Friday, April 15, 2016

April 15, 2016--Watching Alone

A few weeks ago a friend asked if I had gotten around yet to watching all 13 episodes of House of Cards.

"I'm only up to number six and . . ."

"Be patient, it gets better," she said, "I thought it started a little slowly but when they got to Claire's mother who . . ."

I cut her off. "Please don't talk about it until I've seen all the episodes. I don't want you to unintentionally say something about one I haven't seen and by doing that take away some of my pleasure. I'm into it and liking it and that's all I want to say right now. We're resisting binge-watching so we can squeeze out two a night, to attenuate the pleasure, and so it won't be until next week that I'll be ready to talk about it."

"Can't you maybe pick up the pace? I'm dying to hear what you think, especially what happens to Jackie . . . "

"There you go again. Really, please let me enjoy the show at my own pace and then we'll talk about all of it."

Which I did and, after that, Reggie and Rona and I had fun comparing reactions.

"You know," I said, "in the earlier days of TV, before a Netflix or Amazon existed much less could dump a whole season of programs in one batch on line or before there was On Demand, which allows you to watch a favorite show at any time. In the past if you missed an episode of, say, The Sopranos on Sunday night there was no way to see it until a year or two later when it was into reruns."

"In addition," Rona said, "if you were working in an office one of the pleasures would be to come in Monday morning and gather at the water cooler or coffee machine and talk with colleagues about the shows we all watched over the weekend. Very much including The Sopranos."

"Or Mad Men," Reggie added.

"I miss those days," Rona said. "It made for good colleagueship."

"Including of a different kind," I said.

"What do you mean?" Reggie asked.

"Well, at the proverbial or real water cooler secretaries and bosses had something in common to talk about. In a non-hierarchical way. Everyone could chime in as equals."

"I try to resist being too nostalgic," Reggie said, "And, in spite of my nudging you about House of Cards, I think that was a better way to watch and then talk about one's favorite programs, especially since there were always a few shows that everyone seemed to be interested in."

This reminded me of Robert Putnam's classic 1995 essay, "Bowling Alone," where he noted the reduction in all forms of social interaction which Americans previously used to participate in to enrich the fabric of their communal lives. He argued that this decline had the consequence of undermining the kind of active civic engagement that democracy requires from its citizens.

I ran all of this by a young friend who, when typically I talk about the differences between then and now, rolls her eyes and pats me sympathetically on the arm, as if to say, "Then was your time and now is mine.

"But," I pressed her, how do you and your friends talk about things you've watched? That is, if you watch any TV at all much less talk about any shows."

"We watch plenty, especially some of our favorites on TV when they're first broadcast and we do a lot of communicating about it."

"Communicating? That's an interesting way to talk about it. Is that different than talking about it? I mean, I know there are no more water coolers."

"I suppose so."

"Help me out here. Give me a few specifics. How does this communicating work?"

Take Girls, which we all love."

"No surprise there."

"My friends and I watch it in real time, on Sunday night on HBO, and communicate about it all along the way."

"You call or text each other while the show's on?"

"Sort of. But manly we Tweet about it. Twitter is perfect for that. Short and sweet comments so we can pay attention to what's happening on the show."

"And when an episode's over, say the next day, do you talk about Hannah's tribulations?"

"Not really. Pretty much what we do is Tweet."

When I told Reggie about this, she wasn't that happy about what I reported. She doesn't have much patience for social media. In truth, neither do I.

"What about OJ?" she asked.

"The People verse OJ Simpson?"

"I thought it started slowly but once they got to that episode devoted to Marcia Clark, it really . . ."

"Let me stop you again. We've only seen three episodes and as with House of Cards we're rationing our viewing. It's so much fun that we're stretching it out and . . ."

"That may be fun for you, but I'll tell you what's not fun."

"What's that?"


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