Binge-watching a TV show needs to be recognized as the therapeutic exercise it is
When you tell someone who doesn’t love television as much as you do that you spent an entire weekend catching up on the past four seasons of The Walking Dead, they might look at you like there’s something legitimately wrong with you. For some reason, watching too much television has a bad reputation as a symptom that someone is depressed, lazy, or at least just really lame. But it’s about time that binge watching a TV show get recognition for being the therapeutic exercise that it really is. As anyone who does it knows, binge-watching can actually be a really good way to decompress and chill the f*ck out.
Binge watching isn’t something that Millennials and Netflix created, by the way. Back in the day, it used to just be called “there’s an X-Files marathon on, so I’m not coming over, but you can come here.” Of course, all the streaming networks these days and the fact that there’s just so much content out there mean the world is basically a TV lover’s dream in 2017.
Not only can you spend countless hours watching whatever cinematic HBO show everybody is talking about these days, but classics are out there just waiting to be devoured. (Like, Melrose Place is on Netflix. You’re welcome.) You can find whatever your little heart desires with just a few clicks and your credit card number — and you should never beat yourself up for enjoying every single minute of it.
Sometimes all that content can be overwhelming, and we turn to our comfort shows. Whenever the world and Twitter become too much for me, there’s nothing I love more than hitting play on Grey’s Anatomy and starting from scratch. Sure, I know the plot lines so thoroughly that I don’t have to pause every time I get up to throw my laundry in the dryer, so it’s not like I can pretend that following the threads of the story is somehow helping my brain become more agile. But it’s relaxing, much like knitting, baking a pie, or doing some yoga would be. (And, for the record, those are all things one can do while watching TV.)
Why do we hate on TV so much?
Media theorist Steven Johnson suggested as far back as 2005 that since “television narratives have become increasingly complex, they require viewers to follow more storyline threads and juggle more characters and their relationships. All of this makes the audience more cognitively sophisticated.”
I don’t know that my TV watching makes me smarter, but it is all sorts of relaxing.
If you buy into the idea that some things are “guilty pleasures,” that’s your business. But it doesn’t matter what you’re watching if it feels like self care and you’re enjoying it. If you told a friend that you spent all weekend reading every book in a series, no one would raise an eyebrow. Why is television any different? Either way, all you’re doing is consuming a story, which our brains are wired to do and enjoy. Whether that means you’re Keeping Up With The Kardashians or reading Proust, if you’re engaged and not hurting anyone, who cares? You should have no regrets about enjoying anything that doesn’t infringe on another person living their life, which binge-watching TV decidedly does not.
It’s not your fault if you feel bad about watching “too much” TV, whatever that means. The language we use for watching TV is engineered to make us feel bad. It must be some leftover hysteria from the bad old days, when people assumed that TV was going to turn people into thoughtless drones or something. We don’t call reading a novel in one sitting anything except “reading” or a testament to the writing being so good you had no choice but to bury yourself in the pages.
But if you watch more than three episodes of Shameless in an afternoon, you’re a “couch potato” or “binging,” which just sounds like you’ve consumed more than what was necessary. But who’s to say what’s too much? Would you rip a book out of your friend’s hand if she told she had been “binging” on it? A “couch potato” and a “book worm” are essentially the same thing: People who love stories and some alone time.
Then again, there are studies that show that binge watching has been linked to depression and that there’s an addictive quality to the “flow” experience of TV watching, so you can find yourself literally stuck on the couch sometimes. Look, we’re all for hiding out with your laptop all weekend if that’s what works for you, but we all obviously need to get some sunshine on our face, eat, and sleep properly, no matter what.
It’s not like binge watching hours of The Gilmore Girls is making you depressed (well, maybe it is but for different reasons), but if you suffer from depression and social anxiety, it might feel better to just stay in bed and watch TV sometimes. Like anything else, there’s balance. Watching Friday Night Lights yet again from start to finish is not the worst way to self medicate most times.
Also, diving into some TV isn’t always a solitary, lonely activity. Watching TV can be a great way to bond with your BFF, whether she’s on the couch with you or just there for moral support via Gchat, and you don’t even have to get out of your pajamas or spend money. Binge watching TV doesn’t mean you’re a lonely, lazy anything. It means that you like whatever story you’re getting into on your small screen and hiding out for a minute, which is a sign of higher intelligence given the state of the world these days.
Like anything else, watching TV is a different experience for everyone and it totally depends on your personality. But if you find yourself prioritizing the next episode in favor of some other engagement, don’t be so hard on yourself. But do, please, remember to shower occasionally.