Disclaimer: I still do it anyway.
A few weeks ago, my mother experienced her first taste of “binge-watching.” In a span of a week, she watched the new Netflix interpretation of Anne of Green Gables, “Anne with an E.” After she finished, she felt empty, dissatisfied, and furious at me and my sister for not telling her in advanced that the second season wasn’t out yet (“What did you expect?” was our reply). To her feelings, my sister, a seasoned binge-watcher, chuckled; but to me, they stirred up my own sense of dissatisfaction that occurs when quickly completing a series.
There’s something about binge-watching that’s never sat well with me, one that I could never pin down, but it was not until my mother’s experience that I was finally able to sit and reflect on it.
Now to preface this, I am not a naysayer of millennial culture, nor am I against television. I am proud of this world of technology that we live in; I enjoy watching television and it is almost always playing in my house. I think it’s amazing that we live in a world where we have ready access to quality entertainment that people across the globe can join in on.
I do believe, however, that as a generation, we often talk about how cool and fun it is to binge-watch, when the fact is, it’s not always great an experience as we make it out to be. We consider binge-watching to be the norm, so I write this primarily to offer solidarity to the others who feel a bit lost and empty when people talk about all the television shows they’ve watched in one sitting; I write this to have a rebuttal to someone when they ask me “oh my god why haven’t you seen **insert popular show here**; and most importantly, I write this in anticipation of one of my favorite shows coming back on Netflix and knowing I will eventually succumb.
The reason binge-watching is never fulfilling to me can be summed up in five reasons that all sort of correlate with one another.
1. You do it alone: My family’s always been really insistent on watching movies and television together, and as such, I consider it to be a social activity. Out of the few shows I’ve watched to completion, only two of those I watched entirely alone. But I know people who do just watch shows in their rooms, alone.
Now there is nothing wrong with that. There really isn’t. It’s just not something I like doing. For example, shows like “American Horror Story” would really scare me if I watched them alone, But for me, television watching has always been a social thing. I like chatting while a show is on and making comments with my family and friends. I like to look at others when something funny, tragic, or memorable happens on screen, to gauge their reaction. I like using television and movies as a shared experience. The whole solo-binge-watch is just not something I like to do.
But I still watch shows alone, even if I afterwards, I stumble out of my room in a fog after being silent for three hours.
2. The culture of instant gratification: Just to clarify again—I am by no means a millennial-basher. There are lots of things about my generation that I love. But one of the big aspects of today’s world is the concept of instant gratification: we want our tv shows now, we want to check our social media right away, we want instant and fulfilling entertainment.
There’s a AT&T commercial with Mark Wahlberg where he talks about how we all want MORE entertainment and UNLIMITED entertainment and we want it NOW. It sounds so shallow, so much of that whiny, entitled millennial stereotype that we try so hard to dispel. “We need…internet to live,” he says at one point. Do we really? When I first heard the commercial, I tried to dismiss it as out-of-touch, but when I hear people talk about their absolute need to be caught up on all shows at all times, it makes me a little uneasy.
The idea of binge-watching plays up into the culture of instant gratification. We are, after all, able to consume entire television shows anytime and anywhere, meaning that we are never not entertained. Why should we be bored for one second?
3. Becoming obsessed: I can’t speak for the general public, but when I watch something, I get really into it. Like “staying up till 3 am on the wiki for the show” into it. And yeah, being passionate about something is cool. But I’ve always found that the passion that I get from television shows is a strange short-lived frenzy—especially on shows that I binge-watch.
Personally, I don’t like this feeling. I get it when I read a good book, I get it when I play a particularly enthralling video game, I get it when I watch a great movie. But with television shows, somehow it’s different.
Now I don’t exactly know why, but my theory is that unlike books and movies (video games are another story that I don’t want to get into right now) there is a lot of content, designed to get you to keep watching. With the other forms of media, usually it is a standalone—you finish the book over the course of a month, you watch the movie in a span of two hours. If it is a series, there’s more of a waiting point after the fact, and even if it’s something like “Lord of the Rings” where the entire franchise is already available, somehow there’s no pressure to completely finish “Lord of the Rings” in a short amount of time if you haven’t seen it before. Hard-core fans do partake in marathons, but that seems to be a special event, rather than the norm. With television, you have access to the next thing right away, you are almost expected to be caught up on this next thing, lest you miss out, and therefore, when you get into it—you get really into it. (That’s the working theory anyway).
