Labor Day, I found myself pissed off and sick. I started to run last summer so I could attempt the New Haven Road Race (5k), but I woke on the morning of the trot stuffed with mucus and all kinds of gross. I should have gone back to bed, but instead I started on what can only be called a “Queer as Folk” BENDER. I watched over half of the 20-episode first season in one sitting. See, I would feel shame about doing this (not actually, but work with me here), but I know that most of you do the same exact thing. Maybe it’s not “Queer as Folk,” maybe it’s “Battlestar Galactica,” or maybe it’s “Law and Order: SVU.” Whatever it is, bingeing on television has become an accepted part of our collegiate culture.
Although TV bingeing is not exclusive to college students — John Jurgensen elucidated in this in his July Wall Street Journal article titled “Binge Viewing: TV’s Lost Weekends” — I would say the trend to sit down for an entire day and inhale a TV show is almost required to participate in the pop culture dialogue while in college. I think college students, especially Yalies, use television as a platform to discuss cultural trends, philosophy and public opinion outside of the classroom (instead of, say, Foucault, so we don’t sound like enormous douches). Want to talk about the tripartite nature of the soul without referring to Plato? Discuss Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse.” Or how about the dangers of theocracy? Season five of “True Blood.” Or simply what is it that makes a compelling narrative? What exactly is it about your favorite characters that elicits such empathy (ahem, Brian Kinney)? So just like you need to spend a requisite hour on HuffPo and Reuters a day, there is this pressure to become an expert on your favorite TV show, and everyone here knows the best way to become an expert is to cram.
In a lot of ways, TV is our cultural currency, and our readily accessible connection to each other and the world outside. And no, I don’t think this is some sick or twisted fate poisoning our generation.
I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to be a non-“Game of Thrones” watcher last spring: so alienated, so frustrated, so out of the loop! I know at least three people who sat down after graduation and watched both seasons in less than a week. How beautiful. How cathartic. All of those conversations they had to sit out, all of those missed references to twincest ….
The same thing happened to me last fall when it seemed like every Stilesian spoke exclusively using “Archer” quotes. I hadn’t a clue what they were talking about. I finally watched it and suddenly understood the depth of my own ignorance and immediately changed my ringtone to “Mulatto Butts.”
For those of us who have aspirations to write the next great American TV show (and there are more of us out there than you’d suspect), it’s almost like a competition. Who can effortlessly watch the most television, understand the most obscure comedic references, and speak intelligently about why “The Wire” is so fantastic? It’s not just about ego, it’s feeling like I know a lot about character development, and the careful calculus of balancing the episodic with the seasonal narrative. I know when a writer gives too much away too soon, when there are discontinuities with the story, and how the writers could have avoided them. For me, it’s easier to see how a series is constructed by watching episode after episode uninterrupted. Essentially, a show is easier to deconstruct as a package, rather than attempting to analyze it episode by episode. As a person who would like to produce television one day, I must first determine what I find great in a show, so that I can mimic it, and improve upon it. At least this is what I tell myself when I’m closing in on hour five of a binge.
Lord, may I have the same stamina while working on my senior essay.