Bingeing writers and binge writing. Traditionally, writers have been notorious bingers. And, aside from any occupational enthusiasm for booze and suchlike, we get binge writing, where instead of turning caffeine into books, as some would have it, writers instead turn whiskey into piss and engage in binge writing in the intervals between their alchemical endeavors. (I first encountered the expression “binge writing” listening to a Letterman interview with Hunter S. Thompson. See “What is writing?”)
Binge viewing. The media has given much attention to the rise of binge TV series viewing. With entire seasons and entire seasons readily available on DVD, couch potatoes no longer have to wait till next week for the next episode of 24, Breaking Bad, The Tudors, whatever. Hell, no. They can go for hit after hit of suspenseful conclusion segueing into the start of the next cliffhanger, and the next, and the next right up till it’s nearly time to get up and go to work anyway, so why not watch just one more?
Binge reading. More recently we’ve seen the emergence of so-called binge reading. Probably spoiled by the DVD TV series syndrome, binge readers are unwilling to wait a year or even six months for the next blockbuster novel in a series. They want the damned thing now, now, now. So publishers are beating on their favorite series authors, telling them to get the lead out and churn those novels. That’s money we’re talking, eh? See, e.g., “Impatience Has Its Reward: Books Are Rolled Out Faster.” I’ve read somewhere that the fantasy writer George R.R. Martin has had fans get so irate at the pace with which he coughs up the next book in his series that they’ve issued death threats. Here’s something from an interview:
It is great that so many people are eager for the next book and certainly these are the people who are paying my bills and allowing me to have a house across the street from my other house. But at the same time, sometimes I just wish they would stop pressuring me about it. It will be done when it’s done. I’m working on it. I don’t know what else I can say: I’m a slow writer, I’ve always been a slow writer, and these are gigantic books…
A favorite comic sci-fi writer, Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe fame, produced a few novels that were near genius. The last few were anything but. Reading them, I kept getting this image of some publisher holding a gun to his head and saying, “We’re talking big money, laddie. So write us another book. Like now, you should write it. ”
Binge pontificating. Isn’t all that reminiscent of the “publish or perish” blight, where academics had to generate some kilos of books and papers to win associate professorships or tenure or whatever? And look what that did to the general quality of academic publishing. Yow.
Binge realities. But now we’re bingeing on breaking reality, which is a dangerous thing, since a reality has to sit and steep a while before anyone knows whether they’ve got the genuine article or not. Here in Bangkok, e.g., we’ve been teetering on the edge of chaos since late December, where events unfold day by day as though we live in a cleverly designed TV suspense series, where the conclusion of each episode leaves you dying to see what happens next, this always being a big surprise. And it gets to be like binge-viewing whole seasons at a time on DVD — instead of waiting for the morning newspaper to get your next fix, you become addicted to minute-by-minute Twitter feeds, witness to the unravelling of our world in real time.
If the day-to-day events aren’t put in a context of national, regional, global and cosmic change and development, then current affairs is only gossip. My old friend Tony Alcock, a classicist and linguist of no mean accomplishment, says he doesn’t want to read about it if it isn’t at least 300 years old. From that sort of perspective, CNN is little more than the modern equivalent of neighbors jawing over the back fence. And the Twitter universe? Spare me.
Still, in these troubled times I admit I can’t stop checking the feed to see what’s happening. Among other things, I fear the onset of binge tribalism. Maybe I should just retreat into that Breaking Bad TV series someone lent us.
Here’s a nice take on bingeing from techradar.