Binge Watching: The new American pastime

Binge watching. We all do it after a long day of work or school. People are becoming weekday “Doctor Who” fans and weekend “Star Trek” fans. How is this possible? Netflix, that’s how! We live in a time when entire television series are made available to us at a whim, and we’ve come to expect this. We didn’t use to complain about commercials in the 1990s; we used that precious time to use the bathroom, grab food, or jog around the house to see if we could make it back in time. Nowadays, Netflix has made commercialfree a standard.

The business of pop culture ingestion has adapted to this, finding ways to insert clever product placements and commercials within Internet ads, for those who use Hulu and Amazon Prime. Even Comcast On Demand disabled certain high-volume show’s ability to fast forward through commercials. All of this is a given though, as who cares if there are a few commercials between the hundreds of episodes we get for $10 a month?

A more relevant question would be “How is the way we ingest our television affecting our experience?” In that: What is the difference between waiting a whole week to progress a plot and binge watching an entire season within a weekend? There isn’t much literature on the subject, as binge watching is a relatively new phenomenon and I cynically figure we are all too busy binge watching to analyze these questions at this very moment in time. I did see a resemblance between binge watching, and my method of surviving one of UW Tacoma’s infamous 400+ level literature classes where entire books were required to be read within a handful of days. Many students, myself included, resorted to audio books, which got the job done, especially whenbe still my beating heart-Morgan Freeman took the audio reins. One thing I did notice was that the details, nuances, and time for reflection were sorely missed. This was most apparent during heated in classroom discussions where I found that I could only give a general synopsis sans symbolism.

Maybe it’s due to the multitasking, as most students aren’t sitting in a room doing nothing while they listen to an audiobook. At that point, we might as well be sifting through the pages the old fashioned way. Another question is: are the directors of these series cognizant of visual ingestion when they make shows? Are viewers truly missing out, or would this be over-analysis?  With shows like “Jersey Shore,” they will actually show scenes multiple times after where the commercial breaks  were supposed to be, and more universally, television programs have adapted a more indepth season recap at beginning of every episode. What replaced the intro is a season recap that highlights every relevant moment before an episode. “Mad Men” does this so well that the recaps will actually hint at a big reveal/surprise by showing an unresolved moment from two or three seasons in the past.

Whether binge watching can be attributed to creating cult fans overnight, or cheapening the artistic intent of a series, its emergence can certainly be said to be yet another landmark for generation Google.

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