5 Ways My Movie Collection Became An Actual Addiction
If I could start every column, regardless of the subject matter, with "Movies are great!" I would, because they are. They're my favorite things not shaped like my cattle dog, and when I like one enough, I will buy it and force everyone I know to watch it. A majority of my friends are deeply annoyed with me, but at least they're caught up on '70s Japanese cinema. I'm doing them all a huge favor.
However, about eight years ago, I started buying a ton of movies because I felt that there was a void in my life where some kind of celebrated personality trait should be. I stopped because I would eventually lose my apartment if I kept it up. I'm not fooling myself into believing that it was as dangerous as a drug addiction, but what it did to my financial situation dominated my life for way too long.
It Doesn't Necessarily Start Because You Love Movies
Toward the end of high school, I was stupidly assured of my comedic talents. Armed with the rough draft of an ego and ignorance that was ready to publish, I inserted myself into my hometown's Wikipedia page under the "Notable Residents" banner with "Daniel Dockery: local stand-up comic and culture critic." Typing that makes me want to vomit out of the tips of my fingers. I'd done two school talent shows and one local open mic, and wham! Pfafftown, North Carolina, had its answer to Seinfeld. If I kept this up, college was going to be one long standing ovation. "Thanks for your jokes about the Justice League, Daniel. We are practically starving for more of your rare brand of humor. Black T-shirts? Daniel, you are truly cutting-edge."
"Talk about how 'WONDER WOMAN BE SHOPPIN'!' again!"
Except the people at my university weren't starving for my stage presence. They didn't care at all.
I did two open mics in my student union coffee shop within the first month of college, and I was met with thunderous indifference. I had a very fragile sense of self at the time, and it was shattered. The nail in the coffin was walking through the English building and hearing a person say, "Hey, it's that comedian...," with the tone of voice of someone vomiting out of their fingers. I had told everyone in my dorm, when we went around and introduced ourselves at orientation, that I was a comic. And those two bad performances didn't take the label away from me, but they did add something to it: I had failed to mention that I was a bad comic.
After that, I rushed to make myself unique. I looked 12 until I was 20, so being the attractive guy was not an option. I was smart, but not the impressive kind of smart. I was the kind of smart that, if you knew nothing about computers, I could help you install Microsoft Word. Within two weeks of beginning college, I drunkenly shut my hand in a sliding window and had to be taken to the hospital, so being the fun alcoholic was nixed. And I was generally awkward, so my chances of being a guy that you'd ever want to hang out with at all were slim. So I picked movies, as I knew a little bit about them, and knowing who played that one guy in that one thing while you're chatting during a beer pong game makes you the most useless of demigods.
Aside from people who are actually good at beer pong.
I began collecting them, because if my personality wasn't going to shape the fuck up, at least people could see what I had and say, "Look at that! Daniel has definable characteristics and is not so easily forgotten!" I would grow to really love movies, but at the start, I just wanted to be the guy who owned things. If someone asked, "Does anyone have that Ozploitation film that never got an official release in the U.S.?" I could answer with, "Step into my lair, buddy. Let's see what's in the backpacks, shall we?"
Answer: What's in the backpacks, mostly, is low self-worth.
It's A Constant Cycle
Movies are forever getting updated editions. There are some companies, like The Criterion Collection or Shout! Factory, that do a really good job with this never-ending cycle. They produce extras and features that make purchasing one of their products special. They give you the movie and everything you need to appreciate it. Most companies, however, just release things in new formats because people will possibly buy them. People like me, who needed to have all of them, and who fretted about the lackluster cost of being left in the dust with paltry old releases.
"What if HD DVD makes a comeback? I better play it safe."
The realization that I'd have to start collecting what I'd already collected came pretty soon after I began this whole descent. At one point, I had about six different copies of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, because I wanted to get either a new one with better picture quality or one with features that weren't on previous discs. Two director commentaries? This is worth spending $40 on the day it comes out. But getting excited about these new deals is a lie that I made up just so I could feign happiness about something, because once you've bought a movie five times, chances are pretty good that you know about the making of that movie. You've read about it and watched every interview available, so you're going to get about halfway through that new commentary when you realize that there is very little joy to be had. You are just validating your purchase so that you don't feel like you've been foolish.
Sometimes that feeling never goes away.
Along with repeating content, space became an issue. Collector's sets of entire series are often packaged in physically baffling ways, all of which sound good on paper. A Planet Of The Apes box set that's creepily designed like the decapitated head of the main character? The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series inside of a replica of the turtle van? A Dark Knight trilogy collection shaped like the Batman mask that, despite its appearance, defies all units of measurement when you try to stick it somewhere? The only person who has a need for items shaped like Batman's head is the actual Batman. If you don't fall under that single criterion, you're just a guy with poor impulse control and a penchant for regret. They're made to test out how hardcore of a fan you are, because only the most diligent supporters would take the time to devise a way to cram these monstrosities alongside DVDs and Blu-rays of a more functional shape.
A giant, leering Terminator skull is never going to tie a room together.
I would buy entire series, only to find out that they were coming out again, but this time in the form of a main character's skull or house. Luckily, due to the limited room that I've had in dorm and apartment life, I haven't been able to fit them in very often. But, in a few cases, I've had the original releases, and, on top of them, the same damn things, just crudely inserted into the back of a functionless toy. And, if I ever watched them at all, I had to be extremely careful with them, because discs are meant to be packaged into standard disc containers. They weren't designed to be encased in oddly proportioned feats of plastic. It's a little more boring if you play by the rules, but at least you don't end up with a Breaking Bad barrel full of scratched seasons.
You Blind-Buy Things That You Hate
A lot of the movies that I bought when I started were movies that I'd wanted for a long time. I had a list of 25 that I counted as my favorites, and I checked them off. After that, it was a free-for-all. If I had heard a good thing about it, I'd pick it up. If I had heard a bad thing about it, I'd pick it up too, just to be ironic. But here's the thing about living your life carelessly and sarcastically: It's expensive.
I had a habit of buying terrible movies, because it was so "hilarious" that I owned them. It's not a very efficient way to make friends, because, unless you're being paid to review them, the good will that you can expend toward a bad movie lasts about 90 minutes. After that, you get sick of it. So, you end up buying a bunch of rare, cheesy horror movies that get watched once. They then stare at you for the rest of their existence, silently questioning your decision to make them a part of your crumbling home.
Seeing this every morning as you trudge to the shower will not help you seize the day.
This extended to TV shows. Hell On Wheels is a drama about angry people and trains. It's slap-dashed together in a way that says, "We don't know what our real demographic is, but we hope they like guns and AMC." I knew even less about it when I decided to purchase the first two seasons, just because I figured that I'd get around to them.
I'll get to you one day too, my precious.
I bought them because I might watch them later. I wasn't planning on popping them in the DVD player as soon as I got back to my place. I was going to sit them down and maybe, when I got through with literally everything that I wanted to watch, I'd give Hell On Wheels a chance. Luckily, I didn't force myself to peruse the infinitum of film before I started the series, and I'm glad that I didn't, because concluding my lifelong cinematic experience with Hell On Wheels would be like having a nice dinner and following it up with eating the tablecloth. At worst, it's a confusing way to end Thanksgiving. At best, it's completely unnecessary.
You're Terrified To Tell Your Friends
A lot of this probably reads like The Soft Cries Of A Penis At Dusk (my debut album). "I buy things ... but sometimes, I buy too much ..." It's a problem that seems dumb in retrospect, because it didn't really hurt me physically or emotionally. It just took my wallet and passed it around to the employees at Best Buy. A few friendships never quite recovered from it, though.
Aside from saying, "Yeah, I have that movie too!" to people, I never really talked about the fact that my movie collection was growing at an odd rate. I assume that my roommates knew about it, because I was buying rotating DVD racks and clearing space off of my desk so that I could fit more movies on it. Whenever I moved, movies would be spilled into the passenger seats of my car, because I didn't have a place to put them. And it's their knowledge of it that embarrassed me the most, because I was buying movies when I should've been, you know, paying rent and shit.
It turns out that landlords won't accept comprehensive introductions to Kurosawa in lieu of payment.
