The Curious Case of Binge-amin Boxset

2018-04IanAPril

According to the Oxford Dictionaries

binge (noun)

A period of excessive indulgence in an activity, especially drinking alcohol or eating... or watching Breaking Bad

It used to be we waited. We had no choice and truth be told, most of us couldn't imagine a world where we didn't have to. Einstein's theory of relativity told us quite plainly that much as we wanted to know what happened immediately after Ross called the wrong woman Rachel, the answers were not yet manifest -  we'd just have to wait till next year. In 1999 we didn't question it, we just kept busy. While Friends producers worked on season 5, we invented Bluetooth, Clinton was acquitted, Pokemon fever hit the US, we circumnavigated the earth in a hot air balloon and we finally came to an Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds. Oh, and we had a lot of sex. Men pictured Rachel and women pictured not-Ross and we got busy to the tune of 285 babies born globally EVERY MINUTE! What else could we do in the weeks between episodes and the months between series? So why have birth rates steadily dropped year on year ever since? Why has a recent US study shown a 14% decline in the amount of sex we've been having this past decade? Three words: “NETFLIX AND CHILL”

The hip among you may know that just a few years back, “Netflix and chill” was a common euphemism for “hooking up”. The less hip among you may not know that “hooking up” is a euphemism for “having sex”. For the really un-hip among you, “having sex” is what your neighbours do.

Nowadays, when people say “Netflix and Chill”, they're actually talking about chilling out and watching Netflix. Since most people's definition of chilling out IS watching Netflix, “Netflix and chill” now means “Netflix and Netflix”, or “NETFLIX” for short..... So we've replaced sex with Netflix.

While the online giant leads the charge, it's not their fault alone these days we look but don't touch. TV boxsets entered the public psyche towards the end of the 20th Century and forever changed the way we consume entertainment. Whole weekends were lost to multipack Wotsits and Buffy the Vampire Slayer VHS marathons.... errr, so I've heard. A few years later streaming came along, saving us several quid on DVDs, a ton of shelf space and regular trips to Woolworths (sorry Woolworths, I'm sure you'll be fine...). Suddenly, we were the masters of our own destiny. We could pretty much watch what we wanted, when we wanted and for however long we wanted. Sting even started boasting about his tantric Now TV sessions. 

This sudden and insatiable demand for new shows was unprecedented. And with the explosion of social media came the implosion of actually being social. Instead of discussing “Who shot J.R.” with friends and colleagues by the water cooler at work, we tweeted #JonSnowDeadWTF?! from our pizza crust strewn bed, having called in “sick”. Having finished one boxset, we desperately hunt for the next, lest we should have to get dressed and leave the house. Like locusts, we move from one series to another, devouring, tweeting, devouring some more, becoming more and more numb to quality in the presence of such overwhelming quantity.

We've only recently looked up from our screens long enough to question where this might all be leading. A recent study by the University of Edinburgh media department (conducted hurriedly while the video was buffering on G.O.T. season 7) anticipates that at our current rate of consumption, by the year 2021, the majority of viewers will individually have watched “EVERY boxset created up to that point”. Let that soak in. 

It hasn't taken long to get within sight of this terrifying precipice. Beginning the binge-cycle as many did with landmark shows such as The Sopranos, The Wire and The West Wing, the study posits that viewers developed a certain “tolerance” to quality early on. Brain chemistry itself was altered, with an enlargement of a cerebral lobe now known as the Amazonus Primus. Previously apathetic TV viewers were no longer willing to pay a license fee and wait three days simply for someone to get called a slag in Ian Beale's chip shop, when instantly available US dramas displayed such verve, sophistication and gratifying lack of Pat Butcher. 

As we began to feast on this new TV super-food, our appetite for it grew exponentially and desperate producers rushed to deliver us our next course. With the increased demand came the inevitable dip in quality: True Blood, 24, Lost - not awful by any stretch, but if the fish and chips were fried perfectly, the mushy peas had some great big fucking plot holes.

Nobody can keep producing the goods at a consistently flawless rate when the masses are banging their cutlery loudly on the table and dribbling impatiently. Case in point: my first article for Society, published last month was an undisputed masterpiece – I poured my heart, soul and everything I've ever learned into “How to take the perfect selfie” and the response was overwhelming. This one, it's ok but I'm not quite feeling it. Next month's will be worse still, and after that it will be the written equivalent of me repeatedly calling someone a slag in Ian Beale's chip shop. It's not that I've stopped trying; it's the law of diminishing returns. Just watch Dexter through to the last series if you don't believe me (don't!)

So anyway, as TV standards started to drop once more, relative demand increased. Like junkies not quite getting our fix, we clamoured for more and more, desperate to consume anything that might fill the hole. Shows such as 2 Broke Girls (2 Girls 1 joke), Glee, and 2 ½ Men spat hundreds of episodes into our grateful little beaks like an extremely rare and never-before-filmed eagle feeding its young in an award-winning BBC nature documentary nobody was watching because they were bingeing shite like 2 Broke Girls, Glee, and 2 ½ Men.

Keenly aware of our mounting desperation, the industry displays its own, reheating turgid leftovers in the form of TV show revivals of X-Files, Full House, Gilmore Girls, Roseanne and more. There aren't enough new ideas left, so we've got the paddles out and we're trying to shock the old ones back to life, hoping they can stave off the inevitable event horizon a little longer. We have to have something on the screens. Anything. But what happens when we've watched it all, then watched it again and the remake? It takes months to make a show, but just hours to consume it. What happens when we've caught up with our own ability to produce? What will the billions of screens show then?

You already know of what I speak, though you're too scared to admit it. The nothingness at the centre of the abyss. Those cold, dead eyes boring into your soul from the depths of the cosmos, telling you to do something else with your life. That feeling of emptiness you'd forgotten lurked so ominously in every house in the UK when you were young and up too late. The sense of helplessness and despair. The chalkboard. The smiling girl. That FUCKING clown...

Ian Greenland is a writer and destination wedding photographer living in constant fear of his girlfriend cancelling their subscription to Netflix.  www.greenlandphotography.com

 

 
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