What happens when I get really into a show is this: I stay up late on the wiki, I read all about it, I accidentally read a spoiler, I bemoan said spoiler to my boyfriend who tells me “Not again.” I continue to watch the show, popping episode after episode, and when I finish the season or the series—I feel empty. The cycle continues. It is a black hole I find myself constantly pulled towards. A shiny, pretty, fun blackhole—but a blackhole nonetheless that I spiral down.
4. It takes up a lot of time: Out of the few shows I’ve watched to completion, most have been sitcoms or animated. I like that better—if I watch five episodes of “Steven Universe,” it’s just under an hour and I don’t feel like I’m losing control. If I watch five episodes of “Parks and Recreation,” it comes out to around two-and-a-half hours, which comparably isn’t bad. But if I watch five episodes of “Orange is the New Black” in a day—that’s five hours. Five hours of me sitting on my butt and watching television, when I could’ve been doing things like sitting on my butt and scrolling through the internet (just kidding, kinda).
That joke aside, during the school year, if I get into a show, I often find myself saying that I can just go ahead and watch another episode. Most of the time, that’s not the case. But the thing is it’s hard to say no to one more episode, when that episode is already loading and you’re dying to find out what happens next.
Now this has an extra downside when it comes to shows that release their whole season at once (Netflix Originals in my own experience, though I’m sure other streaming services do this), where there is this added pressure to finish the whole season in the weekend—otherwise beware the Internet spoilers. I am sure some people do enjoy watching twelve hours of television a day; I just don’t. With other shows, I can get away with watching an episode or two a night and chugging along till I finish the season, but with shows that release all at once, I feel like I’m expected to have finished it by the next weekday—lest I pop in on any social media and see ten different posts about the finale. Do I like doing that? No, I don’t. Do I do it anyway because, once again, it’s hard to say no to one more episode when it’s already loading, I’m dying to find out what happens next, and I don’t want the Internet to tell me before I can find out? Yes. Yes I do.
5. You can’t just casually watch something: Perhaps the biggest problem I have with binge-watching, is that now it’s impossible to be a fan of a television show, unless you’ve watched literally every single episode. Somehow, you can’t achieve true fan status unless you can name ten of your favorite episodes, quote lines from the show on command, and rank the seasons.
There’s a few shows I’ve watched all the way through. And there’s a ton that I catch while they’re on television, or at a friend’s house, or I just didn’t finish due to lack of interest. In the latter category, there are some that I love: “How I Met Your Mother,” “Criminal Minds,” and “Doctor Who” come to mind. But I can’t ever proclaim my love for those shows, because the minute I do, people who’ve watched every single episode jump on me and quickly realize that no, I don’t remember the name of Ted’s second girlfriend, and no, I didn’t watch all eleven (or twelve?) seasons of “Criminal Minds” and no, I didn’t give the Eleventh Doctor a second chance because four episodes in, I couldn’t stand the decrease in writing quality.
Don’t get me wrong—I do love all three of those shows. I watch them whenever they’re on (or in the case of “Doctor Who,” I rewatch series 1-4). But I’m hesitant to admit to people that I like them, because they immediately dismiss my fondness, since I haven’t watched every single episode. I have access to them, they argue. What’s my excuse?
Well, from the first four reasons—yeah, I have excuses. But they just don’t seem good enough.
I’m not a fan of binge-watching. There’s a lot of things about it that bug me and just don’t fit with how I want to consume my entertainment. And yet, today is the day that the fifth season of “Orange is the New Black” comes out and even though I know better, and I know that it is going to make me antsy and obsessed and hiding up in my room—well, I’m going to slip back into it. You win, yet again, Netflix.
Cover photo and first photo from: http://www.hercampus.com/school/utah/pros-cons-binge-watching-tv
Chart photo from: http://popchartlab.tumblr.com/post/86431240992/a-couple-weeks-ago-we-posted-a-nielsen-chart
“Orange is the New Black” photo from: http://orange-is-the-new-black.wikia.com/wiki/Orange_Is_the_New_Black_Wiki