22 January 2014
The New Binge

In the past, conversations about bingeing tended to take place within our therapist’s office, in the safety of a support group, or in shameful whispers between best friends.  When we spoke of bingeing, we spoke of feeling out of control. We felt shame as we finished off another quart of Ben and Jerry’s Cookie Dough Ice cream, and recoiled from our orange powdered fingers holding the remnants of the quickly consumed bag of Cheetos.  When we changed from our now too tight jeans to the safety of our sweatpants we felt furious with our behavior and vowed, yet again, that this would be our last binge. 

But now, when people talk about bingeing, it’s a whole different kind of consumption. Instead of binge eating, people are binge watching.   In a recent study conducted on behalf of Netflix, 61% of us binge-watch TV on a regular basis, translating to watching at least 2-3 episodes of a single series in one sitting.  But let’s be honest here, many of us watch much more that 2-3 episodes in a sitting. And you know who you are. 

So I’ll go first. Yes, I binge. And I don’t binge alone. I typically binge with my husband. And by typically, I mean almost nightly. We binged on Orange is the New Black, and Scandal. We binged on House of Cards, The Blacklist and Suits. Okay, if I’m really coming clean here, we binged on Downton Abbey too. I love bingeing And I’m not alone. In the recent Netflix study nearly 80% say that binge watching a show actually makes it better. 

It’s the technology that allows us to watch TV like this, I get that. But it fits our constant hunger for immediate gratification too. We’re used to 24-hour news, instant facebook posts and photos (I mean how many of us are taking photos of our meals at a restaurant and posting them on our FB wall before even taking our first bite of the entrée?) and quick texting responses. In a way, binge-TV watching keeps everything coming quickly in the new time framework we’re used to, while at the same time bringing us back to the comfort and simplicity of an earlier time, like when we were a kid home sick from school and we planted ourselves in front of the TV with the old TV Guide (do you remember that TV Guide? It was paper bound and arrived in the mail each week. It was the Bible of what could occupy you if you were able to be at that exact time and that exact date). 

Today, we still seek that same simplicity, that same easygoing relationship between the TV and us but in a more technologically advanced way. For most of us, when we decide to binge watch, we make a date with the comfort of our couch. We dress for it; typically in leggings, yoga pants or sweat pants. We give in to the softness of the pillows and the blanket, with the remote controls within arms distance. We put parameters around us, seeking our own quiet space. We decide what we will get up for (bathroom yes, doorbell maybe, land line definitely not). If there’s a blizzard or a rainstorm, all the better to hide out at home with the characters of your binge show sheltering you from the storm. It’s so easy to plan to watch just 2 episodes, but then decide to watch 3, 4, 5 or more. It’s like the old food binge; you start out with a brownie or two, and before you know it the entire pan of brownies is gone. But this is different. We’re proud of our binge watching; for most of us, it makes us feel good, both in the short-term and the long-term. We even get pleasure when someone else binges, especially when they binge on a show we love. We are envious. I remember someone telling me that they binged on the first season of 24 over the weekend. 

The first season? That means she gets to look forward to 7 more seasons of Jack Bauer? It’s like middle-aged people watching the new generation take off for college thinking do they realize their time in college is some of the best years of their life? Ah what I wouldn’t give to be back there… 

But I wonder what it does to us, overall, when we binge watch and don’t have to wait the 6 months for the next season. Sometimes, when I watch the cliff hanger of the season’s last episode and immediately watch the first episode of the following season, I think, “Wow, people waited all that time to find out what Emily Thorne did next on Revenge?  There’s something to that waiting, something that makes us more patient. But like binge eating, it’s so hard to stop. Just one more. 

So now, when we say just one more, we’re not necessarily talking about another bag of chips or slice of pizza. It’s the next episode that holds that allure and that power to make everything else feel somehow less important—somehow everything else can wait another day— Everything except that next story line and plot twist. 

I remember when my husband and I were in the midst of an Orange is the New Black binge. He had his side of the couch, and I had mine. At one point, one of us asked the other if we should have sex or watch another episode. At the same time, we both chose another episode. 

So I admit it loud and proud. I love to binge and I feel no shame. Give me a great new show and I’ll devour it. Wave a new review of a hot new series and I’ll add it to my list of delicious TV consumption. 

Language changes, but humans don’t, not really. We want to be satiated, and we continually look for things that can pull us away from the sometimes challenging reality of our world and that can fill us up. I don’t know how the language of bingeing will change in the future. Maybe there will be some great new show about it one day. If so, let me know so I can put it in the queue and binge watch it.










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