Last year, after 20 years of hardly thinking about it at all, I became obsessed with James Cameron's Titanic. Though this fascination manifested in all kinds of theories — that it was a movie about gender, about capitalism, about Cameron accidentally preparing a generation of viewers for the world as they knew it heaving and cracking in half beneath them — it was really, in the end, about love. I loved Titanic, I had always loved Titanic, and at the end of the day, for the period of about four months that I spent thinking about it and theorizing it and enjoying it over and over again, there was rarely anything I wanted to watch more. And so I would often relax in the evening, or power up in the morning, by watching a just a bit of Titanic: the scene where Jack and Rose meet on the prow of the ship, or the first 15 minutes, or the last 15. I would pay the movie a little visit, as if I was riding my bike around a crush's house. And then I would move on.
Titanic was the movie that taught me what I now think of as the art and joy of the media micro-dose: the practice of integrating a movie — or a "text," if you want to sound fancy and academic and potentially even productive — into your life.
The idea of "bingeing" on a show has always seemed unappetizing to me, not least of all because of the term's natural corollary, at least if you grew up in the days before streaming media, when the term most frequently appeared in the language of eating disorders. After a binge, there is usually a purge. The term is also apt for media consumption, it turns out: Gobble up six hours of a docu-series, for example, and you may find yourself compelled to tell your friends, post your theories on Reddit, even write a hot take if you're so inclined ... and then feel you have answered all your questions, exhausted your passion, and so move on to the next thing. And the next. And the next. And the next.
The other day I was sitting next to a phalanx of 80-something women outside an ice cream parlor in upstate New York, and eavesdropped on what I found to be a deeply relatable conversation. One woman lamented that the cashier at the supermarket hadn't understood her Jimmy Cagney reference (kids today!), which naturally led her and her friends to discuss the state of modern media.
"There are so many shows now!" another woman said. "And you never know when they're starting or ending!"
It's true. There are so many shows now — and often I find myself, in conversation with friends, talking guiltily about everything we haven't gotten to yet, as if we're living in a kind of media clean plate club. Netflix, whose decision to produce original content was revolutionary just a few years ago, now releases new series nearly every week, and it seems likely that both Hulu and Amazon Prime will soon reach the same fever pitch. We are compelled to keep up with all this viewing, I think, in part because we crave a common language: We want to have a world of near-infinite viewing choices, filled with niche narratives that never could have made it to the primetime lineup of old, but we also want to connect with each other about the momentous televised events that make their way into our lives, the way Krystle and Alexis' lilypond catfight or Rachel's surprise pregnancy once did.
The micro-dose can't help you with this — except, maybe, by coercion. If you can't keep up with the parade, march to the beat of your own obsessive drum.
This year, I fell in love with Martin Scorsese's Casino, for both no real reason and a million reasons: It's brilliant, it's underappreciated, it may be the only movie where Sharon Stone was ever given the space she needed to truly act her heart out; it's filled with scenes you have to watch a dozen times to see everything that's happening, it's about not just mob-controlled Las Vegas but the wages of capitalist greed, and it's three hours long but feels like 10.
It opens with a series of scenes so breathtakingly composed that I often come back to its first five minutes, just to see how five minutes can do so much. Or, as I tell myself at the end of the day, when I need something to accompany my grilled-cheese-sandwich-making: Time for a little Casino. And then we're off, sweeping, after the opening credits, into a shot of Robert De Niro as Ace Rothstein, seen from a low angle, as he lights a cigarette and surveys his neon domain. "I was given paradise on Earth," he says, though we may already begin to suspect that this is a movie about hell.
I come back to Casino every day partly because I want to be watching something familiar, and, in an odd way, comforting. I don't want to be alone with my thoughts at every turn. I want to be in the company of people, or at least characters, that I know. Which is, in the end, what I love most about TV: that it serves as a form of company. I just don't want to invite new people into my living room or my kitchen or my bedroom every few days. Right now, I only want Joe Pesci.
I gave up the dream of keeping up with new TV — and keeping abreast of what my friends were talking about — around the time I let my Titanic obsession take root in me. And around that time, something strange happened: My friends started to join me. When I visit people I haven't seen in a while, we often watch Casino together. It's a movie big and complex enough to walk around in, and I haven't gotten tired of it yet. Watching it with people who haven't seen it before means getting to see how they react to it, what they notice, what they wonder, what they laugh it. It becomes a story we can share with each other, rather than madly racing to keep up with each other's consumption. And I know my friends are willing to join me in Rothstein's Las Vegas partly because they know this is a world that matters to me: because I'm not recommending something because it's new or trendy or somehow culturally obligatory, at least for a week or so. I don't hide my obsessions, and so people understand, when I bring them to Casino, that they're entering a dark and gaudy world that matters to someone who matters to them — even if she can't quite explain why. But maybe, after my next micro-dose, I will.
There are so many shows now, and you never know when they're starting or ending. Now pardon me while I go wash some dishes, and watch the scene of Ace and Ginger's wedding for the 58th time.