There’s a particular kind of person who consumes media on autopilot, a passive consumer of films, TV shows, Youtube videos, books, etc. They don’t digest, synthesise and churn it; they are soft sponges mediated by the latest pop culture trend, Netflix hype, friends’ recommendations, etc. They have an unending list of films to be watched, books to be read, podcasts to listen and Youtube blackhole to traverse. An overwhelming anxiety marked with perpetual unease in discourse about the media consumes this person which is temporarily alleviated by consumption of even more media resulting in a vicious cycle of sorts. Media has more morphed from an easy escape on weekends (and as a friend recently remarked, fodder for water cooler conversations) to a perceptional zone permeating our reality, underlying fundamental axiomatic rock bottom from where all our culture originates, an entire structure in which people seem to exist. You get the idea.
The most defining aspect of modern existence is consumption of media. More accurately it is the quality and quantity of media consumption that carves the contours of your social sphere. Not only the fodder for conversations but it also implicitly shapes your social circles. Friendships are formed over shared tastes in TV shows and overlapping obsessions of characters, conversations are derailed from serious discussions of phenomena to depiction of the said phenomena on screen. Your level of coolness on a range from normie to woke is decided by the kind of shows you have recently watched and your opinions of them. The more obscure, tailored it is, the more sophisticated your taste is deemed (Tarkovsky fans, hi). The more reknowned shows/films in the collection of your media, the more normie, boring, mainstream your taste is deemed (Friends is collectively derisively mocked for a reason). That’s right, those are the rules of this weird, race to the bottom, social media game we all are inadvertently participants of, whether we like it or not.
If you aren’t aware of them yet, consider yourself exceptionally lucky and free. The shining crown of your personality is supposedly your sophisticated palate, how cultured and groomed you are is reflected by the kind of media consumption you have. It makes sense on a basic level. We spend a shocking number of hours on our smartphones and laptops, even more so in lockdown. Even we are not directly consuming films/shows/podcasts/books, we are still scrolling social media, talking with friends, sharing snippets and screenshots relating to those, Youtube essays, etc. It is an inescapable atmosphere.
The operative word being “inescapable”. Why would you want to escape it anyway? It provides perfect anti-dote to immediate mind-numbing reality.You get to briefly forget the fact that the chances of your unemployment is increasing in this depressing economy, that the vaccine is not coming till next year, that this government doesn’t care about you, that upward social mobility is going to become extremely unlikely. It provides perfect environment for fostering complacency- no need to get a new job if you could just crib about the present one and watch movies upon movies after going home, no need to do projects and internships if you could just whine about how your college sucks and talk about the latest Marvel film you watched. It provides a vacuum to reflect your grouses, a mirror to watch your fantasies play out on liquid screen. Of course no one would want to escape it.
Irresistibility of Netflix
A theory could be postulated as such that people who have subconsciously given up on meaning and an attempt to structure their lives are ideal consumers to get sucked in the vortex of Netflix. It is irresistible for people who have a docile existence, who get reoriented by every wind of pop culture. For the fence sitters who are self conscious of their media diet but pliant enough to check boxes for external validation of their coolness- they will get sucked in too. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently claimed that sleep is their biggest competitor. Think about the extent of this statement for a second. It takes active resistance to not get consumed into the vortex. It doesn’t imply you can’t watch shows, it implies you watch them not because it’s trending or you feel compelled/pressured to watch them to feel included but because you choose to watch them at your own time and leisure. That’s active resistance.
The most lethal weapon of society against individuals is coercive shame mixed with alienation. Anything which deviates from conventional notions is frowned upon, judged brutally and eventually attempted to align to the mainstream norms. This works in non-conventional sexualities on LGBTQ+, it works in non-conforming career choices, it works in expressing anti-establishment opinions, it works in unorthodox religious beliefs and the like. So in case you feel overwhelmingly pressured to watch that new hyped show that aired on Netflix recently because everyone is talking about it and it’s trending on social media and it is getting wide traction on news- you feel left out, unbelonged if you don’t watch it, you can be fairly assured that tentacles of this specific societal setup is hovering over you, waiting to trap.
You might have noticed an surge of avenues for excessive documentation of your pattern of consumption- tons of Instagram pages about cinema, platforms which specifically publish writings about deconstruction, critique of cinema, music, etc with huge fan following, video essays, post-modern art which juxtaposes songs over videos to create a vibe, capture an essence.
This is not by accident. Sure, COVID-19 and lockdown might have been an accelerant but this has been in formation for some time now. There’s excessive identification with shows, films, etc. Relating to a character is a different than believing that a character is central to your identity and nothing else accurately portrays your persona than that specific character; it is reflected in people putting up particular charming scenes on all their social media, in conversing in certain GIFS, referencing shows as a metaphor to seemingly trivial things. It has become a pervasive, spongy lens through which they understand and make sense of the world. So acclimated to that lens we are, we don’t even know it’s there. It has merged itself with our framework. Try talking to someone without referencing to any media you consumed, you’ll understand the sheer scale of this phenomenon.
Media shapes culture
There’s a hideous feedback loop present in the origins of art. The reality we inhabit affects and contextualizes the art we create and consume. Then fictional stories that we read and churn affects and shapes our real world in significant ways-reality and entertainment/art interact with each other in complex ways. This is nothing new about it, these has been true since the inception of art. However, the presence of social media acts as a catalyst, resulting in interconnected, surprising consequences. Netflix lengthening the seasons of shows because people demand it and shower their affections is pretty evident phenomenon.
Creation of fan art, mass selling of sponsored apparel (of cultural icons which espouse individuality and uniqueness, no less) are concrete outgrowth of the underlying abstraction. Media shapes cultural values that a society holds dear. Media depicts societal churn-documentaries and films based on the #metoo movement is a heady testament to that. Media narrativizes and captures cultural milestones. If a film like Kabir Singh seems problematic, it is because the society is problematic and the film is just reflecting that. Media has inexplicable power distributed in a capillary like system. So naturally, it follows that what you consume, consumes you. What you watch shapes your socio-political framework. What you watch shapes your interests and intrigues. For better or worse, what you consume is what makes you.
Media is religion
Nothing else compares to the cultish nature of entertainment. Not even politics. It is difficult in Trump era to make a clear distinction between politics of sheer spectacle and entertainment but that is whole another can of worms to be opened in another piece. Media’s cult is reinforced not by persuasion but by widescale colonization of public sphere. If you open Twitter the first thing in the morning while brushing your teeth without realizing the act, without conscious awareness-congratulations, you are indoctrinated fully. There’s a reason why elaborate fandoms are sprouts of the cult nature of media. It’s a phenomena which thrives by constructing nomenclature. Fans of the show Hannibal are called Fannibals, fans of Taylor Swift are called Swifters, etc. It is indoctrination of the most subtle kind-our cult leader is variable, invisible, shape-shifting. We latch onto new gods every now and then. Whatever saves us from life.
A consumerist society seeks to define you by tenets of consumerism. A consumerist society seeks to program consumerism as your default settings, coded deep into your psyche so you fill the vaccum of your life with excessive consumption of media, in a regressive, soul-sucking cycle of soothing a psychological itch with next best shiny thing available. We are all singing, all dancing crap of the world. Welcome to thou profoundest hell.
19. I like books, punk rock, philosophy and panicking over the crushing weight of existence. Student of Journalism, teller of stories.