If you know me, it’s no secret–I’m terrible at watching things. I didn’t watch the original Star Wars movies until this year. I didn’t start watching Doctor Who or Firefly or Futurama until 2013.
Depending on who you ask, I grew up during the second golden age of children’s programming, the sweet spot of late 90s and early 2000s when shows like Spongebob Squarepants, All That, and the original Pokemon anime ruled the airwaves. I tuned into these shows, but my brother loved watching TV more than I did. Still, I found myself tuning in, although I tuned in less and less as I grew more obsessed with being seen as “smart” and of course, when we finally got the wonder of dial-up internet at home in my early teen years. Sorry, Kenan and Kel.
As I grew older, TV lost its lure as the internet took over. Why watch TV, I thought, when it was such a lazy pursuit and I could be reading something or updating my blog or posting to the NaNo forums instead? Why sit there and be lazy, ignoring the part where I was being lazy by reading blog after blog online?
My college years and the first few post-college years passed with this attitude. In 2013, I dated a guy who watched a lot of TV. In fact, that was one of his main hobbies. It turned out to be a good thing, though. Through him and his Netflix account, we watched all of Futurama, a lot of Doctor Who, and all of Sherlock (at the time). All of these were rewatches for him, but I was seeing all these through fresh eyes and finally understanding where “Shut up and take my money”, “It’s bigger on the inside” and “I’m in my mind palace” came from.
But after we broke up, I stopped. Using his Netflix account would be weird, and I didn’t have the money or the justification to pay for my own; after all, I didn’t watch anything enough to justify the payment. I filled the next several years with scrambling for work and reading voraciously (and then promptly forgetting what I read); I was finally reading again after reading two books in 2012 and zero books in 2013. Thank all the TV.
During the five years since I started reading again, I read 805 books. Sure, a lot of those books are thanks to completing the entire Baby-Sitters Club universe, and sure, I had more spare time (and less of a social life) during the first half of that five-year span, but the point still stands.
Meanwhile, my knowledge of pop culture was suffering.
Books hold an odd spot in pop culture. When you’re surrounded by writers and readers, it’s easy to see books as the epicenter of media. The Hate U Give and Simon Vs and The Fault In Our Stars became movies. From All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and The Handmaid’s Tale and Thirteen Reasons Why as a Netflix series. And of course, Harry Potter and Hunger Games and Game of Thrones and (dare I admit it) Twilight and 50 Shades.
In general, books become a part of media when they become hugely popular or when they become so big that everyone knows about them.
The barrier is a little lower for watched media, I argue, particularly for TV. Maybe it’s the nerdy circles I run in, that sweet overlap of people who love books and participate in other media fandoms, who somehow carve the time in their lives for all these things. Or maybe it’s because so much media that was once viewed as “nerd stuff” is now mainstream: Game of Thrones, Star Wars, MCU, Doctor Who… and the list goes on.
More people watch TV and movies than read books. There. I said it. Watched media is easier to consume, something many people can have in the background while doing other things. I’m not generally one of these people, and it’s not for lack of trying. I’m terrible at turning off my brain and just sitting. I’ve tried to do other things while watching TV or a movie, from making grocery lists to appraising Pokemon to opening Pokemon gifts to grinding out Pokemon trainer battles or going through a Meltan box, but most of these things don’t take too long. The bigger problem with these things is that they don’t take too long to do. I can do most of these things in less time than it takes to watch an episode of Doctor Who. In fact, I did just that when restarting Eleven’s run. (Look, I couldn’t remember exactly where I stopped, so it made the most sense of restarting at Eleven to minimize my rewatching.)
The problem is, I’ll never be caught up enough.
What do I mean by Enough? That’s a question worthy of its own blog series. Everyone else, it seems, has had years to watch shows as they’ve arrived, or soon enough after that they haven’t had to put too much thought into how best to consume.
But watching a TV show, especially a long-running one, is a far bigger investment than reading a book series. I’d go out on a branch and say that finishing off all of Buffy (~100 hours) is, timewise, comparable to my quest in finishing all the Baby-Sitters Club books a few years ago. And that’s just one TV show. Multiply that by all the older TV shows and movies I want to catch up on, plus my limited time in the day, and I need at least another lifetime to catch up on everything. Or a time machine so I can make myself catch up on all these things while I had the time to do so. (Seriously, what was I doing back in 2012 when I read only two books and was barely working? Not watching TV or movies, apparently. Or writing or anything else, for that matter.)
Over the last few weeks, I’ve found a setup that works decently enough: I set up my ancient monitor to plug in to my laptop with a VGA-to-HDMI adapter. After considering time, money, and space, this is probably the most efficient solution. Ideally, I could combine this with social time and try to get friends to watch the shows with me. My roommate would probably be happy to do these things, but we both need the time to set these things up, but there’s also the part where I just want to be left alone, and sometimes I just want to work on things on my computer while watching things too. Or I want to settle in with some words or appraise Pokemon while watching TV in the background. Any of these things can keep me from catching up on a series.
But I did watch three episodes of Doctor Who last night* alongside making two batches of soup, folding laundry, and taking a shower. And now that this post has sat in a draft state long enough, I’m actually finished with the Eleventh Doctor’s run. So maybe not all hope is lost after all.
*That is, the night before writing this section. Not the night before clicking “Post”.