The Watching Dead
Friday, August 8, 2014 • 11:29am
Now that the doldrums of August are upon us, my kids are having difficulty filling their waking hours with productive activities. So they have taken up the popular sport of binge watching online TV shows.
I have tried to get them interested in binge weeding and binge lawn mowing, but it just doesn’t have the same addictive allure as say, viewing 13 episodes of Breaking Bad in a single sitting.
I get this.
Binge watching is not new. In fact, it is the very activity my parents tried to discourage me from when I was a kid. My parents called the television the Boob Tube and said I would turn into a Vidiot if I watched too much TV.
Still it didn’t stop me from spending long hours in front of the television set on idle summer days when no one was around to stop me—cartoons in the morning followed by a televised Cubs double header on WGN in the afternoon was my programming of choice. It wasn’t the serial drama that is popular now, but given that it was an afternoon of the Chicago Cubs, I suppose you could make the argument that I was binging on a couple episodes of Lost.
Late in the afternoon if my mom or dad happened by I quickly shut off the television and pretended to be reading. But after a long day of binging, my brain was fried anyway. And the break restored my stamina so that I could watch reruns of Star Trek in the evening.
At the time my parents led me to believe that spending hours in front of the television would rot my brain.
I can say from experience that this is probably true. Although other activities also contributed to this degenerative condition as I grew older.
But I don’t necessarily think that it was the amount of TV that made my brain go limp. I think it was the quality of the shows that I watched. Let’s face it; a show about a hillbilly who strikes oil and moves to Beverly Hills is not nearly as mind expanding as a chemistry teacher who cooks meth in a Winnebago.
And of course, the real synapse suckers were the endless stream of annoying commercials that stretched the arc of a 40-minute show to sixty minutes.
Once I watched a Twilight Zone marathon on a local TV channel for two days. By the end of the weekend all I had to show for myself was a splitting headache and an empty pizza box. But the 800 numbers for miracle mops and Chia pets were etched painfully into my head along with a maniacal compulsion to pick up the phone and Call Now!
Nowadays it is possible to binge watch our favorite shows online without commercial interruption.
Nowadays the only interruptions we face are waiting for Netflix to buffer and the periodic annoyance of having to go to work.
So I find it ironic that my son is hooked on a show called The Walking Dead. It is a drama involving zombies, which is what he becomes in the morning after staying up all night silently logged into Netflix.
Being a somewhat responsible parent, I tried to discourage this behavior after I discovered him splayed asleep in his bed late one morning still wearing headphones attached to a laptop.
“Watching so much TV will rot your brain.” I warned him. And then, “Don’t you have summer reading to do?”
His sister immediately jumped to his defense. “We can binge read just before school starts,” she explained.
She is hooked on a show called The Vampire Diaries. She stays up all night too, and wakes up late in the morning with the life sucked from her body.
And she is the responsible one.
“What makes a TV show about zombies so compelling?’” I asked.
“It has great character development and plot lines that keep you watching,” he replied sincerely. “Plus there is a lot of blood and guts.”
“The blood and guts I get. But I didn’t know zombies had character.”
“Not the zombies,” he replied, “the small group of people who are trying to survive the zombies.”
He went on. “The show illustrates the moral dilemmas inherent in survival. It offers lessons in what it means to be human.”
I was dumbfounded by his insightful analysis. Maybe his summer reading could wait a while longer.
“Why don’t you just watch the first episode?’ he asked. “You might learn something.”
And by morning I had finished the entire first season.
My eyes were bleary. My arm twitched. I had trouble walking. My cortex felt like it was under siege.
And I needed to binge more.
But I wasn’t worried.
There are several more seasons to feast upon.
And as everyone knows . . .
Real zombies don’t watch TV.