Now that countless seasons of TV shows and entire series are more accessible than ever on streaming platforms, binge-watching has become more prevalent. That said, the lazy, “couch potato” cliché has stuck around, too. As someone who loves spending hours on end in front of my own television, I’ve always hated the stigma that comes with simply enjoying my favorite shows.
In fact, during a very unexpected and extended time of unemployment, keeping a constant stream of shows playing in the background while I applied to jobs was one of the few things that kept me sane. The torture of writing countless cover letters always seemed less bleak if I could rely on a comedy like Brooklyn Nine-Nine to put a smile on my face, and a chilling mystery like The Fall to keep my mind guessing. I could even travel the world and learn about other cultures with the late, great Anthony Bourdain on Parts Unknown.
Thanks to the overwhelming amount of complex and nuanced options currently available, outlets like CNN have christened this generation of entertainment as the “New, New Golden Age of TV.” So, why does watching hours on hours of episodes still get such a bum rap?
Elizabeth Cohen, an assistant professor of communication at West Virginia University, decided to answer that question by comparing the consumption of mass quantities of TV to reading an equal amount of books. Sharing her findings on The Conversation, Cohen writes: “My colleagues and I collected some data suggesting that there is, in fact, a double standard for how we think about different media-binging experiences.” She believes it boils down to the negative connotation behind the term “binging,” something you wouldn’t say to describe a person who spent hours on a couch reading an entire novel (or two) in one sitting. Despite being just as sedentary and addictive as watching multiple episodes of a TV show, Cohen points out that we would still just call it “reading."
Cohen also makes the case that TV binging actually makes our brains sharper, not slothier. “Far from dulling the intellect, these shows create more suspense, interest, and opportunities for critical engagement,” she explains. As for studies claiming that endless hours of television watching can lead to things like depression and loneliness, Cohen suggests that this is instead caused by a self-fulfilling prophecy of shame. Rather than taking pleasure in the content and feeling recharged after a long day of work, the “couch potato” stereotype causes individuals to feel guilty.
Her advice? Allow yourself to actually be immersed and appreciate the narratives of your favorite TV shows, even if that means watching hours of it at a time. Chances are, you’ll feel happier, less stressed, and even learn a new thing or two by shaking off the more cynical mindset to focus on the fun of it. “Not a guilty pleasure,” Cohen clarifies, “simply a pleasure.”
Now go ahead, watch a few episodes of your favorite TV obsession without any of those pesky hang-ups holding you back.