Out of all the forms of criticism I’ve done, I enjoy recapping the most. The deadlines, not so much, but all that reading into a show’s mythology and stylistic choices? Unpacking Easter eggs with other fans? Getting to the heart of a conspiracy? I love that. It turns a lonely, lazy, and independent activity into a communal sport of sorts: within the Water Cooler Olympics we now have Binge Watching and Deep Diving. On the one level, you can dismiss True Detective as derivative of a thousand other films before it, or even the previous season, or you can decide to take it at face-value, assume that there’s a measure of worth, and then analyze every inch of frame to pull out the best and to decide why the rest doesn’t work for you. Obviously, the more a show gives you to work with, the better: that’s why a recap of CSI: Cyber can only be ascribed to the recent trend of hate-watching, whereas the recently cancelled Hannibal is filled with succulent and digestible sequences. Comedy and cartoon recaps once consisted of merely pointing out gags–it’s a sign of our television renaissance that we have shows like Rick and Morty to pull apart.
Passive entertainment is nothing more than killing time, emphasis on killing: it’s a negative, murderous action, one that leaves you with no room for personal improvement or growth. If we’ve “watched” and “read” entire series but can’t remember a single thing about them, then we might as well have spent our time locked in a dark closet. On the other hand, if we’ve discussed and shared our thoughts on these topics, as I did a few summers ago when talking about Infinite Jest, then even if you forget something, the idea itself may continue to live and gestate in someone else. Even thought it’s for something as theoretically frivolous as entertainment, isn’t generating anything better than simply tuning in to tune out, giving your brain cells even more space to continue their constant suicide?
Even the word entertainment is active–it’s not exittainment, after all. It implies a participation from the viewer, a contract entered into. (A world, really.) And look, if you’re watching television idly while doing something else actively (whilst cooking, exercising, etc.), then I can’t really fault you–you’re at least using the distraction in a positive way. But for the rest of us who watch reruns of Family Guy midway through and can’t describe anything about the episode mere seconds after it ends, I’d suggest that we need to reassess our motivations. Casual shouldn’t become usual, and entertainment is best when it’s meant for something better than stimulation alone. (Telebation as opposed to videocourse.)
TL;DR: My thoughts on “casual” entertainment can be summarized by this old cut-for-time SNL skit: http://www.hulu.com/watch/824028. (Hint: Now that I’m repurposing it to make a point, it’s no longer casual.)