Everyone’s got an opinion about the way Netflix presented the first season of House of Cards. Some say it set the precedent for the future of TV. Some say it redefined the “spoiler alert” as we know it. Some say it was downright risky. But those are just words. A study (or quick data pulled from Google) from Feb. 19 essentially concluded that releasing all episodes at once ruined the show’s chance to grow because it hindered the social media factor. As someone who sits behind a computer screen all day, following trends and interacting with colleagues via Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and several social media sites that are barely past beta testing, I wholeheartedly agree.
The format of the show did affect my engagement with social media. I barely commented about any of the House of Cards episodes — even that raunchy final scene in Episode 7 (your eyes are probably all !! right now if you know what I mean) — because I didn’t know who I’d be talking to and didn’t want to spoil anything. Instead, for the first time in a while, it forced me to talk at length out loud about a current show with a real live actual human being. Perish the thought!
I am constantly reading stories that highlight the downfall of my generation: How all we do is keep our eyes glued to our phones and computer screens, which leads to the conclusion that we have lost the ability to communicate, go on “offline” dates, or interact with our bosses. It’s a nonstop double standard of “learn fast, grow, and change the world” met with “slow down, get off your devices, and have a real connection with someone.” Critics are fast to negatively judge Netflix’s strategic gamble of dumping all 13 episodes at once for mass consumption, but the fact that I had to actively find someone to chat with through each omigod moment brought the kind of conversation I realized my life was missing. It was like (pre-Twitter) high school, when I’d call my best friend at the commercial break and we’d gasp in unison about whatever life-altering Joey Potter moment had just occurred. (Thankfully she never married a Scientologist.) The data may prove that binge-watching House of Cards forfeited the advantage of sharing thoughts digitally, but it helped us to gain something far more valuable: human interaction.
And it’s not just about House of Cards — though how could you not dash to find someone when Underwood did that thing to Russo that I guess I still can’t mention here — it’s about binge-watching in general. When I sat home and faked sick so that I could speed through Felicity, Breaking Bad, Lost, Friday Night Lights, and other pop cultural touchstones, I made sure I had a pal to recap with. If not a friend binging at the same time as I was, then someone who loved these shows so much they were willing to go through all the details with me even years after they originally aired. Doing so made discussing Felicity and Noel’s dorm room Boggle kiss, or Jesse and Walt’s nice lunch with Tuco and Tio Salamanca, or everything about Coach Taylor that much greater.
These game-changing shows did not need social media to gauge a following, just as House of Cards does not need people on Twitter or Facebook making dumb jokes about Robin Wright being a “MILF.” What sort of engagement does that really prove, anyway? Though numbers from social media are tangible, it hardly determines whether someone is genuinely interested in a show or simply waiting for the next idiotic parody account. And if we’re more concerned with a show’s numbers than we are with how engrossed viewers are — and how much they are actually deriving from each watch — then, really, we’re all just one embarrassing contradiction.
Whether or not the first season of House of Cards was a win on social media, it was not a “mistake.” And it certainly doesn’t mean people weren’t actually talking about each episode, thoroughly and with emotion. In fact, there were fewer fleeting thoughts and sudden judgments and instead, more thought-provoking debates. On social media, there’s always pressure to be witty and to say something that hasn’t been brought up already — at least from what your timeline can tell — but when I’m physically facing a friend over a beer, we can discuss that cryptic spider comment for as long as we want, without a word count restriction. Perhaps, if the world can even handle such a backpedal, this is how we should be measuring a show’s success after all.
[Image Credit: Netflix]