A Nation of TV Zombies
We can barely contain ourselves when it comes to watching just one more episode.
If you ever watched an entire season of a HBO original series like Sopranos for example, you technically classify as a binge TV consumer. Actually if you only watched the first three episodes of a television show consecutively you would still be considered a binge viewer according to experts. This is the official distinction between binge television viewer as opposed to normal. However, if you’re thinking this dubious distinction categorizes you under a special unique segment of society you would be sorely mistaken. You have this in common with 92% of the people who participated in a 2015 TiVo survey. These are truly staggering statistics and they deserve a serious heartfelt examination and discussion seen through the scope of addiction.
Binge viewing like this is something relatively new to society. We do it now more than ever because of the evolving landscape of cable television, and its transition into offering television series in their entirety all to be watched at the behest of the subscriber. We now are afforded the luxury of not having to wait for a season to finish on the regular networks being able to view at our leisure or slightest caprice. Netflix will unleash the entire season of Orange is the New Black all at once in one fell sweeping swoop. Despite the rare cases when episodes are slowly released via the archaic subscription model, users can still make the decision to wait and binge view the entire season the moment it becomes available. Thirty percent of the people in the TiVo survey did just that an indication of deferred gratification in the entertainment realm.
It is apparent that the ease and readily accessible nature of this model is extremely enticing to consumers. We do it, because, we simply can and are encouraged to through the new cable subcription model. But what really compels us towards this dysfunctional behavior according to psychology?
Here are some of the most convincing psychological explanations for our love of binging:
- TV-time turns out to be a good experience according to a recent study done by researchers. Viewers report feeling instantly more relaxed the moment they sit down to envelop themselves in the latest episode of their favorite program. However, dare to shut the TV off and that relaxation disappears as quickly as it appeared. Viewers are anticipating this comedown so to speak, and this is what keeps them coming back for more and more without regard to the ramifications.
- In the halcyon days of one episode a week TV, when viewers had to wait for episodes at the discretion of the networks, scripts were written differently. Each episode needed to be self-sustaining, in order to accommodate an audience who might have missed some of the previous episodes and were intending to start following the show. Now viewers have complete and unfettered access to the entire catalog of content. Writers are acutely aware of this prospect and craft their story arcs accordingly to keep the viewer engaged in a constant state of suspense and who-dun-it type mentality.
- It isn’t just the original content and artistic appeal of watching television but the actual medium through which television is disseminated and the rapid-fire movement of images on screen. Researchers believe that humans have an innate sensitivity to sudden jolting movements that activate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as our fight or flight response that was essential when we needed to evade predators in prehistoric times. Once that orienting response gets initiated by the electrical impulses on TV the brain focuses its attention on the perceived threat while the rest of the body detaches allowing for relaxation. The editing and cinematography done by major studios is often done in the most stylistic and captivating manner as well, with the intent to enrapture the spectator, holding them in thrall.
- Television is a form of escapism that allows us to detach from our relentless barrage of thoughts and emotions. You’re especially prone to episodes of binge television viewing if you struggle with depression, low self-esteem and various personality disorders.
- Another cause for concern and a contributing factor to the dark appeal is the ever-increasing bold and racy content being released with complete and utter wanton disregard. What was once considered taboo and stigmatized by network television is being encouraged and actively promoted by the cable networks. The envelop is being pushed and lines are being crossed every day with consumers being inundated with risque and often downright disturbing themes and subject matter.
- Another reason for society’s embrace of binging is the prevailing mindset of indifference regarding the whole topic. There’s not much shame in acting excessively and reckless anymore. We know somewhere inside us that we should be engaging in more activities that promote a healthy mind, body and spirit, but we rationalize our deviant behavior by pointing out that everyone else is doing the same thing. This apathetic attitude seems to be pervading the moral fabric of society at an insidious rate. In 2015, only 30% of people had a negative view of binging, compared to more than half just two years previously. In a separate survey 73% said they felt good about their binging.
TV has had a long romanticized history with the public and has been glorified for its scintillating and seductive appeal. Television is one of our most cherished pastimes with individuals spending so much of their leisure time devoted to its relentless pursuit. People are also finding unique and novel ways of viewing it as well nowadays as watching TV via the internet has soared to an astronomical 388 percent in only one year (from 2013 to 2014).
TV is just like any other vice when we use it to the point of excess it becomes deviant and an overall negative influence in our lives. Binge-watching can quickly escalate out of control leading the person to bouts of insomnia and various other health-related issues. We need to temper and moderate our television consumption in order to strike the ideal balance between normative and dysfunctional.