Shelf space is at a premium in my house. I expect that a lot of you reading this are familiar with the problems we have — too many books, dvds, action figures, Legos, terrariums, children’s toys, grown-up toys, plants, kitchen-things, and cds for the available shelving. Well, alright, perhaps you do not have millipede tanks and Lego cities as much as we do, but you understand the gist.
Stuff is all very well and good, but stuff takes up space.
I have a lot of dvds. A lot. I have absolutely no-where to put them. For years now, they have been accreting in cd/dvd wallets. Every year and a half or so I look at the looming, tipping, haphazard stacks of dvds in the living room, go out and buy a few more wallets, and hide them all away. This is a really suboptimal system in my view. The cases get stowed in big plastic tubs in the garage, I can’t see or remember what I own, and there’s no really good organizational scheme for walleting the suckers. Alphabetical by title, sure, but how do you find similar things? Some sort of genre divisions would be useful. But if Alien is a horror flick, and Aliens is much more of an action film, do you put them in separate folders? Do you put all the Alien franchise together? Do you leave a blank space after Alien 3 on the grounds that you might someday get Alien Ressurection?
Right now I have a wallet for “classic” films, which is more or less anything before the introduction of European films to American audiences and filmgoers. So, around Blow-Up. I have about eight or so wallets of tv series. (I finally broke down and included the recent Evangelion; You Are Not Alone film in the tv wallet, right after the tv series. It’s making me twitch. But if you want to find Evangelion stuff, you’d look under tv, right? Right.) I have a wallet of “horror,” which gives me the most heartburn. It includes straight-up horror films, slasher flicks and the like. But also more gory dramas and action films. Basically, this folder was a device to remove dvd covers from the shelves whose images I did not want to explain to my then-three-year-olds.
But then there are the shelves.
All the non-fiction is out on the shelves so that the kids can access the dvds at their leisure. There is also a “kids’ shelf” of dvds, which are not dvds they own (mostly). Rather, these are the dvds I was willing for them to watch and learn to love. All the movie musicals are on the shelf. Lord of the Rings. The superhero films. Many works from Pixar, a few from Disney. The movies the kids have received as gifts, or bought with their saved allowance. The films of Harry Potter. Now that the kids are older and can clearly use the wallets (that’s where the Loony Tunes discs are kept) I could start putting more of those away. But the children are shelf-browsers — they like to look and see what their options are.
I have two new wallets, fresh this week, which are “Everthing Else.” This is an entirely unsatisfactory categorization, but I can’t think of a better way to do it. After all, is Chasing Amy a drama or a romantic comedy? (Romantic comedy, for the record.)
As I filed dvds last night, I noticed how many of the things I own are now on Netflix Watch Instantly. At this point it is easier for me to watch Doctor Who on Netflix than it is to find the right wallet and get out the dvds. I would dearly love to be able to get rid of some dvds, to put a bin on the boulevard in good weather with a sign saying DVDS FREE TAKE THEM. Yet the streaming licensing for Netflix, Amazon, and Zune is … unreliable. What the BBC giveth, the BBC can taketh away. And there’s holdouts like HBO who simply refuse to license their works. (Dear HBO, this has not made me subscribe to your cable network. Instead, I don’t watch your shows until they are on dvd.)
The upshot of this is, I own movies and tv shows all over the place. Amazon Streaming has my season of Hellcats. Zune has The Guild and parts of Doctor Who. Netflix has Top Gear and Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, but I don’t really own those, do I? Nope. The household network has ripped copies of about three-fourths of my movie dvds which I can watch in the living room over the XBox 360 — but I can’t watch them in my bedroom on the Roku box. And then there are the endless shelves and wallets of physical dvds.
If I want to lend a friend the first season of Leverage, I can hand them the dvds I own — if said friend is local, and right in front of me. But this is the internet age and I have friends all over the world. What if I want to lend Halloween to a friend in New Zealand? It’s on the home network. I could send them a file. Yet this is piracy. If I start watching Friday Night Lights at home on dvd, I can’t watch it on my breaks at work. I can, however, watch it on Netflix — for as long as Netflix has the rights, and then I’m out of luck. I can rip my dvds of the show to the home network, download the episode I’m on to my netbook, and watch it wherever I go. Yet I can’t show it to you. I can’t legally watch new Doctor Who episodes when they air. Legally. I’ve bought the most recent half-season twice, and I watch it on Netflix. I think that makes up for any irregularities that may have occurred in my initial viewing.
And let’s not even get into the asinine ridiculousness of region codes.
At some point I lose track of how many times I have bought, or bought the right to watch, various creative properties. It’s a tiresome, cumbersome, gotcha-laden system. One that I do from time to time circumvent out of sheer frustration that some companies only want my money in exacting, specific, and becoming-outdated ways — “subscribe to our cable or satellite service.” I would happily, happily, subscribe to an online streaming service from individual cable networks! But I’m not getting cable. The shows I want to watch — Mildred Pierce, for instance — are not ones I’m going to watch on the living room tv with my family anyway.
I don’t have a snappy ending to this, no call to action or solution. The solution is, I think, time — time for content providers and creators to adjust to the online way of viewing. In the meantime, I’ll keep putting my dvds in wallets and ignoring the fact that there’s no satisfactory cataloging system. Or the fact that I own three copies of season six of the new Doctor Who.