Binge Watching: The New Crack

As Video-On-Demand becomes the choice source for new shows struggling to find distribution in a saturated market, the ability to consume an entire season of television in a weekend is fast becoming a popular choice among viewers. In our instant-gratification society, many prefer to blast through a series without interruption. 

But binge-watching does beg to question our ability to fully absorb the viewed content, and whether we are truly getting the most out of our entertainment experience. Netflix’s Stranger Things was an amazing show on every level of execution. The show gained an immediate following, and fans quickly devoured the eight-episode series. But did viewers enjoy the series as much as they could have? Popular shows such as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead unfold over several weeks, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats with cliff-hanging endings and gut-wrenching finales. Fans will discuss their favorite weekly shows with co-workers and friends, each sharing their own plot hypotheses and making bets on which character will die next. Some even immediately jump onto social media to discuss the events of the latest episode, while the credits are still rolling, and savvy spoiler-free blogs will write reviews of each episode, sharing their fanboy opinions with the masses. It’s interesting to contemplate that scheduled broadcasting makes for a deeper viewing experience. The excitement can last for several months. Fans of these shows will spend days digesting the story in small increments, processing every last detail.

First rule of Binge Club is you watch every episode.

The term “binge-watch” was added to the Collins Dictionary in 2015. While there is nothing wrong with the uninterrupted consumption of the entire five seasons of Six Feet Under on Amazon Prime, does it really allow viewers to fully digest the joys and heartbreaks of all 63 episodes? Can the brain fully process a tsunami of plot twists, or does it crunch the major story lines into a Cliff’s Notes version of enjoyment?  

For many, binge-watching has become an obsession, an entertainment addiction. Once they start, they can't stop. These entertainment junkies will sit in front of the TV for days ordering take-out from anyone who delivers. Some even forego bathing and sleep so they can continue to indulge in the pleasures of mass entertainment consumption. And when the last episode has been devoured, there is only a brief moment of satisfaction that quickly gets replaced with a yearning to find something new. 

She told me to stop watching,
so I killed her. 
Some scientists have begun to express their concerns involving marathon viewing and over-stimulation. They warn that the brain can become exhausted, struggling to process a tidal wave of details. The extended period of bingeing has been proven to keep people up at night while their mind struggles to wind down and detach itself from several hours of non-stop viewing. It can be an exhausting and emotionally draining experience. Marathon viewing can often result in what is called a “binge hangover.” The effects are similar to a mentally busy day at work, where the brain gets fried and can no longer function properly. Some research even suggests binge-watching can increase stress and anxiety, which can lead to PBWD – Post Binge Watch Depression. Is there a pill for that yet?

Is bingeing anything really good for you? Binge watching? Binge eating? Binge drinking? Probably not, but it sure can be a lot of fun. While scientists can attempt to educate with random facts and numbers, in the end it’s all a matter of preference. Yet no matter how you indulge, a little bit of suspense and patience can go a long way in all aspects of life, especially entertainment. Now put down that damn remote and go to bed already!

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Lee L. Lind