A link from a friend. A tour announcement. Two new movie trailers. A long form article. An album stream. A film review. A breaking news story. An interview. A viral video. A new podcast. A book recommendation. A ‘best of’ list. Competitions! Sales! Fuuuuuck!
It's just hit 7:30, and even before my first sip of cheap instant coffee I am dangerously at risk of my brain melting out through my ear holes, and not just because of how great the new Julian Casablancas album I am midway through streaming via Rolling Stone sounds. No, it's just that, well, the sheer volume of information being flung my way every single morning is becoming too overwhelming.
So why do I put myself through it, then? Do I have some kind of sick addiction? Some may think they have a fairly solid argument that this is in fact the case, but I feel my reasons are very different. Allow me to explain.
Only recently, I woke up to the fact that online content, in its many forms, has officially taken the place of the morning newspaper (a little slow on the uptake, I know). Now, instead of walking out through the front door, half dressed and bare foot, stumbling zombie-like across the lawn to retrieve the daily addition of the City News while the neighbour's dog ferociously barks to the point of irritation, I can simply roll over, tap the screen on my smart phone and scroll through the hundreds of new developments that have occurred the world over since my head hit the pillows five or so hours earlier. Usually, it's a whole helluva lot to take in through my foggy - occasionally groggy - early morning daze.
One news item may appear multiple times over across various news feeds, each featuring links to a variety sites offering the same story, though from very different viewpoints. And in that regard, the age we now live in can be considered pretty goddamn fantastic. We are insanely spoilt for choice when it comes to the information we receive, which can be a wonderful thing. I mean, why settle for the Fox news version of any given story when there are hundreds of other options to choose from?
As the avenues for choice regarding online content continue to multiply, so too have the avenues for everything else. This is where, along with the pros, the cons begin to show their ugly little faces. The most glaring downside is the most obvious, at least for me - stuff no longer sticks in the mind like it used to. And it's because of this sad fact that many are now referring to our modern information age as 'the Age of Disposability'.
One area close to my heart that appears to be suffering in this regard is the world Motion Pictures. Films. Movies. CINEMA! As an example, allow me to go back a couple of decades, to the year 1994… If you were to ask me what my favourite films during that rather great twelve month period were, there would be little hesitation to my answer. Off the top of my head, I would sight Clerks, Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers and Ed Wood as personal standouts (Yes, I think Shawshank Redemption is a little overrated. Sue me). If we then compare that to last year, hell, the last few years, and I would struggle with any kind of immediate answer. Why? Do I think the quality of cinematic fare has dipped of late? No, not really. It's just that twenty, even ten, years ago, there was a build-up, an anticipation, that would keep a film somewhere in the back of one’s mind, both leading up to its release, and long after viewing the finished product. There wasn't an avalanche of content diluting the experience (or helping to erase the films from the mind completely).
Now, there is so much released, and at such a rapid-fire pace, that I honestly can't remember when the recent films I liked/loved even arrived on our screens, both big and small. Was Drive 2012 or 2011? The Master was only released a year ago, right? And what of the masterpieces I have missed? Will I ever find the time for them? Honestly, who the fuck knows… What I do know is that films released now are but a small part of a collective, overcrowded whole, attached to a never ending wave of information and entertainment that you will either manage to catch, make a note to check out later, or just miss out on entirely, having never known of their existence in the first place. For a crazy cinefile like myself, this is a little problematic.
A quick search on the occasionally reliable IMDB reveals that, in 1994, 3165 films were released theatrically. Alternatively, in 2013, 8769 films were released, and not just at a cinema near you, but rather via a multitude of avenues, such as DVD, bluray, iTunes, and various other Video On Demand platforms. Perhaps because of this increase in numbers, films that at one time may have been on people's radars, either because of their quality (recent examples include Cold in July, Blue Ruin, and Listen Up, Philip) or controversy (Cheap Thrills, God Bless America), no longer are. In fact, if a movie like Bobcat Goldthwait’s brilliant God Bless America were released at an earlier point in time, there is no way it would have managed to keep such a low profile, given the uproar it would likely have caused with the more sensitive and/or right leaning members of the American public.
Music, sadly, sits in a similar boat. There are so many bands out there releasing new stuff that much of it can't help but fall by the way side. I mean, with the exception of Arcade Fire, have any band from the last five years built up a large enough profile to command a headlining spot at a major music festival? Probably not, and the reasons are much the same - it's harder to standout in such a content-heavy, fast paced world. There's so much greatness out there now, that the real problem is having the time to see and hear it all... and not forgetting about it when the next shiny thing comes along.
Last year, I attempted to post quarterly lists of the music I had heard and loved. What I found when doing so was that the sheer number of albums released by bands I was interested in, both new and old, made it damn near impossible. Even after posting the lists I would, without fail, discover around ten or so other albums/bands I had somehow missed out on. Like film, great music is constantly at risk of being lost amongst the massive, soon-to-be-forgotten herd.
I could go on to offer similar viewpoints on where literature, television, etc. stand in all this, but I would only be repeating myself. Plus, I can already picture the one or two people who are actually reading this thinking “Get with the times, man”, “Who cares, man” or even that reliable old chestnut “Chill out, maaaaaaan.” Well fuck that, and fuck you.
Despite all this fairly substantial proof that referring to everything mentioned above as ‘disposable’ has some merit, I will continue to fight against that idea, and the only way to do that is to ride the wave, and try and keep up. I want films, music and literature to be considered more than short term distractions. I don't want any form of worthy art to be diluted, or worse, forgotten. I want fans to remain passionate. I want interest to be sustained. I will not surrender to the idea that cinema is dying, that new bands are doomed, that novels no longer have a place. I will continue watching, reading and hearing all that I possibly can, no matter how colossal this wave of content becomes... either that, or I'll drown in the process.