A while back, I was out with a new acquaintance on a first date that would end up going horribly wrong; it all started with the guy telling me that I could not claim that Netflix was a hobby.
First of all, this guy was stand-up comic and also a grown-ass man who wore baseball-print pajama pants on the first date, so maybe I should not have taken his claim to heart, but regardless, I was outraged. I have been stewing over his comment ever since.
Why can’t Netflix be a hobby?
If I were a tenured professor or a dad, I would have probably worded my statement as “being a film buff”, but because I’m a hip, young millennial, I stated “Uhh, I watch a lot of Netflix”. There is really no difference between being a film buff and watching ungodly amounts of Netflix, as long as you are selecting your programming appropriately (ie. not watching every season of Extreme Cheapskates). Not only can watching movies and television be enjoyable entertainment, but personally I also view it as my never ending education.
I loosely set my viewing parameters by two criteria: 1) Try to watch everything that has ever been given any sort of accolade. 2) No reality TV.
That leaves me with any television show, movie (studio or indie), short, documentary, variety show, stand-up comedy special, etc. that anyone has ever said was worth anything, and excludes everything produced by Ryan Seacrest. This makes for a very long list that I try to narrow down even further by giving priority to classics, critically acclaimed contemporaries, and occasionally the more pedestrian “stuff with people that I like in it”.
I set these criteria for two reasons, one of which is career oriented and the other of which is social.
First, from the perspective of pursuing a career that allows me to create similar media, there is much to be learned. If you want to learn how to write well, you should read great literature; same goes for TV and movies. Want to write great scripts? Watch stuff with great writing. Having trouble with character development? Watch something with incredibly nuanced characters. Unsure if you’re hitting the mark comedically in whatever you are working on? Get back to basics and watch some of the greats.
Every medium has their steadfast rules, and as much as movies and TV constantly evolve, most of these basic rules remain the same. The rules for great filmmaking that were set in films like Citizen Kane and All About Eve are just as prevalent in contemporaries such as The King’s Speech and American Beauty. The rules for great sketch comedy that were set in classics like The Carol Burnett Show, Laugh-In and early SNLcontinue to work today on Chapelle’s Show, Mad TV and modern SNL. Great television writing techniques can be seen from Newhart to Seinfeld and over to M.A.S.H. through Mad Men.
In fact, when it comes to television and movies, the best bet is not to reinvent the wheel. Sadly, this is the reason why the majority of studio releases are sequels and remakes; because that’s the easiest path to success. However, I argue to note that the saying says not to reinvent the wheel, and like any wheel on your car, realistically you should keep the rims and get new tires. Keep the skeleton and let the meat be the new and original content. The integrity is found in the structure, while the character and personality are found in the dressing. If you want to make great stuff, make sure it shares some of the key elements of the greats that have come before it.
So, for all these points, I consider every minute of programming I watch on Netflix to be an education helping me to get where I want to be with my career where I can tell the kinds of stories I want to tell.
And now for something completely different: The social benefits.
Pop culture knowledge from TV and movies will improve your life. (If you understood the above reference, I have already begun to prove my point).
Oh yes. There is a reason I am so damn good at trivia. I watch a lot of everything. But, as great as it is to be a master at something as useful and respected as bar trivia, there are other benefits of this knowledge that reach beyond bragging rights and free apps at TGIFridays.
Having excellent knowledge of past and present television and movies will make your viewing experience more enjoyable, I promise. You will pick up on more jokes, catch on to great easter eggs hidden in other programs, and you will get the references that used to have you scratching your head while everyone else was yukking it up.
A reference on 30 Rock you won’t get if you don’t watch Mad Men. Blammo!
Furthermore, having this knowledge will help you in almost any social situation you encounter. Pretty much everyone watches something on the boob-tube from time to time, and they usually have some type of program they are passionate about.
Find yourself stuck entertaining your younger cousin’s frat brothers at his grad party? Good thing you watched every season of Entourage! Caught in an elevator with the CEO of your company? Thank God you are caught up on Don Draper’s latest debauchery. Nothing to talk about with your creepy uncle-in-law at Passover? A Robot Chicken reference will do you do you a mitzvah.
Seriously, with a few simple pop-culture references you can break any awkward silence, strike up conversations with nearly anyone, bridge new relationships, gain trust, foster camaraderie and even relieve tension from strained circumstances.
Shut it down.
I stand by my statement that Netflix is a perfectly acceptable hobby. I will argue this until the day my Instant Queue is empty, which will probably never happen. Watching a lot of Netflix is no better or worse than considering yourself a “film buff”, as long as you do it right. You can certainly benefit from both the career enhancing and socially useful knowledge that these programs have to offer. But please, I beg of you: set some viewing criteria, seek out the classics, trust programs with actors and directors who generally pick good projects, please try not to watch all crap and stay away from unscripted reality nonsense. Finally, please: everything in moderation.