Opinions and Rants #29: Everything That Ever Was - Available Forever (ETEWAF)

Patton Oswalt has an article in Wired that is a must read for those interested in pop culture - past and present.  In the essay, Oswalt expresses his theory that society is approaching a state of ETEWAF.  Where once you had to piecemeal your niche interests together one comic book or VHS cassette at a time, today you can become an expert in any narrow interest in a single weekend! I would tend to agree: things are progressing so fast in that direction, I don't think many of us pop culture addicts have stopped to think about the implications.

When I was a kid, a movie came to the movie theater for a few weeks, then it was gone (you assumed) FOREVER. Think about that for a moment.  I had no idea that there would be HBO, VHS, DVDs, Netflix, and (gasp!) torrents! For all I knew, when The Billion Dollar Hobo came to town, that was your one and only chance to catch this movie, ever.  For all I knew, that episode of Starsky & Hutch would never air again.... certainly never on demand.

In contrast, now I can be a Starsky & Hutch expert in a weekend.  I can watch every single episode whenever I want via Hulu or Netflix, I can watch the Ben Stiller remake, I can read all the information surrounding the show on the Internet (i.e. IMDb, Wikipedia, etc.), and I can probably find a few forums of  rabid S&H fans.  I can buy David Soul's album on Amazon, watch the special features on the DVD, listen to the commentary, and read past magazine articles about S&H via Google News or back issues of old magazines available online.... while listening to the soundtrack!  You get the point.  Even the most obscure nooks of the pop culture landscape are available for plunder.

This development is of special interest to me, given that Retrospace is all about plundering less traveled paths in our pop culture past.  Patton Oswalt contends that this may not be healthy for our creative output.  In other words, we're spending too much time looking in the rear view mirror, and not enough on the road ahead.  We are becoming a culture of regurgitated bits from the past; a culture of remakes and lame pop culture references (i.e. Family Guy and VH1 I love the 80's, etc.).

Oswalt believes that when we hit ETEWAF, pop culture will reach its critical mass and implode.  When every book ever made is on every Kindle, and every movie ever made is on every TV, and every song ever made is on every mp3 player.... it will all be over.  No more frothing at the mouth waiting for the newest Italian giallo to be released on Blu-Ray - it already has.  It's ALL available... so what do we do now?

When the Coen Brothers remake of Cannonball Run II in IMAX 3-D spoken entirely in Esperanto hits the theaters, no one will care.  It will all be over. We will all start looking forward again.  We will stop this mad dash to explore the entire surface of our pop culture past, and be content with what lies ahead.

Or so Patton Oswalt would predict....

I have a slightly different opinion.  We are certainly on the road to ETEWAF, no arguments there.  But I don't think having an unlimited resource at our fingertips is a bad thing, nor do I think it leads to some sort of pop culture supernova.

Surely, the constant obscure pop references we see on Family Guy will get old (.... or has already become severely old).  But having this incredible mine as an inspiration is a good thing - after all, every great burst of creativity has relied on something before it.  The Beatles didn't form in a vacuum - they had blues and rockabilly to spark the fire.  Indeed, the Renaissance came about because of a rediscovery of Classical Greek and Roman culture. Get my drift?

Furthermore, I don't think we are in any danger of not having an obscure niche to call our own. We may have to plunder a little deeper, but if we dig deep enough there will always be hidden treasures.  The topsoil is gone, as Oswalt says, but there will always be plenty of bedrock to keep us happy and inspired to create "the next new thing".


  1. Interesting post but I disagree. One of the interesting things about the available information is that it may be very limited. Sure, one may watch every episode of Starsky & Hutch, but there is so much related material that is generally just lost to time. A person is lucky if they find a website where someone scanned an old magazine or something that has information as presented contemporary to when the show was on, but by and large a lot of the data is just not there for things that predate the digital age and are not huge pop culture artifacts (such as Star Wars).

    A good example is Wikipedia. Prior to Wikipedia I could find a lot of small websites about retro things that I like. These websites were often made by people who like the thing that i like and had taken the time to make a site, scan things, copy things, articulate information. Now we have Wikipedia & everyone heads there. Wikipeda is nice, but it often lacks depth and bios are frequently sanitized.

  2. Interesting thought. I remember seeing Doc Savage: Man of Bronze in the theater as a kid and immediately declaring my Favorite Movie of All Time. Then, I kept watching for it to come on TV and it never did. But once in 5th grade, I had a friend tell me he saw it "on the late show last night." I couldn't believe I'd missed it, that was probably my last chance to see it for another 5 years. Even after VHS, it took years to find it in a video store to rent (I was over 30 at this point), and years more before I was able to buy it (it was a used video rental copy off Amazon). Kids today just don't get that.

    Also, many people think "every" movie is on Netflix, but those people don't watch anything but new stuff. Lots of old movies aren't even on DVD and lots of those that are on DVD aren't available on Netflix. My own queue has 43 items that have availability unknown. So we aren't yet to the point of everything is always available. And the more junk there is, the harder it can be to find that obscure article from that obscure magazine in 1978. Information Anxiety and all that.

  3. There will always be something old that is new again. Just look at how long it took The Six-million Dollar Man to become available. And how long must we wait before the money grubbing nazi fucktard labels allow WRKP in Cincinnati to be released in its original form with the original songs?

  4. ETEWAF is still a long way off, but I see your point. But I believe it's up to the new generations to generate NEW things and leave the past-digging to us retroists.
    And for the record, I'm still waiting for the entire Man From Atlantis series to be available on DVD.

