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Binge Society

Trigger Warning: Disordered eating

"Binging is not as pretty as the snow, as genius as fiber-optic technology, and it is not a market pitch."

Every year, Collins Dictionary tracks emerging word trends and monitors usage in books and newspapers to determine the word of the year. As I gazed upon the Word of the Day list my grandfather and I had compiled for six years, I wondered if one of our words would merit selection. Anathema? Apodictic? Glib? Clearly, my guessing skills needed refinement, for in 2015, lexicographers at Collins Dictionary chose a bewitching, dazzling, and sublime term to represent language at the peak of progress: “Binge-watching!”

With an increased usage of 200% across media platforms, according to Google Trends, Collins felt the word “binge-watching” had “very much come to the fore” of society. Collins Dictionary is au courant with the cultural scene. “Binging” is referenced in advertisements, and embedded in holiday season, from Thanksgiving feasts, Christmas shopping sprees, and New Year debauchery. Numerous commercials in the past few months have encouraged overindulgence, and redefined binge. Fios and Netflix recently released a joint commercial promoting Fios’s fiber-optic technology, a specifically engineered streaming system allowing millions to swap the mundane for King’s Landing or Gotham City. The main character, Mrs. G, proudly explains to her friends that her living room, with its large flat-screen television, Netflix account, and surround system, will be “THE place for binge-watching.” The smiling women onscreen endorse Netflix’s statement that binging is the “the new normal.”

Capital One also played into society’s penchant for overdoing it when marketing their new Savor credit card. In the commercial, the takeout box inventor reveals his creation to his wife, who responds, “Let’s stay in and binge-watch the snow.” He exclaims, “Genius!” The commercial suggests that binge watching is fun, “genius,” and chic. On that cold, wintry day, what better idea could one have? Hot chocolate, cozying up by the fire with a book, baking banana bread, fort-making, and board games are all passé; binging is à la mode.

As viewers exhaust episodes, formulate critiques, and share opinions on new shows, society has rendered appointment television obsolete; the à-la-carte is now served as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Yet, for present language lovers, the sesame bun in hand has gone stale, the patty has begun to smell and slime, and the lettuce is E. Coli-laced. The stench lies in the term itself; binging is not a commendable behavior. “Binge” should have the whiff of mental health disorders, from binge drinking to binge eating. Binging is to purging as binging is to watching TV, the two go-hand-and hand, unconsciously coupled by advertisers.

Netflix’s binger is not outlined as a person who eats a whole pizza pie and washes it down with two Moose-Tracks milkshakes, samples all of Moon Rocks’ cookies on opening day, and celebrates the completion of the challenge with a pound of granola, or convinces themselves the healthy fats in dark chocolate warrant a six-bar consumption in order to maximize its salubrious effects. The comparisons, closed curtains, and the 10,000-calorie sittings fall under the strict definition of binging: indulgence, specifically eating, to excess. Binge eating is psychological and physical, for me, a response to prior starvation during my bout with anorexia, the filling of the emotional void within. Binging is not as pretty as the snow, as genius as fiber-optic technology, and it is not a market pitch. This is binging:

i am out of control. i don't understand what is going on i cant stop I'm uncontrollable my head is rushing my hands twitch. i move through the cabinet of food pulling drawers stuffing my face not pausing not resting for a second filling myself up or at least trying to fill this void up. I'm scared of myself i ruin everything i hurt myself i hurt other people and i know tomorrow when i wake up I'm going to hate myself and be mean to other people and pull at my hips and check the calories on my watch and feel inadequate knowing nothing can burn off last nights madness. why do i feel so dirty why do i feel so alone at handling this why am i giving up on myself. i forced myself to throw up. i hate myself why do i do that to myself. i hurt myself again as i stuff myself and i hate hating myself and want to love myself. i hate my compulsion and my stress eating.

Binging is this journal entry dated January 3, 2018; appointments at Yale Health, a disappearance at a school trip— knees folded on the gray, tiled bathroom of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, fingers thrashing and fumbling against my uvula, the perennial popping of Ice Breakers mints to quiet the voices inside, the self-loathing—feeling worthy of a disease, and the questioning of life’s purpose.

Binge culture is the Friday night before the SAT: two skinny, one-hundred-thirty-pound high school juniors’ fourteen beers apiece on a silent, anti-social night. Their evening relaxing on the couch turned into, for Ben, deep hours of darkness attached to an intravenous drip in New York. Binge culture is Anna's three days, from 9 am to 2:45 am alone in a group study room; seated in the chairs, though, her semester’s notes and her day’s meal: a Bolthouse Farms thirty-five calorie bag of carrots.

Binging is looking into the toilet bowl, my laxatives and empty peanut butter jars, a sixteen-year-old friends’ peptic ulcer. Binging is wasting away, not thriving in surplus.

Bestowing “word of the year” status upon a form of binging deforms language’s purpose of relaying experience, and acts as a diagnosis of our nation’s culture more broadly. The United States of America: the birthplace of writers Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Emily Dickinson, John Steinbeck. Let us remember their fastidious observation, the miniaturist’s attention to word choice. The persistence for answers, the genially meticulous editing, and the phonemic nature of selected terms. Desensitizing cheapens the pain of those struggling with mental health disorders, paints an escapist’s paradise, and enlarges misinterpretation. Let us revel in the small, the exact, the delicate, in the objectivity of subjectivity, in this exhibitionist and huge, glaring world. Let us find balance, press the pause and rewind buttons, weigh each line and facial expression, and choose words for their accuracy and elegance, as we cleanse the turbid waters of modern language.  



Healing Through Food