The Binge-Watch/Re-watch Contingency

Published 8/10/13 by:

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     Here’s a little lesson in American pop culture history: in the 1960s and 70s there were folks who devoted themselves to bands or singers and called themselves groupies. In the 1980s comic books and video games created subcultures in which people banded together according to which game or comic was most beloved to them. In the 1990s we sort of circumnavigated back to music, but it was split between those mourning Kurt Cobain, and those trying to ask a boy band member to marry them (Taylor Hanson, please return my fan mail). As we head towards the middle of the 2010s, I can’t help but think that our stamp on fandoms will most likely be known for rallying around television shows.

    The TV fangirls and fanboys of the 2010s can most directly be linked to social media. Social media has played an unbelievably large role in developing fan bases that are capable of protesting major networks and getting their favorite television programs renewed (most notably: Chuck and Veronica Mars’ fans). Fans also feel like they have a very organic and personal relationship with the actors on their favorite shows, because social media connects them to the stars of the show, as well as other fans via live-tweeting or chats. Tumblrs, blogs, Twitter accounts, Vines, Instagram accounts, and Facebook pages can be found for essentially any television show currently airing, as well as shows recently canceled. People have a new forum for how they interact with a show, and can instantaneously look up quotes, featured music, behind the scenes facts and shooting locations for just about any show filmed in America. The evolution of TV fangirls and boys has become much more intense since social media’s rise in American culture, but it’s also in part to online streaming capabilities. Netflix, Hulu, and networks such as NBC, ABC, CBS, etc. all provide online streaming that anyone with internet can access (some have subscription costs, some don’t). This means that people who don’t have cable are still able to access their favorite shows on their phones, iPads, computers, and so on. This idea of streaming television shows has led to two new phenomena: TV show binge-watching and “the re-watch”.

   I know a lot of people who binge-watch television series because they can. You’ve never seen Weeds, and the entire series is streaming on Netflix? I know what you’re doing over your summer vacation. You live in Boston and 24 inches of fresh snow is about to get dumped on you? Sounds like you’re about to indulge in the entire first season of House of Cards in three days (guilty as charged). Americans are greedy, demanding, impatient people. You wanted to know if Seth Cohen really made it to Tahiti in his tiny sailboat when the first season of The OC culminated. When Dawson and Joey finally kissed, you needed to know immediately what this meant for their friendship. We want answers the second something unchartered occurs. It’s our nature. When entire seasons of shows are streaming on Netflix, Hulu, or whatever else is out there,  we can’t say no. We binge-watch because we “have to know what happens.” It’s still unclear to me why, and how we got this way, but I don’t know many people of this generation that haven’t binge-watched at least one show. Now, what tends to happen when people choose to marathon through an entire show (because they love it and are dying to know what happens) is that they return to the show at a later date to re-watch it because “it all blended together” or they “forgot a lot of it”. This has certainly happened to me, and additionally, a lot of folks just like to go back to their favorites. It’s this idea of a re-watch that I’m currently fighting in my own life.

   Last week I moved into an apartment in a town I’ve never lived in, with a girl I just met. In college, I knew all of my roommates prior to living with them. During grad school I lived with my parents, and last year, my dental school student younger brother was my roomie. So, I’m definitely treading in some unfamiliar waters. Every time I’ve gone through a major change in my personal life, I find myself clinging on to things that are memorable. Sometimes this means I re-read a favorite book (hello Last Days of Summer), thumb through all of my photo albums, or (and this is usually the frontrunner) I re-watch a favorite television show from start to finish. When I finished college I re-watched all of Dawson’s Creek. When I was unemployed I re-watched all of One Tree Hill. When I moved in with my brother I re-watched all of Friday Night Lights. This is just something I tend to do as a coping mechanism. I yearn for things that I attach to certain times of my life, as well as things that will invoke in me my favorite sensation: sentimentality. While some people may have feelings triggered by a song on the radio, this most often happens to me when I see an episode of a favorite show. The first time I really associated a time, place and feeling with a TV show was in the tenth grade when Nick at Nite decided to re-run all of The Wonder Years. It was the first time I actually felt older (not to be confused with old). I could identify times in my past that I had sat down on a Thursday night to watch The Wonder Years in my old house. I was only 14, so this was a real revelation – one I don’t think I have ever recovered from. I can’t determine why other people re-watch shows, I can only ascertain that I watch them to avoid what I’m dealing with, and succumb to being sentimental for simpler times. I doubt this is normal, but it’s cheaper than therapy. Could this be the tagline for American fangirls of the 2010s?

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