Great Gusto

Published in Abstract Magazine, 2016


Is “binging” necessarily a bad thing? Most definitions I’ve read include the words; “to excess” and “more than desirable,” which begs the question of ‘desirable’ by whom, and how far is too far?

For those of us with Netflix et al, we binge (and yes, even binge to excess, which is double the definition and really saying something) and go all out on movies, documentaries, and particularly television shows. This has not always been the case; I remember originally trying to watch 24 when it was on television, waiting patiently for each weekly installment before ultimately losing interest.

Everything changed for me one time when I got quite sick and one of the prescriptions my doctor gave me kept me wide awake for most of the next week. So I Netflixed nearly the entire five seasons of Breaking Bad. Despite the fact that I suffered for seven days with two inner ear infections, I had a pretty good time.

I haven’t been as sick since then but I’ve kept binging, absorbing hours of Game of Thrones,

Downton Abbey, Arrested Development, Twin Peaks, and Lost with great gusto and aplomb. I’ve even rediscovered Jack Bauer and caught up on my 24. Binging has given these shows new life.

Netflix conducted a study, which found among other things, that 61% of respondents said they regularly binge-watched shows and that 73% have positive feelings towards binge streaming TV. Naturally, show creators have taken notice of this phenomenon.

“It’s very possible we wouldn’t have made it…without this creation of these technologies and this cultural creation of binge-watching,” says Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan in an interview with Wired. “Under the old paradigm – using the old technology of simply having first runs and then reruns on networks – I don’t know that we would’ve reached the critical mass that we reached.”

Despite the popularity,’s Jim Pagel argues that binging TV shows disturbs the integrity of individual episodes and destroys the pleasure found in cliffhangers. No time to mull over Red Weddings, or the Dharma Initiative, or the Man From Another Place.

James Poniewozik of Time Magazine is on the other side of the fence, noting that the surest sign a medium is changing is when people start to romanticize the very features of it that used to be condemned, and that the episodic nature of television is an advertising, rather than a storytelling, device. Poniewozik compares watching to reading: sometimes you tear through a novel in a weekend, other times you savor it over the course of a month or twono harm in either method.

Consider “House of Cards,” (a Netflix original series) where every episode of each season is released all at once online, and it’s up to the viewer to decide how quickly or slowly they’d like to consume it.

No one’s even quite sure what constitutes a “binge.” According to a Harris Interactive Poll, watching just two episodes of something in one sitting qualifies. But that means simply catching a couple episodes of Parks and Recreation in a row counts as a binge–a dubious idea considering that’s less than half the time it takes to watch your average movie.

Maybe it’s just time to retire the phrase, “binge watching.” After all, binge eating, drinking, shopping, and working all qualify as serious medical issues. But there must be some ways to go all out or ‘to excess’ that aren’t destructive–what of getting ahead on our gardening, exercising, or household projects?

Are those hours spent curled up in our favorite chair with a good book considered a binge read? How about time spent pursuing our life goals? I don’t think anyone speaks of Michael Jordan as having binged on basketball, or Neil Armstrong on a moon-binge.

We need to find a word to use when we immerse ourselves in what we love, completely, for an extended period of time, and while remaining healthy, responsible, and safe. Because that’s what I want: to grab life in great big heaping lumps; one moment, experience–or episode!–at a time.