In Defence of binge-watching

I’ve always been a binge-watcher. But I’ve also always been guilty about it. I even wrote this forbidding story about binge-watching addiction when I was a full-time journalist. I was so worried about this escapism I was letting myself turn towards so often that a while ago, I asked my therapist to fix this habit for me. But she asked me an important question that changed the way I looked at the habit: “Is the problem that you’re doing it, or is the problem that you think it’s bad?” 

As far as revelations go, this one was not that ground-breaking. But it made a world of difference to me. And it may perhaps do to you too. 

I’m a huge K-drama fan. Binge-watching is the only way I watch dramas. I refuse to follow them as they’re airing because I believe that dramas are meant to be binge watched. Let me explain. 

There are several elements that make K-dramas so compelling; so addictive. One of the strongest contributing factors I believe is the length — not as short as a movie that leaves you wanting more, yet not as long as a typical English language series that goes on for multiple seasons. This is perfect, as I often say to friends I want to convert to Kdrama watching, because it’s like taking a book and picturising every single page. So, wonderful little scenes that may not directly be important to the story progression, running gags that are funny because of their repetition, and the silly things happening in the background.

What does that give us? A story where all the supporting characters have depth; a completely believable character development arc; and a more natural way bonds are formed on camera — be it friendships, love or family bonding. And these are what make Kdramas get to us, and find a place in our hearts. So just like how I would not prefer to read a compelling novel over a while with week-long breaks, I do not prefer my drama episodes spaced apart. 

While hundreds of English (or Hindi) language series are now available for binge-watching on online streaming services, they’re not a match for the experience of binge-watching a Korean drama. The mini-series format is perfect for such condensed consumption. Unlike typically multi-season English language series, in K-dramas, character development, relationship arcs and other elements of the story are perfectly paced to be satisfactorily wrapped up in sixteen episodes. They’re made for a marathon. 

So binge-watching K-dramas is the only way I can let the concentrated amount of emotions, warmth, laughter, suspense, and tears hit me in the most affective way. It’s a preference, like wanting to drink espresso over cappuccino. This way, I grow to like the new friend, I internalise the catch-phrases, I start to fall in love and I worry as often and long as deeply as the character in the show. 

Korean Drama Reaction GIF by The Swoon - Find & Share on GIPHY

I believe in living the dramas, you see. I go to sleep and wake up with some of those feelings remaining with me at the back of my mind. So when I go back to the next set of episodes that night, I get sucked right in into the familiar world that I’m now a part of. Almost like meeting a friend after work and asking them to fill me in on what happened in their day. 

But it is true that such an existence is unsustainable and even sounds detrimental to your real life in some way. Which is why I do not watch dramas back to back. I give myself the time to soak in the one that just ended and naturally let go of it over a few days or weeks. 

And the part sounds scary — as if you’re losing your real life if you let yourself get so involved in dramas — I’ve realised that it is the other way around. I seek out dramas when I feel low, when I don’t have social commitments with friends, and when I’m craving some human feelings (such as during this COVID lockdown). Dramas do not displace, but supplement my real life. They’re not grey shadows that drag me down to a Hotel California that I can never leave. They are like a warm hug, giving me a dose of human connections, emotions and comedy that I miss in my life. 

I learnt from therapy that certain activities — like reading, painting, gardening and playing an instrument — allow people to experience ‘grounding’, which is a state in which you’re completely absorbed into something that you can snap out of your anxious thoughts. It’s a good thing, and not easy to find for everyone! So if watching escapist dramas for hours does that for you, by all means, you should enjoy it. Just make sure you still manage to sleep enough, so you’re as ready for your real life as you are for the next episode of the drama. You deserve both 🙂

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Nirupama

I am a social science researcher.

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