Discovering cinema, its history and its authors may not be easy in the age of binge watching, even if everything, apparently, is available and within reach. Today the big binge, the filmmaker Marco Ferreri would be happy, seems fashionable in every sector. From all you can eat Chinese restaurants to hypertrophic binge watching, launched as a fashion by the giants of streaming.
The western night at home model has established itself globally, touted by the same happy looks and a little idiotic teenagers, fathers and mothers looking like they came out of a commercial for a cookie brand. But does this way of consuming films and shows serve our personal growth?
What is binge watching
Binge watching comes from the union of binge and watching, or “binge of vision”. In English, during the 19th century, binge was used to define intoxication, understood as being soaking wet; later, about a century later, alcohol abuse is called binge drinking, and the term binge begins to be applied, always with a negative connotation, to other types of excesses: since 1959 binge eating began to be used in psychiatric publications for indicate binge eating disorder.
The first binge watching already existed in the 1940s, with series like “The Twilight Zone”. One of the first modern binge watching seems to be, in 1996, that of the X-Files television series. But the popularity of binge watching explodes in 2010, with the emergence of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, able to guarantee the binge with a vast amount of content. In particular in 2013, the year in which Netflix began distributing unreleased television series making entire seasons available at the same time. In that year she was oddly nominated for “word of the year” according to Oxford University Press. A couple of years later it was chosen as the “word of the year” by HarperCollins’ Collins English Dictionary. Mah.
Binge watching explodes
Apparently many young Americans have gone crazy for binge watching from 2010 onwards. And fashion starts from the United States to infect the rest of the world. Anthropologists and psychologists define it both positively and negatively. Some argue that it is a contemplative and intelligent way to watch good television and good cinema. They argue that binge watching constitutes a cultural enhancement with literary and cinematographic aspirations.
Others have expressed negative opinions highlighting the superficiality characteristic of binge watching, without paying attention to the nuances of the story and without anticipating the wait for the release of a new episode. It seems to some that this obsessive desire for binge watching stems from a brain chemistry similar to that caused by drugs or hypnosis. An activity of neurons that promote the release of endorphins able to relax and make you want the prolongation of vision as much as possible. In recent years, a more accurate study by the University of Texas has shown that binge watching is often the cause of depression, loneliness, inability to self-manage and obesity, just as it does in many other types of excesses.
The typical portrait of the serial binge watcher seems to be that of a depressed and lonely person, mainly between the ages of 18 and 29. A practice that the interviewees themselves defined as effective in warding off their negative thoughts and feelings. Up to the point of reaching a real inability to turn off the television. In short, a real addiction. A drug that makes us forget reality temporarily.
Binge watching platforms
What comes before us when we subscribe to a large streaming platform is a large supermarket, often suggested by images of film posters and series without borders, an endless video library. And in fact it is. Above all commercial products that pretend to be new cinematic avant-gardes, and hasty and approximate proposals regarding arthouse cinema and its paths of discovery. A large supermarket where you can fill the shopping cart for a feast, with a moderate price. A gigantic all you can eat where the focus is not on quality and the creation of awareness of what we are looking at, but on quantity, the feverish discovery of novelty and new trend. The big binge.
Let’s go around with our plate and we can take whatever we want. What this stuff is and how it should be eaten, however, no one explains it to us. There is no chef who illustrates it to us. Some might confuse an exotic dessert with a first course and eat it before the meat. It doesn’t even seem interesting to say who cooked it. What you are interested in is that it is ours, it is exclusive, original, you can only find it with us. Someone might answer: but who cares. There is no criterion that guides us on a journey of discovery. There is no goal other than to stuff the customer with as much stuff as possible and get them to pay.
The great indigestion
But the experience that such a path of vision leaves us is somewhat mediocre. And like nibbling here and there on a huge table set by jumping from fish, to grilled meat, then back to raw seafood after tasting the dessert. The lack of a criterion, of a path that is enriched and makes us grasp a broader meaning, leaves us somewhat confused. The result is that the dishes taken one by one may be delicious (rare case) but a big senseless binge leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and a bad and troubled digestion.
The serial consumption of streaming, according to the predominant view, is based on this. On the indigestion of all you can eat entertainment that leave you stunned. On open bar drunkenness, with $ 10 you drink whatever you want. But as the character of a prostitute says towards the end of the great film Not a country for old men, “beer calls for more beer”.
Binge watching works because the frenzied consumption of visual products obtains two results: the stupefaction with which you lose sight of the quality of what you see, you become attached to the characters, and it is easier to serve mediocre audiovisual products and simple to conceive.
There is no need for an author’s worldview, nor for an avant-garde movement. Indeed the author disappears, he is no longer even mentioned. Instead, the characters and the performers are important, those faces you have to become attached to. The focus is the monopoly of your attention: the greedier you are, the longer you stay in the network, the more loyal you are.
The mechanisms of serial narration
The narrative and serial production mechanisms revolve around the goal of keeping the audience captured by the screen with almost always superfluous subplots, which would make a cinematic film “unsuccessful”. They are stories written with formulas that the writers know well. Advance the story as little as possible and give definitive points of view as slowly as possible. In each episode, the actual narration and the unveiling of the characters is only 10, 20%.
