Lockdown Binge Culture and Normal People

Image Credit: Samaneh Sadeghi Marasht

With little to fill our time during lockdown besides film and television, Daniel Culleton looks at why certain shows captured the country's attention during the lockdown period.

Binge-watching culture is more prominent now than ever before, with streaming services such as Netflix, Disney +, Amazon Prime, and Hulu allowing for a larger consumption of media over a shorter period of time. For many, the standard viewing of a series now takes place over the course of a weekend rather than multiple months. Gone are the days where television shows had to employ cliffhangers to ensure they would retain their viewers for the following week. Streaming services that release the entire seasons of a show all at once allow for the writers to focus on making an engaging programme. The quality of the show itself acts as the incentive to return as well as the impulse to continue watching uninterrupted. 

Binge-watching carries with it many advantages for the viewer; watching episodes of a show in quick succession leaves less room to forget the narrative and character beats of the previous episodes. Our immersion into the world of the story is maintained for a longer period of time, and, if we do want to take a break from watching a particular show, that interval is dictated by us, the viewer, rather than the scheduled air time of the programme itself. Thus, we are given the power to facilitate our own viewing schedule that will best engage us with the show. 

Binge-watching was particularly popular during the recent lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to many people having more time on their hands as a result of this period of quarantine, there was also a lack of human interaction, a lack of connection, and a lack of intimacy for many. Feeling the absence of these things, many of us turned to binge-watching television. This is an activity through which we can engage with the lives of others, see the world from another's perspective, and assuage the seemingly perpetual boredom that those months carried with them. 

[Normal People] was driven by a desire for intimacy, and was broadcast at a time where many were lacking just that.

Arguably the most prominent example of this was the limited series Normal People, directed by Lenny Abrahamson and based on Sally Rooney's novel of the same name. The series tells the story of Connell and Marianne, tracking their relationship as they navigate the change from school to university, their romantic connection, social circumstances, and their place in the world. The show grew in popularity rapidly due in no small part to the fact that the series was, at its core, a story about connection. The narrative was driven by a desire for intimacy and was broadcast at a time where many were lacking just that. As a result, the emotional beats of the programme were particularly poignant. The loneliness that the characters felt, the impact on one's life another person can have, an aching desire for human connection all struck a chord with the audience. These emotions were given a newfound context and importance to those of us stuck at home, watching the series while having not seen many of our friends, family, and romantic partners in far longer than we were used to. The relationship between Connell and Marianne unfolding onscreen gave us something to root for, something to engage with, but most importantly, it gave us something to talk about. 

Normal People became a cornerstone of small-talk in society, spanning various demographics of viewers. For so long, forced conversations with people in our lives had grown draining. The world may have been experiencing similar circumstances, but it was difficult to relate to people around us when life felt as if it was paused indefinitely. With no news on which to update anyone, the welcome addition of a quality television show to discuss provided the much-needed service of ‘normal’ conversation. The addition of the show being set in Ireland, recognising various locations, and certain staples of Irish youth culture being utilised as narrative devices likely made the show even more engaging for the country. 

Television may not be the same as real life, and binge-watching may not be a replacement for intimate, quality human interaction. But in certain cases, it can come pretty close.

This strange period in our lives served as a reminder of many things, especially our need for stimulation and connection. Binge-watching provided an escape, a way to focus on the fake problems of a televised reality rather than the very real problems in our own reality. Television may not be the same as real life, and binge-watching may not be a replacement for intimate, quality human interaction, but in certain cases, it can come pretty close.