A plea: Could you maybe stop telling me I need to watch Breaking Bad?
I know. I know! I’ve heard how good it is, and how bingeable it is, and, yes, I also know it’s all on Netflix. But the more someone insists that I have to watch something, the more it makes me want to never watch it, just to — I don’t know — spite them, or to prove in some small, stupid way that I am my own person and I do what I want.
We are, as you may have heard, living in an era of “prestige TV” — episodes feel more like movies, seasons feel more like novels, and television in general is an acceptable topic of conversation at social gatherings. It’s great! Watching TV is fun, talking about TV is fun — it’s all great fun. But I’ve begun to dread these four words: Wait, you haven’t seen —-? Fill in the blank with the current or classic prestige show of your choice: Mad Men, The Wire, Stranger Things, whatever. The second someone says this, the TV banter takes on an irritatingly insistent tone, with everyone present who has watched the show piling on the person who admits that they have not, until this poor soul agrees that, yes, okay, they’ll finally start watching Westworld. This weekend. Promise. It’s supposed to rain, anyway.
We make these promises to be polite, and so that the conversation moves forward. And sometimes, we do intend to keep them. Other times, we do not. The harder someone pushes their favorite show, the more likely some people are to decide to avoid it entirely. The psychology writer Oliver Burkeman wrote about this tendency in a column for The Guardian last summer, suggesting that it may be explained by something called “optimal distinctiveness theory” — that is, “the way we’re constantly jockeying to feel exactly the right degree of similarity to and difference from those around us,” like a bunch of adult teenagers. He continued:
Nobody wants to be exiled from the in-group to the fringes of society; but nobody wants to be swallowed up by it, either. In toddlerhood and teenagerhood, this manifests as a bloody-minded refusal to do what we’re told, precisely to show we can disobey our parents. Perhaps it never entirely goes away.
The knowledge that they had received information which was purposefully censored caused a boomerang effect, making subjects particularly curious about the withheld content. Individuals who had been given accurate predictions about the things they would do in the near future spared no effort to act otherwise, just in order to refute these prophecies. And the mere assertion that there were efforts to muzzle citizens increased the number of signatures on a petition that had been arranged by the experimenter.
Still, with the knowledge of this psychological tendency in mind — could we all try to stop doing this? I can feel it happening now, this week, as my podcast-loving friends keep texting and Gchatting me about S-Town, aghast that I haven’t started it yet. Friends: Please don’t take S-Town away from me. Stop this now.
But also: All of you should really be watching The Great British Bake Off. It’s on Netflix!
- Real-Life Therapists Love the Big Little Lies Therapist
- Here’s How Long You Have to Work Out to See Results
- Your Cat’s Favorite Thing to Do Is Hanging Out With You
- This Classic (and Infuriating) Brainteaser Shows Why You’re Bad at Making Decisions
- Your Job Can’t Be the Only Meaningful Thing in Your Life