By coincidence, two publications ran similar articles this week about the difference between what we think we want to see and what we actually sit down to watch.
Entertainment Weekly’s Mark Harris asks readers to fess up about the television shows they record and never get around to seeing. We all do it. Some critically acclaimed show comes on television and at some level we feel that we should get at least partial credit for having it on our DVR. But then, somehow, even when we’re at home with time to spare, we end up watching some dumb reality show instead of “eat your spinach” fare like “Generation Kill”
The snob theory is that the Internet, reality television, minisodes, and the general dumbing down of everything have so completely turned our brains into mush that we’re now incapable of sitting down and concentrating on anything that actually requires our sustained, undivided attention. The slob theory is that we the people have a sixth sense that allows us to stay away instinctively whenever a piece of pop culture is boring or overpraised or ”pretentious” (the all-purpose label of abuse that too many people now apply to anything that seems smart and difficult).
I think Harris is closer to the truth when he says we have
a kind of sullen resistance to movies that either tediously tell us what we already know or dangerously tell us what we don’t want to know about a topic we desperately want to be rid of. All that is reinforced by a sort of smug, why-bother tone to much of contemporary pop culture commentary that is more comfortable applying the word genius to I Want to Work for Diddy than to something that involves, say, a level of actual creative brilliance. And yes, a TV show like Generation Kill that requires your sustained, undivided attention is, on some level, work. And work is the opposite of what entertainment is supposed to be all about, right?
That is probably what’s behind Netflix syndrome — either you watch it within 24 hours after it arrives or it sits around for a couple of months. On Slate, John Swansberg invited readers to share their shame over the red envelopes gathering dust.
It happens to all Netflix subscribers eventually. Your buddy the film buff drags you to a revival of Antonioni’s L’Avventura. To your surprise, you find yourself rapt. Upon returning home, you log in to your Netflix account and move La Notte, the second film in Antonioni’s ennui trilogy, to the top of your queue. It arrives a few days later, just as L’Avventura’s spell is starting to wear off. You watch Anchorman instead. You totally still want to see La Notte … but now you’ve mailed Anchorman back and here is Ghost Rider–starring Nic Cage! La Notte can wait. And it does. For weeks. You’re never quite in the mood to watch it, but you can’t quite bring yourself to return it, either.
Ready to confess? Send in your tales of long-held, never-watched Netflix rentals to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And for some thoughts on what those never-watched DVDs at the bottom of your Neflix queue say about you, see this great piece from Slate by Sam Anderson.