Pause the Show, Watch the Gizmo

Samantha Marecek, Lit-Art Editor

Lights. Camera. Action. The screen flickers once, and loud, bubbly music blares from the speakers. A scene plays out on the screen. Then another. And then another. Joyful melodies accompany the clips, tantalizing the audience with humorous snippets of a show. The screen fades to black. A moment passes, and then a blast of color is restored.
The described scene plays out in many households, my own included. People marvel at the sound, visual effects, and storyline of a movie or show, to the point where they cannot help but watch more. Before they know it, they have combed through an entire season of a single show.
I soon realized that I am no exception, glued to the television at my friend’s house watching the first episode of Gilmore Girls. So, I decided to analyze why this show was so likable, and most importantly, why people are interested in binge-watching, and how binge-watching shows affect viewers.
My initial reaction to the opening scene was intrigue. Why do certain shows interest certain groups of people while bore others? What focus groups do certain TV shows appeal to? Why do we binge-watch? In the first episode of Gilmore Girls, I was introduced to a peaceful scene, where people strolled along the street in a typical town landscape. One of those people — who would later be introduced as Lorelai Gilmore — was hurrying in the opposite direction, noticeably different from the rest of society. This signifies her role as lead character. She makes her way into a coffee shop, a calming and homey setting unlike those in other shows. At this point, I wonder, “Is the reason we watch certain shows in the first place is because we associate them with certain moods such as happiness or relaxation?” The joyful music and relaxing setting of Gilmore Girls, for example, easily allow viewers to unwind after a long day. Additionally, constant references to real-life issues — when Michel Gerard, the concierge at Lorelai’s inn, states that a plumber did nothing and then charged a hundred dollars — could potentially allure older audiences. By alluding to real life issues and problems and turning them into humorous quips, the makers of Gilmore Girls easily appeal to adults because viewers can relate to the turmoils the characters face.
As it turns out, I was not too far from the truth. Psychology Today writes, “We become glued to complex, emotionally-charged stories because of our ability to recognize the feelings of others.” Cognitive empathy reveals that humans are able to adopt other psychological perspectives, including those of fictional characters. This emotional state is so universal that it is even being applied to study empathy in preschool children. As for the binge-watching part, Grant McCracken, a cultural anthropologist, was sent by Netflix into the homes of binge-watchers to observe the psychological aspect of binge-watching. McCracken disclosed that seventy six percent of binge-watchers reported that binge-watching is a “welcome refuge” from their busy lives. Almost eight in ten stated that “binge-watching a TV show was more enjoyable than watching single episodes.” Psychology Today concludes that people crave eventful storylines that television series provide. In short, we prefer being immersed in fictional worlds rather than dealing with our stress.
NBC News supports this statement, reporting that a clinical psychologist, Dr. Renee Carr, Psy.D, presented that binge-watching is affiliated to positive feelings because of chemicals released in our brain. “When engaged in an activity that’s enjoyable such as binge watching, your brain produces dopamine,” Carr says. Dopamine is a chemical which gives the body a natural, internal reward of pleasure, which prompts continued involvement in an activity. This is also the signal the brain sends to encourage us to continue watching the show. Carr explains, “When binge-watching your favorite show, your brain is continually producing dopamine, and your body experiences a drug-like high. You experience a pseudo-addiction to the show because you develop cravings for dopamine.” Carr adds that binge-watching is also a way to obtain psychological closure from the previous episode.
While binge-watching is often described as being a favorite pastime for many, it is difficult to include television shows into their busy lifestyles. Carr suggests that “because each new episode leaves you with more questions, you can engage in healthy binge-watching by setting a predetermined end time for the binge.”