The Problem With Saturation Culture

Over the last five years or so, our collective consumption of pop culture can be summed up in one word: binge. From the advent of obsessive Netflix shows to all the other streaming services, limited series, and everything else we want to watch, we as a viewing audience all—for the most part—came to an agreement that pushing through several episodes at a time of any given show was the way to function. No commercials, more episodes, and far less waiting.

This model is shown to work nearly universally — save for perhaps Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, in which case you’d be wise to stay on top of things because everyone else is going to be talking about them.

Aside from a few exceptions, we consume endlessly, fighting to stay relatively up to date while also not wanting to wait too long for the next episode. And when you’re finally done that TV show…Well, there is always more to consume.

That all needs to change. We’ve been binging for far too long, and there is so much out there that we will never actually reach the end of our queue. No more binging; it’s time to purge.

Movies

Since 2003, each year has seen at least five hundred films released at the box office. The last five years have broken six hundred, and the previous two hit seven hundred. That’s an utterly ridiculous number of films. Let’s say you can watch a tenth of those films: that is, at the very least, fifty a year. And that’s just how many you are supposedly watching the year they are released, never mind trying to catch up on anything you’ve missed over the years.

What’s more, what of wanting to see something over again — revisiting a film that requires a second viewing, or returning to a story simply because you loved it so? That’s provided we get access to all these movies and know they exist; if they’re not promoted, we might not even hear about them. It’s absurd to think we can consume even a fraction of these films a year, to say nothing of those that are released on home entertainment first, direct to your TV or DVD player. Kindergarten Cop 2 needs some love!

TV

So there is Netflix. And Hulu. And Amazon. And all those other channels churning out original programming on the cheap to appeal to niche audiences. Like Granite Flats on Brigham Young University TV or Cedar Cove on the Hallmark Channel (you’re welcome). This trend isn’t really slowing down, either. Netflix, for example, has about a dozen comedies, a dozen dramas, and a handful of docuseries and foreign shows, to say nothing of all the documentaries and films they acquire (let’s ignore the stand-up, but boy, is there a lot of stand-up).

Also, NCIS and Modern Family are still things. That’s 316 and 172 episodes respectively. Also, The X-Files came back. And Gilmore Girls. And Full House. All of this is to say: we’ve a slew of never-ending shows, new ones popping up all the time, and cancelled ones that just decide to come on back.

Stop telling me how incredulous you are that I haven’t seen all of Mad Men or that I’m not caught up with House of Cards. My queue is miles long.

Podcasts

Like Beanie Babies in the 90s or Livestrong bracelets of the 2000s, most people today have a podcast. They’re relatively easy and cheap to make, and there are plenty of platforms to post; you just have to get the word out. Like blogs, podcasts can cater to a niche market, but how much can we realistically consume? Maybe the average person has five podcasts they listen to regularly, maybe one that’s daily and some others that pop up across the week. Still, it’s daunting. Stitcher boasts to have over 15,000 shows, as if that’s a good thing and not incredibly overwhelming. Podcasts are another fantastic storytelling platform, but it’s another outlet that’s going to take up time.

Tinder

The need to have options, and that desire for an infinite amount of content out there for us to consume, seeps into other parts of our life. Tinder is a prime example of this way of thinking, but it is by no means the only platform of its kind. This dating app—and any others where we rate, swipe, like, and dismiss people in less than a second—serves to inform us that potential partners are limitless.

Now, while television and other forms of pop culture take up so much of our time because of the seemingly infinite selections, the saturation of people does not affect our time so much as it affects our minds. Like most things in our life, we’ve a vast menu from which to choose, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the quality is that great. We just know there is quantity.

So What?

Well, the first notion is a depressing one. It’s that we are just never going to get through everything we want. Some shows, some movies, we will simply never get to experience. Maybe we can consume some of these tangentially or vicariously, knowing the finer details of something just because so many people are talking about it. I suppose there is something positive about this fated idea, though; you will forever have something else that you are looking forward to watching.

Another impression is that everywhere we turn, quantity is triumphing over quality. And while there are outlets for the kind of content we desire ­­– those thought-provoking, genre-breaking, boundary-shattering programs — there is also a lot out there that just reinforces what we already believe, and what we want to satisfy our preconceptions. These aren’t the stories we need; they’re the ones we deserve. Ultimately, though, we must be more selective, and we must work towards choosing the right match. Stories are important and influential, as are people. And our time is precious, so we must be more active in what we let in.

With so much saturation of culture, we’re likely to enjoy more mediocrity than quality. But just because there is so much out there, doesn’t mean we need to consume it all.