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Birth of the Binge

Serial TV and the End of Leisure

Dennis Broe

Television Studies, Media Studies, Audience Studies, Popular Culture

Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series

Published: March 2019
ISBN: 9780814345269
Pages: 312 Size: 6 x 9
Illustrations: 20 b&w illus.
Published: March 2019
ISBN: 9780814345979
Pages: 312 Size: 6 x 9
Illustrations: 20 b&w illus.
Published: March 2019
ISBN: 9780814345276

Birth of the Binge: Serial TV and the End of Leisure describes and details serial television and "binge watching," the exceedingly popular form of contemporary television viewing that has come to dominance over the past decade. Author Dennis Broe looks at this practice of media consumption by suggesting that the history of seriality itself is a continual battleground between a more unified version of truth-telling and a more fractured form of diversion and addiction. Serial television is examined for the ways its elements (multiple characters, defined social location, and season and series arcs) are used alternately to illustrate a totality or to fragment social meaning. Broe follows his theoretical points with detailed illustrations and readings of several TV series in a variety of genres, including the systemization of work in Big Bang Theory and Silicon Valley; the social imbrications of Justified; and the contesting of masculinity in Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Dollhouse.

In this monograph, Broe uses the work of Bernard Stiegler to relate the growth of digital media to a new phase of capitalism called "hyperindustrialism," analyzing the show Lost as suggestive of the potential as well as the poverty and limitations of digital life. The author questions whether, in terms of mode of delivery, commercial studio structure, and narrative patterns, viewers are experiencing an entirely new moment or a (hyper)extension of the earlier network era. The Office, The Larry Sanders Show, and Orange Is the New Black are examined as examples of, respectively, network, cable, and online series with structure that is more consistent than disruptive. Finally, Broe examines three series by J. J. Abrams—Revolution, Believe, and 11.22.63—which employ the techniques and devices of serial television to criticize a rightward, neo-conservative drift in the American empire, noting that none of the series were able to endure in an increasingly conservative climate. The book also functions as a reference work, featuring an appendix of "100 Seminal Serial Series" and a supplementary index that television fans and media students and scholars will utilize in and out of the classroom.

Dennis Broe has taught at the Sorbonne and is the author of Maverick (Wayne State University Press, 2015), Class, Crime and International Film Noir, and Film Noir, American Workers, and Postwar Hollywood. His television series TV on TV is broadcast from Paris on Art District TV.

Broe’s book is scholarship that matters: he diagnoses our addictive era of ‘binge TV’ while highlighting possibilities for resistance. Connecting multiple aspects of the current television industry—from its pumped-up levels of sex and violence to its influence on neural and relational patterns—to the rise of the neoliberal state, Broe dismantles the illusion that television's 'post-network era' offers new freedom to the consumer. The genius of this book comes in its dizzying sweeps from one medium to another: he convinces us that serial narrative is one of the dominant narrative forms in Western mass culture, charts its aesthetic and industrial complexity, and celebrates television auteurs like Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams, and Jane Campion, whose progressive serial narratives provide us with ‘a more social and more coherent representation of an ever more perilous reality.’

– Jennifer Hayward, author of Consuming Pleasures: Active Audiences and Serial Fictions from Dickens to Soap Opera

Dennis Broe's Birth of the Binge is a groundbreaking nuanced corrective to one-dimensional portrayals of contemporary serial television as a new golden age of popular culture. He situates the advent of digital TV--especially its addictive character--in relation to problematic changes in American political, economic and social life. Grounded in critical theory and extensive research, the book's original analysis of the production and subtext of leading serial programs will be of interest to both communication scholars and the television-viewing public.

– Ralph Engelman, Senior Professor of Journalism and Media and author of Public Radio and Television in America and Friendlyvision: Fred Friendly and the Rise and Fall of Television Journalism

Want to understand today’s television? Then binge this book. A more richly rewarding analysis of how neoliberal capitalism intersects with serial TV does not exist. Nor does a more thorough examination of every important step in the development of the medium’s dramatic and comedic forms.

– Vincent Mosco, author of Becoming Digital: Toward a Post-Internet Society

Broe’s book is an important beginning for an analysis of binge watching as part of the new pattern of work and leisure.

– Frederick Wasser, International Journal of Communication

Dennis Broe’s Birth of the Binge is a fascinating and thought-provoking synthesis of critical methods that produces an all-too-rare materialist phenomenology of television, here focusing on the recent transformations in seriality. Unlike many a Netflix series, The Birth of the Binge is certainly worth the investment in consumption time.

– Mike Wayne, Jump Cut