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How HBO Helped Shape My Pop Culture Consciousness


When I was very young, my family could not afford cable. This meant we watched what we could pick up on our antenna. This meant 3 or 4 channels, depending on the weather. We got 2 out of 3 of the big networks, (or all 3 on a clear day) and PBS. Home video was a thing, but not for people in our economic bracket. This limited me very much in what I saw. Remember, there was no internet back then so you only got to see movies in the theater or when one of the networks showed it, edited for content and to allow commercials every 13 minutes or so. Sometimes, if you were lucky, there would be a comic book adaptation, novelization, or a record that condensed the story to fit on an LP or series of 45's. (If you don't know what those terms mean you should google vinyl records, though I do have a planned post that will cover it too.)

Then everything changed. My parents were friends with a couple who had a son who was a few years older than me. They were a little higher up the socio-economic ladder than we were, and some time in the early 80's (dates and order of events in the late 70's and early 80's tend to be hazy for someone born in '75) they got HBO. Soon we were spending almost every weekend at their house, watching all the great movies of the last 15 years or so that we had missed. Parental guidance was not as strict as it could have been, so I was able as a young kid to see Jaws, Dawn of the Dead, Robocop, and any number of inappropriate films. And as a kid I loved all the movies. I remember being mesmerized by Heartbeeps. I had such fond memories of that movie and my love for it. Then in the early 2000's I got it on dvd. Let's just say it doesn't hold up.

Then the big even happened. I was over at the house of friends who had HBO and the husband mentioned that Star Wars was going to be playing the next weekend. Now, I was born in November of 1975, so I was just over 1 year old when Star Wars came out. I'm not sure exactly when this happened, but I am pretty sure The Empire Strikes Back was out, but I know Return of the Jedi was still at least a couple of years away. My point is that even though Star Wars mania was still in full force, somehow I had completely missed it. I was a big Trekkie (as mentioned here) but Star Wars was completely unknown to me. Of course when I said I didn't know what Star Wars was, I was immediately told that I had to be there that weekend to watch it. I was, and that weekend is one of those that is etched in memory.

Another weekend etched in memory at this house had not as much to do with HBO, but it took place there at this home with these people, so I can't think about the general time and place without this memory cropping up. This is a bit of a sensitive subject and some may find it upsetting. My first sexual experience took place around this time at this house. I was 5 or 6 years old, so obviously it wasn't optimal. But it also wasn't the type of abuse that your mind might immediately spring to, although I've come to realize that it indicates that kind of abuse was almost certainly happening. The son of the couple, who as I mentioned is a few years older than me, and I were playing in his room while they watched something boring. He told he he wanted to show me something really fun. He had me take off my pants and lie on the floor, where he performed oral sex on me. When I orgasmed I thought I had peed in his mouth. He then prompted me to return the favor. I gladly started, but after I had been sucking for a few minutes I thought about him "peeing" in my mouth and couldn't stand the thought of it. I refused to finish. There was never a repeat of those events, and for many years it was just one of those weird memories I had. Later on I realized that someone had to be sexually abusing him for him to think about doing that with me.

Anyway, intensely personal revelation time is over, now to get back to the main topic at hand. HBO continued to be a big force for film appreciation in my life. We never could afford it during my childhood, but they had free weekends often. By this time we had managed to get  vcr. You could set it to record at different speeds, so you could get 2, 4 or 6 hours on a tape. I would set for 6, and every time there was a free weekend I would record as many movies as I could. They often showed the same movies over and over. I became intimately familiar with The 'Burbs, Innerspace, Overboard, and Stand By Me because the near near constant loop of th.ose movies on free weekends. And they would always show one recent blockbuster. Even if it was a movie I wasn't terribly interested in I would watch it. That's how I saw Dances With Wolves, a movie that didn't much appeal to me at the time, but I sure wasn't going to let a chance slip by to watch a new movie for free. Then I started getting into more classics and foreign films, got a video store membership, and became too snobby for the standard HBO fare. I also was well into puberty at this point, so the free weekends I was more interested in now were Cinemax, where I could stay up late and watch softcore like the Emmanuelle movies. But I still think back fondly to when HBO represented the pinnacle of home entertainment. I can hear the HBO theme music playing and my pulse quickens just slightly (the into back then was way cooler than the static thing and chord they do now). It was a time when movies were new and all of them were exciting. It was the beginning of my love affair with cinema that still lingers on to this day.


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