Oxford Dictionaries defines binge as “a short period devoted to indulging in an activity to excess, especially drinking alcohol or eating.” Mirriam-Webster defines it as “a short period of time when you do too much of something.”
I find these definitions rife with judgment, but maybe I’m reading too much into the definition (or not enough into the word – that is certainly a possibility).
Certainly it is possible to eat or drink (or do anything else) too much. If one makes doing so a habit, one might even find oneself in need of some sort of treatment. There’s no doubt that this word – binge – might be triggering to some, and with good reason. Moderation is generally a friend.
But when Andi prompted our writing community to reflect on the word binge this week, excess and too much were not the ideas that came to mind.
You see, what I binge on is TV. There is an element of escape to this. I admit that sometimes, I’m re-watching old episodes of Big Bang Theory because I am avoiding doing something productive (because humorous as it may be, this is not the show to watch for deep character development).
(The Gilmore Girls understand me.)
But most of the time, watching television is productive for me. A couple of weekends ago, for example, I spent the whole weekend curled up on the couch with the pups I was dog-sitting enjoying an Orange is the New Black marathon. 48 hours, two full seasons. Lots of popcorn.
And it was good for me.
I binge on story. I binge on characters. I like seeing how other people develop plot and show-don’t-tell personalities. I like stewing in the tension of not really liking a main character (Piper Chapman, I’m looking at you). I like it when seemingly random happenings appear later and branch into a whole new storyline (see the entire series of Arrested Development).
Could I get this same thing from reading books? I could, and I do. But unless it’s the book we’re discussing in book club that month, or it is a book I’m reading for class, the insights I glean from reading tend to remain as solitary insights. I love this, and it is valuable, but the beauty of television is that it gives me the opportunity to engage in discussion in real time. If learning story and character are a classroom, books are the texts and television is the in-class discussion.
Television affords me the opportunity to engage in the social aspect of learning. Again, books can do this as well, but they take more time. Television is almost immediate. My Twitter feed lights up when a beloved character finally gets the job/relationship/etc. that s/he wants. When a series premiere or finale happens, a quick internet search (or let’s be real – the people whose blogs I follow specifically because we share favorite shows) gives me speedy commentary on how well the writers and performers met our expectations and hopes for the episode.
This commentary is not limited to online fandom. When I was in grad school, I attended a panel at national conference on the feminist themes in Ally McBeal. I wrote papers on Ally McBeal (although my papers tended to focus more on how well the show handled the topic of loneliness and less on the feminism in the show, as that had already been widely discussed, leaving little exigence for further exploration). And if you’re bored some time, go to Google and type in “television after 9/11 site:.edu” (or just click on the link there), and see what pops up.
I can only imagine the multitude of hours of binge-watching it took to gather the information to write those papers. If my own experience is any indication, there are a lot of people who need to get to a therapist to discuss their worrisome indulgence in this excess behavior.
Or maybe – maybe – not all binges are bad. Maybe “too much” is sometimes just enough.