We want to entertain for as long as possible with superfluous scenes, digressions on the protagonists and collateral stories that serve little or nothing for the progression of the story and to define a “vision of the world” of the author. The author, who in most cases, has vanished from the credits. He’s just a craftsman in the service of a machine that makes stories like an assembly line, and rejects personal points of view.
Binge watching drunkenness is the contemporary trend of using commercial streaming platforms, inspired by the success of Youtube. It does not aim at any path of personal, cultural or in-depth growth. Series and movies in industrial quantities shot on the video for pure entertainment. Movies or series to be found mostly randomly or based on what we want viewers to watch, with the suggestion algorithm.
The film club of false intellectuals
The integralist film clubs of the 70s forced the poor employee Fantozzi to view consecutive films of 50 reels. Maybe they were the opposite of binge watching. But recovering cinema and its art through a criterion of vision is not something that interests only the intellectual fanatics of the film clubs. Or the students of film schools or universities, or the hardened cinephiles. Cinema is the eye of the 20th century, the cine eye of Dziga Vertov, and tells our story much better than school books, with powerful images, memorable faces and sets.
It’s something that helps raise awareness beyond the world of art films. A knowledge denied by school, by public television, by all institutions in general, because it is seen as a niche that does not bring earnings, a hobby of pseudo-intellectuals, committed and sad visions in which the general public is not interested. Binge watching of cult films is unthinkable for many.
We give what we like
The general public would be interested mainly in talk shows, reality shows, TV series or commercial films. And the TV, even if it bears the slogan of “public service” stuck on it, is adapting. The art film deserves no visibility other than that of the schedules just before dawn, for a people of marginalized night owls, arthouse films circulate like zombies before society wakes up and returns to its daily occupations, to its business practices. Ending the evening with a new light commercial entertainment.
Where does this gray vision of cinema come from? Fantozzi explains it to us well. It comes from those academic professors who have created an aura of boredom and heaviness around a certain type of cinema. From the universities that for decades have proposed film culture as a punishment, worse than the study of ancient Greek or algebraic mathematics. It derives from the political exploitation of art and its intellectual party fanatics, from militant film clubs. Finally, it derives from the editorial line of the major television networks.
The editorial line of binge watching
But the truth is, they’re wrong. Art films are much more fun than TV series or commercial films. Discovering historical contexts, brilliant artists poised between normality and madness is more fun than binge watching. Images out of the norm much, much more fun and fascinating than the umpteenth series in streaming with glossy images. Visions of cult films, old and new avant-gardes that become a personal necessity, from a search and from a thirst for inner knowledge that can only be minimally stimulated from the outside.
TV has chosen the path of increasingly vulgar entertainment, forming generations of spectators ready to amuse themselves with the musical garbage of the last song festival or with the pre-evening telequiz. They are part of the same jam, in the end they are also presented by the same TV host. But what should TV do, many might argue, broadcast avant-garde films in the morning instead of the recipe column or Beautiful for Housewives?
The television supermarket
Probably not, but he certainly should have found a healthier balance. Maybe even those comedies or comedy films that are milestones of twentieth century culture are known in the morning and afternoon schedule. Maybe even pay a cinema expert to present the films and give them a clue, cutting a few thousand euros from the millionaire budgets of TV presenters or showmen. Which in some cases are also characters whose talent or actual area of expertise is not clear.
Finding the quality movie in the binge watching supermarket of a streaming platform means not understanding anything about the context in which that movie was made, and not having the tools to link the viewing to other movies. Not having a broader view of cinematographic art and knowing the paths we are interested in following.
For now, institutions have not considered cinema to be a cultural subject on the same level as languages, history or mathematics. Cinema is the eye of the twentieth century. But for the institutions it is above all entertainment and escapism. Never bring up a critic, a historian or a cultural mediator of the cinema before 2 am: the risk is the fantozzi revolt of the employees and the collapse of the audience.
We therefore want to propose a new practice of vision, a philosophy of life and cinema, an alternative to binge watching: the conscious watching. conscious watching is not a binge, but it should be taken in small doses, slowly. It is not addictive, it can only cause a positive “addiction”. Linking the films of the same author, of the same historical period or of the same avant-garde movement is essential to explore the hypertext of film culture and its genres. And it can be an extremely fun and interesting activity, whatever the thesis of the current mainstream channel, and its ranks of small imitators trying to replicate their recipe for sure success.
Through conscious watching films connect to other arts, to the characters who created and produced them, to the performers who participated in them, with paths that are sometimes more interesting than individual films. Platform recommendation engines are therefore not something that can replace ideas and culture. The recommendation engine is something that can be good from a utilitarian point of view, if I have to look for cooking or marketing tutorials, or if I want to binge and binge watch and don’t know how.
Conscious watching works much better for creating your own personal baggage growth and a complete vision of the topic that interests us. The recommendation engine must be in the head of each of us. When we begin to know and explore a certain world, perhaps with the help of our autopilot.