In practically every other context, a “binge” consumption is a disease. It’s something in need of psychiatric treatment, a five step program, or prescription narcotics.
Not the case, however, with our perhaps tongue-in-cheek modern sickness of “binge-watching,” a phenomenon significant enough it has found its way into Oxford:
[To] watch multiple episodes of (a television program) in rapid succession, typically by means of DVDs or digital streaming.
A few years ago, binge-watching was glossed over by some as “mostly harmless,” qualifying this claim with a disclaimer that anything pleasurable can become an addiction—without proper constraint. But who in this postmodern world of me-centric Millennials knows anything of constraint and self-control?
Comparing binge-watching television shows to crack usage, the results of a study on binge-watching was recently shared by NPR and other media outlets with a simplistic connection: those most susceptible to uncontrolled binge-watching sessions are also those most likely to be afflicted with loneliness, depression, and a lack of self-control.
But given that so many in my own generation and younger are taken by this addiction, is a blanket diagnosis of depression and loneliness really to blame? Is my entire generation lonely and depressed? What about the younger generation also taken in by this excessive diet of lights and sound? Those older?
I wouldn’t dispute at all a correlation between loneliness or depression and binge-watching (or binge-eating, binge-drinking, and other addictions, for that matter). I think it’s safe to assume a significant percentage of those engaging in regular courses of binge-watching are under a certain level of emotional distress, finding solace in a never-ending intake of The Office.
For me personally, the watching (or even binge-watching) of a television series on Netflix is largely motivated by a lack of quality options in contemporary media. Older television shows, with seasons of twenty-plus episodes spanning a decade or more, often exalt more admirable behavior and ethics, offer a better sense of humor driven less by shock or political agendas, and do less to intentionally undermine religion or the dynamics of a healthy family. In other words, it’s an “escape” to a seemingly better world with better writing and more likable characters.
But even given the best of intentions, a danger lurks beneath the surface.
Nostalgia is a great deceiver. Just as anxiety is a spiritual disease that impairs one from making the most of present circumstances, always looking to the past through a pair of rosy glasses does little to help one face reality. Our truth as human beings, created in the image of Christ, is neither in the past nor the future; our truth is of the present. If I may be so bold, truth is of the timeless and eternal, as Jesus Christ—the eternal one—is Truth himself.
In ancient Greek, nostalgia (νοσταλγία) is closely related to pain and sickness—a combination of νόστος and ἄλγος—a bittersweet longing for the past. But in the world today, we don’t see the pain of nostalgia, instead glorifying a version of the past that never really existed. The supposed “Golden age” of the Church, the pax Romana, and the indefinable “good ol’ days” that have always just passed. This is no country for old men. But by always longing for a world that isn’t our own, we are never really here. We are never really a part of our own lives. We are never really able to transcend the depths of the past, ascend to greater heights, and make ourselves (and the world around us) better.
At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with a fond appreciation for the shows and stories of the past. This can be a good and healthy thing, a way to stretch our imaginations and be reminded of the nuances and intricacies of past, present, and future. But when our binge-watching is merely a crutch for the lonely, a way for the depressed and downtrodden to escape their own realities, there is little good to be found.
Reality is between past and future. Within this space, and within this space alone, can we become more and more like Christ. Depression and anxiety are ultimately fixations on either past or future, obstacles in the way of embracing the present. And these versions of the past and future are, more often than not, wholly fictional and distorted. The products of an over-active imagination gone awry.
So don’t binge-watch the world go by. Don’t get so caught up in the distractions of this age that you miss the world altogether.
Instead, face the complications, the trials and the suffering, the mixed emotions and temptations of this present, evil age head on, knowing full well that Christ is with you in the here-and-now. In the eternal present that stretches out before us with every new breath.