Monday, December 28, 2020

Binge Watch Sorrow?

has an excellent post up at TAGN, looking back at a year of what he describes as "binge watching" but which I would probably just characterize as normalized twenty-first century viewing habits. It's such a well-structured piece I mentioned in the comments that I planned to steal the headings for a cover version. And so I have.

  • No commercials is pretty nice.

Yeah, that's one thing we already kinda know, here in the UK. I grew up watching tv without commercials (or, as we used to call them, and as older people still do, "adverts") because about ninety per cent of everything I watched was on the BBC. It was a class thing to some extent, the way everything in Britain is a class thing (everything in the world, actually, only most cultures aren't as comfortable about saying so, openly). It was also an education thing. 

My family being weirdly muddled about class the way a lot of families were in the sixties and seventies, we used to watch ITV sometimes but we felt bad about it because watching "the commercial channel" was something the lower classes did. (We only had the one back then and come to think of it, why did we call it "the commercial channel" but call the commercials "adverts"?).

Actually, that's post hoc rationalization. I was a child and I didn't think about stuff like that and my grandparents, with whom I grew up, were Quakers from a rural and working-class background, who I never heard mention "class" at all. My mother wore mini-skirts and rode around on a Lambretta like she was expecting David Bailey to pop out of a hedge at any moment so I don't imagine anyone around me was heavy into sociological placement theory. We just didn't like our shows being interrupted by commercials. Seriously, who does?

  • I still won’t buy pay-per-View.

Me neither. In fact, to date I never have. I've thought about it a few times but so far there's never been anything I felt I couldn't wait a little longer to see. Or a lot longer. Or never see at all. 

I will buy virtual, though. I don't like to. I prefer to buy on DVD (Yes, still. And I don't even have a Blu-Ray player so it really is DVD) for reasons that I'll cover in a later bullet point. It annoys me that, as Wilhelm says, you never really own anything you buy digitally and in practical terms I'll probably never get around to re-watching stuff I buy that way anyway, so the difference between buying the one-off option to watch it on pay-per-view and "owning" it is notional at best... but there you are. I never said I was rational. 


  • There are too damn many streaming services.

So infuriatingly true.  There are way too many streaming services, each with their own exclusives, but worse still they aren't all available in all territories and even when they are some of them operate local programming. I would dearly love to be able to watch all of the shows that used to be on DC Universe but before that even got rolled out to the UK it got rolled up into HBOMax, which is unlikely to launch here until at least 2024 because of HBO's existing contract with Sky and I am damned if I am going to subscribe to Sky in this or any other lifetime, not even to watch the Legion, which I think got cancelled before it got made, anyway.

Then there are the sub-streams. What even is "Starzplay"? I already subscribe to Amazon Prime. How is it they're showing me stuff from a supposedly separate service to which I have to subscribe yet again? Do they own it? If so, why isn't included? If not, why is it even there? I managed to get around it the first time by taking the free trial for a month so I could watch the only Starzplay show that interested me, Doom Patrol, before cancelling without having to pay but that trick won't work for Doom Patrol season two, which I have variously heard is better/as good/not as good as the first. I'm going to have to wait until it comes out on DVD.

I already have too many subscriptions. Let's see... for games I have Daybreak's All Access and I haven't cancelled World of Warcraft yet although I probably should. For media I have Amazon Prime and Netflix. There's also a hosting service for Mrs Bhagpuss's business website, which I pay for, for some reason, and our ISP, which she does. Do I want any more? No I do not. But I bet I'm going to end up with some, anyway.

  • Finding things is hard.

Isn't it, though? Wilhelm was talking more about the problem of knowing what to watch next but as I said in the comments, I've found other bloggers to be a more than adequate source of recommendations. No, what I find unecessarily difficult is navigating the totally useless interfaces someone seems to imagine are aesthetically pleasing and functionally valid. Which they are not.

Seriously, can anyone find anything on these these shuffleboards? It's all lines of categories that make no sense even if the same dozen shows didn't just replicate over and over across all of them. Why is it we hear so much about algorithms and AI and how they're going to replace human thought and yet at the same time everyone complains constantly about how fecking useless they are? 

All I really want is a basic, searchable a-z list. Is that so hard? I want to be able to type "sitcom" into a search field and get an alphebetized list of every sitcom on Netflix. If I could then narrow down my search by keywords, like "1990s" or "US" or "New York" that would be aces but honestly I'd just settle for plain, vanilla a to z.

Someone's going to pop up the comments explaining how I can already do that, I bet. I hope so...


  • I am torn on weekly versus all at once content.

Me too. Although "torn" is putting it a bit strongly. I'm skewed heavily towards "all at once". In theory I have some lingering nostalgic affection for the days when I'd meet up with friends and we'd get drunk arguing over the latest plot turns in some tv show or other. Or when a conversation would start up at work about some sitcom relationship development and everyone would take sides.

Was that really all that great, though? Or was it just something we did? And people still do do it where I work only they do it about shows I don't watch and movies I haven't seen. And really, it doesn't make any of them sound all that interesting. The people or the shows.

