First of all, I think it bears mentioning that I do have a qualm or two about posting this in the wake of my smartphone post…could I be any more preachy in my cautionary tales against technology? Seriously, if my life were a movie, I’d be like, the Woody Harrelson character. It’s really not a superiority thing; I just try to be wary of anything that serves mainly as a distraction and simultaneously makes us feel like we can’t live without it, thereby worming its way into totally controlling our lives. That way, I’ll perhaps be able to maintain at least a semblance of a grip on reality when the events of a Michael Crichton novel inevitably come to pass. But, at least with the smartphone post, I didn’t have to feel the sneaking sting of hypocrisy *quite* as much because I’m still rockin’ dat LG slider phone. But now, I might as well just not even write this post considering how completely I’ve succumbed, body and soul, to the siren song of the thing I’m about to criticize. And I’m not referring to like, occasional guilty dabbling. I’m all in with it. I’m talkin’ ‘bout the best $8.99 I spend a month – my boo Netflix.
If you’ve spent any time at all on the internet, you have at least a small idea of what a huge place Netflix has in the hearts of the millennial generation. Knowing TV shows is essential to understanding linguistic shorthands and cultural inside jokes, the pictures accompanying articles are often TV screenshots, long-since-cancelled shows like Twin Peaks and Arrested Development are enjoying a new wave of fans, and it’s perfectly acceptable to consider a fictitious personage like Barney Stinson or Tina Belcher a personal hero and role model. And HOW would we have such a thorough knowledge of these shows, references, shorthands, and characters if not for Netflix – taping shows on VHS? Doubt it.
In a way, it is cool – incredibly creative and talented minds are involved in making TV shows. Each episode is a work of creative art, albeit a bit lowbrow, and it’s awesome that the product of that creativity has such a place in the everyday lives and conversations of larger society. Shows capture and, to some extent, mold the cultural zeitgeist, and I think that with the right critical eye, we really can learn a lot about ourselves by paying attention to the shows we watch. And, shows are CRAZY clever and entertaining – how lucky am I that I get to re-watch Arrested Development to catch all the Easter eggs that were impossible to catch on live, un-pausable TV?! I think there is something to be said for the way that characters like Leslie Knope and Jim Halpert can come to feel like friends. For me, I first started watching Parks and Rec and The Office with my mom, and now, in times of loneliness, the funny and familiar laughs I get from those shows remind me of the first time I laughed at that with my mom.
The not-so-awesome corollary of this , however, is our growing tendency to fill up the lonely spaces in our lives with Netflix. I mean, it’s so. Easy. You don’t even have to queue the next episode! I mean, that’s 100% me, so I would know. Getting ready for work, cooking dinner, writing this right now, trying to fall asleep, painting…you name it, the voice of Liz Lemon or Don Draper is acting as my background noise. And, even with other people, it seems like we still want to grab on to Netflix and make that false, smoothly resolved storyline the backdrop to our real, less teleological interactions. Case in point: “Netflix and chill” is a euphemism for “have sex.” Because apparently, you need to hear Alton Brown’s voice in the background while you’re doin’ it. I say “apparently,” well, for one because I’m not having much sex at the moment ( 😦 ), but also because if I say “Netflix and chill,” I mean it! I don’t beat around the bush – if you don’t want to watch this episode of Cutthroat Kitchen, then why did you come over?!
But, that actually doesn’t bother me as much. It is nice to just be with someone, chilling by the TV, snuggling, what have you. What bothers me more is that, having every great TV show right there on our computers, it kind of dulls the impetus to go out and do something with our lives. As someone who’s just gotten into the working world, I’m really realizing what a time suck and energy suck full time jobs are. You get up early, drive for 30 minutes, nine hours later you get back in the car, drive 30 minutes, and you’re home. You take some time to unwind, eat dinner…and suddenly, it’s 8 pm! On a weeknight, it’s hard to want to get back in the car to go the gym, a community event, or a class of some kind; but, you don’t want to twiddle your thumbs for 3 or 4 hours, so you do. Or…you can just stay on your sweet, familiar couch with that plushy blanket and watch Netflix! I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve watched an episode of something while eating my dinner and thought, I’ll just watch one more, and then I’ll read, or write, or paint. And before you know it, it’s 11 and I didn’t do anything with my night! And, it’s not like I don’t enjoy it and just do it because I don’t have anything better to do – I live in an amazing city with tons of cool things to do and I have some great co workers who’d probably like to hang out with me. But so many nights, Netflix wins! And after nine hours at an extremely mentally challenging and an extremely dry job? Hell yeah, I do like it. I like relaxing and turning my mind off and chuckling at funny things. But at the end of the day, is that really how I want to spend my life?
Of course, we are all living in a social world, and despite the apparent excitement that so many of us feel when plans get cancelled, we do have relational lives and personal goals that involve other people. But, even when we do leave our couch pants and laptops at home, Netflix still quietly nudges us, reminding us of the special place it has in our hearts. Of course, this is a much more subconscious thing. I doubt any of us spend our time out thinking of the shows we wish we were watching instead. It’s more of a weird sort of FOMO that we experience even as we’re out doing something.
So, quick sidetrack – there’s a movie I watched on Netflix called Don Jon, and the movie is mostly about how pornography addiction can make real sex empty and unsatisfying. But, it also touches on how romantic movies can make real relationships feel disappointing. In both cases, false expectations of the other people’s behavior create a desire for a relationship that’s pretty one-sided…but because we’re so used to seeing those kinds of relationships in porn or movies, we don’t realize how unhealthy it actually it is. So, keeping with this idea, I think TV is actually kind of like “life porn.” We can watch TV or porn or a movie literally whenever we want and all we have to do is just lie there, but real life stuff…oh man! We have to go out! We have to do that whole “does-this-person-like-me-oh-wait-do-I-even-like-this-person-in-the-first-place” song and dance, we have to put in all this effort, we have to stop being so goddamn selfish! So it’s just so weirdly easy to conflate the easy with the real.
I touched on this in a previous post, but certain cultural scripts – making new friends, navigating relationships, overcoming general problems – have made their way into real life in such a way that we get frustrated when stuff doesn’t really happen in an as-seen-on-TV way. Which, seriously? Since when are life’s most complex scenarios explored and resolved in 23 minutes?? And yet, we kind of always think that conflict eventually gets resolved, maturely and satisfyingly. Conversation always sparkles. People always come around to a reasonable way of thinking. That cute guy in the bookstore WILL notice you, and he WILL ask you out! Most people are decent and funny or eccentrically weird in the kind of way you still don’t mind them too much! If you’re saying this and thinking it’s about right, then respectfully, shut your honky bitch mouth.
Things take FOREVER to resolve (do they actually ever resolve? Probably not). People are jerks. Men are passive. And, you have to work really hard and constantly feel frustrated to make ANYTHING happen. Not in a Leslie Knope way. In like a Hillary Clinton way. Minus the snazzy pantsuits and SNL cameos, even. TV is totally life porn! We get hooked on watching and it messes with the real stuff.
So it’s all fine and good to joke about our relationship with our Netflix accounts, to spend a Sunday night re watching half a season of New Girl, or to consider a fictional TV character a role model. But there comes a point where you just ind of have to be like…real life sucks, but it’s kind of better. At least it’s real.