I was rushing through town on my way to work when I saw a large ad:
Same day as the US
If you watch American TV series and you live outside the USA, you know what this means: a local TV channel is publicising the fact that it broadcasts a popular series (was it Game of Thrones?) on the same day as it is first broadcast in the US.
But why does it matter to a European audience to see a TV drama on the same day as people in America can watch it – so much so that it becomes the central slogan to promote the series?
I can think of two answers to this question.
The first one is the most popular one with academic researchers (sociologists, geographers, literary historians…) who study questions like these. They tend to see simultaneity as a symptom of the modern age: these days, we get more and more opportunities to experience things at exactly the same moment as others are experiencing them. After all, we have telephones and the internet, and, more generally speaking, satellites and all types of wires that connect us with the rest of the world.
And because simultaneity is now possible, we also feel compelled to do things at the same time as everyone else. We are rushed along to stay in touch, to remain up to date, to keep ourselves informed. We would be ‘so yesterday’ if we couldn’t tell who betrayed who in yesterday’s soap, or what’s the latest foolish thing a president across the ocean has said.
Some of these researchers and critics would also add something about the US holding a global cultural monopoly: why do we need to watch everything on the same day as in the US?
In my research job, I read a lot by these authors, so this is the explanation that immediately sprang to my mind.
And the explanation certainly has an aspect of truth to it. It keeps us on our toes when it comes to considering who decides what is important in life – do wealthy American production companies decide what to do with our free time? do our own governments tell us how to be fit for the job market? do IT corporations tell us what hardware to use to be cool? And why do we give those people so much power?
But it’s also a one-sidedly pessimistic view on human motivations, one that risks dividing people into meek sheep on the one hand and clever critics on the other.
Perhaps these researchers and critics forget to look at a second possible answer, a more pedestrian one.
Because why, really, do you look forward to the next episode in your favourite series? Because you want to know what happens next.
We all love a good story. We all love an interesting character. This has nothing to do with modernity, and only a little with powerful corporations.
Think the Odyssey, think One Thousand and One Nights, think animal-trickster cycles such as the African/American Ananse-Tori. You don’t (just) want to be up to date with your peers when listening to a story. You’re simply dying to find out what happens next. It’s not (just) a social or economic pressure: it’s something personal between you and the story.