Whereas once I was at least a movie-a-week moviegoer, I now see, apart from movies shown on television, six or eight or at most ten movies a year. Sweet but unserious music, elegant food, lovely movies — these are among the shaded water holes in the desert of life; and now one of them is drying up. I find myself filled with resentment.
— Joseph Epstein, “The End of Moviegoing,” The Middle of My Tether
I recently had cause to reflect on the last time I saw a movie in a theater, and as far as I remember, it was the Simpsons movie in 2007. I went at the invitation of a younger relative whom I rarely see; dinner and a movie are her preferred means of catching up. Before that, I’m not sure — I saw the Blair Witch Project in 1999, but I can’t recall being in a theater again in the intervening eight years. Like many people, I’ve just never really enjoyed the theater experience.
But it’s not just a matter of preferring to watch movies on my own TV at home with my own snacks in my own chair, either. I think the last time I rented a DVD was in early 2009, Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla. I watched a few series through Netflix over the next couple of years, like Oz, The Wire, Six Feet Under and The Mighty Boosh, but I let that subscription expire a long time ago. As for watching TV shows, I’ve always been hopelessly behind the times. I love Scrubs, which I discovered late, of course, but I’ve never seen an episode of Friends, Seinfeld, or Sex and the City. In recent years, I’ve completely ignored Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and True Detective. Needless to say, perhaps, the Emmys and the Oscars are completely irrelevant to me. The Lady of the House occasionally enjoys silly comedies like The Librarians, so I did sit through that series with her (“this makes Firefly look like The Wire,” I said), and we watched the DVDs of the movies starring Noah Wyle after finding them at a library sale. Similarly, we watched a few Christopher Guest films one holiday weekend a couple years ago, and we’ve lately enjoyed the web series Letterkenny. “Seen any good shows lately?” is not a useful conversation-starter around here. Most of my TV and film references are of ’80s and early ’90s vintage.
It’s not that I’m ideologically opposed to movies and films; it’s just that books and music are my preferred means of filling leisure time, which is hard to come by. There’s simply no room to fit a few hours of screen-staring in there, and no real motivation to try. Tom Wolfe wrote that movies replaced the novel as “the great naturalistic storytelling medium of the late twentieth century” as fiction writers renounced naturalism and disappeared into their minimalist navels and up their magical realist colons. Perhaps I’m just old-school, preferring my intense storytelling via the printed page? Alas, no, I’m just as deficient there — I never read Steinbeck, Dos Passos, or Hemingway; I never mingled with Balzac, Zola or Tolstoy; I only acquainted myself with Dickens, Faulkner and Fitzgerald long enough to complete school assignments. Almost all of my reading is non-fiction. I apparently prefer my sense-making of the world to come via descriptive, rather than imaginative, prose. I do enjoy Tolkien-esque fantasy novels for entertainment (but, uh, I never actually read any of Tolkien himself, nor, um, did I see the famous films). Am I culturally autistic, or just a philistine?