Binge Culture by Kemi Omisore

When I really like a show, it’s only a matter of time before I stop watching. It’s happened so many times now. I smile when I think of all the things I’ve watched that have touched my heart, made me feel something. But each time, it’s a countdown before the show drops away off my watchlist, like shutting off the water from a tap. 

To me, really liking a show means that it consumes me completely. The walls of my real life fuzz out and the show’s reality takes its place. It fills the gaps of my mind so that I don’t have to think about anything else. I don’t want to think about anything else. I need something that takes control of me so completely that there’s no space for any of the thoughts that gnaw at me when I have the space to think them. I want to disappear into another world, and that’s what the perfect show does.

I think it’s a miracle to find a show like that now. When I was a kid, I watched what happened to come on at the same time I got home from school. Then on demand came, then Netflix, then Hulu, then Amazon Prime. Then magazines and podcasts and news articles telling you what to watch and when to watch it and everything is must see TV. I love the word “oversaturated” because it’s a word that describes what it means just by saying it. The syllables are thick on the tongue, hard to swallow. The TV market is oversaturated. When every platform releases something every week and everything is must see the line between good and bad turns into a one gray mass of slop shoveled down your throat with no aftertaste left behind to show for it. 

I thought that grayscale was the way you were supposed to enjoy TV. I like most of what I watch, nothing’s wrong with it. I’ve never understood how people can binge watch TV. I miss weekly episodes, where you had time to stew over what you watched and convince yourself to tune in next week. I hate this binge culture, this pressure to watch everything all at once immediately, or be cut out of the loop. Every episode becomes an obligation to get through, a chore so I can keep up with the tide of pop culture. I truly believe that until I find a show. The show. 

Everything is new again, when I find the show, the all consuming show that takes floods my senses and gives my life focus, even if it’s just for a moment. My favorite part is the lack of control. There’s no need to think about the expression I should have on my face or the emotions I should be feeling, because that show is pulling them from me against my will. The words from a memorable scene would trace down my spine and lift goosebumps to the surface of my skin. It is a reminder that I can feel, that “feeling” is real and I know that because I’m doing it and that show is the vehicle. And feeling is so intoxicating that I fall headfirst into the show, clicking episode after episode as time flows around me. 

Then there is a moment when I’m rewatching a scene that made me laugh or gasp or melt and I’m about to click to the new episode, where I freeze. Because the thought always comes to me, what if this is it? What if I’ve hit the max on the amount of emotion I’m allowed to feel? The show has given me so much and I haven’t been appreciating it. I’ve been tearing through episodes with reckless abandon, without the thought that I might hit a point where the show might have nothing left to give me. And once I think that, I start thinking that I need to savor the episodes, take them all in until I’ve had enough. So I sink back to watching one, two episodes at a time. 

I stop watching. It could be at the midpoint of a season, the last two episodes, the last episode. Sometimes even the last episode of the series. Because another, more terrifying thought comes to me: what happens when this is over? What happens when there literally is nothing left for the show to give me? When there is nothing to replace it with except a gaping hole, a vacuum that sucks me back down to the grayscale, to the slump of reality, to glazed over eyes and an absent mind. It terrifies me in a very real way, because there’s no way to know when the next show will come along. If I don’t know how long I have to stay in that slump I don’t know how long it’ll take me to get out, and I can’t accept that. I can’t. But if I stop, stop right before the trigger is pulled, then it’s okay. Somehow, I’ve convinced myself that it’s better to have one foot in the hole and one foot out than to be in the hole even for a second. Because in that absence of feeling, where I’m left to fall into the pit of my own emotions, I don’t know what will happen to me when I hit the bottom. I don’t want to. 

 I envy people who can gobble up TV shows in one bite and move on to their next meal. To me, if I never finish something, it’s never really over, is it?

Kemi Omisore is a senior Secondary Education and English double major and a graduate of the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House program at the University of Maryland College Park. She loves lemonade and her hamster, Uma.

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