Despite governmental beliefs trending otherwise, it turns out we are still indeed in the middle of a global pandemic that is keeping a lot of people indoors. We’ve spent months setting up virtual tabletop RPG sessions, getting distressingly into yeast, and yes, catching up on shows and movies. But in our streaming, binge-watch haze, have you tried... taking it easy?
With all the recommendations sites like Gizmodo – other websites are available, I’m sure – have made when it comes to shows and movies to add to your ever-expanding to-watch pile, there might be the desire to just plough through it as quickly as possible. Checking one thing off as you move on to the next, as if catching up on shows you never thought you had the time to watch, has become some sort of optimisable task to almost speedrun. I have all this time, you think to yourself. Might as well make the most of it by cramming as many things into it as possible. Get those podcasts on 1.5x speed! Skim those familiar books! Watch only the most essential episodes and trim that filler!
But the novel coronavirus has created a strange sense of collective time displacement, where figuring out what day, week, or month (the news cycle is absolutely doing its darndest to remind us that it’s still 2020 though, seemingly now and forever) we’re on has become an increasingly daunting task. Lockdown initiatives, even as they begin to relax – whether or not they actually should be damned – have robbed us of the sort of things that would give our lives a background radiation of structure. And that goes for simple things like work commutes vanishing and further blurring the work-life balance, to pleasures like knowing when a movie you’re looking forward to is actually coming out.
Already a (considerably long-distance) remote worker myself, I thought I’d easily adapt to this time-fluctuation setting in, but as the weeks have progressed, not being able to tell what day it actually is has thrown me for a loop more times than I’d really care to admit. So I attempted to claw some of that sense of structure back, by taking some of those binge-watchable streaming recommendations and... not actually binge-watching them?
Because I am me, I started this with Gundam Wing. But mostly I was inspired to rewatch the beloved mecha/sad boys in space anime by Abnormal Mapping’s excellent Gundam watch along podcast, The Great Gundam Project. Considering hosts Em and Jackson go through and discuss the series watching two episodes a week, I figured I’d do the same rather than binge-watching the whole thing in a few sittings and get ahead of their conversations. Almost like homework, but inflicted upon myself, and also not really homework because it’s an animated series about the evils of centrist elites advancing capitalist might through forever wars (and giant robots).
But doing so gave me something to look forward to: one night a week would be a night where I watched my two episodes of Gundam ahead of listening to the latest episode of Great Gundam Project. There was suddenly, in this great timeless sea, a Gundam night. I glanced at my list of shows to watch and re-watch and thought about adding a little more order to the chaos. In a calendarless pandemic, could there not be more nights?
So now there’s a night where I’ll watch a couple episodes of Star Wars Rebels, one where I’ll re-watch some Avatar (or re-start, considering Netflix just updated the show to be in actual HD), another where I’ll put on an episode of Deep Space Nine, or Harley Quinn. With little in the way of currently airing shows to watch, suddenly my time strewn void had little pockets of structure. That sense of structure was something my brain was quietly craving, an attempt to carve out a tiny moment of sense in a world that feels like it’s being drained of sense. It was something to look forward to – but it was more than that as well, or simply a way to watch multiple shows at once instead of mainlining them one after the other.
Binge-watching something in such a short, intense period doesn’t let you sit with it. Even if I was already familiar with a piece of media and doing a re-watch rather than a first pass, by cutting off my access to the flow of just more of it immediately, I found myself thinking about what I was watching more, too. By being able to sit with a small dose of something each week, I found myself engaging with what I was watching more, critically and emotionally. Plot beats hit a little harder, character arcs came through a little more prominently. Things I’d forgot or misremembered from a show last watched as a kid or as a teenager, read a different way entirely as an adult with a more developed background in criticism, something I’ve found a lot with Wing in particular. I hadn’t just found that craved order in a time of chaos but felt more stimulated than if I’d just plowed through these shows as quickly as I could.
So if you’re looking at your to-binge pile with a desire to trim it down as quickly as possible, I’m like to suggest that you consider trying the opposite. Who knows, maybe while the world around us seemingly spins ever more rapidly between nightmares, taking something slow might be just the change of pace you need.