Here’s a modern debate that’s been popping up way too much for me to not get entirely sick of it over the past couple of years: with the availability of so many television series of all eras on DVD and streaming services, do you binge-watch television series?
Actually, let me frame this discussion the way it’s actually implied. Usually it’s made to sound more like this: with the model of how we consume television entertainment becoming more malleable, is it morally right to binge-watch television series?
Because that’s really the more accurate version. I’m not seeing anyone ask any more if we are binge-watching all of those Netflix series, but the heavier implication of should we be binge-watching all of those Netflix series.
And I have to tell you, I am really, really sick of hearing about this.
Let me tell you exactly what binge-watching a show on Netflix or DVD or TV rerun marathons says about your character: absolutely nothing.
Nothing. It says and reveals nothing about you as a human being.
It’s like debating over whether you eat pie with a fork or a spoon, or whether you like waffle cones or sugar cones. It’s not a deep debate. It’s nothing. It’s navel-gazing of the worst order, because it means nothing at all.
For years now, I’ve been seeing otherwise smart people debate this non-issue of whether this is going to somehow destabilize all of entertainment because someone watched an entire series all at once instead of weekly. I’ve seen people in every emotional state about it: defensive, angry, wounded, thrilled, happy, grateful, superior. I’ve seen people dismissive of others for doing it, and I’ve seen people ridicule others for not doing it.
One time, I saw … I don’t want to say it was a humblebrag, because it was somehow worse than a humblebrag. A Facebook friend, remarking on Netflix making every episode of their original series available at once, said: “But doesn’t everyone just wait a week between watching episodes? Am I the only one who does this?” We need a name for this particularly egomaniacal phenomenon, where the person isn’t even humblebragging, but instead pretending to be innocently surprised at the habits of others in a way that also manages to imply a moral superiority to those habits. It’s a way of hiding how you’re judging someone else over something that’s completely meaningless.
Look, some people like to watch TV week to week. Some don’t. Some mix. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Sometimes you’re not interested in something while it’s on and you’re sick of people telling you to watch it, but later when the hype has died down, you’ll feel like taking a look at it. That happened to me last year with Breaking Bad. I wasn’t impatient; I just got hooked into it right away and wanted to watch the rest of it since it was already available to me and I wasn’t doing anything else. It’s not like I was eating dessert before a meal (and hey, even if I was, fuck you, don’t tell me how to eat my dinner, either); I was caught up in a compelling entertainment experience.
Other times, you’ll want to watch something again that you haven’t seen in years, and it happens to be on DVD. Months ago, I got a little nostalgic about Roseanne and ended up watching the first season over two days because those things are short without commercials. It was a fun time and it didn’t hurt me or inure me to regular weekly viewings of sitcoms somehow. It also didn’t make me run out and murder a network executive or whatever’s supposed to happen if we watch too many episodes at once.
Sometimes you’re renting those DVD sets that get released right before the new season comes on and you want to catch up. Or you just you feel a series flows better when you see it all at once instead of over the insanely, stupidly-long “regular TV season,” which is not about structuring series at all, but rather about dragging your 22-week experience out over nine months to sell commercial advertising space. I hated watching Lost on a weekly basis, especially when it was a full season instead of a half-season, because I felt watching it that way killed the momentum the show was trying to build. It was just better watching it uninterrupted than it was getting it piecemeal. Some shows work like that, and some don’t, but it’s just always going to come down to personal preference. You can control the rate of consumption however you want. It’s like a pizza: just because it’s all there in front of you doesn’t mean you have to eat it all at once. But if you want to, just do it.
And hey, sometimes you’re just bored with something you’re not ready to give up on and don’t want it to eat up a weekly spot for six weeks of your life. That’s what I’ve been doing with Doctor Who for a couple of years now. I hated the Matt Smith seasons so much that I finally just started collecting it on TiVo and watching it all at once when the half-seasons ended. I did the same with this most recent season of Luther, which only had four episodes and which BBC America aired over one week; I recorded it all and watched it on a Sunday afternoon because I thought it would be fun to do it that way (plus I was busy with wedding stuff). And hey, I enjoyed it. Had a good time.
Shit, what’s the point of me buying Blu-Ray sets of my favorite canceled series, like Farscape, if I’m not going to occasionally sit and watch eight episodes at once? I don’t understand who I’m supposed to be hurting by this action. Why else release these things?
My point is that there’s no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s just TV. Shit, you don’t have to watch anything at all if you don’t want to. Or you can catch up or just sample almost everything you’ve ever wanted to see. Why be silly about it? Why get up in arms over how other people do it? Why get so interested in what you think it says about you? Why get so irritated over other people doing something you don’t, or liking something you don’t, or just generally not being exactly like you? Is getting to entertain yourself the way you want really somehow an inconvenience because people won’t stop talking about the TV they like?
I guess what annoys me so much about this is the way that people are trying to shape this debate so that it’s meaningful, to try and force it to say something about themselves as people. But it really doesn’t. Children are dying in Syria and America is crumbling around our ears and there was another shooting today. When it comes to the way you watch various TV shows, I’ll echo Linus Van Pelt: in 500 years, who’ll care?
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.