Binging Yourself Whole

The television schedule is a complex concept; it is constantly in flux and subject to change, yet its rigidly based on historic structures that reflect the needs and requirements of the various structural institutions responsible for its creation and success. Its inherent fragmentation–the programs, the genres of programming, the advertising breaks, etc.–must come with its own carefully calculated logic, a logic made up of editorial, commercial, and professional choices that work together to create the perception of a unified self, of a consistent identity, a marketable brand/look. [1] (Barra)

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the unified image of the television schedule and the spectator’s experience of this fragmented totality. If I think about it in relation to the experience of binge-watching I just keep coming back to Lacan and the mirror-stage. The formation of the I, for Lacan, has to do with the child’s identification with her image in the mirror. This mirror image, however, while initially met with “jubilation” inevitably results in angst and longing. The desire for wholeness, for the potential within that unified image, causes agitation because the infant realizes that her state is one of lack, of fragmentation. The Ideal-I seen in the mirror gives the individual something to strive for, but in doing so also creates a disparity between the perfect image and the actual self; no matter how the individual matures she will never attain the reality of the perfected image. Upon its introduction to the outside world, this self-image must be defended because “it threatens to expose the fact that the self is an illusion done with mirrors” (Gallop 83).

Through this Lacanian lens, it would seem as though the televisual construct that we experience when we watch the small screen is a reflection/reiteration of our own experience of self-becoming. It becomes the embodiment of the fragmentations, the blips, the lacks within our physical selves, while giving off the perception of a seamless, fluid, complete entity (we all want to believe this, just look at Raymond Williams!).

But if you think about it, if we and television really really want to become that Ideal-I, we’re going to have to step up our game.

[Enter Binge Watching Stage Left]file_101560_0_Baby_Mirror

Binge watching–the continual viewing of episode after episode of the same show–via VOD, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.–in terms of our experience of it, seems to better mask this fragmentation; we can avoid commercial breaks, genre changes, the week of anticipation between one show and the next, and create the illusion of a seamless experience. These viewing platforms themselves mask the structures and fragments at place in creating their choice offerings, and work toward creating the fluid, unified experience you long for by allowing and encouraging the “automatic play next.” What I am saying is that just as these platforms better hide the fragmentation of their “choice offerings” (no longer “schedules”), and the financial, political, and commercial elements at play in these decisions, they also give us the same sensation of being more in control, more unified, as the continuous flow of one episode into the next creates a seamless fluidity of desire/gratification/identification. [2]

Elizabeth Wright has argued that “As a child is lured by its mirror-image […], which seems to promise a completeness it does not have, so the reader is lured by the text through the force of its representation” (620). This would make television the text we are lured by, the fluid unified whole that we desire for ourselves. So is television our ultimate “imago” or are we, as creators and consumers (ingestors) of television, as I have argued in this post, creating reflections and iterations of our own experience in the social/Symbolic realm?


1. “Brand Identity” is an expression that has been gaining popularity as television and magazines are constantly referencing people “keeping it on brand” i.e. “that jumpsuit is on brand!”

2. This binge watching shift finds its forefathers in the combination of the solitude of the multi-television set household, and the control of the ultimate phallic forefather, the remote control.



Barra, Luca. Palinsesto, Storia e tecnica della programmazione televisiva. Roma-Bari: Gius, Laterza & Figli, 2015.

Gallop, Jane. Reading Lacan. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.

Lacan, Jacques. “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psycho analytic Experience.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001. 1285-1290.

Lorraine, Tamsin E. Gender, Identity, and the Production of Meaning. Boulder: Westview Press Inc., 1990.

Wright, Elizabeth. “Another Look at Lacan and Literary Criticism.” New Literary History. Vol 19 No 3, Spring 1998: 617-627. Jstor.

Transparent Expectations and Rejected Identifications

At the New Yorker Festival’s LGBTQ TV panel, Jill Soloway (creator of Transparent) and Jenji Kohan (best known for Weeds and OITNB) got into a heated discussion, despite the fact that, as Prachi Gupta notes, “they are two prominent women trying to do similar things.”

These “things,” are representation of diversity. Their existence paves the way for discussions about what television thinks television is supposed to do and what we want/expect television to do when we choose to watch it. What matters? Why does any of this matter?

Let me get theoretical for a moment here:

Orange is the New Black: Despite being broadcast on Netflix and available for streaming as an entire season, for the most part I would say that OITNB follows the conventions of typical “assumed viewer” identifications. The protagonist, Piper, a middle-class white woman is, despite being incarcerated, an outsider, she is someone who doesn’t “fit the profile” of either lesbian or inmate (whatever that means). As viewers we look with her at this new world, we share the freshness of this experience with her, and thus identification is not all that unlikely. Or perhaps, more in keeping with standards of tv identification, we might identify with Larry, Piper’s ex-fiance, the straight white man, dealing or not dealing, choosing a futurity that maintains the heteronormative status-quo. In his pushing away from Piper, his rejection of the prison-husband role, his bagels and brunching, he is perpetuating the invisibility and spectacularity (as in spectacle-ness) of this world. We, as viewers, we have this choice, we can stop the episode, we can turn it off, we can choose when to view, when not to, and the prison-life, the fantastical televisual prison-life will simply disappear.

Transparent: There is no way out. Any identification created with any of these characters, identification that television studies has argued is completely necessary to create viewer loyalty, for emotional realism, for maintaining audience, any identification must be with someone who at least in part exists outside what could be considered conventionally heDLNow_DP_Transparent-Review_092614teronormative. Perhaps the brother, perhaps the child-like, resisting, straight man who lashes out against maturity, against identification, against empathy, perhaps he remains the symbol of straight whiteness, of safety in identification. But this, quite frankly, seems like a stretch, like a nod to the id.

But these shows offer alternatives, offer representations of otherwise invisible or marginalized communities. LGBTQ spectators flock to these shows, perhaps with more awareness and agency than when The L Word first came out. But we do, we want to know, we want to say yes or say no, this is not my queer. My interest here is in that yes, is in that no.

This is a call for conversation. Why? What constitutes the queerness or transness that you support? Is it about identification? Does it matter that Soloway’s story is based on her own life experience? Is it important that trans people are on staff to write for and coach the actors? Is this a necessary realism? Does it matter that Maura’s character is played by a man, does it matter if Maura is preOp or postOp when casting the actor? What are the expectations we have of television that make questions like this matter? What do we need to do or to see to say “yes, this is a queerness that I want to see”? Why do we expect television to show us reflections of ourselves?

I want to propose an alternative. I want to propose an identification that lies outside the oppositional.

I am wondering if fact that both these shows are available on streaming, if the fact that entire seasons are available all at once, if the elimination of the spaces between shows makes identification and emotional realism less important for spectatorship.

orange-is-the-new-blackChanging the temporality of these shows changes assumptions of consumption. The binging, the exposure that does not require long-term identification, that asks for a short moment of participation, this temporality lacks commitment. And if commitment is the structure of a heteronormative futurism, perhaps it is the structure of these shows, perhaps it is our mode of consumption that might be queer. When I say, NOT MY QUEER, I still feel and need the experience of watching tv, the pleasure in eating and ingesting the content and having my way with it. Whatever and whenever, this is the queerness the content can’t give me.