When my grandparents were small, they watched black-and-white movies and gathered around the radio at night with their families. There wasn’t even TV! It’s hard to imagine that this kind of entertainment could have been fun, but they didn’t know any better.
I’m writing this to you now so that you can understand a bit about how we passed time when I was young. Here are some of the ways that we entertained ourselves way back when.
“Granny” Anna Jane Grossman (b. 1980)
1. Holding lighters at concerts: This was done to show appreciation for a song. Or something. I did it because the guy next to me was doing it. But holy fire hazard! Today, some people raise their opened cell phones in this manner. Or display the lighter application on their iPhones. But is this because of the safety element, or because now more people carry phones than lighters?
2. Watching commercials: Commercials were short advertisements that allowed you to get up for a snack during shows. There was no fast forward option. No pause! These mini-films generated enough revenue for stations to air shows on network TV for free without making Paula, Simon and Randy drink three liters of Coke on camera each hour.
3. Buying porn magazines: These were glossy periodicals that contained photos of nudes engaged in activities of prurient interest. (But I bought them for the articles!) They lived behind black Plexiglass at the corner store. Acquiring pornography called for forethought, money, ID, and a temporary suspension of shame. Also: You had to stand.
4. Phone conversations in films and television: “Operator! Get me Gramercy Murray Hill 5-9975! Hola, Desi and Lucy!” Phones were great devices when it came to storytelling for the screen. Filming two people tapping their thumbs lacks the same drama and expository punch. You might as well see something with subtitles. (And there’s the blue lighting from the screens. Some directors have gotten past this by asking readers to make certain allowances. Like, yeah, totally believable that Juno would make calls on a hamburger phone landline. Yes. And Aliens can make boys on bicycles fly.)
5. Going to a movie theater to see if you could get a seat: There was no way to find out whether you could get a ticket for “Breakin’ 2: The Electric Boogaloo” without actually showing up, fingers crossed. In fact, sometimes people went to the movies just to see if they could get into anything that was going to start, without even knowing what people were tweeting about it! (We had movie “critics” who wrote long, rambling “reviews” for “newspapers,” but by now that concept is just too absurd to even try to explain to you).
6. Listening to tapes and CDs: I know this one might be complicated to understand, but way back when, you actually had to purchase music on CDs and audio cassette tapes; we devoted shelves and binders to storing these objects. They usually came in plastic cases that cracked in two and then littered the floor of your car.
7. Renting movies: Films were similarly tactile. Video rental places were storefronts that stocked DVDs and VHS tapes. Empty boxes lined the walls so that you could read the scintillating literature on the back of the “Heathers” tape. The boxes supposedly represented what the rental shop had in stock, but it wasn’t a fail-proof system. The smaller stores were often ruled like fiefdoms by a hierarchy of movie nerds who were likely to sneer at your film choices before lecturing you on the importance of rewinding.
8. Reading newspapers: For several years in my twenties, I made a living writing for newspapers. These were disposable stacks of paper that did not require any source of electricity. They contained news and interesting stories, but they could not be updated instantly: If you wanted to find out what happened today, you’d have to wait for tomorrow’s paper.
9. Reading reports from personal publicists: Celebrities used to require a whole ‘nother person to “confirm” to entertainment journalists that they had become a) engaged; b) married; c) pregnant; d) a parent; or e) “exhausted” (read: checked into rehab). The demand for this information employed a small army of self-important people called “publicists” — or “reps” — who, despite it being their only function, were particularly horrible at reliably delivering it to those in need. Their extinction was swiftly brought about by Twitter.