I recently attended a lecture by a distinguished man of letters. A poet, novelist, playwright and literary critic, this man also edits journals, directs literary festivals, collaborates on documentary projects, teaches full time at a university and is raising a family. When an audience member asked how he managed to find the time for all these things, he said, "Everything I do is in the interests of making time for my true passion: watching TV."
He was addicted, he said, to
There may have been some self-deprecating hyperbole at work (is it physically, mentally or even temporally possible to watch all 60 episodes of "The Wire" in a single, two-day weekend?), but from where I sat — in an auditorium, hoping that my home DVR was recording
And that means we can binge watch. Parodied to hilarious effect on
The outburst was timed to Sunday's season premiere of
Pagels, it should be said, thoroughly argued his case (complete with bullet points). But then so did Garfield — big gulps or weekly sips, each has its benefits and drawbacks. We all know that. So why, other than his slightly sanctimonious tone, did Pagels touch such a nerve?
Because binge watching is code for something else entirely. It's a way to distinguish highbrow from lowbrow.
You rarely hear someone brag about watching 16 straight episodes of "Melrose Place." Binges are for the stuff that gets recapped on culture blogs, that finds its way into academic papers with names like "'24,' 'Lost,'and
Marathon TV also takes effort. It distinguishes its practitioners (at least in their own minds) from the casual, passive viewer and turns TV watching into an act of agency, like reading a Russian novel or running an actual marathon. As a result, it turns something that was once a source of shame — prolonged couch potato-dom — into not just a badge of honor but membership in a club.
And one to which even a man of letters will admit paying his dues. Speaking of that, I'm taking next week off. I've got a 53-hour appointment with