Go Ahead, Have that Affair with Fox Mulder

10 Jul

Or, In Defense of Binge Watching

Boy Watching TVYesterday Jim Pagels published an invective on Slate’s BrowBeat blog urging us all to stop binge watching TVPagels argued that binging on TV – watching, say, a whole season in a few days or a series in a few weeks – ruins the TV viewing experience.  He argued that TV shows have multi-layered structures, each of which must be respected.

TV series must constantly sustain two narrative arcs at once: that of the individual episode—which has its own beginning, middle, and end—and that of the season as a whole. (Some shows, like Breaking Bad and The Wire, operate on a third: that of the entire series.) To fully appreciate a show, you must pay attention to each of these arcs. This is one of the defining features of television as a medium and one of the things that makes it great.

Those multilayered story arcs are turned me into a rabid TV fangirl when I was in middle school.  (Did Willow get away from that vampire?  But, more importantly, did Buffy kiss Angel?)  I remember loving, but also hating, “to be continued…” and season-ending cliffhangers.  Freaking out when my VCR didn’t record an episode or ran out of tape and missed the climax.  Wanting to make sure that I saw Dawson’s Creek, against my parents’ wishes, so that I would know what everyone was talking about in study hall the next day.

My middle school appointment viewing was great, but college DVD-fueled TV binge sessions are even better.  At my school, one of the perks of being an honors student was unlimited library checkouts for indefinite periods of time.  Once my friends and I realized that this privilege applied to DVDs, it was a game changer.  I’m dating myself, but this was before you could torrent an entire series with a click.  We’d call the library and say, “I’d like to request the X-Files.”  “Which disk?”  “All of them.”

X-Files Mulder ScullyTotally coming out of the dork closet, I’ll admit that this is how we spent countless nights freshman year.  And, even though we watched the whole series in order, at a rate of a few episodes an evening, I still never understood The Smoking Man.

I’ve binged on more TV shows than I’d probably care to admit, but have thoroughly enjoyed every one of them.  It might sound sad, but some of my favorite college memories come from sitting around in the dorm discussing the finer points of what we had been watching, or feeling that sense of group catharsis that comes when you finally reach the end of a series.  I still remember my friends stunned looks at the end of Serenity; their closure at the end of The West Wing.

Sure, this sense of closure could come at the end of seven years of watching instead of seven days.  But it wouldn’t be the same.  Binge watching is an affair.  A liaison that might not be a good idea, but that you’ll always look back on and smile.  When you binge watch shows they live fast and die young — and stay forever pretty.

Watching TV by clearpointphotography

Photo credit to Clear Point Photography.

So, go ahead, waste a Sunday – or a week.  Fall head over heels for a show and don’t look up until it’s over.  Lose yourself in the feeling of it; get lost in its universe.  Love it and leave it, and then move onto the next one.  Have a string of torrid TV affairs and binge on the cathartic emotional highs and lows that come with them.

But here’s a tip, don’t binge on Battlestar Galactica – the end won’t bring you catharsis, just disappointment.

Questions of the day: Do you binge watch TV?  What show do you recommend binging on?  Also, do you understand The Smoking Man?  Cause if you could explain him, that would be great!

Formerly MaggieCakes, Maggie (not Margaret) covers technology’s impact on culture, specifically on how we interact or connect with each other. Have a question or an idea you’d like me to write about? Leave a comment, or send me an e-mail: moc.teragramtoneiggam@eiggam

8 Responses to “Go Ahead, Have that Affair with Fox Mulder”

  1. Minnesota Transplant July 10, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

    Binge watch “Breaking Bad”! So bad it’s good.

    • Maggie O'Toole July 11, 2012 at 6:34 am #

      Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve heard so many good things about that series! I just got caught up on Downton Abbey, so I’m currently in the market for a new show to binge on. I’ll give Breaking Bad a try.

  2. Morgan Mussell July 10, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    No one ever understood the smoking man. I personally don’t binge-watch TV because it makes me restless, and after a favorite show’s run is over, seeing old episodes is sometimes depressing because I know there won’t be anymore (eg., Northern Exposure).

    On the other hand the notion that we cannot experience the essence of the TV experience without following the two or three essential story arcs is the most academically pompous drivel I’ve come across in some time.

    • Maggie O'Toole July 13, 2012 at 6:29 am #

      So it’s not just me! And, you don’t need to be depressed when a show’s over. Sometimes an active fan community can really bring the show back for more, e.g. Firefly and Arrested Development.

      As to the last part of your comment, clearly you haven’t been hanging out in the right parts of the internet. Compared to what I see most days, that barely ranks as academically pompous drivel!

  3. bardicblogger July 11, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

    From what I remember, Cancer Man (CSM) was someone who appeared to be a government villain but was actually just someone who just knew too much about the aliens plans for colonization and participated in immoral activities and cover-ups. He was also actually Mulders biological father. He, Mulder’s other father and other members of the Syndicate all had to allow one family member to be abducted. Mulder’s father chose Samantha and CSM chose his wife. Binge-watching can be great as long as there’s plenty to watch 🙂

    • Maggie O'Toole July 13, 2012 at 6:31 am #

      Wow, that’s the most cohesive explanation of the character that I’ve ever read! But, the story’s so convoluted that you explanation actually makes me feel better about not getting it before.

      • bardicblogger July 13, 2012 at 7:57 am #

        Thanks. It was always a bit confusing but then that’s what I liked about the X-Files. That and hunky Mulder…

  4. Felicia July 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    Hey Maggie, I loved your take on the Slate article. HuffPost Live is streaming a discussion on TV binging and we would love for you to be apart of the conversation. Please email me if interested. Thanks!

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