Free Time for the Limited Subject

Curator's Note

Charlie Brooker begins his documentary-length praise of the series The Wire with a preliminary apology for recommending something that not only demands hours of fixed attention but also competes with hundreds of other hypothetical viewing hours one is recommended by friends, family and colleagues. We should also acknowledge that this is not always a mere recommendation but often an implicit invitation to enter (or maintain) a sociosymbolic pact that cannot simply be refused; one can recall here Jim’s (John Krasinski) compulsory participation in games of “Call of Duty” with his colleagues in the US series The Office. For the office workers this is not only a necessary ritual, but a totemistic cathexion-object which mediates their social relations in the spirit of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

The difference between libidinal investment and economic investment today is completely elided; the former merely conjugates the latter. As Adorno and Horkheimer illuminate, the culture industry responds to a social division of labor in which a short-circuit between labor time and free time has already taken place. But the lived reality is that capital has already usurped the entirety of our time for which the unpaid portion merely lingers on as the vestigial organ against the social imperative of wealth accumulation.

If a certain level of anxiety then accompanies the viewer's compulsion to finish a television series quickly, it is always already bound up in a necessary calculation and distribution of time. The phenomenon of so-called “binge-watching” is a superlative form of the contemporary masochistic ideology that mistakes suffering for enjoyment. Limited series will (briefly) assuage this anxiety and support the illusion that our choices of entertainment are matters of relaxation rather than distraction. And the subject will respond in kind by treating the task as obligatory; the culture industry will respond to this contraction of labor time, as capital must do, with increased intensity. 



Thank you for your post, Richard. The issue of time particularly strikes me. Your reference to time makes me think of my own experiences as a binge viewer of television. Before I binge episodes of a television program, I find myself considering the time necessary to consume these texts. I have to ask myself whether I can and should devote my time to watching these shows when I can spend said time doing other things. I have also found that if given the choice between binging a limited series and a non limited series, I will binge the former. I choose the limited series because I know I will spend a less amount of time watching these texts than I would watching shows with a greater number of episodes. Thus, your post makes me think of my own viewing habits.

Thanks for your reply. I am afraid I neglected some aspects of anxiety for time considerations. For instance, many people point out that the end of a series is often very disappointing because one is no longer able to continually bing the program. But your comment reminds me: isn't the decision to begin watching something more stressful? I think we expect an even entertain a certain level of anxiety as -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- part of the enjoyment itself.

The anxiety to finish a series and participate in the "enjoying" cultural obligation of televisual consumption as you have mapped it out here brings up several thoughts for me: How can we negotiate the difference between these economics of pleasure and those inherent in classic broadcasting methods of production and distribution?; Are you suggesting a multitude of differing socio-cultural industries at play? I think this might make sense given that media convergence has not in fact led to the death of television as we used to know it.; Might we understand time's relationship to the economics of pleasure differently in times of economic crisis or when looking at race or class?

Thanks for your reply. I think I would agree that a variety of socio-cultural industries factor in here. Perhaps another way of saying this is that what we encounter with online viewing habits is an industrial logic that has suffused the culture with a new logic of consumption. So, I am not too optimistic about limited series, as you can tell. While they seem to counteract the former model of production, audiences themselves resist this change. The subject's relationship to time and the corresponding anxiety does not seem to change character, but rather express itself more or less directly. I'm reminded of Alfie Brown's Candy Crush and Capitalism here. Maybe the level of anxiety is felt more acutely by some, but I would argue that this is the same logic of consumption.

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.