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Is Binge-Watching Bad?

posted May 16, 2017, 3:26 PM by Kaya Savas

Binge-watching, it’s a term that has pretty much become the norm of how we describe television viewing habits today. 

“Hey, what shows have you binged lately?”
“Oh man, I just binge-watched the entire season of Stranger Things in 1 day because it was so good.” 

These are phrases you have probably heard from your friends or even yourself. But let’s take a look at how the word “binge” was used before streaming television was a thing.

Binge, as a noun is defined as a short period devoted to indulging in an activity to excess, especially drinking alcohol or eating. As a verb it’s defined as indulging in an activity, especially eating, to excess. Before “binge-watching” became part of our vernacular there were really only two other types of binging, which are binge-eating and binge-drinking. Binge-shopping is sort of a thing, but we playfully turned that into “shopping spree” to make it fun-sounding.

Before binge-watching was a thing, we would use the word “binge” to describe unhealthy and negative behavior. Anything done in excess that would negatively impact a person would be called binging. How often do you brag about binge-eating a pint of ice cream or binge-drinking a 12-pack of beer? Not often I would hope, because that is destructive behavior. So how did the streaming industry turn “binging” into a positive thing?

My argument here is simply that binge-watching is not so great. It’s a practice that I think ruined the way we enjoy TV and ruined the magic of the stories being told on this medium. And you might say, “Well, it’s TV! It’s harmless! I have a busy schedule and want to watch my favorite shows all at once or in chunks based on when I want to watch them. And sure, that is the argument. Netflix, Amazon, HBO GO and Hulu have given us convenience. No longer are we adhered to the time slot. And I will admit, that’s a plus. Because the way people live their lives indeed has changed, and no longer do we have to pause life to get to watch our favorite shows. But instead, it’s the opposite, our favorite shows are now instead pausing our lives.

Just like a food or drink company, streaming companies prayed on our lack of will power. They know people have no self-control when it comes to indulging, especially when it comes to television. Remember Lay’s old slogan? “Betcha you can’t eat just one.” Or maybe Pringles’ “Once you pop…” campaign. These marketing campaigns encouraged binge-eating. So when Netflix or Amazon advertises “All episodes streaming [insert date here]”, it’s like a dinner bell being rung for binge-watchers. And these streaming services are now their own studios producing original content that is geared to keep you streaming their service more than the others. In other words, they want you to binge-watch and count on it.

So what’s the big deal? Well, essentially, binge-watching has lessened how special television can be. Movies retain that anticipation and build up because you see the release coming and of course it’s a 2 hour experience and you’re done. If a sequel is coming, it won’t be here for at least 2 years. Can you imagine if LOST or Breaking Bad was a Netflix show? How all of the momentum of having a chapter every week would be lost? Thankfully HBO and Hulu haven't subscribed to the binge-watching model that Netflix and Amazon have. Since both HBO and Hulu operate in the live TV space, they release episodes on a weekly basis. And to be honest, it’s so much better. Not only do you enjoy each episode more as its own chapter, but you can watch the series with the rest of the world at the same time and be part of the conversation. Or you can wait a few weeks and binge-watch the entire season. At least there's a choice there. And I much prefer the binge-watchers having to wait to do their compulsive watching while those who prefer the week to week model get to savor the series.

Just think of Game Of Thrones, think of the conversations you have at work or school or online after every episode. We react to the episode all together, the entire world reacts together. We discuss together, we anticipate together. 

“Hey did you watch GOT last night!?”
"YES! Did you?"
“Can you believe they killed [insert dead character name]!"
"He was my favorite character, how could they do that!"
"I hope [insert living character name] is safe next week"
(giddy conversation ensues)

But on Netflix and Amazon it’s pretty much:

“Orange Is The New Black episodes came out yesterday!"
“Yeah, already binge-watched it all.”
“Ah ok, don’t tell me anything, I haven't started yet.” 
“Yeah ok, well just be ready for episode 6, it's a doozy"
"Shhh, not till I get a chance!"
(end of conversation) 

TV now only exists in your own world and perhaps your significant other who you watch with.

Also you don’t savor any of the craft and creativity that goes into each story. It’s impossible to do so. Would you go to your favorite restaurant and order your favorite meal and scarf it down? Or would you enjoy the meal by taking your time and savoring the flavors? When you binge-watch, cliffhangers mean nothing and the 3-act structure of each episode means nothing because it dovetails right into another episode. If there’s a mystery, you as a viewer don't even try and work it out, you just power through to the answer at the end of the season. Plus you don’t even get to watch the credits and reflect. You even get tired of the opening theme song and fast forward through it. What used to be the piece of music that got you excited to dive into your favorite show is now an annoyance. And then you’re finished! All that hard work the cast and crew put into that season, finished in one or two sittings. And then you go, “so, how long till the next season?”

While binge-watching is the new norm, I try to take my time with TV shows on Netflix and Amazon that I enjoy. While there is more content than ever before streaming right to your living room or phone, it should still be important to pace yourself. Don’t lose the magic of television. Don’t let it become this disposable medium where you go just to get your fix. It can still be eventful and exciting. If you’re a binge-watcher then next time try to not binge it, enjoy it. Put your phone down. Close your laptop. Try maybe 2 episodes at a time, or do 1 episode every other day, or if you’re brave enough actually pace it out once per week. It will feel more special and you’ll get to appreciate it more. If you rush it, it’ll be over before you know it and you’ll be left wanting more. Good TV is like a good meal or a good beer, it should be savored and is better with company.