Binge Culture: It’s More than Just Escaping Reality


On any given night around 10 p.m., there is one place you are pretty much guaranteed to find me: curled up in a chevron blanket with a MacBook on my lap, contributing to the 125 million hours of content watched on Netflix per day.

Like many of the 75 million Netflix users, I frequent the streaming site to binge my favorite shows. Keyword: favorite. Though there are thousands of titles offered, I somehow watch the same ones over and over again. It’s not just mindless entertainment I’m looking for, it’s the comfort of revisiting old storylines with familiar characters.

I’ve seen the entirety of Grey’s Anatomy twice; Dexter three times; Gossip Girl three and a half; Scandal twice; and Sex and the City thrice. Netflix continuously offers related content I would seemingly enjoy, but I can’t bring myself to start a new series without first mourning the one I’ve lost. I simply need the ease a well-known face offers after a long day, even if it’s through a computer screen.

After 10 seasons of a show, I’m a well-acquainted friend of the core characters. Spending time with someone, even a fictional someone, during a pivotal or memorable time in their life creates an indescribable bond.

English researcher Howard Sklar attributes our emotional connections with fictional characters to the fact that we’ve had similar experiences in our own lives. In an interview, Sklar explains, “We’d have no way of processing a character if we didn’t have experiences with people outside of the fictional world.” He suggests that it is our interactions with real people that inform our relationships with the characters that entertain us.

Sklar states in his research, “We experience genuine emotions when we encounter fiction, the story provokes thoughts about real people and situations. These are the intentional objects of our emotions.” It is our ability to fill in the blanks of a story that allows us to become invested in a character. Our empathetic, yet egotistical selves will connect to the situation, while still relaying it all back to us.

I find this explanation unsurprising, especially in regards to my own entertainment choices. The shows and movies I watch and re-watch are filled with characters and storylines I can at least somehow relate to my own life. Once these close, emotional connections are established, I find it hard to reconnect with someone or something else – it feels a little like cheating on my best friends. Sklar’s research even informs my tendency to favor television over movies. For me, bonds are more effectively established after hours of my life have been devoted to the ups and downs of the character.

Whether it’s the nature of my personality or how I grew up on Saved by the Bell and ANTM marathons, binging TV shows is how I prefer my entertainment consumption. Though I’d like to attribute it all to Sklar’s psychological research, I honestly think I just like to know how it’s all going to turn out.

Photo by Jay Wennington

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