Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Death Of The Shared Experience

The other night, I’m flipping around on the tv. I have no interesting dvds to watch, so I’m scanning the channels for something good. There’s nothing for a long time, then suddenly I find Raising Arizona and I’m sucked in. Love that movie.

The thing is that I own Raising Arizona. I even scanned past it on the shelf, looking for something to watch. Why didn’t I pick up and watch my own copy? I don’t think it even registered when I did the scanning. I didn’t even notice it on the shelf, but I must have seen it.

I’ve experienced the same thing with other movies that I own. Gladiator, Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc. I love all these movies, and I’ve watched them many times. Mostly on tv, not on dvd or video. Strange.

When I thought about the why, all I could come up with is the feeling of a shared experience. You know, knowing that there are other people out there, watching the same thing at the same time. Thousands of people laughing at the funny parts, and tearing up at the tender, poignant moments in Raising Arizona…

Theater, movies, television, concerts, and radio are all shared experiences. I never expected theater and concerts to go away, but I figured the days of movies, tv, and radio were numbered. Now, I’m not so sure. My recent tv vs dvd experience/revelation leaves me wondering just how powerful this shared experience is.

Again, concerts and theater are in a class by themselves. Good or bad, live is live, and it can be a powerful thing to experience when it’s good (and plenty awkward when bad, too).

Television and radio are interesting, because of the shear numbers involved. In the olden’ days (before cable), millions of people were often watching the exact same show at the exact same time. Whether you know and realize this consciously or subconsciously, it has a powerful effect.

In a large radio market, you could feel like the whole city was listening your favorite song, right along with you. You’d hear your station blaring out the neighbor’s open window, or this week’s number one song playing from car after car as they pass you by.

I think radio and television are fairly safe, too.

It’s the movie that I think isn’t long for this world. First of all, it’s not all that much of a shared experience. To a degree, It’s still a powerful one. You are enveloped in the movie with fifty to a hundred other people. It’s dark and you are all focused on that large screen. In that sense, it’s powerful.

It’s also got the “newness” factor going for it. Opening weekend, everyone’s talking about the newest big screen phenomenon. They see it and you see it, then you all talk about it on Monday. Powerful, again.

But, the movies are pushing their luck. Most people seem to cringe when the pay as much for two to get in as you’d pay to rent four or five movies on DVD. For that same price, you could actually own the movie on DVD and watch it over and over again.

Head inside and you find that the concession stand snacks are literally priced two to three times higher than you’d find out in the “real world.” It’s amazing.

I’m sure there will always be a place for the shared experience, it’s just getting smaller and shared by fewer and fewer people.


  1. Excellent insight on the shared experience tipping the scale on your regular TV/DVD viewing. I don't get cable so I miss out on that, but I could see myself doing the same thing.

    I gave away most of my DVDs last year. So far have only re-watched one that I kept (Gladiator).

    Last time Samantha and I went to the movies it cost $30. Including $3 to park.

    Do you revisit DVDs on your own, or mostly just when the kids are there?

  2. I've almost given up on buying DVDs. I have a few favorites, but I almost never watch them. Gladiator is one that I do watch.

    I've watch LOTR several times, but that was a couple of years ago.

    I've watched my copy of Raising Arizona many times.

    I do revisit Four Weddings and a Funeral, Say Anything, Wimbledon, Last of the Mohicans, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, though.

    Most of the others were watched to feel the movie experience again. Get that nostalgic feeling once more, then they are rarely watched again.


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