How to Consume Pop Culture Safely in 2014 (Step 1: Stop the Hate-Watching)
By now, you've likely already shirked at least one of your New Year's resolutions. Whether it was to get to work 30 minutes earlier on a daily basis or add a more rigorous workout to your routine or perhaps to give up your favorite high-calorie snack, slips are bound to happen. That's why I generally set a few easier New Year's resolutions alongside the tough ones — you know, just to keep that fresh 2014 confidence going — and pop culture is the perfect place to start.
If you're reading this, it's a fair assumption that you love pop culture, whether your drug of choice is high-brow television like Breaking Bad, trashy reality like the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, or somewhere in the murky land of middle-brow entertainment where The Vampire Diaries and Modern Family frolic. But as the year winds down, it's easy to let your pop culture habits go the way of your holiday diet: while you're sneaking bites of Christmas cookies, you're also ingesting empty entertainment calories.
But don't fret. Along with your trip to Trader Joe's to pick up arugula, kale, and quinoa for your New Year's diet, set your pop culture diet — at least until the gloriousness of flashy summer blockbusters is upon us.
Step 1: Trim the Fat
We've all got shows that serve as background noise or moments in which you simply needless a little vacation from reason. Keeping those shows around is fine in moderation, but it's easy — especially in December, when new episodes are replaced by all-day marathons of old soap operas and reality shows — to become dependent on hours of hate-watching fodder.
There's so much enjoyable television out there that there's no reason to hate watch a terrible show outside of the occasional moment of weakness. If you don't truly enjoy it, give your hate-watch the boot.
The same goes for series that you once loved. When a series becomes a chore and not a source of stimulation or pleasure, do the right thing and quit. Anne Helen Petersen makes an excellent case for simply letting go over at the LA Review of Books blog, positing that with so much freedom in dictating our own media consumption, "we need to be economical: there’s too much out there to love, so why spend time watching what you don’t?"
If a show is not making you happy or making you think, just let it go.
Step 2: Make Rules For Movie-Going — and Stick to Them
January is a wasteland of iffy studio movies and, if we're being completely frank, February's not so hot either. What better time than now to set your movie theater rules? Sure, it's fun to head to the theater on a rainy day and pick whatever movie title sticks out, buy the biggest popcorn bucket you can carry and enjoy, but in case you forgot, going to the movies is a pricey activity these days. To save your cash for other creative pursuits, survey the movie selection in your city before you leave home, and in January, try these rules on for size:
Choose a title that you actually want to see: So you're not an Aaron Eckhart fan and Underworld wasn't your thing, but I. Frankenstein is the only non-rom-com playing at your local theater — do you see it any way? The answer you're looking for is "no." If you articulate why you're about to see a movie, then spend your money on something more worth your time: a new book, a good meal, or even a new hobby.
We're far too inclined to just accept a sub par entertainment source to pass the time, but there's a very thin line between passing time and completely wasting your time.
Step 3: Delete Candy Crush. Yes, Really.
If you're playing Candy Crush while you're watching movies or television, you're doing a disservice to all the writers, actors, editors, PAs, and the crew who put that piece of entertainment together for your enjoyment and you're ensuring that every time you close your eyes to go to sleep, visions of bursting candy will be burned into your eyelids. None of that can be good for your brain. Just knock it off.
Step 4: Don't Allow the Cold to Chain You to Your Netflix Machine
When it's snowy or just plain cold in the winter, it's easy to hibernate and hook up to Netflix for days at a time. If you want to accomplish your other, tougher New Year's resolutions, setting a Netflix limit during the colder months is invaluable.
Instead of just telling yourself you'll only watch two episodes of whatever your latest binge-subject is, set an actual timer, set a time to meet a friend for coffee, or put something in the oven that you'll be forced to retrieve when your Netflix period is up. It's tough, but Netflix is there for you 24/7, so maybe try not to consume it like the Internet is on fire.
Step 5: Turn One of Your TV Shows into Your Workout Show
If you're having trouble setting time limits on your Netflix (on demand, HBO go, etc.) consumption, make your new binge show your workout show. You can do a yoga routine in the living room in front of your TV, in another room with your laptop or iPad on a side table, or prop a tablet on the treadmill or exercise bike. However you watch TV, there's a way to combine your workout with it.
Plus, there's the added bonus of incentive for a longer workout: you want to mainline three episodes of Orange is the New Black? Go ahead, but you're going to have run a few miles on the treadmill to earn it.
Step 6: Don't Repeat-Watch Empty Calorie Shows and Movies
So you like to watch The Real Housewives of Orange County? That's fine. Own it. Love it. If it makes you happy, then do your thing. Are you incapable of cutting bad movies like Your Highness or Valentine's Day out of your diet because they're too fun to make jokes about? So be it.
If you can't let go of your empty entertainment calories, then it's fine as long as they're passing the aforementioned happy or stimulating rule. But do yourself a favor: make these movies and TV shows a one-use only activity. There's too much good stuff out there, don't waste your time on watching something empirically awful more than once.
Step 7: Essentially, Don't Waste Your Time
Whatever your entertainment resolution is, let the goal be to avoid wasting your own very precious time. Don't channel surf when there's nothing on, don't watch something you hate, and give yourself a break. After all, you're going to need some time to get to your other resolutions, right?