In an earlier post, I mentioned how nowadays people have so many sources of news and entertainment that it is hard to find a common base of knowledge and experiences with other people. It is surprising when one encounters someone who has seen a film or read a book that you have too. Nowadays, it seems like the best we can do is to recommend to each other what each of us has been exposed to that the other hasn’t.
It struck me that when I was growing up in Sri Lanka, people did have a lot of cultural experiences in common but that was because we had an extremely limited menu to pick from. When it came to western music, for example, we had just one radio channel that broadcast in English for just about eight hours per day and of those only about three were devoted to popular music. So all of us had the same exposure to whatever records the announcers chose to play for us. Very few people could afford to buy their own records. While we knew the same singers and songs, there were a huge number singers and groups that we had never heard of, especially non-mainstream ones.
It was the same with films. There were just about five theaters that showed English films and that was in the capital city Colombo. In the smaller town that I spent my middle and high school years in, there were just two theaters. Hence pretty much everyone would see the same films and we could talk about them. These theaters had contracts with the film distributors that required them to show not just good films but also the bad ones and because we were starved for films, we would see a wide variety of them. Many of them were really good, some were arty films that were above my adolescent mind (such as The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie), while others were real stinkers (such as Valley of the the Dolls) that we laughed all the way through because they were so bad.
Nowadays I find it difficult trying to pick a film that I might like to watch as I scroll through the menus of streaming services with their seemingly infinite offerings. It gets even more difficult if there are a group of you trying to agree on something.
I am definitely not arguing that having highly restricted choices is a good thing. I enjoy the fact that I can now see films and hear music that were not available to me growing up. But it did have the benefit that one could always find common topics to talk to others about.