Thursday, August 9, 2012

If It Were Still 1998, I Would Be A Candidate for 'Collection Intervention'...

I'm going to tell you a story I've never told anyone.

When I was in middle school, I signed up for my first eBay account. I don't remember how or why I first came to get one, but I was immediately enthralled by the idea of the world of entertainment memorabilia being opened to me in a way that local trading cards shops or the few 800 numbers in the backs of teen magazines never allowed. See, although I had begun my love of television, pop culture, and all things entertainment like just about any other regular kid, my taste very soon narrowed, and I became all about soap operas-- or more specifically, Days of our Lives.


I know you've heard that before, but here's where we get to the new part of the equation:

Thanks to my new pal eBay, I was able to acquire almost anything my little heart could desire from Days of our Lives. I started out simply enough, even professionally, if you will, purchasing a copy of one of their scripts so that I, too, could learn how to properly format when I wanted to write my own, original scripts. I didn't have Final Draft back then, and somehow I thought it would be cheaper to buy a script and estimate the proper tabbing in Microsoft Word. Little did I know that one script would quickly turn into many as I hunted for specific episode numbers autographed by my favorite stars.

But more than anything "useful," I found that on eBay you could purchase photos of your favorite soap stars shot on red carpets at movie premieres and award shows and any random celebratory gala in Hollywood-- of which there are more than there probably should be. To this day, I still don't quite know why I wanted these photos or what I thought I would do with them once I had them. I already had subscriptions to a couple of the different soap opera magazines (the others I would flip through on my way home from school to see if there was enough Days coverage inside week to week to warrant the few bucks). Inside those magazines were often the best of these red carpet shots, shrunken down, sure, and not glossy, but still there. I cut out the images for my own Days of our Lives scrapbook, preserving glamor shots of the actors the same way I did production stills from the show itself. 

Like with any obsession, this only worked for a short time until I needed "more.' Soon enough I found myself bidding on those 4x6 sets of glossy images (they usually came in threes), and when I found that I was buying from the same seller over and over, I sent them a private message through eBay asking if I could just make a bulk order. These were the days before businesses being required to have websites to be seen as legitimate, folks.

I should point out that my mother was an incredibly enabling sport about this, for better and for worse. She would barely ask me what the checks were for as I asked her to keep writing them to this one eBay seller. But when I decided to buy a bulk order-- one copy of literally every photo this particular seller had of three of my favorite actors-- even the generous discount she gave me for what ended up being 300 photos was still more than I wanted to borrow from my parents.

So I ended up being stingy with my lunches for a few weeks to save up and cashed in a birthday check or two to make up the difference. I guess in a way I was still borrowing from family, but I didn't see it that way. In fact, I was so convinced I was spending my own, hard-earned money I was too cheap to spend an extra $1.50 of it to get a money order. So I sent a stack of twenty-dollar bills in the mail. In hindsight the stamps on a chunk of cash probably cost more than the money order, and sending cash through the mail is the dumbest thing one could do, but I was young, and it was a simpler time. 

It worked out for me. The photos arrived, and I happily went about arranging them in as close to chronological order as I could in photo albums as if these people were my actual friends or family. Without the benefit of a face sheet to order from, many of the photos that arrived were a complete surprise, from events I didn't even know about, including some of the actors with their significant others or families at the time. I didn't think it was creepy; I just separated those out into a special album designed for...privacy? I don't know what, actually, since I never showed anyone these albums anyway. I wouldn't call them a secret shame, but they certainly weren't an interest I shared with anyone, so I figured no one would "get it." Ripping out posters of Mark-Paul Gosselaar from teen magazines to tape on my walls was different somehow, and I just felt that innately. Even my mother, who was a fan of the show, didn't care to research the people behind the show the way that I did. I don't even have any photos of me with my collection because I kept the albums neatly stacked in my bookcase and under my desk. I barely flipped through them; I kind of just liked knowing they were there.

(Admittedly, I purged my collection when I moved out to Los Angeles, knowing that it would be ridiculous-- and even more expensive-- to ship the half-dozen albums I had across the country only to still never actually do anything with them. I didn't even ship my homemade magazine scrapbooks. I chose only to keep one marker of that time in my life's importance-- an intact copy of the first-ever soap opera magazine that I purchased, with two of my favorite on-screen "supercouples" on the cover and a feature interview with one of my favorite actors inside-- you can see the cover photo above.)

I tell this story now because we are days away from a new reality series debut on the Syfy channel. Collection Intervention is a cross between Hollywood Treasure and Hoarders-- a docu-series in which host Elyse Luray visits collectors who have such an emotional attachment to their memorabilia, they need outside help in parting with some of it-- even when it's taken over their house or they are literally in debt because of what should just be a fun hobby. I'm not going to lie to you: if things had gone differently for me when I was younger-- or if I magically won the lottery tomorrow and had ample resources-- I might still be a collector bordering on the edge of hoarding. I have a few pieces that mean a lot to me now-- from a variety of shows, including some I have since actually worked on-- and none of them are items with any real monetary value, but all have extreme sentimental value.

But what is sentimental and priceless to one person is often an eyesore, a waste of space, and junk to another. Sometimes our own collections become our own obsessions and keep us trapped. While something may have once been our escape-- and was undoubtedly others' escapes, too-- when you don't let people in on them and choose to hoard all the memories, all the items, all the feelings to yourself, you are isolating yourself.

Such is the case for many of the (I can't even call them collectors; for this reason I must refer to them as) fans on Collection Intervention. They have a personal memory attached to each piece of memorabilia they collect, and that is why even thinking about parting with one is often so hard. They attach themselves to the items in a way that makes it feel like they will lose a part of themselves if they share the item with someone else. I'm not trained in a way that will allow me to educationally discuss the psychology behind that kind of thinking, but I think it's pretty profound. More than just a sense of nostalgia, we relate these items that hundreds of thousands of people share a love for directly back to our own lives and our own selves in a way that enriches us, but potentially also damages us.

Many of those on Collection Intervention fear their items won't go to good, "understanding" homes. Yet the minute they put their stuff out there, they find some very like-minded individuals who may not have the exact same story they do but certainly have a version of it. The internet opened the possibilities of that world up to us, back in the days of AOL chat rooms and eBay and has since expanded into countless forums and social media avenues for fans to gather and befriend and help each other. You just have to take the first step towards letting others in the way you have your stuff.


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