Thursday, June 17, 2004

Ownership; or, Why DVD Isn't Going Away

Me and my brother had a discussion today at lunch regarding how people feel like they have ownership of films, especially regarding films like Star Wars, etc. The genesis of the conversation being the upcoming Star Wars Trilogy DVD set, and Lucas's decision not to include the original films and only the special editions. What this led to is this fact: people today feel a much stronger ownership and personal identification of cultural artifacts than ever before.

Our discussion had some relevance to the discussion here. Essentially, the advent of affordable, quality, portable mediums, like DVD or CD, has caused people to take a more personal stance on their favorite bands, films and television shows than ever before.

For example, take the differences between a play and a film. A play is a much more communal thing. At one time films were more like plays in their social context. In 1977, if I wanted to see Star Wars, I had to make a pilgrimage to the theatre to see it with a crowd of other people. What this meant is that I didn't own Star Wars, I was merely participating in a shared cultural experience. Then then the advent of VHS rentals started to make film experiences a more private thing, but it's really been the rise of DVD and sell-through mediums, such as CDs, etc. in the last five years that have contributed to the fact that people want to own their favorite films or TV shows.

When I buy a DVD as opposed to seeing it in theatres, I say to people "I own that movie." It says something about my relationship to the film that people didn't used to feel for the medium. "I own it" says something different than "I saw it," and it sends a far different message than "I burnt it" or "I downloaded it legally/illegally" or whatever. I feel different about a burnt or copied album than I would if I purchased it. I don't care if my burnt copy of Hail to the Thief gets scratched. I would care if my Limited Edition version of that CD did.

Essentially what DVD and CD has done for movies and music, respectively, is caused them to enter the realm that books once did for people. People have been very defensive and personal about their taste in books for a long time, probably dating back to the arrival of the printing press. There's still something about having a particular book in your library, rather than borrowing or loaning from a library, that says something about you and your tastes. That's why we're sometimes embarrassed to show our book collections to people. It says something about my relationship the works of art.

DVD is now doing the same thing for film. Those of you who know me know that I'm a compulsive collector, owning literally hundreds of DVDs, CDs, comic books, etc. My DVD collection says something about me. It's a reflection of my relationship with the particular work in question. And this is why, while DVD may (will) eventually die, I don't see people switching to solid state memory devices (be it in MPEG, MP3 form) replacing truly portable mediums in which people can form a library or collection.


At 1:00 a.m., Blogger Ewan said...

Just as there are people who cling to their vast collection of LPs, there are those who have their tapes that they made dubbing the LPs of their friends. My father, who is a musician himself, bought few LPs throughout his life and was always content to make copies and listen to things that way. I, on the other hand, am more of a collector.

I've always kind of felt that the kind of person who just downloads or borrows music or movies had fleeting interests in them. They're not usually deeply interested or moved by a song or a film. I think about the people that I know who are moved by singers like Joni Mitchell or movies by directors like Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese, and they tend to be people who are more likely to buy cds or dvds. I think the purchasing is sort of like an extension of their appreciation, and let's face it: some people appreciate things more than others. It sounds really elitist, but i know alot of people who's favourite song or movie changes weekly and they're never interested in actively seeking out alternatives to what is more or less spoon fed to them. And usually this leaves them content, so i say good for them.


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