    1. Ah yes. The Man From Atlantis. Available from Kickass Torrents and ISOHunt (and therefore via many and varicose torrent aggregators I would imagine).
      Same goes for the SF & Fantasy project (a one man project to make every 20th Century SF/Fantasy novel ever published available online as an eBook), obscure PD movies (and more than a few which will never be PD, but will also never be available commercially).
      The Freetards have taken on distribution where commercial media has dropped the ball.
      Not that I'm advocating copyright infringement. Oh sorry, I meant of course criminal piracy on a par with international terrorism. But if you think the people who made Invasion of the Bee Girls are going to make any money out of the movie whether you pirate it or not....

  5. Let's say the ETEWAF apocalypse does drop like an all-encompassing turd. The sheer volume of this material STILL makes sifting through it a task of such arduous proportions, that only the most obsessed or creative (or creatively obsessed) individuals will actually do so to retrieve the best nuggets for the rest of us to enjoy. It's like the ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark....In addition, with how rapdily change occurs these days, it no longer takes 20 years for somthing to enter into the archives of "retro-pop-culture"....things that people had or did last year are already considered "retro" to many - thus adding to the vastness of material...

  6. ETEWAF is already here. It's not the end of anything, it's a change. Oswald would have Geek Culture act like Movie and TV companies, fightng against change tooth and nail until the change simply over runs us. Like the music industry did until a Geek Culture company showed them how to live with change. That is what this so-called ETEWAF is, a change and to fight it is both foolish and dangerous. Instead go with it, exercise the body as it gets old so that is get healthy. Oswald would rather the body (Geek Culture) get fat on sugary high until the metaphorical heart attack tells us it's time to change up. That's dangerous to the body. Instead embrace the change. Work with the change. Make ETEWAF work for Geek Culture, and not against it. That is far saner then waiting for an explosion - explosions are rarely good things.

  7. I've thought about this, but not so much in terms of availability; rather I was thinking about ease of access (torrents, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, etc). It's just too damn easy to get this stuff now-- the thrill of the hunt is gone.

    Think of the old bootleg networks that used to exist-- it was like buying drugs to get your hands on a home-videotape recording of an old monster movie. I knew this guy who would drive to a hotel in another city with a Betamax machine in his suitcase because he got a hot tip that some local low-power UHF station was broadcasting some obscure film noir in the middle of night that he was going to record and circulate.

    In those days, there was a thrill when you got your hands on a copy of this stuff. Not any more. It's like the tigers in the zoo; zookeepers hide raw meat inside of sealed plastic balls tied to tree branches so that the tigers have to work to get food like they would in the wild. Without it, the tigers get fat, stupid and apathetic.

  8. The Creeping Bride makes a good point. Though for me, since I live outside the USA (I live in Mexico), the thrill of the hunt is still somewhat alive. Hulu and Netflix as well as Amazon's video on demand are off limits to foreign viewers so I have to look elsewhere. Online purchase from Amazon and the like I do sparingly since the shipping and handling doubles the price of everything.
    Sometimes I strike gold however, like the time I found a cheap as dirt DVD of the 80's horror film "The Car" in a local store's discount rack.

  9. While the "thrill of the hunt" might be gone, it was always a little over rated.

    I'm an Old Time Radio fan, and while in my youth I enjoyed my two or three cassettes of the Lone Ranger, I now have 600 episodes. I also have whole runs of a dozen shows you could not get in the "good old days" of hunting and pecking.

    Whereas I had a dozen or so issues of my favorite comic books, at $20 or so each, I now have the whole run of the Superman Comic book, as well as Jimmy Olson, Lois Lane, and Supergirl. And all for a price that is far more within my budget.

    As with most "futurists," Patton Oswalt has some good points. Given the drek coming out of Hollywood lately, creativity does seem to be taking a back seat to re-hashing. It also seems like all the adults have left the building and the middle-school children are trying, poorly, to show how "grown up" they are
    (with all the potty humor and "little red wagon" jokes that mandates).

    What Oswalt seems to miss in his analysis is that this has all happened before. With the advent of printing and chap books, all the knowledge of the universe was available to anyone who could read. Things that were only known to a select few, now became the easy domain of the working class. The democratization of knowledge brought a fear then as well. With everybody knowing everything, where was civilization to go?

    For those of us who have spent our lives (so far) digging, cutting, and pasting the past of pop culture, it is a little disconcerting that anyone with a desire can match our knowledge in a good weekend. But then, how many really want to do that?

    We kings and queens of nerds still have the desire, and that beats easy of information any day.

  10. I read the Patton Oswalt article as well. It was an interesting premise but I don't really buy it. As others have said, we're really no where ETEWAF. I'm willing to bet that more stuff has been lost already than has been assembled on the Internet. There must be countless hours of TV from the 1950s and early 1960s, stuff that somebody remembers and loved, that was never put on videotape and is gone for ever. The same with old movies which are rotting away in Hollywood studio vaults.

  11. Hey nerds, the world is starving and you're concerned with stupid things

    You don't redefine adulthood, you waste it.

  12. Hey sebastian, I'm glad to know you spend all your free time feeding starving babies, and have no time whatsoever for your own leisure. You must be quite the saint.

    Also, don't comment on my adulthood. I make life and death decisions every day at my job; only a bitter ass would find fault that I have a hobby. What do you do with your adulthood?...besides leave dumb comments on blogs?

  13. I think it has changed the experience. Recall the thrill of the chase, especially if you were a comic collector? Those back issues you'd NEVER have, so you valued any reprint, even if it were just small images of past comics covers in DYNAMITE magazine?

    It also took me about 12 years to complete my Monkees LP collection, or even find any info on them! Imagine being a fan in the 70s, with only 3 LPs and no idea of the current whereabouts of the group members! Apply that to ANY pop culture interest that wasn't current..

    Not today. It's al available if ya want it.


  14. What are the odds? Here I am watching season one and two of Starsky and Hutch as this was written!