Why Are You the Way That You Are?

A valid question, indeed. After all, when people first discover my extensive knowledge of NBC’s schedule from 1985-1990, my passion for Nickelodeon’s meteoric rise, and my ability to ruin “reality” shows by calling winners based on editing cuts, they seem very, very surprised.

I guess it’s surprising. I’m quiet and have an air of serious intelligence, I make no secret of my high standards.

So… where did this obsession with the god-forsaken entertainment industry come from?

As with most grown-up issues, my childhood home life is to blame. It really started with my dad:

Right around the time I was 2, my dad found a new hobby – recording movies off TV onto VHS tapes. Being the OCD personality he is, he quickly devised the most efficient system, recording 3 full-length features per VHS tape. Each tape was the numbered and tallied into a green binder. This green binder was my dad’s holy grail. He had covered the front of it with those tiny stamps from movie club mailers. Films were broken down by genre, as determined by my father. (Drama encompassed almost everything, but he had a whole section for The Beatles…?) He registered what network he recorded it from (so he knew if it was a desperate move, recording off a broadcast network with…. COMMERCIALS), what year it was made, and what number tape it was on.

Those hundreds of tapes were all over the house – in cubbies under the living room end table, stacked behind the sound system speakers, squirreled away in cabinets in my brother James’s room. It would be a few years before he had massive bookshelves built, which eventually housed most of the collection, albeit temporarily.

While James and I had our own store-bought video collection of Disney movies, in their squeaky plastic cases, most of our favorite movies were found on one of Dad’s tapes.  He made it a point to record great films he thought we should see; he just happened to record them between Dirty Harry and Scarface.  By 6, I was an expert at fast-forwarding  – trucking through one movie to land perfectly on the the middle one, coasting through commercials. Because, of course, we had to stop the tape and fast-forward blindly. “It was better for the tape” than hitting play THEN fast-forward. And it was all about the health of the tape. I also became an expert  at tracking — you know, when you watched a tape too much and it began to get those gray lines. We called it “flippy.” “Daaaaaad, The Wizard of Oz is getting flippy!!!!” I remember sitting in front of the VCR while a movie played, slowly twisting the tiny knob hidden beneath a panel on the front of the VCR, making the flippiness stop as best as I could.

Speaking of lecturing, we were also taught the rules of recording — if the red light was on, we could not use the VCR. Don’t touch it. Don’t look at it. Don’t put the silverware in it. (Funny story: James once put a spoon in the VCR. He couldn’t have been more than 3. I’ll never forget my dad, who is not particularly great at taking things apart or putting them together, hovered over the VCR inards, muttering to himself. But James’s reasoning was sound – he wanted to know if whatever you put in the VCR would show up on the TV.)

The whole point is, from birth, I was surrounded by a library of cinematic history. My dad’s collection was the prize of the household. I was 12 when I finally grasped the concept of “renting” movies. It was an additional activity, along with puzzles, coloring, and imaginary games. We watched movies after a day of swimming, on sick days and rainy days, before we went to bed.

I know this isn’t necessarily about TV, but it definitely set the tone for how and why we consumed media. My dad’s hobby, his passion, was instilled into me and my brother. It’s a family thing.