An Argument Against Binge Watching

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With the advent of easily acquired content people tend to binge on visual media. Specifically TV shows and sometimes movie franchises. People will sit for 10 or 15 hours straight watching the new season of a show that was released on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon or otherwise obtained in the cyber abyss . Sometimes watching or re-watching a whole series in a weekend. As a lover of the moving picture on both the big and small screen I understand the want to consume as much as possible but I also believe that the excess consumption reduces the final overall impact of what is being watched.

I am not saying that I have not binged on any particular show all I am saying is that I tend not to and I think I get more from my viewing because of it. Many of my friends and co-workers do not share in or understand this. They get so wrapped in a story that they cannot fathom stopping. They also cannot understand my love of watching actual TV. Sitting down once a week, watching a serialised show, and then waiting to see the next episode. Most of them wait til seasons are over, trying to avoid the minefield of spoilers, and sitting down to watch the full season in one epic viewing.

With this there is no time to let things sink in. No time for reflection on the occurrences of any particular episode. This often leads to a loss of significance of smaller actions that may have bigger consequences later on and reduces the significance of bigger moments. This is like food. No matter how delicious something is, if you eat too much of it the joy of the consumption reduces with every plate. This has become clear to me in my discussions with people about shows. They get the overall story,

Them: Can you believe that this big plot point happened or this one? That was crazy!

But when I rebuttal about a less significant reference they are lost.

Me: I know! But when this smaller thing happened I knew something was gonna happen.

Them: Wait what? When did that happen?

I also love the art of the speculation and analysis. Sure there are all those review shows and bloggers that can be found post binge but I like the slow burn of it within the watching of the show. Watch an episode and then mull over it in my mind or with others contemplating character actions, possible consequences, and future plot points. This leads to paying closer attention to what is happening on screen. Not just what is happening in the foreground but the background as well as small details. I love looking at how shots are taken, patterns, what is in a space, in frame, and if it is an active or passive character in the show.

These are works of art after all. Yes, like with any art form there are people who do it better than other and some who simply want to passively emulate it for monetary gain cheapening the over all form. But it is an art form nonetheless. And with any good art there is always more to it than the basic content. To fully get it you must see the details and subversive imagery that is there. I can easily relate this to one of my favourite paintings,  the stunning Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck.

Painting Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck

On first glance it is a simple painting of a couple. But once you look at the details, how their hands are placed, the draping of fabric, the reflected image in the mirror this painting is so much more.

Painting Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck Details Hands Cloth Mirror

It is about a time, an expectation, and a life about to begin. Sure it is a lovely painting to glance upon but when you see the, so called, little things it becomes so much more. And those little details are being missed, ignored, or quickly forgotten with the mass absorption of so much. Viewers get quick gratification with the unveil of the big picture but lose the importance of all the small things that make it great.

I also get tired of a show quickly if I watch too much of it. This is not necessarily a comment on show quality. Sometimes it is just about attention span, sometimes it is show content. Heavy, emotional, dramatic shows or ones where just a lot happens per episode I can handle maybe 1 episode and then I have to stop. It is like a sensory overload and I have to switch to much lighter fare.  I on average, even my favourite shows, can only actively watch about 3 episodes at a time. Past that I get distracted or restless and pick up my phone or start doing chores. And especially if it is a new show I want to be focused and get all the details, learn the story, follow the characters.

I am not saying that people shouldn’t or that it is wrong to binge watch shows, I am just saying the viewer gets more out of a program if they don’t. This is true especially within this new renaissance of TV or more widely described as small screen shows. The quality of story telling and it’s abundance of detail requires/deserves to be savoured by its audiences.

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