Quoting Gone Awry: DVD’s Slam the Door on Ingenuity

“How’s the burger, Lloyd?” a friend of mine asked another at Frank last night. Everyone laughed. The friend munching on the hamburger was not named Lloyd. His name is Jeff. I didn’t get it, but I didn’t say anything. I often don’t get it.

“It’s good,” Jeff said, looking puzzled. Evidently, he didn’t get it either. “It’s from Dumb and Dumber,” someone piped in. Jeff brightened. “Oh ok. I just didn’t hear you say ‘Lloyd,'” he said between bites, explaining his initial lack of reaction almost apologetically. I was dumbfounded. With the addition of “Lloyd” onto its end, a simple question had transformed pleasant dinner conversation into the thousandth quotation I had heard that day.

It’s getting a little absurd. Quotes from movies and T.V. shows are used about as often as the common pronoun in conversation around Colgate. Most quoting comes about when a quoter finds himself in a situation similar to one he has seen in a movie or on a television show and feels the urge to point this out to those around him. The quote is usually recited in an effort to make friends laugh, not because the comment is in itself humorous, but because the quoter feels confident that the line will be recognized and associated with the movie or T.V. show being referred to, recalling in the minds of listeners the knee-slapping events taking place when the line was originally spoken by an actor playing the role of a fictitious character.

Of course, the average young American has seen enough movies and television shows to cover just about every set of circumstances imaginable. Consequently, there is a quote for every situation, along with a quoter ready to jump in and recite it. When was the last time you saw someone bang their head without someone nearby calling out “that’s gonna leave a mark,” as Chris Farley does in Tommy Boy? When was the last time you saw someone funnel a beer without someone in the room saying “once it hits your lips … ” as Will Ferrell does in Old School? The answer, of course, is never. It doesn’t happen. (Okay, it happens. But I’m trying to make a point here.)Quoting is by no means prevalent exclusively at Colgate. It is an epidemic afflicting campuses nationwide. On a family vacation over winter break, I watched in horror as my cousin, a senior at George Washington University recited not simply a line, but an actual dialogue ripped off from an episode of Family Guy. Let me reiterate: He recited words spoken on the show by two different characters in succession and tried to pass it off as normal conversation. He changed his voice and everything. That’s when I knew our culture of quoting had become a grave national issue.

Daniel Fein, a graduate of Lehigh University who also happens to be my brother, has been studying the quoting phenomenon for some time now and is a self-proclaimed expert on the subject. When Mr. Fein lived in Philadelphia, his roommates included two young men with an especially severe case of chronic quoting. “They quoted The Simpsons all the time,” he said. “I think it’s because they didn’t have anything else to say.”

Fein sees the rise of the DVD industry as the impetus behind this new-fangled culture of quoting. With so many movies readily available to be watched countless times on our DVD players, he argues, an increase in the retainment of particularly funny lines from these movies is all but inevitable.

I would tend to agree. Quoting has always been around. The difference is that, in the past, only truly memorable lines from movies (Tom Cruise’s declaration of feeling “the need for speed” in Top Gun for example) and purposefully repeated lines from T.V. shows (Urkel whining “did I do that?”) would be remembered by viewers. How things have changed. After asking a friend recently what she thought of Anchorman, Will Ferrell’s latest and greatest feature film, she replied: “I liked it. It’s very quotable.”

DVD’s are a wonderful invention. They are durable and include hours of fascinating bonus features and have all but eliminated extra charges levied by video stores for not rewinding. If originality in conversation must be eliminated along with it though, then the you-didn’t-rewind charge is a price I am willing to pay for the perseverance of the integrity of everyday discourse.

I do not pretend to be above the culture I so vehemently attack. I’ve hardly said anything original in years. If someone tells me that they’re feeling lazy, I often reply that they should “get busy living or get busy dying,” as Tim Robbins states wisely in The (Shawshank Redemption). If someone tells me that they’ve done their best in some endeavor but came up short, I often reply “Your best? Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and f*&% the prom queen,” as Sean Connery states wisely in (The Rock).

But I’m ready to make a change in my life. I’m not Catholic, but I think Lent is great. And this year I’m giving up quoting. I invite you to join me. Quoting is the Sparknotes of social situations. As a free society supposedly celebrating creativity and ingenuity, it is time we resist such plagiarism and begin to again encourage the formulation of original thought. Let our conversations not be written years in advance by the Farrelly Brothers. Let us speak freely. Let us ask simply: “How’s the burger?”