Aristotle once said that the end of labor is to gain leisure, which suggested that leisure time was a reward for a job well done and something to be treasured, maybe even used wisely.
But Aristotle said that more than 2,300 years ago, before anyone could have conceived that we humans might one day contrive to spend our leisure hours sprawled in front of a television or computer screen or telephone, determined to watch an entire season of “Orange Is the New Black” in one day.
Each episode of “Orange Is the New Black” is 60 minutes long, and each season is composed of 13 episodes, and thus it is possible to watch all of Season 4 in 13 hours, which was one way I spent my hard-earned leisure time this summer.
It is difficult to know what Aristotle would find most alarming – television itself, the content of “Orange Is the New Black,” or the notion of lying on a couch for 13 hours straight, with time off for quick visits to the kitchen and bathroom.
I do not blame myself for wasting an entire day watching a single program on television. Why should I, when I can blame the series’ writers for penning episodes that always end in cliffhangers, making it impossible for me to press the “Off” button?
Some people think that binge watching is for the weak and lazy only, but in fact it takes a tremendous effort of will to commit 13 hours straight to one sustained activity.
Most Americans work eight-hour days, and perform a variety of tasks throughout the day, but binge watching requires more time than a full day’s work, and it is a protracted, single effort of concentration seldom equaled in modern life. And those of us who engage in binge watching approach it as a duty that demands slavish devotion.
We binge watchers talk of “needing to finish” as though to do anything else – to stop watching at Episode 5, for example, or to get up and take a walk – is a failure of character.
I suspect that binge watching a television program is not really that much different from binge eating one’s way through the pantry. In fact, after my recent determined slog through 13 hours of “Orange Is the New Black,” I felt uncomfortably full. It was almost like I had consumed a whole Thanksgiving turkey alone in one sitting.
I could not say I had enjoyed myself, really. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you what the best parts were because I had ingested so much in such a short space of time that no one part seemed distinct from the others, and in the end I felt no measure of satisfaction from having completed my grim task.
And of course, as with any binge experience, I felt a sense of guilt when Episode 13 ended and I finally sat up and took stock of myself.
I was alone in my living room, the house was quiet, my husband and kids had long ago gone to bed, and I felt strangely alienated in my own household. People had come and gone throughout the day. The evening meal had been made, served, and eaten. Clothes had been washed, dried and folded. Cats had been let in and out and in again. Phones had been answered.
Through it all, I had sat on the sofa, so annoyed at the interruptions that occasionally I had sighed deeply and wondered out loud if people could be a little more considerate and shut up – I was in the middle of an episode, for God’s sake.
At around 11 p.m. I got up and made my way to my kids’ bedrooms to check on them. My 19-year-old’s room was dark, except for the glow from his laptop, which rested on his stomach. He was wearing headphones and did not notice me for a few seconds.
“What’s up, Mom?” he finally asked, with some irritation.
“Nothing. I finished ‘Orange Is the New Black,’ ” I answered.
“That’s nice,” he offered, but his eyes were still on the screen.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Watching ‘Marvel: Agents of Shield.’ I only need three more episodes. Can we talk later?”
“Sure,” I said. I wandered into my 16-year-old’s room. He was catching up on Season 7 of “Sons of Anarchy.”
My husband was asleep, but his Nook was at his side, still playing an episode of “Stranger Things.”
“I’m almost done with Episode 6,” he said when I woke him. “I only have two more to go.”
I have no idea what Aristotle might have thought had he been in my home that night, but I’m pretty sure Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings, founders of Netflix, would have congratulated my family for a job well done.
Brigitte Bowers is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced.