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Binge watching – The Millennials’ escape from life’s emotional realities?

Binge watching – The Millennials’ escape from life’s emotional realities?

Radhika Ghanekar

Counsellor, Maanas, Ahmedabad

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I remember that a large part of my adolescence revolved around the Disney channel. I’d get back from school and watch all the shows that lined up from 5 pm to almost 9 pm. (Fond memories of Zack and Cody, Jonas Brothers, Lizzie McGuire!) Television played a major role around that time; to the point that, there used to be glorious fights in my house around who’d get the remote!

Binge Watching – possible now thanks to Online Media

It’s very very rare today that, a millennial, excitedly, sits in front of the TV, clutching on to the remote, to relish that half an hour or one hour of serial time. I recall how we scheduled things around a TV show; all of us getting together the next day and discussing it. That half an hour was weirdly satisfying; in a way that it left you wanting more and delayed gratification; so  that, you could immerse yourself into other experiences for the rest of the day.

What Netflix and other online media changed was that it gave access to shows around the globe. Entertainment/infotainment became available by just tapping on your phone; and, in such great abundance that one could go on to consume it as much as one liked; leading to Binge watching.

Millennials’ need to fit into the Pop culture

Somewhere during my 9th or 10th grade, there was this whole phase of people passing on their precious stash of TV shows to one another on their pen-drives. There was a lot of excitement around watching everything religiously, thereby indulging more and more in pop culture.

Pop culture, for millennials, became one of the main points of conversation; and hence, one of the major ways of bonding and building connections. Over a period of time, I’ve seen that each one of us may have very diverse, varied reasons or purposes for immersing ourselves in this highly stimulating world of binge watching- be it fitting in or falling in love with a story or opening oneself to channels of knowledge and cultures or good wholesome entertainment!

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Binge watching affecting emotional realities

As much as this stands true, binge watching, today, has also led people to be closed off from their own emotional systems and realities. It has become a security blanket, a source of protection, a friend who walks in the shadows and can be beckoned when things get overwhelming.

Some of the typical ways in which people escape from life’s realities are

1.Binge watching: It fills a void

When we experience a void inside (this void could be due to the absence of a person, of an emotion/s, of purpose or of self), TV shows work as temporary emptiness repellents. They give a semblance of fullness for a while, as they help you fill up your time; in a way that, you don’t have to engage with that feeling of “missing something” within. Facing and addressing that void seems scary; it feels like a black hole that would suck you in.Binge watching becomes the easier alternative.

But, in reality, it is nothing but a need. An emotional need that requires addressing; just like our physical needs do. Imagine watching 10 hours of a show when you are feeling hungry, in the hope that the hunger would go away! As ridiculous as this sounds, just as the hunger won’t go away , the void also isn’t going anywhere; unless it is attended to, heard and taken care of.

Empty spaces within can be filled by nurturance; not by just engaging with activities or things. 

2.Binge watching: Adds meaning and purpose

As an extension to the first point, I’d also like to add that apart from filling or replacing that void, binging gives a temporary sense of meaning, by helping us fill our time.

We all look for higher meaning and purpose to guide us; and steer us into some direction. As children, there is a sense of purpose that is already laid out for us – go to school, pass exams, move to college. As we grow up and shoulder the responsibility of carving a life for ourselves, we begin to look for things that are likely to make us happy; expand our sense of self and help us flourish. We keep searching consciously or unconsciously for elements that resonate with us. This journey is long, unpredictable and sometimes, is likely to create despair and impatience. “Netflix and chill” moves people away from this despair for a while; by adding a fleeting sense of meaning to our life. The flip side to it, however, is that the more it is used as a shield, it doesn’t allow you to find those meaningful relationships, careers, work or soulful hobbies.

3.Binge watching: It keeps loneliness at bay

Loneliness is an unpleasant experience and definitely difficult to deal with. You may have people around you, people you can hang out with or have fun with, yet deep inside you may experience yourself as lonely. Sometimes, when this feeling takes over or becomes overpowering, yes, binging can act like a balm and can perk your system up in the moment. However, the antidote to loneliness is connection – with people and with self. Binging on shows constantly, helps you to be a part of a different reality; full of diverse characters you may feel connected to; but it cuts you off from the reality which is very much yours.

Relating to/connecting with your favourite people on TV is great; but it’s a good idea to find real relations when loneliness knocks at your door. It may mean having an intimate chat with a close friend; or reflecting, while sharing a cup of coffee with yourself!

“I need to stop”, I whispered to myself, as I clicked ‘next episode’!

Time for a Wake up Call – Get back to reality

It is truly amazing how we can enter different worlds of stories everyday and can become one with them. We can vicariously (via the lives on TV), have successful careers in the legendary Manhattan, or walk along the beaches of Andamans; live in an apartment with friends or share a beautiful cobblestone house with your loved one. Our ability to empathise can lead us to feel the pain of the characters, celebrate their victories and cheer them in their endless struggles. We allow ourselves to feel all the emotions ranging from anger to fear, disgust to hopefulness, grief to love, as we watch and live the lives that unfold on the screen.

I see that we can do so much, live so much through the journeys of millions of characters we witness. I guess, that tells me that we have the ability to do the same for ourselves as we witness our own journey, become active participants of it and become one with it! 

Take the journey of navigating through your own reality, the one that’s as beautiful and entangled as the one on the screen. Surround yourself with a few close ones (family or friends), find a therapist or other sources of healing; that help you courageously grow and not just protect or shield you from your own internal difficulties!

This article was first published in From the Brewery of life

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