DVD ADDICTION: The Perils of The Waltons
How had it gotten there, this box, with its warm sepia cover photograph of John-Boy and Jim-Bob and Grandpa Zeb somewhere deep in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia? What was it doing in my hand, this endless compendium of cornball, sugar-dusted, moral-riven Depression-era schlock about innumerable people with hyphens in their Christian names and the backsides out of their overalls?
Unbelievably, I had purchased it. I had, once again, entered the Bermuda triangle of a DVD store, and come out the other side with – of all things - The Waltons. Instinctively, I understood even as I took it to the cash register that I would never watch it – twelve or more hours of the complex family architecture of Mary-Ellen-Bob and Grandma Olivia-Bob and Erin-Bob and Ben-Bob.
It was then I knew I was a full blown DVD addict or, in the case of The Waltons, an Addict-Bob.
Addiction is complex. One definition declares it is “a state of being dependent on a certain substance which is harmful or dangerous for the physical or mental health of a person, for his social well-being and economical functioning”.
The storylines alone in The Waltons’ first season could surely be categorised as “harmful or dangerous for the physical or mental health”. For example, in An Easter Story: “Olivia contracts polio but vows to walk by Easter morning.” Or The Calf: “The youngest Walton children grow attached to a bull calf that John is determined to sell.”
Even just reading the synopses, I’m already rooting for the bull calf, hoping it somehow gets off Walton’s Mountain and away from these despicable people who take several hours to say goodnight to each other each evening before blowing out their paraffin lamps and homemade candles. By the time the wizened Grandma Olivia gets around to bidding everyone a good evening the cocks are crowing at dawn and the whole wretched cycle starts again.
Any self-respecting psychologist might say I am “transferring” the self-loathing of my addiction to a gaggle of fictional television characters. It is not the Waltons’ fault. I have no right to grit my teeth at John-Boy’s enormous facial mole, nor the gap in do-gooder Pappy Walton’s teeth which, to my ears, issues a C-sharp each time he reads Bible passages to his all-American apple pie clan.
Is it their fault that I have several unwrapped DVD’s in my collection, untouched and unviewed? What does Walton Mountain have to do with my excitement at finding Zorba the Greek (Anthony Quinn, Alan Bates, 1964) on DVD, rushing home and realising I had already bought a copy months earlier? It’s enough to make you choke on Grandpa Zeb’s corn pipe.
No, the addiction is mine alone. Not just single movies on DVD, Collector’s Editions, Gold Editions or Director’s Cut Editions, but the Box Sets. The Box Sets (hence The Waltons) send me into a peculiar delirium. The thought of advertisement-free television, hours of it, tickles my cathode ray tube.
I’m not the only one. There are websites for active and recovering DVD addicts. A recent chatroom in the US posed the question – You know you are a DVD addict when…. One fellow sufferer confessed: “…at Easter, instead of hunting for eggs, you hunt for all the DVD’s you’ve hidden in fear of your significant other finding out how much you’ve spent.” And another: “…you are watching a movie in a theatre and catch yourself trying to pause it.”
It is too early to gauge the social impact of DVD addiction. It’s a relatively recent illness. The first DVD players were sold in Tokyo in late 1996, and only launched in Western Europe in May 1998. Last year, almost half of Hollywood’s revenue came from the home entertainment market, and primarily the DVD.
It was estimated that in 2004 there were 42,500 DVD titles available in the US. A conservative calculation revealed it would cost well over $A1 million to purchase a single copy of each. Like any decent addiction, it can be expensive.
But how to stop? The Waltons: the Complete First Season will now sit in my collection beside the complete first seasons of Gilligan’s Island and Lost in Space. These jostle for shelf room with five Carry On collections and the first and second seasons of Kung Fu (“Ah, glasshopper!).
Is it a clinging, in part, to the innocence of childhood television viewing? Or to films that as a child seemed so shocking, profound and memorable? What else could explain my greedy purchase of Soylent Green (Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson, 1973), that seemed so spectacular at the time?
Revisiting it, how could this sensationally tacky narrative set in 2022 New York where the masses are hungry and the government turns old people in edible little square biscuits possibly be appealing to the grown me? (Although the thought of some acquaintances coming back in another life as a Cheese Shape or Iced Vo Vo does have its perverse attraction.) This is one huge downside to DVD addiction – the pleasures of distant memory being head butted by contemporary reality.
Yet the collection continues to grow.
My therapist has recommended a mantra, said each night before beddy bye time. Goodbye Box Sets, I have to say. Goodbye Complete First, Second and Third Seasons. Goodbye Director’s Cut. Goodnight John-Boy.
Oh-boy. This is not going to be easy.