I am looking through lists of links on the Internet. It is Sunday night, but it is almost Monday morning. It is 11:30 p.m. The new Boardwalk Empire episode ended at 10 p.m., which means it should now be available to watch for free on a video streaming website.
I want to watch the new episode and then write a review of it on The Nervous Breakdown. It is a good show, a gangster show. I like shows about gangsters. I want the review to explore my obsession with gangster flicks. But I need to find this episode.
Why do I need to watch this episode? It is only one episode. I have seen two dozen other episodes, many of them more than once. That should be more than enough to write a comprehensive review of the series.
If only I could mooch an HBO-Go account login/password off someone (please note the illogical absence of a consequent to the antecedent in this sentence).
The truth is I don’t need to watch the episode to write this review. But I want to watch it. Does the Jewish guy played by the actor from Once Upon A Time In America try to kill Jimmy Darmody? What is that guy’s name? I should look it up on Wikipedia or IMDB. That would be a good way to spend/waste time.
There are many other questions tapping around my skull. Will Nucky finally free himself from any legal prosecution, or will it get even worse? Does Margaret get more insane?
It is much more exciting than my own life. That is what I tell myself. That is why I will endure failing links for hours until I find one that works.
I think the government is taking down links. SideReel only has two links, and they are both bogus. When I search “watch boardwalk empire online free” in Google, a bunch of useless websites come up, most them requiring me to pay for episodes I have already seen, plus SideReel, plus two texts at the bottom of the screen that say “search result has been removed due to copyright infringement.”
Perhaps SideReel and Google have their own watchdogs, their own Internal Affairs officers to make sure there aren’t too many options for us to do illegal things. They want to save their asses from being sued. Or maybe it is all just the government, at the behest of the Corporations.
I got a polite warning letter from Time Warner last year. One of my roommates had been downloading a torrent for an inconsequential Philip Seymour Hoffman film. Time Warner had the exact time, the exact file, and the exact IP address. It was scary. Time Warner was nice in their letter. They basically said, “We know you did this thing that is illegal, you know that you did this thing that was illegal, please don’t do it again, or else we may have to do something more drastic than sending you a letter.” Up until then I had been a habitual torrent downloader.
Not downloading torrents has had an effect on my boredom (i.e. downtime awaiting entertainment). I had gotten used to finding the torrents I wanted, and then watching as they seeded in my torrent dock. I would read online articles and blogs and eat dinner. Sometimes a torrent file would be corrupted, or it would take forever to download. But it was never that much of a disappointment, because I would have other “.avi” (audio visual) files downloading at the same time. If one didn’t work, I would put it in the trash, empty the trash immediately, and then go to the “Movies and TV” folder on my desktop, where there was almost always another file ready and waiting.
Relying on links (aside from mooching off a friend’s Netflix account and watching the television on rare visits back to my parents’ house in Ohio, I exclusively use links) has brought about a paradigm shift in my bored habits. It is a new stage in the evolution of entertainment.
This stage is bleak. Rather than finding blog comment threads, Facebook status updates, or a fly on my ceiling to excite me into anxiety, I now click on links. I often spend as much as an hour clicking on links, thinking one will finally work, it won’t work, and I will continue clicking. I find myself occasionally having out-of-body sensations when I realize that I have just spent upwards of an hour looking for a link to a television show. Of course I do other things, but it is no longer free time when I have the constantly recurring, yet fleeting, devastation of “dead” or “removed” links to hinder my relaxation.
This is what I think about when I am looking for links.
It used to be that we sat with a clicker in our hands. There was a television on the other side of the room. We clicked.
Before that, people got up and changed the station. I vaguely remember my oldest sister getting up to turn the dial as our family sat in the living room, watching Dallas, M*A*S*H, or the Cleveland Browns games. That was back when the Browns were still somewhat respectable (and before the original Browns franchise moved to Baltimore).
Before that, there wasn’t home television. There were movie theatres for visual stimulation. Homes had radios. People would sit around listening to radios.
I was sitting with a friend of mine in her apartment a few weeks ago. She half-sarcastically, half-curiously suggested listening to the radio. We didn’t listen to anything in particular. We were channel surfing.
As I reflect on that night, I realize it was one of my most enjoyable recent experiences with media. We sat there, fairly intoxicated, but with our minds very much at work. She turned the dial from station to station. We made fun of the advertisements—lots of advertisements. There are possibly more advertisements than music and talk shows. We made fun of our choices. It felt good to genuinely just relax and spend time actively critiquing our mode of entertainment. Of course, the basic realization is that we were able to create our own entertainment, as cliche as it sounds.
We wondered who would listen to these stations. There was a Christmas ad on one station. This was several weeks before Thanksgiving.
