i Need Media
Overconsuming in the Netflix era
By Matthew Singer 03/07/2013
We are living in an age of overindulgence.
Anyone who’s flown on an airplane, visited a state fair or driven through Kentucky lately is well aware of this. But I’m not just referring to America’s obesity problem — though Lord knows there’s certainly a correlation. I’m talking about our media consumption. With everything we could possibly want to watch or hear available at the press of a button or the stroke of a key, we’ve taken to consuming literally everything. (I can’t even begin to list the few dozen gigabytes’worth of music sitting on the pairs of external hard drives I’ve yet to listen to.)
With television, it used to be that we were tempered, at least slightly, by being forced to wait a week between new episodes of whatever programs we happened to be addicted to. Then, Netflix decided to start producing original programming, and rolling out full seasons in one shot. This is like tossing sticks of deep-fried butter into the crowd at the Kentucky State Fair.
With even the restriction of patience stripped away, the impulse to consume those things we don’t even particularly want, need or enjoy becomes an irresistible craving. And so it is that I’ve taken to watching House of Cards, Netflix’s latest original series and its first legit Emmy grab. Granted, I’ve managed to hold back and not ingest the entire 13-episode first season in a single, sad day. But the fact remains, if the whole thing wasn’t so easily accessible, I don’t know if I would even be five episodes deep at this point. I’m watching mostly — if not only — because I can.
Because, truthfully, I don’t think I really like the show. Centered around Kevin Spacey’s drolly slimy Congressman Frank Underwood, and his attempts to wreak vengeance upon the presidential administration that robbed him of a cabinet position, it is enormously cynical about politics, and between this and HBO’s Veep and numerous recent films espousing the same viewpoint, I’m a bit burned-out on political dramas that present American democracy as nothing but a bunch of shady backdoor dealings, no matter how truthful that portrayal may be. Beyond that, Spacey’s character constantly breaks the fourth wall, Zack Morris style, to deliver exposition. Not only is the device hackneyed, it usually produces some shockingly trite dialogue — even if it’s enjoyable to hear the words roll off Spacey’s tongue in a Southern accent.
And yet, I’m already more than a third of the way through the season, and I’m going to finish. Why? Because it’s there. If you couldn’t guess from reading the 28 columns I’ve written prior to this one, I’m as addicted to entertainment as the rest of the country. I want — nay, need — to be stimulated in my downtime, by anything new, and Netflix is serving up “new” in heaping quantities. It doesn’t have to be good. Just hook it to my veins like a butterscotch drip in flyover country, and let me indulge. It’s the American way.
I Need Media is a biweekly media column by Matthew Singer. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.