We have all done it. Watched an episode of Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones that quickly turned into 2 episodes, or 4 episodes…or the entire season. Binge watching has become a normalcy in contemporary consumer culture. But why does it have such a negative connotation? It may just be in the name.
It is called a “marathon” when you watch multiple movies in one sitting, and simply “reading” when you finish an entire book in a night. But for Television, you simply “binge.” Miriam Webster defines “Binge” as:
a: a drunken revel: spree
b: an unrestrained and often excessive indulgence
c: an act of excessive or compulsive consumption (as of food)
Bingeing is defined as something excessive, indulgent, compulsive, and ultimately, negative. While a “marathon” is thought of as something that requires endurance, bingeing involves a lack of control. By definition, binge-watching has a negative connotation.
There have been studies that try to link binge-watching with depression, laziness, and guilt. Haven’t you fell victim to feeling guilty for watching an entire season in one sitting? But perhaps that is just a result of the negative connotation of the activity. It is deemed pleasurable to read an entire Harry Potter novel in one sitting, or watch multiple Scorsese films in one night, but to watch an entire season of House of Cards in one evening? A pure couch potato. A binger. Someone indulgent with no self-control.
Television is not what it used to be. Originally, watching too much TV was thought to make you less intelligent or lazy, but that was before today’s complex story lines and character relations. Hit shows on Netflix and Hulu are exciting and entertaining to follow, and they leave you wanting more.
In positive psychology, there is a term called the flow state or the zone. According to Wikipedia, it is the “mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” Some have argued that this is the sort of energizing or rejuvenating feeling that you feel while binge watching.
So, binge-watching can in fact be a positive activity.
Consuming continuous story telling stimulates the brain, a feeling that you want to continue by hitting “play next.” This feeling in the brain combined with the new manner of streaming unlimited content creates a cocktail perfect for binge watching. In fact, it is hard not to watch the next episode, since providers like Netflix and Hulu play them automatically. Plus, if you don’t watch all of it once it becomes available, you become victim to spoilers. Social media posts, internet leaks, all of it leads to people spoiling the entertainment for you, further feeding the culture of immediate and continuous media consumption.
You used to haven to tune in at a certain time, to a certain channel on a certain day to learn what happens next. But programmable VCR recordings, DVR, and streaming services changed all of that. Now seasons of shows are released ready to watch, all at once. Rating trends of Television shows have also shifted with this development. Shows like Lost find a second life as Netflix subscribers find the entire collection ready to watch, while the reviews of Breaking Bad and Mad Men actually increase with each year, which is uncommon in the TV watching trends.
The way television shows themselves are created has also shifted. Rather than relying on a teaser-dependent format, directors and writers can play with ideas of creating 13 hours’ worth of content right off the bat. This allows for more complex story lines, and treating the television genre as basically an extended film.
Although the name may cause negative connotations, binge watching is just like any other form of continuous entertainment. It can be healthy and rejuvenating if enjoyed responsibly, and unhealthy and debilitating if consumed irresponsibly. So why not call it marathon-watching rather than bingeing?