer. The iPod was a sleek device that looked cool, and Apple’s marketing drove home the point perfectly. Soon it became a must-have piece of technology. Apple used this leverage to grow its line of iMac home computers and laptops. Jobs took another step forward in cultural dominance in 2007 when Apple introduced the iPhone, which continues to grow as a popular smart phone brand worldwide.

Honorable Mention: Chuck Klosterman. Unfortunately for Chuck his rise came in the same decade as the behemoth Jobs.

The future is undoubtedly bright for nerds, especially since they don’t get out in the sun much (hey look, I could write for “The Big Bang Theory”!) The growing ubiquity of technology in our lives assures us that somewhere a nerd is thinking of the next big idea that will establish what pop culture is going to be about for another decade.

The Death of the Collector

November 1, 2010

Note: This is not actually my collection.

I once had a friend call me something like “the ultimate consumer.” It was clear from his tone of voice that this was not a compliment.

The reason I think he had for calling me this was that I’m a collector of things. When I got my first cd player when I was 11 years old (it was Christmas 1994 and along with it I also got REM’s Monster and Aerosmith’s greatest hits compilation Big Ones, you can guess which of those I’m proud to say was my first CD even though I opened them at the same time) and almost immediately I began to amass an enormous collection. What money I got from wherever the hell it was I got money from at that age (Allowance? Birthdays? Mom’s purse?) went right into my CD collection. This resulted in a burgeoning knowledge of music most of my pre-teen peers didn’t have but it also ended with a several bloated cd carrying cases that I rearranged on a weekly basis based on some new sorting system I’d concocted.

It wasn’t until around the winter of 1998 that I knew anyone with a CD burner. This magical invention that record executives worried would kill their industry seemed like anything but at the time. It took forever to copy a cd. If you wanted to put together a mix cd it took two forevers. The introduction of CD burning into my life did not abate my love of owning new albums in the slightest.

The only thing that did slow my love for collecting music was the advent of the DVD. I had always loved movies, but VHS tapes sucked. They were bulky, went bad after multiple rewatchings, and it seemed like stores that sold them never had good collections. I had a small collection of movies on VHS (the only two I remember now are Pulp Fiction and the tv miniseries adaption of Stephen King’s The Stand) but it was clearly a format that didn’t lend itself to collecting. DVDs changed everything. They were compact, high in video and sound quality, didn’t go bad as long as you didn’t scratch them, and came loaded with a bunch of special features about the film. I’m not sure if it was my perception or reality, but they also seemed cheaper, around $20 for a new movie. Also it soon became apparent that the turnaround time between a movie’s time in the theater and it’s availability on DVD was significantly less than it had been when you were waiting for the movie to appear on VHS.

So I began collecting DVDs with a voracity even my CD collecting was never able to match, largely because now I had a job. Through high school and college I collected hundreds of movies, dozens of television shows, and even some awesome 5.1 surround sound mixes on DVD discs (The Flaming Lips’ “Soft Bulletin” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” are amazing experienced in this format). To this day I still buy DVDs occasionally, although my pace was slackened considerably. I also have a small but carefully selected collection of blu-ray discs. The most fun part of buying DVDs was that I tried to be much more selective in what I purchased, and I occasionally culled my collection and removed anything I thought didn’t live up to whatever standards I believed I had. My CD collection may have some real awful picks (Fastball’s only hit record, a Smash Mouth cd my step-mom sadistically bought me for Christmas) but I was determined that my DVD collection would define me clearly as a man of taste. I wanted people to come into my apartment, see my collection, and know instantly that I knew what was good and what wasn’t. These are the kinds of things you think of when you’re in your early 20’s and you’re nerdy. For some it comes down to the most eclectic collection of records on vinyl, or the best gaming pc that they built themselves. For me it was movies and tv shows.

