MCHENRY: Anatomy of a marathon

Those days when we didn’t have classes, I barely noticed the snow. Thanks to Linda Lorimer, I was spending my time in the heat of DC. I haven’t been able to turn away from House of Cards, the new, Netflix-designed thriller that features standard-issue political thriller components: evil Kevin Spacey, affairs between congressmen and the press and a devious Southern pronunciation of the h in “majority whip.”

This sort of escapism has a weird way of bleeding into the rest of my life. About three seasons through Friday Night Lights, which I mowed through during Winter Finals, I was pretty sure that I was starting to care about football and, if not that, then definitely Connie Britton’s hair. Game of Thrones made me terrified of magical skinny blonde women (so basically yoga teachers). And I have to relearn to pause after sentences if I watch too many consecutive episodes of Gilmore Girls or The West Wing.

Of course, that’s part of the fun. When you marathon a television show, you own it. People I know have bragged about spending a single weekend on The Wire. One of my friends once made a double-digit checklist of all the shows online which she had started, was planning to watch or was currently in the middle of watching.

In this way, Internet television watching becomes a race, Indiana Jones-style, before someone accidentally-on-purpose lets slip who dies in the third season finale. And, in this sense, at least in college, television shows become intensely personal.

But there’s a difference between catching up on a show that’s still on the air and the truly solitary experience of watching one that’s already ended. With the first kind, friends share the week-to-week banter of “Dowager said what?” or “OK, Carrie’s just insane” enjoyed by fans of Downton Abbey or Homeland. For older shows, you have to stake out dried-up message boards to get your explanations for the smoke monster on Lost or the first season of Heroes.

My personal favorite find, buried deep within my Netflix account’s recommended cue, was Felicity. I can’t really recommend the show, unless you, like me, enjoy “90s dramadies featuring a Strong Female lead,” but I do recommend the experience.

You see, when I was watching Felicity, I would disappear into a world where I had nobody to communicate with. I couldn’t tell my friends when Felicity cut her hair (bad idea), or when she got with Noel (better one). And I didn’t really want to. I would merely sit in my bed, or go to Bass if I wanted to be obnoxious to the people sitting around me and exchange Yale University for late-90s NYU.

In college, this escapism is hard to find. We are trained to think very hard about our own lives, our goals, what we want from other people. Even when we relax, we don’t stop trying to keep up. Maybe I’m just terrible at beer pong, but I’ve never felt totally at peace at a college party.

And so I spend blocks of my weekend in alternate worlds. And, in these worlds, there’s always a Christmas Episode or Valentine’s Day Special. Relationships start and end at set points in time and people get to confront each other in eloquent tirades, rather than drunk texts.

I know that other people do too. They may not want to talk about their trips to Sterling Cooper, Rockefeller Center or Pawnee, Indiana and I’m not about to ask — those are their lives, their 2 a.m. study breaks and their cliffhangers to ponder.

I only ask the roommates not to interrupt, the people at the table behind me in Commons not to judge and my studymates in Bass to ignore when I’m laughing or crying in my cubicle. I know it’s fake; just don’t break the spell right now.

Jackson McHenry is a sophomore in Silliman College. Contact him at jackson.mchenry@yale.edu .

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