By Zane Fletcher, Culture Editor
As I sat watching my sixth episode for the day of NBC’s “Community” while pondering about what I wished to write, it dawned on me – my bed. Wait, that’s not right. Oh, it was binge watching, an act that has become so commonplace for television consumption that people have begun to ignore what binge watching actually entails and the ramifications it may have. Yet despite these issues, it retains a certain measure of merit.
“Binge watching” is a term that has surfaced in the last few years with the rise of television streaming websites like Netflix, HBO GO, and many, many less than legal parallels. It refers to the act of watching an entire series either in one sitting, or in long marathons – with viewers often finishing entire seasons in one sitting. Just like one may eat an entire pizza at a time (guilty), recent television viewers have begun to prefer the binge watching method.
Binging comes with its negative effects. First, it requires a vast amount of time that could be otherwise spent bettering oneself. I am guilty, and I am far from alone, of spending hours staring at my computer screen, consuming entire series that aired over spans of five to ten years. It has reached epidemic status.
While binging allows the viewer to follow the plot line easily and avoid cliffhangers, I have found in my extensive experience that as I slip into my 10 or 11th episode of the day, I begin to lose my attention to nuance. Especially for shows like AMC’s “Mad Men,” or even comedy programs like NBC’s long running and much loved “The Office,” it is critical to pay attention the finer details in order to have the complete experience.
Television shows, whether it appears that way on the surface or not (looking at you, “South Park”), are an art form. They are filled with little distinctions that set them apart from the rest of the pack. In a haze of binge watching, the nuance is often set aside in favor of volume.
In addition to losing the finer points of a program, binge watching can lead to losing the finer points of healthy living and academic wherewithal. Too many times students say, myself included, “ah, one more episode won’t hurt. I can finish my homework in the morning.” It is so easy to sink into a stupor and ignore all other aspects of life. It becomes dangerous to remain in the same place, day after day, continuously snacking and not exercising. The real victims of binge watching rarely see the light of day.
Ok, that may have been a bit dramatic.
Despite these negatives, binging does have an upside. In much the same way as listening to the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main St.” as one continuous album allows the artistic merit of the band to shine through, so too does watching a series in a constant stream. The tracks blend together, weaving their musical trap until the Stones have hooked the listener in. Much the same way, watching a television show back-to-back-to-back (to back to back) allows the viewer to become much closer to the character.
By removing the latency period of waiting a week in between issues, viewers are able to engage in the plot, becoming much more invested in the movements and decisions of those depicted on screen. Binge watching permits a much more visceral, emotional viewing experience.
Having the ability to immediately move to the next episode also eliminates the constant angst cliffhangers introduce into the lives of so many. While some could argue that this detracts from the artistic merit of television, suspenseful endings to episodes are often the bane of some people’s existence. By having the ability to immediately move on to the next episode, viewers are afforded a good night’s sleep, not spent wondering what will happen, but full of satisfaction.
In all, binge watching will remain a controversial issue. Its recent rise indicates that it does, in fact, have some merit. I argue in favor of binge watching (and do it all the time), as I believe it gives television a new, unique view. Also, the constant contact with plot, characters and the like allow for a closer personal interaction between viewer and program, which is something that cannot be ignored.