Binge Watching: My Experience with a Consuming Addiction
What initially appeared to be a happy coincidence, devolved into a debilitating dependency. Around the same time I was due to take a several hour bus trip I received a couple of sets of DVDs from a friend. I had mentioned to him in passing how entertaining I find the testosterone-fueled, mid-life crises of a show, Ray Donovan, despite its many absurdities. My friend works for Showtime, the network that produces this guilty pleasure. Being the thoughtful person and savvy marketer he is, I was sent a sampling of the wares. Among them was the complete first season of Homeland.
I usually find it difficult to write or get any other kind of work accomplished on bus trips. The noise of people who insist on loudly projecting every word of their conversations, cramped conditions, constant vibrations and occasional waft of unmentionable, unmistakable odor from the rear bathroom seem to inhibit my productivity. With this in mind I felt no shame in tuning out and giving a few hours to the creative minds of Hollywood.
I’d heard of Homeland before but had pretentiously dismissed its premise before my first viewing. Only learning about the plot via second hand accounts and hearing that it was produced by some of the same people who made 24 I figured it would be an exercise in gratuitous shoot-outs and violent patriotism. At first glance I was sure I would be put off by the jittery neurosis of Claire Danes or the grotesque ginger freckles of Brody. I was surprised by a captivating drama filled with clever allusions, driven by a unique vehicle and acted out by enthralling characters I cared about.
If this fascination ended with my bus ride everything would have been ok and this diatribe wouldn’t exist, but with every episode my obsession grew. I was only half way through the season at the end of my trip but being fully absorbed I needed more. Even with a full schedule and early morning the following day I was able to convince myself that to bear witness to some intriguing banter by Saul or psychotic decision made by Carrie was worth sacrificing a night of sleep.
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At one point, noticing the surging numbers on my clock, I slammed my laptop closed in shock and tried to salvage the few remaining winks before the duties of daytime beckoned. However, the sandman never arrived to do his magic. My responsible intention was useless as I lay in bed rehashing the moral dilemmas inherent in balancing national security with the values of its people, the darkness people are willing to subject themselves and others to for higher purposes and how fucking cool it would be to have top security clearance. Realizing sleep wouldn’t come, I dove back in.
If pondering these themes brought me satisfaction or motivated me to create great work the time wasted watching this show would’ve been well worth it. Instead it instilled in me nothing but a need for more.
After a long day furiously guzzling coffee and nodding off at work like some depraved heroin addict I went home. I insisted that I would go straight to bed and catch up on some much needed sleep. As I tucked myself in however I was persuaded to answer “an important email” before I went down. It was all contrived. Having finished the first season of Homeland, I told myself it might be interesting to see if there are more seasons. As it turns out there are.
In the following days I spent every free moment transfixed to my computer consuming as much Homeland as humanly possible. When I wasn’t watching I was thinking about it. I felt the storyline bled into my life. People conversing on park benches were spies at a rendezvous point. I couldn’t speak to my friends; they didn’t have the security clearance. I almost joined the CIA (the reality of my numerous arrests and frequent drug use quickly reigned in that fantasy). Even when I slept the plot crept into my dreams. I was either chasing terrorists or running from a government intent on framing me for crimes I didn’t commit. I woke up several times out of breath, filled with fear, clamoring to see the next installment. As of today I have watched all thirty-six hours of the first three seasons and am aching to see what happens in season four. I started watching less than a week ago.
All of this may appear to be a glowing review but it’s actually more akin to a drug addict’s description of his preferred narcotic. For a week my life was completely consumed by an entity of which I lacked the capacity to moderate. Now that I have run out, I’m in an agonizing state of withdrawal.
Though there is definitely a ridiculous humor to what I am expressing it’s worthy of reflection. Television has always been an entrancing experience. In the past we only got one shot to catch our favorite shows or we’d have to catch the rerun. With the advent of Netflix, Hulu, HBOGO, Showtime Anytime, and the various other legal and pirated video services, people are able to watch as much of their shows as they want, often with several days worth of content on demand. It’s not some obscure phenomena either. It is common enough that a term has been assigned to it in our general lexicon: binge watching. I’ve even seen Comcast shamelessly promote the habit in several of its advertisements.
I am not about to moralize about what others do with their free time but the detriments of this time consuming habit shouldn’t be ignored. Besides the productive hours wasted, there is a mental and physical toll in spending hours motionless glued to a screen. I don’t have the medical qualifications to quantify the costs but common sense tells me they exist. Like with drugs I don’t believe prohibition or abstinence will mitigate the problems caused but like with any addiction the first step is admitting there is a problem.
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