I wonder if psychiatrists have a name for the mental condition whose victims are powerless to resist watching a favorite film when it comes on the TV movie channel. If there is such a recognized affliction, I have succumbed to it.
I lead a very busy life, with enormous time pressures on my schedule. I serve on eight different community organizations, and my phone rings incessantly with calls from the White House, the Heritage Foundation, the Pentagon, one or two United Nations committees and the Dr. Phil and Jerry Springer shows. I have almost no time to call my own, but I don’t complain, because of the satisfaction I derive from serving humankind as a beacon of wisdom and learning.
Despite the need to ration my time like John D. Rockefeller handing out dimes to beggars, I am infected with an inability to switch off the TV set when I accidentally run across an old movie that captured my attention and love years ago, even as far back as the Spanish-American War when the film industry was just getting on its feet.
Three days ago I was about to leave my home to catch a plane for Singapore and a conference on the meaning of the expression “tsong ruk fui” in newly-discovered Buddhist writings from the 5th Century B.C. As the taxi outside my door tooted its horn at me, I noticed that my local movie channel was broadcasting “The Godfather” for the next four hours.
I have watched “The Godfather” roughly 75 times in the past 40 years. I have memorized most of the dialogue, including Marlon Brando’s most galvanizing grunts. The movie has no surprises for me. And yet I can’t turn it off, once it appears on my TV screen.
Once again my God-given volition vanished, and I sank helplessly into my easy chair until the movie finished. I got up only to toss another packet of extra-butter popcorn into my microwave. Soon my airport taxi drove off without me, and I realized that I will surely be kicked off the invitation list for all future Buddhist scripture conferences. But I don’t care. “The Godfather” must be obeyed.
This morning, a similar attack on my sensibilities occurred. I was all set to scrub some stains off my living room carpet, to prepare for my hosting a gathering of fellow grammar Nazis who meet once a month to plan peaceful, yet forceful, vigilante assaults on writers, TV news readers and political figures who abuse the English language.
As I prepared to mix a bucket of hot water with Oxycontin – oops, Oxyclean – I glanced at my TV set. There on the movie channel was the beginning of “The Red Dragon,” based on the chilling novel by Thomas Harris, and starring the brilliant Anthony Hopkins as the demented Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. Once again I was mesmerized and stripped of my willpower.
Need I tell you the rest? My carpet stains were forgotten, as were several other important items on my to-do list. Tonight as I write this I am filled with self-loathing, wondering what I must do to outwit my obsession to watch beloved old movies.
I have become afraid to turn on my TV set, for fear of encountering re-runs of “My Fair Lady,” “The Music Man” or “Young Frankenstein” at the very moment that I receive a conference phone call from the White House situation room. If I were given a reserved seat on the last rocket to heaven and had only 20 minutes to boarding time just as a re-run of ”Heaven Can Wait” came on the movie channel, I’m not sure what my decision would be.
I live in hope that someone will form a self-help therapy organization, perhaps titled “Film Freaks Anonymous,” that can help weak-willed persons like me to overcome our addiction. Or perhaps there really aren’t that many fellow sufferers out there, whose self-control vanishes at the sound and sight of the MGM lion announcing the start of another immortal 1954 Oscar-winning blockbuster.
After all, most Americans are not addicts. Because our ideal citizen is a Presbyterian Rotarian, I’m certain all will be well.
(Full disclosure: The stuff I wrote in the second paragraph, above, is pure fiction. I am actually a near-recluse living in obscure contentment on the fringes of society. I just thought I’d jazz up this column in an innocent attempt to keep you reading. Please forgive me if my fraudulence caused you to look for my name on the recent list of Nobel Prize recipients.)