BOX SET BINGE
A deeper, richer, more intuitive understanding of human life is emerging in culture and it is a gift for sharing faith
The era of shared TV has largely passed. Shows attracting up to twenty million people at the moment they were broadcast – Morecambe and Wise, the Generation Game, the Good Life – have given way to niche viewing in an age when the costs of production have reduced so much that a young person is far more likely to watch YouTube all evening than one of the main channels. With hundreds of channels available on or offline, is there much that binds us together in shared conversation when we’re not sure what to talk about?
Strange to say, there is. And it is burgeoning. The emergence of the box set – as DVD or digital service – has transformed the way we view TV. We may not be watching series at the same time – fewer people watch live TV – but catch up offers us a way into the stuff passed on by word of mouth.
It seemed an odd decision to the uninitiated, twenty years ago, when mainstream Hollywood actors began to gravitate away from the big screen to the small, yet changing technology has justified this as a shrewd decision. As computer generated images (CGI) takes over the big screen, story telling has become desiccated. A large and growing proportion of Hollywood films gorge on spectacular scenes of destruction, made possible by a plethora of superhero franchises from the Marvel and DC Comic stables. Success breeds sequels – and often diminishing returns as the same tired formulae are churned out for summer releases. Modern mainstream cinema is fast becoming indulgent and one-dimensional as the shuddering thud of post-human drama takes hold.
In other words, a gap has emerged in the market for complex, emotionally satisfying, slow-burning human drama. What better to fill this than a show that can run over several series? Soap operas require the suspension of belief because they run endlessly, creating ever more implausible plots for consumption. The box set is time limited and largely knows when it has run its course.
It is hard to keep up, naturally. Mad Men; Sopranos; Six Feet Under; Billions; Game of Thrones; The West Wing; Weeds; Homeland; The Affair; Breaking Bad; House of Cards…and so on and so on. Not to mention the arrival of continental drama and the final acceptance of sub-titles by lazy Anglophones in the shape of Spiral, The Killing, The Bridge, Borgen.
Whether we can truly call it a golden era of TV, there is a sense of gratitude that a deeper, richer, more intuitive understanding of human life is emerging; one that explores personal responses to the triggers of adult life. Almost without noticing, our conversation is being shaped by these stories as we unpick their complex knots.
The call to evangelism and apologetics is largely predicated on having a shared understanding of culture which can be tapped for living water. The box set supplies us with the great themes by which we make sense of our place in the world, though we are some way off their wide use in the Church as a means of pointing to Christ through smart analysis.
In many ways we do the work of evangelism for our favourite series: have you watched The Wire / 24 / The Borgias / Band of Brothers? we will offer in casual conversation. If only we were as uninhibited about sharing the good things God has done. Like a box set we unearth a decade after it was filmed, some people come to the riches of Christ many years after family and friends and marvel that the story of redemption had lain unnoticed for so long. And they wonder why we were so slow to recommend it in the first place.
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