I have been in debt to every roommate that I've ever had, and it's never because I spent too much money on alcohol or food or activities that were explicitly planned to be enjoyed with other people. It's because I spent the money that I should've used to pay off my half of the Internet/electricity/heating/water on movies. When I lived at home for a while after college, I didn't have to worry about it as much. But as soon as I moved in with other young people in my income bracket, all of my plans to save a bit and not be a financial burden were tossed, because I'd let myself go to Target again. Being addicted to shopping is usually stereotyped as an issue that women face, because "OMG THAT PURSE" or something. That's another one of the reasons that I sat in silence while friends, who were slowly becoming distrustful of me, asked, "When are you gonna pay me back?" I refused to tell them that I couldn't seem to stop spending, as it just wasn't a problem that I was supposed to have. I was MAN and MAN HATE SHOPPING.
"BUT WONDER WOMAN THO!?!"
In 2013 and early 2014, I was at my worst. I had decreased the amount that I was buying, but I was making less money than I ever had before. There was one particular movie that I wanted to get, and I used a coupon, change that I cashed in at a Coinstar, and what little money I had in my account to buy it. The movie was just OK, and I didn't have any money to fulfill my half of the rent. I wouldn't be getting paid until after rent was due, and while I eventually paid it, this was not a one-time thing. This happened three months in a row, and it wasn't because I wasn't making enough to fend off the rent. It was because I was setting aside rent money, telling myself that I wouldn't go movie shopping, then I was going movie shopping and giving myself allowance after allowance to mess up my budget.
The turning point came when I found myself eating sparse portions of cashews that my girlfriend had bought, because I didn't have any cash to buy food. I was making sure that I didn't eat too many, so that if my girlfriend got a hankering for cashews later, she wouldn't come to find out that her loser boyfriend had deemed it Clobberin' Time on the Planters can and devoured them all. I felt so guilty and ashamed of myself, and that night, I made a Craigslist post, listing a few movies for sale. It was a start.
It was also the first time something good came from a Craigslist post.
You Think That It Will All Pay Off In The End
I began writing for the Internet in June of 2011, and, like many, I assumed that making fun of bad movies would be my ticket to online success. All of my hilarious commentary would surely procure me enough cash to make up for all that I'd spent on every public domain Bela Lugosi flick within reach. Sadly, I soon learned that, while blogging for free about old, atrocious horror movies and cartoons could be done to my heart's content, blogging for money was a different story. In the first year and a half of writing, I pitched a column about bad movies to so many websites that you'd think I was trying to collect statistical data to eventually use in my award-winning article "Why No One Is Replying." As it turns out, a lot of websites can't manage to pay you to write about bad movies that only you're searching the Internet for. They need clicks, dawg. Your 4,000-word treatise on The Giant Gila Monster doesn't drive traffic the way that you think it might.
You goddamn plebs.
I was also never able to turn my collection into something that was awe-inspiring. I never had a "movie cave" basement worth making a YouTube video about. Instead, I was stuck in the middle. I owned way more movies than a regular person, but I never owned enough to wow anyone. The only reaction to my stock would probably be, "Huh. I don't think I've seen Panic Room in a while."
One of the most shocking realizations of life is finding out that something you bought is worth nothing when you try to sell it back. I've seen enough 18-year-olds in GameStop, arms full of games and hearts full of hope, get angry when the cashier responds to their query with, "Eh, I'll give you $4, or $6 in store credit," to know that a ton of people spend at least a part of their lives thinking that you get equal to what you paid for something when you try to sell it later. Luckily, I'd already had an experience similar to this before I ended up selling a bunch of my movies. I'd bought textbooks for classes, textbooks that had turned me into an even-more-broke college student. Luckily, the school was there with $17 to assuage my pangs at the end of the semester. Trade-in values make you lose faith in economics as a whole.
"That'll be $3.50 for the Criterion edition of Armageddon, 12 cents for the complete works of Hiroshi Inagaki,
and a buck seventy-five for letting me watch your hopes and dreams drain from your eyes."
There was no climactic part where I decided to vanquish my habit by burning a bunch of films like they were my Sith dad. Instead, I went to pawn shops and used bookstores and got rid of them. I never haggled, nor did I balk when I was offered quarters for something that I'd spent $50 on six years earlier. This process didn't earn me a ton of money. I just needed them out.
I ended up, over time, getting rid of about a third of my collection. Every once in a while, I think about one that I sold and sort of wish that I'd kept it. I then remember that, if someone asks me to help them provide a roof over our heads, I have a better response than, "The bad news is that we're evicted. The average news is that I now own all of Digimon!" And I know that it might go without saying, but being able to afford food is pretty rad.
Daniel has a blog.
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