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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Teenagers and Our Culture of Bingeing Culture

I'm a big fan of youth binge culture with regard to media consumption.

I'm sure sociologists and journalists have branded this phenomenon with their own pithy soundbites, but I'm going to call it like I see it. Teenagers have a tendency to binge--sometimes on destructive things, but that's another story--especially when it comes to media. We find a band we like; we listen to all their albums on Spotify, watch all their music videos, watch interviews with the lead singer. We find a good TV show; we barrel through all eight seasons in three weeks on Netflix (what? I didn't say that. I've never done that. I have a healthy relationship with television). We see a great stand-up special; we spend hours scouring YouTube for clips of that comedian doing other shows. It's a habit that I've fallen into. The Internet makes it easy. But I'm in a bit of a rut right now. I'm not in the process of bingeing anything at all.

I could start in with some new TV show or explore the discography of an artist I've never listened to. But instead, I've decided to examine what it is, exactly, that drives me to do this. Part of it is my obsessive personality; I'm very all or nothing, so if I like something, I'm gonna invest myself into it as much as possible. But I think it's a process that many people in my generation go through.

At the age of 18, I'm only just now entering the world of mass media. As a child and even somewhat as a teenager, my tastes were mandated by what I was allowed to watch and what was marketed towards me. Though I've always been very individualistic, it wasn't until the end of high school that I began discovering things that weren't recommended to me by my parents or commercials for shows I was already watching. This mainly took the form of stand-up comedy, a long-forbidden haven of jokes both dirty and way over my head, but also in new kinds of literature, interesting music, and bizarre movies (Being John Malkovich is my second favorite movie and also the weirdest thing I've ever seen).

The moment teenagers like me enter this realm of new entertainment possibilities, we go a little bit crazy. We are at such a fascinating point in history in which if I find something I like to consume, I can view it over and over again or use the endless archive of the Internet to find things similar to it. I don't have to go to the library or the record store or the Blockbuster. Almost everything I want to watch, read, or listen to is available on my laptop, in my bedroom, and a lot of it is free.

However, there is a point at which we run out of material on a particular subject. I'm going to use Louis C.K. as an example. I found one of his specials, "Oh My God," on Netflix, remembered hearing his name in some context, and decided to check it out. I laughed harder at that special than I have at anything in my entire life. I eagerly await the idea that someone or something makes me laugh that hard again. I was so enamored of his POV and style that I quickly digested his other specials and began combing the web for more clips of him in interviews and his TV show, Louie. I like Louie (from what I've seen, which is only about half a season), but to me it's not as rip-roaringly hilarious as his stand-up, so now I'm at a bit of an impasse. I can keep rewatching his specials on Netflix or through his website, but I'm going to have to wait a while for new material. Joining the Louis C.K. boat this late meant a tremendous backlog of content for me to watch, but also missed opportunities to see him on tour or get access to the new stuff just as it was coming out. I'm constantly searching for his name in the news to see if he's got a new tour or special planned, but he came out with something in May of 2015 (that I loved), so it's going to be a minute.

Same thing with me and John Mayer. My senior year of high school I became obsessed with him. He's one of my all-time favorite artists, and he wrote my all-time favorite song ("In Your Atmosphere," which is on his live album Where the Light Is). I spent most of 2015 listening to his albums, of which there are many. Now that I've heard every song of his (I believe), I've grown incredibly impatient for his next record, which is due out in the fall. Every time he posts on social media about it, I freak out for like ten minutes and start imagining it and how incredible it will be because he's going in the studio with the same people who made Continuum which I believe is inarguably his best album and maybe one of the best albums of all--

I need to relax with this whole John Mayer thing, I'm aware.

I think my point is that while there are drawbacks to the way that teenagers consume artistic content-- in the way that we essentially overdose on an artist or media personality and very quickly run out of our supply--it's a pretty great time to be alive. And while I am very eager for my favorite creators to put out new products, the old stuff is always just a click away. And it always stands up to another binge.

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