Against that, there's the truly huge benefit of actually being able to remember, in detail, what happened not just in the previous episode but the previous season. In the days when we all used to watch this stuff as it was broadcast it would have been a week since you saw the last episode and maybe a year (or several) since you saw the season where the current plot developments were set in motion.

Condensing a decade of broadcast television into a few weeks or even a few days of concentrated viewing is a genuine, intellectual paradigm shift. It brings the architectonics of the form into clear relief. I can see how the whole thing works and that's glorious. It adds a whole new level, creates a deeper texture, makes everything matter more. 

Movies always worked this way. You commit yourself to their reality for a fixed period as your own slides into the background. Emotional connections and reactions are heightened. Reality bends. It's one of the reasons cinema was taken so very much more seriously than television for so long. Now that gap has narrowed. About all that cinema has left is the communal experience and since the pandemic not even that.

  • We have been biased towards shows versus movies.

Following on from the last point, what tv shows have that movies don't is length. A very, very long commercial movie (shut up Andy - I said "commercial") might run three and half hours. Even a very short tv series runs twice that long and many hit three figures. There used to be a trade-off between length and quality but those days are long over. Now you get movie quality at tv length and there's a feedback function whereby sustained quality for longer produces even higher quality, at least in terms of emotional engagement. 

I could hammer out a list of fifty, a hundred movies that I love and which have affected and moved me deeply but in all but a handful of cases I can't pretend I have an imagined emotional relationship with their characters the way I do with the dramatis personae of Buffy or Parks and Recreation or Roswell or Bojack Horseman... or even frickin' How I Met Your Mother, which I'm seven seasons into right now and all of whose characters I would happily slap, vigorously and repeatedly, with a wet fish, and yet who feel, bizarrely and disturbingly, like people I somehow actually know.

So, yes, tv shows over movies for me, right now. It'll change if and when I want to get my emotional hit in concentrated form rather than slow release. Bound to happen, sometime.

  • I could cut the cord were it not for sports.

Well, for a start, I don't have a cord. We don't have any kind of cable contract and never have had, even though we do, quite literally, have "cable". We've had a fiber-optic connection since the mid-90s, when the city we live in was an early adopter of the technology. It's one of the reasons we haven't moved yet. But we've never used it for anything other than the internet.

As for sports, the only one I'm really interested in is cricket and I only like to listen to that on the radio.

  • It really sucks when the internet goes down.

Yeah, it does. Fortunately, that's very rare in our house. And we do have other options, namely several hundred DVDs. Because we're old people, so we still buy those. In fact, we buy DVDs of the same things we watch on streaming sevices and then we watch them on the streaming services and don't watch the DVDs, which often we don't even take out of the shrink-wrap. Because as well as being old people we're also pack-rats and we like stuff we can touch. And hoard. And paw over.

Of course, as anyone who's ever played an mmorpg knows, the moment you lose access to something you can't think of anything else other than that thing even if before then you weren't thinking about that thing at all. So having a load of offline options really only works when the internet isn't down so, yes, it really sucks when that happens. 


  • It does not replace the theater experience.

No, it does not. But then, it's been a long time since I went to the theater. Actually, it's been a very, very long time since I went to the theater, because over here "the theater" is not what we call the place they show movies. We call that "the cinema". The theater is where people walk about and project and you have to use opera glasses if you want to see their expressions (Except, naturally, it's not the opera, either. Who names this stuff?).

In the 1980s I went to the movies every week or two. In the nineties that dropped to every couple of months and by the turn of the millennium I was down to two or three times a year. Of late it's been an annual outing with my friend on one of our birthdays and some years we don't even manage that. And yet, I agree, watching movies at home doesn't quite equate to seeing them in the dark with a bunch of strangers. Will that ever happen again? For some people, surely. For me, this last year may have broken my habit for good.

On the other hand, my mother, who is eighty-eight years old, has been going to the cinema almost weekly since the 1940s. She's the one who's been missing the live cinema experience during the pandemic. So it's not just a young person's thing. Maybe I'll follow her example and get back to the cinema on the regular when I retire. If there are any cinemas left by then.

  • I still cannot watch exactly what I want on demand. 

See above. This is a real problem because we are all spoiled babies who have to have everything we want right now. Or maybe because in an age of digital technology it should be possible to have all of human creativity immediately accessible to everyone at the click of a button. One of the two.

And, honestly? I'm okay with some shortages in the supply chain. I grew up in a world where you counted yourself lucky if you even happened across an article in a magazine that mentioned some movie or tv show or record album or book that sounded like it might be something you'd get excited by if you ever managed to find it, which you had to assume you never would if it was any older than that year, or that month, or that week, depending on the medium. 

Your chances of experiencing almost anything first-hand were infinitesimal and you knew it, so imagine how utterly stoked you'd feel when, once in deep blue moon, incredibly, unbelievably, serendipitously, you'd stumble, in a flea market or a yard sale, upon a copy of something you'd only ever heard about. Or when you switched on the tv late at night and saw an elusive title roll across the screen....

