On Binge-watching


I just finished Kokkoku (photo above) by watching it as it is released. I talked to a friend and told him that I do think that the experience I had watching the series is worth it on the weekly set up than it is on binge-watching. It’s not that I don’t have an option on watching all at once, one can always wait. It’s merely out of habit. This habit isn’t even on the occasion of “being first.” It’s just the way I consume anime: I can’t manage to find a time to binge-watch, so I find time for it every week. 25 minutes of watching time a week for a certain material do not hurt my daily activities. If anything, it enables me to engage with the material critically.

For the longest time, I always felt that there is something wrong with binge-watching. Like movie marathon, it reduces the experience of watching into a recreational activity. Like all art, as I’d like to consider tv-materials, anime is medium-specific. Industrial models work in such a way that they were configured for a reason: maybe for digestability, maybe for the thrill of anticipation, but bottomline, TV always rely on an imagined audience and an imagined audience reaction. Let’s do this or that so the audience will look forward for next week’s episode. Binge-watching a material meant to be a weekly serial does away with all those other experiences and reduces everything into mere consumption, like I said earlier, a mere recreational activity.

The dynamics between watching a serial ‘as it is released’ and binge-watching are on different poles. If you faithfully follow a serial as it is released, you squeeze in a schedule per week, you plan it to your weekly activities. More disciplined, or rather, demanding. It is almost as demanding as work itself. While what you look for if you are to binge-watch is a free day, a free time. At most cases, you collect a lot of audiovisual materials (say, soft copies of films and series copied from friends) hoping that one day, you’ll find time to see those. And when the day comes, you can’t even decide which one to see, by the end you just either see a whole season of a serial on that free day, or browse through the files and do not decide on watching any.

I don’t think it’s an issue of qualitative vs quantitative attitude on watching. You can even see that from the examples above, it’s either watching something — one episode a week — or not watching anything at all. Maybe your younger friends have more time so you can see them posting what they watch every single time. But it does not guarantee any substantial “viewing experience.” It’s the same difference, I think, between fordism and post-fordism — between assembly line 8-5 work, to outsourced 24/7 labor market. The definition of “free-time” on the earlier is more defined, while is more floating on the latter.

This lack of substance in viewing experience can be observed the kind of reactions younger “film reviewers” have to films they are paid to review for their respective websites. This phenomenon is something I have observed from my students as well, their reactions upon the films I asked them to watch are mere reactions. They are shocked, angry, or whatever feelings they had. Not that I think this is even new, but in the light of more recent tendencies enabled by new technologies, I am inclined to think otherwise that the kinds of reactions that they have are reflections of these tendencies.

It is not also that I am not guilty of this, but I seem to have better control of my reactions nowadays. The downside of this is the lessening of prolificity. Then again, I’m not being paid to write any reviews, so I focus my energies from time to time towards criticism and theorization than writing reviews. (Thankfully, the Vcinema gig isn’t a gig and our editor over there is more than open for me to write a short theory-piece instead of a review on the films they ask me to write about.)

Again, I’m not raising an issue over qualitative and quantitative attitudes. But more on attitude on consumption in general and the symptoms of the times which are being reflected on most film reviews and reactions by audiences online. If there are any existing scholars out there on audience studies, I think this is one of the more pressing issues.

2 responses to “On Binge-watching”

  1. As for me, the only compelling reason to watch a series on a weekly basis (or as it is aired) is because of communal analysis. Pretty much in every hit series, there is this weekly reddit thread that discusses what happened in the episode and it certainly increased my appreciation. I certainly had a lot of fun following r/freefolks when GOT S7 was airing.

    While I am also against total binge watching, it is also a litmus test on how good the series is since every episode is fresh on your memory. You get to notice inconsistencies in every episode quickly. Currently watching Steins Gate (on hold at the moment) and the whole episode 1 to 9 is just plain bad writing.

    Although this is of little concern, I have a habit on watching a film on “a series”. I watched it during lunch or dinner which lasted for more or less 25 minutes per session. This might run contrary above but watching it also on series gives a litmus test on how good every sequence is. By watching at a fresh start, a sequence can’t leverage on what happened previously (since the feeling is already lost for the audience) and must stand on its own. For instance, you have a sequence 1 with the MC being chased down and sequence 2 being an info dump on why MC is being chased down. If you watched it in succession, you’d somehow be lenient on sequence 2 since you are excited on info dump. Another case in point on this is every Naruto fight scene where they explain why a particular foe is defeated.

    On a broader sense, although not intended by the filmmaker, I like how the audience can change the experience by how he views it. For instance, there certainly a different feel if you watched a Star Wars sequence by 4,5,6, 1, 2,3 or 1,2,3,4,5,6.

    1. Hi,

      Finally a human commented on this blog.

      I’m not really going towards appreciating / appraising whether a work is good/bad, for me it’s just as petty as arguing on choosing between diet coke or coke zero. I’m more on engagement and digestion. The question I’ve raised go along with your first paragraph, that binge-watching does not enable one to engage with the work fully. Like film marathons, in the end, we will go into petty argumentation of bourgeois aesthetics instead of, say, really internalizing and understanding how every formal element of the work works? Say, if Steins;Gate has “bad writing”, how did it go along with other aspects of its form? (not to mention the kind of material it handles certainly make it a requirement for it to have “bad writing”, if you may. That is, if you have the same notion as I am of “bad writing” (industrially motivated, pseudo-complex conflict, etc).)

      This isn’t to say that “all materials are good”, rather, I’m too beyond that already. I’m more concerned now on how things work. If I didn’t liked the material, how did it made me not want it? These are the kinds of things we will never get on binge watching and marathons. Experience is still relative, no one can prove yet if there is any difference or similarity of viewing experiences, unless, if it can be expressed into a formal analysis. The only thing formal in viewing attitude that is observable is its quantitative aspect, the one I address on this piece, and the kind of reaction (written, discursive, otherwise) that it generates.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *