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.