sometimes I have a big plan about what I want to say in a blog post and I think about it for a long time but other times I have a thought rattling around in my head and I just have to put ‘pen to paper’ and let the rest figure itself out. As you can likely tell from the title this is one of those times!
I’ve just finished watching the Norwegian TV show SKAM, if you know it then you’ll know exactly why I have so many thoughts rattling around in my head and if you haven’t then hopefully reading this will be incentive enough to check it out for yourself and become a part of the movement (all are welcome here!)
I’m no stranger to consuming media. Television, films, youtube, insta stories, you name it, I’m plonked in front of it. I actually calculated that last year I managed to binge about 60 seasons worth of television across more than 20 TV shows!! (and still on track to get my degree so if that’s not multi tasking then I don’t know what is). The trouble is that ‘bingeing’ shows on Netflix or Lightbox as we also have in New Zealand, has often been associated with laziness. The hero of the procrastinator and those who aren’t serious about living life. ‘Bingeing’ can also been found hand in hand alongside break-ups, periods, rainstorms, Sundays, Friday nights or really anyone who needs the comfort of a show to help them through hard times. It’s also associated with teenage girls who are boy obsessed and live only to ‘ship’ the two characters they are most in love with. I can’t deny that I have definitely fitted into that category at some point, a lot of teenage life is built on ‘fangirling’. In 2015 one of my best friends even wrote an article on this blog about unashamedly being a fan girl. But I’ve started to think that maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves for getting so into TV shows (really just trying to justify my own habits here). So I’ve tried to unpack why it is we get so engrossed and why shows can end up being so important to us.
I think the first time I really remember actively bingeing a show was My Mad Fat Diary, a show about teenagers in the 90’s in Northern England. It covered a lot of youth buzz words like eating disorders, depression, crushes and alcohol and had an absolutely epic playlist that made me and my friends think we were hard core 90’s rockers for most of Year 12. Next was Skins, I very nearly didn’t pass the set of Year 12 IB mock exams that immediately followed my obsession with Skins (Chris4 life), they felt absolutely meaningless next to the drama of life in the Skins world. I dabbled in Gossip Girl for a little bit but deep down I knew that I didn’t really have anything in common with Serena and Blair and that it was very unlikely that my next BFF holiday was to Paris, so I didn’t remain hooked for too long.
Friday Night Lights was a staple as well, another show from the early 2000’s that felt dated by the time I got round to finding it in 2015 but still nailed so many of those powerful emotions from high school (for the absolute niche group of FNL and SKAM fans out there, I really think that Riggins and William would be great friends… perfectly symmetrical, tortured, monosyllabic, friends. Tell when I’m in too deep…)
Please Like Me has also been a crowd favourite amongst my uni friends and I. It’s Australian and until we get a TV show that can accurately portray the life of NZ youth then we’ll have to stick to what they throw us from the over the ditch. but Please Like Me did an excellent job at covering the issues that happen in the next stage of life, the weird 21 – 25 stage where it there feels like there is a lot of pressure and expectation but also zero rules to get there (yippee!). Honourable mention also to Fresh Meat! Not sure how much of my university life I can actually say is that same as in the show but a golden source of a good laugh. The theme being with a good show is that they suck you in, you can literally not leave the universe that the show has created until you know every single thing that is going to happen next.
It’s clear to me after years of watching shows that television actually becomes both an escape and a road map. Rather than just superficially ‘fangirling’ over the characters, the TV shows that choose to portray youth culture actually become a very important part of how young people see themselves outside of the universe of the show. In the case of SKAM because of the way that it has been set up you become so close with the characters that you can barely distinguish them from your own friends. They use the same language, listen to the same songs and scroll endlessly through instagram too. Rather than it being a sad lonely thing that your friends are characters on a TV show, I think it is encouraging and comforting because the show also tackles issues that we as ‘real life’ young people need a road map to tackle ourselves. It talks about mental health, sexual assault, sexuality and cyberbullying as well as religion and cultural issues, but instead of feeling condescending the show gifts you with total immersion in the world of the characters and their issues and you end up rooting for them completely. You take their strategies for dealing with these issues out of the show and into your own world.
I genuinely believe that if every 15/16 year old could see this show then we would have happier and healthier young people. Young people who know that they cannot possibly be alone in the world for their exact issues are being played out on screen by a small group of actors half way across the world, in Norway of all places! The context is not the same and certainly many New Zealanders will never understand the appeal of brown cheese (don’t knock till you try it) but the themes are absolutely universal and that is what is so staggering and why watching these shows is so important.
This summer I also saw two incredible films, Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name. One is based on a teenager in Sacramento in the early 2000’s and the other about a teenager in Italy in the 1980’s. Neither of those experiences are something I can relate to and yet both films gripped me and moved me from beginning to end and their popularity and Oscar nominations can attest to the fact that so many others were also moved by the incredible stories about the confusion and complexity of youth. It is clear that there is such a need for young people to see themselves portrayed honestly and openly on screen.
I had a discussion recently with a friend and she said ‘it’s just occurred to me that not everyone I know is really angsty’. It made me laugh because the narrative that we have become so used to seeing is that everyone is going around being tortured and angst ridden all the time, that it is normal for teenagers to have the ‘storm and stress’ of adolescence and young adulthood follow them around until they are 25. But we have to break this narrative, it is not the norm. Yes, it is normal for things to go wrong during those weird teenagers years and to feel like you have no idea whats going on but to feel like that all day, every day for all those years is actually not the normal and we have to get better at talking about our emotions because that is how those feelings come to sort themselves out and not hang around for too long.
One of the ways we talk about those emotions is online. Media is the way we communicate now, gone are the days when we should be lamenting the ‘tech age’ and scoffing at 12 years old for having iPhones. It is a fact and the more that we embrace it and continue to use media and the internet as a tool for sharing, learning and trying to understand each other, the better off we will be.
It is my hope that we will continue to see youth issues portrayed out on screen by people who have genuinely taken the time as Julie Andem (the creator of SKAM) has done, to ask the youth what it is they need and what it is they want to see on their screens. I can actually not comprehend at this point what a genius the whole team behind the show is to be able to portray SO accurately, the nuances and complexities of being a young person in 2018. The pressures that young people face in 2018 are absolutely baffling, it can come from all sides and a lot of it can come from within too. Shows like SKAM help to ease that pressure, they see that pressure and without saying it directly they let young people know that they respect those pressures and that they are not alone. Julie has managed to talk to young people using their own language so that the characters and their journeys feel so authentic to real life experiences of being a teenager/young adult that they just blend seamlessly into your world without you even realising it. It’s very easy to forget that this world actually does not exist!
So the conclusion is folks, binge away! Use these shows to comfort your own insecurities and to give you confidence. All people just want to be understood and when you watch a show that makes you feel so completely understood and seen, the world moves forward just a little bit. So share the love!
I love a good show and not just the ones that indulge my inner most angsty thoughts and feelings (it’s good to take a break or you’ll be an endless vat of emotions forever). Stick me in front of a couple of episodes of The Office or indulge me in some Downton and I’ll be right as rain too. So if you have any recommendations for this professional binger then I would absolutely love to hear them. And if you love any of the shows/films I’ve mentioned above then I’m always up for an obsessive chat too (Isak+Even appreciation particularly welcome!)
Talk soon x