Add to the DVDs and CDs the video game systems I have (6 consoles, 1 handheld) and the dozens of games I have for them and my collection of digital music which is fairly large (and yet probably not even half the size of Brendon’s music collection) and yes, one can reasonably claim that I’m a big consumer. But I think my friend was missing a distinction when he called me the “Ultimate Consumer” because I don’t buy things because I think they’ll make me happy. I buy things because the addition of them to my collection makes me happy. For someone to be the mindless capitalism zombie my friend thought I was I feel like it has to be the act of buying something that brings pleasure. For me it is the act of adding another small piece to a whole. If there was a giant library of DVDs free for the taking I would have just as much fun walking the aisles and picking out which movies deserved to sit on my shelf and define me as a person.

I think evidence of this can be found in the stupid way I order my Netflix queue. I’ll go through a phase where I add every little movie I hear of that sounds remotely interesting. I also add any tv show that has any buzz. Then after a month goes by with a queue over 200 discs long I go in and take out anything that isn’t in the top 5% of my interest level. Or sometimes I’ll remove all the movies and plan to just catch up on tv shows. Or I’ll put all the work by a given director at the top of the list. The Netflix queue is a much cheaper alternative measure to get the fix that a collection junkie needs. It is also the primary driving force in what will be the death of collecting.

Collecting has enjoyed a good run. It was an underground thing that weird white jazz enthusiasts participated in. Then it was dorks willing to shell out $100 for laserdiscs that offered the visual fidelity that VHS tapes denied them. Then CDs brought collecting to the masses while strangely also reviving classic collecting by driving weird white guys to buy vinyl records and feel superior to everyone else. DVD technology made movies and television as accessible and affordable as an album and film buffs and parents both got into collecting more than they had before. Napster and a deluge of imitators made it possible for everyone to compile massive collections of music (and eventually video) for free.

About a year and a half ago, before I bought my Blu-ray player, I talked about the format with some friends. They both pushed the idea that Blu-ray was basically dead on arrival, that the future was in purely digital based entertainment. The hard drive, not the Blu-ray player, was the investment to make at this point. They were probably correct in that Blu-ray will be made obsolete quicker than any previous format, but they didn’t understand that the collector wants to put something on his shelf. What’s the fun in having a hard drive full of movies that nobody knows you own?

It was soon apparent though that long term the hard drive was about to be as obsolete as the Blu-ray player. The future of media delivery clearly isn’t in anything we store ourselves, be it on our shelf or our computer. The future is in the cloud.

Netflix introduced its Instant View feature somewhere around 2006 and due to a list of available titles that was less than impressive, your average person wasn’t aware of the seismic shift that was about to take place in the manner in which we take in media. Though video streaming wasn’t invented by Netflix, the Instant View feature was the biggest streaming venture to hit the internet and it by that time Netflix has established itself as a huge brand with a very positive public image. Suddenly anyone with a subscription (over 10 million people to date) has (or at least has access to) a movie/tv collection that dwarfs anything any private collector had amassed. I may have several hundred DVDs but that won’t even impress my grandma who can hop online and choose amongst a collection that puts mine to shame?

This trend isn’t isolated to film/tv collections. Music collections also became primarily digitally based in the past 10 years. iTunes sales have outpaced CD sales for several years and rumors abound that Apple will soon switch to a cloud based service. “Ownership” of music in the future may mean simply that you own the right to listen to whatever collection you’ve amassed, but you won’t actually store that music physically at all. You’ll have the more tangible benefits of a large collection without actually having a collection of anything pyhsical.

Many lament the problems that arise from allowing any one source to controll all the distribution of a given medium. If Netflix refuses to distribute your movie or Apple won’t allow iTunes to sell your album where do you have left to turn? I think this is a valid concern that presents a pretty frightening preview of our inevitably corporation controlled futures, but I can’t manage to get too fired up about it when my chief concern is that nobody in the future will know upon entrance of my house how many movies I have.

And if they don’t know how many DVD’s I own or how big my music collection is, how will I manage to impress them? If only there was something awesome I could collect en masse……

Eureka!

21st Century Collector's Item!