Yes, I'm very much happier that nowadays I can discover anything from the last hundred and fifty years from the comfort of my chair, read about it in depth and in detail, for free, then order a copy to stream on my screen immediately or be delivered to my house the next day. That's how it should be. But it's still nice, just once in a while, to have to work for it. And maybe it's good to know that, just very occasionally, there are a few things that will remain forever out of reach.

I mean, we can't always get what we want, right? But we can try. And, sometimes, we get what we need. Kinda...

Yeah, no. Gimme it all and gimme it now.


  1. Class is strange in the US due to geographic dispersion and immigration. Class is often localized. New Yorkers don't care who you are if you don't live there. Alabama has a full fledged aristocracy that runs the state. I have even seen the US civil war explained as a continuation of the English civil war because the south was ruled by royalist cavaliers and the north by Cromwellian Protestants. But when it comes to television, there is public TV over here which has generally been regarded as a staple of those who consider themselves the intellectual elite, being stuffy and boring and full of foreign, mostly English, programming. Alistair Cooke introducing Masterpiece Theater featuring some interminable British drama like Poldark or Upstairs Downstairs is the quintessential view of US Public television. Watching only public TV was the sort of thing academics bragged about back in the day. But that image was largely the product of a few big city public TV stations.

    When you strayed outside of the broadcast range of New York, Boston, Chicago, SF, or LA, public television often reverted down to something more akin to local access TV with locally produced and locally focused (and often low quality) programming, which was the original idea. It was not supposed to be a conduit for British culture and Sesame Street, but the big stations made money by letting the small stations fill air time with syndicated shows, the way commercial TV did, so the line between commercial and public TV here isn't as dramatic as one might like to imagine. Money still drives everything and it was cheaper to buy the rights to air Doctor Who or The Prisoner than produce new shows. In Silicon Valley, which was a backwater when I was born, farmland that could be had for cheap by electronics companies looking to grab graduates from Berkeley and Stanford and otherwise looked down upon by SF and Oakland, we had a couple of low budget public TV stations that showed the big shows during prime time, but then had unique and off-brand line ups outside of those hours.

    Public TV here is also not supposed to have commercials, though that really depends on how you define commercials. I'm pretty sure padding out five minutes at either end of every hour of programming with lavishly filmed clips from corporate sponsors counts. And don't get me started on the member supported pledge drives twice a year. Those were enough to drive people back to commercial TV.

    One of the side effects of big city public TV in the 70s was that it generated the idea that British TV was so much better than our own, largely due to the fact that PBS was able to cherry pick the best stuff. In the late 80s and 90s, when cable channels really began to blossom and there was a huge amount of air time to be filled, we started getting a lot more fair-to-middling British TV which somewhat tarnished the idea that everything from the UK is pure gold. However, we remain suckers for the accent, so your dreck always seems just slightly better than our own.

    As for being able to watch anything and everything on demand, I think that is akin to the flying car, something we'll be promised is coming soon that will never arrive.

    1. Don't get me started on the quality of British vs American TV or any other aspect of culture. That's always been a minefield and astonishingly still is, although by now you'd think the weight of evidence in favor of the US would have crushed any opposition. That said, I have never been to the US so I'm probably suffering from much the same kind of cherry-picking only in reverse. I know that back in the 80s and 90s when I talked to friends who'd spent some time in the States their reports on what they'd ended up watching in hotel rooms and similar moments of enforced lesiure were less than complementary. I guess no-one exports their garbage (well, okay, literal garbage...).

      As for the supposed absence of commercials on public service broadcasting, I go through phases of listening to American PBS radio and there are two things that usually bring one of those phases to an end: one is not being able to find anything but re-cycled British shows I've already heard and the other is the funding drives. Geez! I have never heard anything like it! Or so much of it. I'd take actual commercials over that any day.

  2. When my kids once explained the Google search engine to my father-in-law and how it was able to find anything out there in the Internet, he managed to stump what he called "The Googles" by asking it for a very specific medical research paper, which was likely behind a paywall. And that's even assuming it was uploaded in the first place.

    In addition, one of the musical genres I listen to is Classical music, and if there's one way to stump a music service it's by trying to get it to find a very specific recording of a piece, especially if it's not one of the major labels.

    So I'm used to finding out the limitations of the internet, which doesn't bother me nearly as much as others.

    1. I'm still using Duck Duck Go as my search engine and it does occur to me occasionally when i can't find something that maybe it's because I'm not using Google. Even so, I rarely bother to open Google and search again. Mostly I decide I didn't need to know whatever it was that badly after all.

  3. I pirate anything I want to watch, unless it's an obscure show I'm extremely grateful to a company for translating/archiving on media. Then I buy physical releases and forget to ever open them.

    1. Pirating is a weird concept these days. I watch a lot of things on YouTube that almost certainly are there in breach of some kind of regulation or law but I don't think of it as "pirating". I also download a lot of video (almost all music) from YouTube because I have a morbid fear that if I ever want to see it again it won't be there (although, as the Me and Mia example in this post exemplifies, it's always the one yoyu didn't download that you end up wanting to see again and that isn't there any more).


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