My name is Julie, and I’m addicted to On Demand.
There. I said it. (Here’s where you say “Hello, Julie.”)
My story goes like this.
In 2011, on Halloween no less, I went to a party at a friend’s and encountered three people dressed as characters from The Wire. Three people might not sound like a lot, but it was: my friend’s not popular, and the Wire-clad celebrants represented a full 50% of the invited guests.
I was baffled by Jim’s floor-length duster and facial scar, Elaine’s uncharacteristic use of expletives, and Scott’s hoodie and guns. They were Omar, Snoop, and Bodey, respectively, and I had no idea who Omar, Snoop and Bodey were. I felt hopelessly left out, and when I went home that night, I fired up my computer and watched the first episode of the first season of The Wire with XFINITY On Demand.
At the time, I was settling into my second year of unemployment and trying to get over the Australian boyfriend who’d dumped me 18 days after I moved to Sydney, and The Wire was exactly what I needed. It not only provided 72 hours of eight-seasons-straight diversion, it kept me from wallowing in self-pity. It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when guileless kids are getting smoked over milk money and young men of character and grace default to slinging dope.
I was hooked from the start, and that’s not something I’m proud of; I grew up in Boston surrounded by people who, if they admitted to watching television at all, would only admit to watching PBS. The message was clear: television was mindless, and we were not.
My parents would’ve been horrified if they knew I was tuning into endless repeats of Gilligan’s Island, but for years I kept it to myself. In retrospect, it’s pretty funny: I wasn’t all that concerned about the weed I was smoking or the boys I was making out with, but I was petrified that my Lost In Space habit would be discovered.
When I was in my teens, I adopted a just-say-no policy. I’d broken every rule and dropped out of high school, and not watching television seemed like the least I could do. Besides, I’d had a previous scare – while I was ok with watching Saturday Night Live and Letterman, I knew I’d hit rock bottom when I found myself watching reruns of Facts of Life.
Eventually, though, the lure of television was too much to resist. I bought a TV and subscribed to cable, but I didn’t go off the deep end. It may have been because I’d developed willpower, but more likely it was because — most of the time — I couldn’t decide what to watch. I’d tune in to the Daily Show and Colbert pretty regularly, but other than that, my TV stayed off.
But then came The Wire, and everything changed. By halfway through the first season, I was completely obsessed.
I was seduced by it; it wasn’t love at first sight. It took some time to embrace the characters that David Simon created, but once I was in, I was in all the way.
The people on the Wire were unlike anything I’d encountered previously – they were gangsters without conscience, conflicted cops, and corrupt politicians. Some were no-hopers and others strove relentlessly for a better life, although, in the world of The Wire, a better life isn’t getting out of the projects, it’s getting out of prison. A better life means ascending from a corner boy, selling $20 bindles of heroin hand-to-hand, to running a corner boy crew and turning over the day’s proceeds to a guy with more ambition. It was a world that was entirely different from my own, and I got lost in it.
The cops and the politicians weren’t trapped by the streets of Baltimore, where the Wire is set, but by their jobs and everything they did to cope with them. They were drunks, philanderers and loose cannons. They’d be heroes on a lesser show, but not on The Wire. There are no hearts of gold. Everyone’s flawed. It’s just a matter of degree.
When I was able to pull myself away, I dreamed about West Baltimore. I read Wire blogs and recaps and googled for outtakes. And, much to the dismay of everyone I knew, I started talking like a corner boy, calling men bitches and punctuating every sentence with ‘yo.’
When I reached the series finale, five weeks after the crappy Halloween party, I was inconsolable, devastated by the events in the Baltimore hood and completely bummed out that the reality of my life was once again looming. It was powerful, the urge to watch the Wire again; I’d been watching on my PC, and I was forced to marshal my restraint every time I logged on. Eventually, I found a less time consuming way to keep the Wire alive: I’d navigate to the On Demand menu and read the episode descriptions.
My life hasn’t changed all that much since 2011 – I’m still flailing — but I’ve found a way to deal with it. I read reviews and I solicit the opinions of people I trust, and I’ve got a lengthy list of series and films to watch. I’ve got On Demand and WiFi, and, at least until things get better, that’s more than enough.
Thank you for letting me share.