I remember that a large part of my adolescence revolved around Disney channel. I’d get back from school and watch all the shows that lined up from 5 pm to almost 9 pm. (Fond memories of Zack and Cody, Jonas Brothers, Lizzie McGuire!) Television played a major role around that time to the point that there used to be glorious fights in my house around who’d get the remote! Today, no so much; today, I barely care if the TV’s lying in some dusty corner of the house or if it’s thrown out! I’m a millennial, a part of the generation that has often stood at the cusp of transition: from writing essays or doing projects with the help of library books or Wren n Martins, to having information just a click away; from no phones to Blackberrys to having our lives revolve around different social media platforms; and a huge change from television to Netflix. It’s very very rare today that a millennial excitedly sits in front of the TV, clutching on to the remote to relish that half an hour or one hour of serial time. I recall how we scheduled things around a TV show, each one of us getting together the next day and discussing it. That half an hour was weirdly satisfying in a way that it left you wanting more and delayed gratification in a way that you could immerse yourself into other experiences for the rest of the day.
What Netflix and other online mediums changed was it gave access to shows around the globe. Entertainment/infotainment became available by just tapping on your phone and in such great abundance that one could go on to consume it as much as they’d like/please. Somewhere during my 9th or 10th grade, there was this whole phase of people passing on their precious stash of TV shows to one another in their pen-drives; there was a lot of excitement around watching everything religiously, thereby indulging more and more in pop culture. Pop culture, for millennials, became one of the main points of conversation and hence one of the major ways of bonding and building connections. Over a period of time, I’ve seen that each one of us may have very diverse, varied reasons or purposes for immersing ourselves in this highly stimulating world of binge watching- be it fitting in or falling in love with a story or opening oneself to channels of knowledge and cultures or good wholesome entertainment!
As much as this stands true, binge watching, today, has also led people to be closed off from their own emotional systems and realities. It has become a security blanket, a source of protection, a friend who walks in the shadows and can be beckoned when things get overwhelming.
(1)Binge watching: it fills a void
When we experience a void inside (this void could be due to the absence of a person, of an emotion/s, of purpose or of self), TV shows work as temporary emptiness repellents- they give a semblance of fullness for a while, as they help you fill up your time in a way that you don’t have to engage with that feeling of “missing something” within. Facing and addressing that void seems scary; it feels like a black hole that would suck you in.
But, in reality, it is nothing but a need, an emotional need that requires addressing just like our physical needs do. Imagine watching 10 hours of a show when you feel hungry in the hope that the hunger would go away! As ridiculous as this sounds, just like the hunger doesn’t go away like that, the void also isn’t going anywhere unless it is attended to, heard and taken care of.
Empty spaces within can be filled with nurturance, not necessarily only with engaging with activities or things.
(2) Binge watching: adds meaning and purpose:
As an extension to the first point, I’d also like to add that apart from filling or replacing that void, binging gives a temporary sense of meaning, by helping us fill our time.
We all look for higher meaning and purpose to guide us and steer us into some direction. As children, there is a sense of purpose that is already laid out for us- go to school, pass exams, move to college. As we grow up and shoulder the responsibility of carving a life for ourselves, we begin to look for things that are likely to make us happy, expand our sense of self and help us flourish. We keep searching consciously or unconsciously for elements that resonate with us. This journey is long, unpredictable and sometimes, is likely to create despair and impatience. “Netflix and chill” moves people away from this despair for a while by adding a fleeting sense of meaning to our life. The flip side to it, however, is that the more it is used as a shield, it doesn’t allow you to find those meaningful relationships, careers, work or soulful hobbies.
(3) Binge watching: it keeps loneliness at bay:
Loneliness is an unpleasant experience and definitely difficult to deal with. You may have people around you, people you can hang out with or have fun with, yet deep inside you may experience yourself as lonely. Sometimes, when this feeling takes over or becomes overpowering, yes, binging can act like a balm and can perk your system up in the moment. However, the antidote to loneliness is connection- with people and with self. Binging on shows constantly helps you to be a part of a different reality, full of diverse characters you may feel connected to, but it cuts you off from the reality which is very much yours. Relating to/connecting with your favorite people on TV is great; but it’s a good idea to find real relations when loneliness knocks at your door. It may mean having an intimate chat with a close friend or reflecting while sharing a cup of coffee with yourself!
It is truly amazing how we can enter different worlds of stories everyday and can become one with them. We can vicariously (via the lives on TV) have successful careers in the legendary Manhattan, or could walk along the beaches of Andaman, live in an apartment with friends or share a beautiful cobblestone house with your loved one. Our ability to empathize can lead us to feel the pain of the characters, celebrate their victories and cheer them in their endless struggles. We allow ourselves to feel all the emotions ranging from anger to fear, disgust to hopefulness, grief to love, as we watch and live the lives that unfold on the screen.
I see that we can do so much, live so much through the journeys of millions of characters we witness. I guess, that tells me that we have the ability to do the same for ourselves as we witness our own journey, become active participants of it and become one with it!
Take the journey of navigating through your own reality, the one that’s as beautiful and entangled as the one on the screen. Surround yourself with a few close ones (family or friends), find a therapist or other sources of healing that help you courageously grow and not just protect or shield you from your own internal difficulties!