Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The TCM Generation

It was several years ago when I began to network with fellow bloggers through social media sites such as Twitter that I noticed what I thought was an interesting phenomenon. There was a disproportionately large number of young people who were classic film buffs. It seemed to me that most of the people who loved classic movies that I encountered online tended to be in their late teens to late twenties. In fact, there seemed to be more classic film buffs in that age group than any other.

This struck me as interesting as it would seem to defy what many people might well have thought was the conventional wisdom that classic films would appeal primarily to older people, people older than my generation (in other words, Baby Boomers and members of the Silent and World War II generations). In some respects this should not have surprised me. My sister is a good deal older than me (old enough to be my mother, in fact), yet she has always had a distaste for classic films. If I put a film in the DVD player from before 1970, with but few exceptions, she would complain or even leave the room. And I have never seen anything to contradict the possibility that other Baby Boomers were like her, that many of them did not care for classic movies. That having been said, I had always taken for granted that most classic film fans these days were either members of the World War II generation who had seen the films when they first came out or Gen Xers like myself who had seen them when they were run on local television stations in the Seventies and Eighties. From my observations over the years, however, that did not seem to be the case.

Of course, many might argue that people in their late teens and late twenties are more likely to use the internet, more likely to maintain blogs, and more likely to frequent social media sites. That does not seem to be the case to me and there are good reasons why it would not be. First, one must consider that it was my generation, Generation X, who first regularly made use of the internet as young people. In the Eighties it was perhaps people in their teens and twenties who made the most use of online services such as America Online and CompuServ. The youngest Gen Xers were in college when the World Wide Web was introduced in the early Nineties. Indeed, I have been on the Web since around 1995. The idea that the very young tend to be more adept at the internet and make more use of it than slightly older people is then not exactly valid. The oldest Gen Xers are now in their early Fifties, while the youngest are in their mid Thirties. For that reason I suspect most of us have not only been on the internet for a very long time, but we tend to be experts in its use.

Second and not surprisingly given a generation who was the first to use the internet with any regularity, I know plenty of Gen Xers who have blogs and plenty who frequent social media sites. In fact, I cannot say that I know fewer Gen Xers than Gen Yers or  Millennials online. They seem to be about evenly distributed. What I have noticed is that when it comes to people who blog, tweet, or post to social networks about classic films, the members of Generation Y and  Millennials tend to outnumber Gen Xers. While many Gen Xers enjoy blogging about sport, fashion, or politics, many Gen Yers and Millennials enjoy blogging about, well, classic film. Now that is not to say that there aren't Gen X classic film buffs--I'm not the only one by a long shot--but we do seem to be outnumbered by the Gen Yers and Millennials.

This might seem odd to many, who might well think that old movies would hold very little appeal for young people, but I think I might have found an explanation for the reason so many classic film buffs tend to be so young. Quite simply, it all comes down to two cable channels. The first was American Movie Classics (now simply known by its one time initials,  AMC). AMC was launched in 1984 as a premium channel, but it would not be until 1987 that the channel would become available on basic cable. At the time the oldest members of Generation Y would have been around ten years old. The second and more important of the two was Turner Classic Movies (TCM for short). TCM was launched in 1994 when the oldest Gen Yers would have been around 18 years old. What is more, on many cable systems it was available as part of their basic packages. Both channels would prove very successful. And while AMC would desert classic film in the early Naughts, TCM continues to air nothing but classic movies with but very few exceptions.

Of course, classic films had been shown on local television stations in the Seventies and the early Eighties, something which led to the creation of many classic movie buffs in Generation X. Unfortunately, as the Eighties progressed local television stations began showing fewer and fewer films made from the Thirties to the Fifties. By the late Eighties, only local PBS stations and a few independents might show classic films if one was lucky. As a result many younger Gen Xers may have never had the opportunity to become classic movie buffs.

In contrast, many Gen Yers and the vast majority of Millennials would have at least one cable channel dedicated to showing classic films 24 hours a day. Due to American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies many Gen Yers and Millennials would have an opportunity no other generation before them had--the opportunity to watch classic movies almost any time that they wanted. Even given AMC ceased being dedicated to classic films in the early Naughts, the members of Generation Y and the Millennial Generation had ample opportunity to become classic film fans.

Of course, I suspect it was not AMC and TCM alone that would create a generation of classic film buffs. I suspect the introduction of DVDs in 1995 had a role to play as well. Now it is true that many classic films were released on VHS, it seems to me that many more would be released on DVD. What is more, many of them would be released with extras such as commentaries and documentaries. Indeed, Turner Classic Movies would have a large role to play in the release of classic films on DVD. The TCM Vault Collection has released several rare classic films on DVD, many of which had never even been released on VHS. Started in 2009 the Warner Archive has also released many classic films on DVD.  There is even a Netlix style, rent by mail service dedicated to classic movies. ClassicFlix was founded in 2007.

What is more, nearly any classic film on DVD can be ordered online from such outlets as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and even directly from TCM or the Warner Archive. In the Eighties and Nineties a Gen Xer seeking a classic film fix might have some difficulty finding classic films even if they had been released on VHS. Indeed, when I was in college I had to go to 9th Street Video in Columbia, thirty miles away, for most of my classic movie needs. Since the late Nineties finding a classic film can be as simple as going online and ordering it.

In the end it should perhaps not be surprising that there are so many classic film buffs who are in their twenties and thirties. In many respects they have had more exposure in their youth to classic films than any other generation except for those who were alive to see the films when they were released. While Gen Xers could only depend on their local TV stations to show the occasional classic film, Gen Yers and Millennials have had TCM to show classic films any time they want. While Gen Xers often had difficulty getting classic films on VHS, Gen Yers and Millennial can get them on DVD through any number of online outlets. With streaming video, young people now have even more access to classic films. Quite simply, TCM exposed a whole generation of children to classic films and in the process created many new classic film buffs. In the end, I suppose one could term them "the TCM Generation."


Jessica Pickens said...

Very interesting post, Terry!
For me, along with TCM, I haunted my local libraries-putting films on hold-to get the opportunity to see them.
Blogging really seemed to kick off around 2006 or 2007. In 2007 and 2008, my journalism professors taught about them as a "new news source" and encouraged us all to start one in some shape or form.
I originally created mine for a cast but expanded to help share and learn more about classic films.

Danny said...

I started working in a videostore at 16, and quickly grew interested in classic films since they were okay to show at all times of the day. I tried blogging in the early 2000's, but it was such a pain in the ass that I didn't try again until a few years ago; I wish I hadn't given up so easily the first time.

I guess I fall more on the DVD side of your point, but TCM is a treasure. There have been many times I've been tempted to get an entire cable package just for it-- and just reading your post is making that urge itch once more...

Terence Towles Canote said...

Jessica, I remember that blogging was kind of an internet fad about 2004 and 2005. About that time I had a girlfriend who had a blog, and it was her blog that inspired me to start my own (as hard as it is to believe A Shroud of Thoughts will be 9 years old in June). I know a few others who started blogs the, but I don't think it really took off until then!

Danny, I definitely fall in the pre-TCM side, but I have to agree with you. It is a treasure! If my cable company dropped it, I'd try finding another cable company real soon!