“Really?” she asked, “Already?
“You didn’t know that?” I said, “We begin celebrating Christmas earlier every year.”
“I’m serious,” I said, “Some people light advent candles for twelve weeks.”
“That’s wrong,” she said, “I mean, that should be illegal. The government needs to step in and make some rules. There have to echelons to this kind of stuff.”
We laughed. It was nice to feel above the technology that was supposed to be entertaining us.
I also told her that she had just used a bad word. We had been flagging each other for use of overly intellectual words. I had used “transcendence” several minutes earlier. She had used “correlative” at some point. We didn’t really think they were overly intellectual words. In fact, we thought it was sad that there were people who would probably think so. The folks who eat McDonald’s without feeling self-conscious and then go to work and talk about how they ”kind of like Bill O’Reilly, even though who cares about politics?”
She passed a Latino music station.
“I have to admit: I really get into that station sometimes,” I said.
She laughed. “Really?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “I can just cruise along. I have to be driving, though. It’s good bumping along music. I can’t listen to it in stasis.”
She flagged me for saying “stasis.”
We continued surfing the radio.
How did the term surf get invented for media? According to Urban Dictionary (by now it should be clear that I have abandoned any semblance of a peer-reviewed, thesis-driven essay) surfing can involve balancing on a fiberglass board while on water (we know we can’t be god, but we want to at least be him or at least his son in human form), or it can also mean an almost ineffable feeling one experiences while doing some sort of activity (please blame UD for the ambiguity) that is equally ineffable.
I finally find a working stream of Boardwalk Empire. I begin watching the “previously on Boardwalk Empire” clips. The title theme song comes on. The stream freezes. Someone else in my apartment is using up the bandwidth. I moan. I minimize the browser.
I want to know what happens next. Someone is probably going to die. They used to have public executions, for the masses to gorge their appetites for violence. This is better, right? We have found new, safe mediums through which to fill that appetite. We used to go out and watch people die, and in some cases we still do. But now we can also just watch make-believe deaths.
When I get into a show, I generally cannot keep my appetite filled. If I get hooked, then chances are I might watch an entire five-season series over the course of a few weeks—sometimes even less.
Television is getting easier to indulge in. Commercial interruptions are declining and quality is increasing. HBO and AMC are two channels that have proven capable of creating original series that I can’t stop watching. The Sopranos and The Wire were excellent narratives. Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Boardwalk Empire are able to fill me with energy every time I watch a new episode.
I consider Twin Peaks as an early example of the cinematic television breed. Not surprisingly, the creator of Twin Peaks was David Lynch, a successful film director known for occupying territory outside the commercial mainstream. I finished that series over two weeks around the holydays last year.
When these series are finished I walk away feeling the same way that I do when I finish a really good, really lengthy novel such as Moby Dick, Crime and Punishment, or Infinite Jest. I feel sad, because something is lost. I will never get to experience those characters again. I will never get to be in that universe again. Or maybe what is lost is also the fact that I will never get that time back, and I will always live with a degree of regret about things I could have done to spend that time more wisely, only to all the while hate that I am regretting anything.
Martin Scorcese, the legendary filmmaker and the executive producer of Boardwalk Empire, remarked in an interview about why he decided to enter television after working almost exclusively in film for the past four decades. He said many of the recent HBO shows were able to give him the type of pleasure that he and his film-buff friends dreamed about when they were younger. They envisioned long-form television programs that dealt with their respective worlds, characters, and themes in an artistic and serious manner. They didn’t like television as much as film because it was commercial and crass, that is when it wasn’t verging on propaganda. Scorcese’s films, although usually often violent and relatively popular, are hardly commercial or crass, and certainly not in the same way as a Michael Bay film.
I happen to agree with Scorcese to a certain point, but then I am reminded of David Foster Wallace. He believed that television, and mass media in general, would indeed only get better. He believed that was a given—as technology advances, so will entertainment. However, he thought the test would be if people could be responsible. Would they be able to discipline themselves? Or would they end up like some of the characters in Infinite Jest—drooling to death over a projection on a screen?
Am I prototype for such a current/future being? I hope not.
You have probably already asked yourself: What the hell happened to the review of Boardwalk Empire? I want to write it, but it is lost. I am looking for a link, on a computer screen, over electronic communication. The review was lost somewhere along the way with the link. The link was lost in something possibly physical: the Internet browser in front of me. But it is not quite physical, at least not like this table on which my computer sits, or the chair on which I sit. But their pure physicality is no longer enough.
This is a slow, boring tortue, this looking for a link. Is this the torture we deserve, as a generation raised on the belief that all entertainment could be free? We thought it would be fed to us on a TV tray on our laps, and we would never have to cook our own food ever again.