Netflix: the great unifier or divider?


You know that last scene in “Stranger Things”? You know the one where Lucas and Dustin walk into SPOILERS. Just kidding. What about “Breaking Bad”? Did you watch that? Can we talk about it yet? No?

No. We can’t talk about it because then the dear readers would be divided into two camps: the ones who have seen it — probably during a two-week binge last Christmas break — and the ones who just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

But that doesn’t mean they want to know what happens. They’ll get to it one day. They’ll get to it on their own time, on their own terms. That’s the beauty of Netflix after all. You control your own destiny. Just try not to spoil someone else’s.

Part 1: “Goodbye, Farewell, And Amen”

The year is 1983. On the last day of February, millions of people across the globe huddled into their living rooms to watch the series finale of Korean War-based dramatic comedy “M*A*S*H.” In total, 50.15 million viewers tuned in to witness the last days of duty for the 4077 M*A*S*H Unit.

To put it into perspective, the highest-rated TV episode of 2017 so far had 17 million viewers.

Part 2: “The Upside Down”

It’s impossible to deny that Netflix hasn’t revolutionized the way that we consume television. Making a point about the decline in viewership isn’t to say that we don’t watch TV anymore, but to say that how we do it has shifted similarly to how the internet changed other facets of our lives. From political ideologies to conspiracy theories to entertainment, the Internet encourages you to curate your own narratives.

You only want to watch “Friends” but never want to hear about “Black Mirror”? Fabulous. Isn’t it great that we can watch whatever we want now? Aren’t we liberated from the old guard of network TV?

Part 3: “Too Good to Edith”

The options for television viewing were limited, to say the least, in the early ‘80s when Hawkeye and the rest of 4077 flew home from Korea. But, in a way, it made what was on the air all the more special. “M*A*S*H” was a phenomenon. You can bet that everyone tuned in Monday at 9 p.m. for it.

And on Tuesday, if people mused around the water cooler you wouldn’t call “SPOILERS.” If you didn’t watch the finale on Monday it was because you didn’t watch “M*A*S*H.” You missed your opportunity, and you had to wait until it re-aired.

Over 50 million people bonded over that episode that night. Forty million people a few years earlier tuned in when Norman Lear’s commentary on the American family “All in the Family” came to a close. The show was daring and divisive, but still garnered over 40 million people. That means folks of every color, creed, age and political party watched and learned something they may have otherwise missed.

Many Americans in the 1970s learned about tolerance with Archie Bunker on “All in the Family.” In 2017, if that show’s message made you uncomfortable, it would be pretty easy to leave it by the wayside and find a confirmation bias somewhere else.

Whether or not you believe unlimited options to be a good thing or not, you can agree that a TV show episode won’t be a cultural event like the finale of “M*A*S*H” or “Goodbye, Farewell, And Amen” were. And people wouldn’t bond over it together on the same day, because “Hey! Don’t talk about it! Me and my girlfriend are only on season five!”

Story by Peter Medlin

Netflix. For some, it keeps you busy during a rainy, cold day. Or perhaps, just an excuse to get out of social situations by binge-watching your favorite shows. After all, isn’t that why it’s there? Netflix is a platform in which can unify watchers to engage in a conversation about the old ‘90s show they just watched or the new original series Netflix released. Whatever the case may be, Netflix has the power to unite the masses.

Netflix can be something you can do alone, but “over half, 51 percent, (of people) prefer to watch in the company of at least one other person,” Paul Hiebert of the Pacific Standard states. It’s considered a hobby for over half of the population to binge-watch Netflix with their loved ones or friends. The thrill of watching an episode of the series you’re currently binging with another person and then talking about it is exciting. Those who watch Netflix alone don’t get the experience of discussing or making comments during the episode.

Then there’s the unification of recommending a show to one of your friends that’s on Netflix. Soon enough, they’re texting you and tweeting about the show with you, and it brings you together by exchanging your favorite characters or least favorite characters. It pulls in a discussion that you wouldn’t have by watching by yourself. It’s a fun streaming system that lets you engage with other watchers and to hear their opinions of your favorite show, even if one of them tells you they don’t like your favorite character. Either way, it creates a discussion and a kind of understanding of why it may be your favorite show.

In some cases, binge-watching horrible shows on Netflix can also unify people. One of my friends on campus binge-watched “One Tree Hill” on Netflix throughout spring term, and our lunches would revolve around the discussion of how dramatic and awful the show is. Or I would get texts during the summer about the show. There are various ways of unifying people through the scope of Netflix.

How about the Netflix original series that everyone is hooked on? In fact, if you haven’t seen one of their original series, you kind of feel out of the loop. Let’s take the phenomenon of “Stranger Things” as an example. There was so much hype over the show, and until you started watching it you didn’t fully get why people were freaking out together over it. It was obvious on Twitter how much it brought people together, especially factoring in the nostalgia of it. The show was so popular amongst viewers that they had a whole recreation of the set in San Diego during Comic-Con, and people were able to divulge together why they love the show.

Friends or family members also string along recommendations from Netflix to you. Without the discussion that comes from Netflix, how would we ever find our next show to binge watch? The answer is you wouldn’t.

Also, did you know that Netflix can strengthen your relationship? The New York Times states that “resisting the impulse to binge so that you may watch with a lover is the new equivalent of meeting the parents or sharing a sober kiss.” This is kind of like the idea of a cheating boyfriend or girlfriend. If you binge-watch a show you’re watching without your significant other, it’s almost like dating someone else behind their back. There are times when you have to resist the urge to binge-watch the whole show without your significant other. However, it is possible.

Additionally, “reading books and watching shows and flicks as a couple was associated with greater intimacy and confidence in the relationship,” according to Health magazine. Binge-watching a show together as a couple can actually be a huge benefactor for a relationship. Netflix isn’t putting a damper on relationships or even making people feel isolated, it’s bringing people together. Health also says “having a shared connection to the characters in a TV series or film might make couples feel like they share a social identity even if they lack mutual friends in the real world,” says Sarah Gomillion, who is a visiting scholar at the University of Texas at Austin. Some couples have different groups of friends and sometimes that may sour a relationship. However, a couple watching a show together may find a kinship in a specific fictional character that sparks conversation. It’s happened to all of us. We watch a show where the main character just gets us and we tell our friends about it. We even may characterize who’s who in our friend group by comparing each other to the characters on “Friends” or “Parks and Recreation.”

Once again, Netflix is encouraging us to engage in conversation. In a world of modern technology, Netflix is one of those technological advances that has the power to bind us together. It creates discussion and sometimes can even connect you with friends or jobs. Weirdly, it can bring you closer to friends, significant others or family members. Despite having your eyes glued to the screen, it prompts discussion as well.

Story by Madeline Klepec.


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