Instead of binge-watching TV, help create 'content' here


By Doug Gardner

Sunday, February 3, 2019

We Americans are a famously busy people.

The Labor Department says we work 300 hours more each year than in 1970.

Americans use barely half their paid vacation time, according to Glassdoor.

We're too busy to exercise. Too busy to volunteer. Too busy to go to church. Too busy (half of us) to vote.

And yet, "binge-watching" has become part of the lexicon. This is the practice of watching multiple episodes, even entire seasons, of a television show in one sitting, sometimes for hours.

How can we be “too busy,” at the same time we are “binge-watching?”

Perusing a list of most binge-watched shows confirms my status as a man without a cultural country.

Drug dealers, zombies, spies, Medieval royalty, stuffy Victorian idle rich, bored metropolitan housewives, convicted felons and conniving politicians seem to top the list. If escapism is the animating factor in the binge phenomenon, I cannot understand how the last category made the list.

I’m a channel surfer myself, usually while standing at meals or moving around the house. Sitting in front of the television seems like either a luxury or a waste of time, although occasionally I have been tempted. In 2016 I stumbled upon a five-year summary of “Breaking Bad.” It seemed like it would have been a heckuva three-hour movie. So, I tuned in when the series was resurrected. Weekly episodes were positively glacial, so I abandoned it.

It’s almost too embarrassing to admit, but Diana and I sort of binge-watched The Hallmark Channel’s Christmas series. There was snow, always snow; attractive people with trivial problems; and happy endings. It was like burning gingerbread incense while we wrapped Christmas presents or she struggled to teach me how to cook.

Binge-watching is another symptom of declining civic engagement, as my friend Peter Thomson pointed out in this space late last year.

Civic clubs from Rotary to Lions to Kiwanis struggle to maintain membership rolls. The Jaycees went the way of the Dodo bird locally several years ago. In an off-year election, less than 20 percent of registered voters turn out in Pasquotank County. I’ve seen estimates that only half of eligible voters are even registered.

You can sit at home on the couch in your underwear watching 4,755 movies and other “content” for $14 a month on Netflix.

Meanwhile, your neighbors, actual people you know, are knocking themselves out creating “content” right here. There are Thursday night live music events, First Friday ArtWalks, and classic movies on the green at Mariners’ Wharf Park on summer Tuesdays where you can sit under the stars. Elizabeth City even has a couple of opera singers who’d give The Met’s Renee Fleming a run for her money.

Did you know we have five live theater troupes in our area? Encore Theatre Company stages three major productions annually at the Maguire Theater inside Arts of the Albemarle, plus a pair of one-act “play-lets” at its headquarters on U.S. 17 South. Thomson, who directed professionally before retiring to Elizabeth City, wrote and directed “Time Trial,” the story of a notorious local murder trial.

AoA also plays host to the youngsters of The Center Players.

COAst Players at COA has a six-show season it kicked off in September. In Perquimans County you can attend the Carolina Moon Theater. Chowan County has the Rocky Hock Theater. The ECSU Department of Visual and Performing Arts presents a jazz festival and a Lively Arts Café.

All these outfits need help onstage and off. There are opportunities for carpenters and costumers, stagehands and sound technicians, ushers and ticket sellers, directors and producers. Instead of binge-watching another season of “Game of Thrones” or “The Walking Dead,” you could audition for a role and become part of the “content” yourself.

Doug Gardner is vice president of Encore Theatre Co.