by Nick Christiansen
When Netflix launched House of Cards, they stated that their goal was to shut down a portion of America for a whole day. So when they launched the show, their goal was actually to have people binge watch the thirteen episodes posted. Never before had a show been worked on where the writers and producers knew all of the episodes would be available at once. This allowed the makers of the show to change the dynamic of their content to fit this style. So how does this change things? I believe that this structure allows content creators to pack in a more dense story because the person watching will have previous episodes fresh in their mind when they experience the total continuity of watching multiple episodes back to back. Shows made for television in the past would have a section of the show at the beginning go over the plot points from the last episode to make sure audiences were up to speed. Now, Netflix shows can use every minute of their show developing the plot. Netflix’s structure also probably makes it easier to follow multiple character arcs because all your knowledge of the characters is much more fresh in your mind. I’m willing to bet that people can probably follow an additional character arc or two when binging a show on Netflix compared to when viewing a show once a week on TV.
Another way that House of Cards embraces binge-watching culture is by naming the episodes as chapters. This way, the show seems more like a book and it invites the reader to consume the media at their own pace much like when reading a book. After all, it’s not frowned upon to read an entire book in two or three days. the next way that the show complements binging is when Frank breaks the fourth wall and address the audience directly. This goes well with the Netflix experience because users often watch shows on a laptop close to their face so these moments create more of a connection between the audience and the show. Also people who are binge watching may be doing it out of loneliness or boredom (which I find closely interlinked) and having the main character directly address you to fill you in on something may create a feeling of comfort or companionship.
The show also includes many themes of addiction with the main characters smoking cigarettes, engaging in video games, and drinking and having to go to rehab. This draws a connection to the nature of binge watching along with in the first episode when Frank says that there will be many late nights like this.; the number of subtle nods to binge watching are numerous. Also, the main plot itself is easy to binge because it is the archetypal story of success with numerous setbacks along the way. The farther in we watch, the more power Kevin Spacey’s character gains. It’s like watching a vague analogue to our own lives on fast forward; it’s exciting and rewarding.
So what do we know about the affects of binge watching on an audience? We know that binge watching a Netflix series is much more mentally tasking and engaging than watching a casual show one episode at a time. So right off the bat, we have one positive point. People’s brains will be kept active which will keep people sharper than if they casually watched sit-coms. The down side is that all of this stimulation conditions the brain one way or another. The example given in Snider’s passage is that binging Damages in the hospital resulted in him being paranoid by the streets of NYC. Snider subjected himself to such an elaborate and extensive plot of danger and backstabbing over such a large percentage of his waking hours that he was tuned into reality the same way one of the characters would be tuned into the reality of the show. I noticed this myself when I went over with my friend to his girlfriend’s house and binge watched Criminal Minds with them for hours on end. After watching countless gruesome murders and overall nasty situations, I went to the grocery store and felt like an FBI agent who just finished a mentally scarring day at work. I glanced at people with a feeling of, “you haven’t seen what I’ve seen.” After that, I became much more careful with what shows I was subjecting myself to. I hope others will also come to this same understanding that what you watch (especially when binging) matters significantly. If I look back to House of Cards through this same lens, I can say that the show actually put me in a good mindset of being ambitious and driven. Around the time of watching the show, I felt motivated to start a coding project which I just finished today. I can’t say for sure that there’s a correlation, but my gut says there is.