On Sunday, after a six-year absence, Arrested Development returned for a fourth season in a bunch. Fifteen episodes were available on Netflix on the same day.
The mass release of Arrested Development episodes signals the expectations of those at Netflix that a substantial number of viewers will watch all episodes at once. In other words, that they would go on an Arrested binge. The buzz word here is delay and indulgence. That’s right, the Arrested Development producers are trafficking in delay and certainly as a result, fans are poised to indulge.
It is trite to say our society is resistant to delayed gratification. However, the delay might be unavoidable. Moviegoers get prefeature promos of a film will released several months—or, in the instance of the Ice Age sequels, up to a year—later. If we really like a film, we know there’ll be a sequel, but we also know there’ll be a long wait. We have to satisfy ourselves with films that are perhaps less desirable but immediately available, or by reading about the planning or production of our favorites.
Delayed or deferred gratification, assuming it is voluntary, consists of the ability to resist the temptation to have an immediate reward for the sake of future, and possibly longer-lasting one.
Delayed gratification has been linked to academic success, physical and psychological health, and other positive results. Delaying gratification relates to and may enhance other virtues, such as patience, self-control and willpower.
Brain researchers have discovered, through experiments in which the subjects were asked to consider delay and reward situations while undergoing magnetic resonance imaging, that choosing the alternative of immediate reward activates parts of the brain associated with emotion. Delaying gratification links up with brain systems related to abstract reasoning. We may not agree that being rational is better than being emotional. Didn’t Captain Kirk keep demanding that Spock show some feeling? We associate rationality with machinery: robots or rogue computers try to take over the world and excise all human qualities. People that think too much are not really living. They are removed from the sensations that can be gleaned from the world around them.
Studies of addiction have suggested that addicts become so focused on immediate gratification of a desire, such as consuming drugs or alcohol, because areas of the brain related to the release of dopamine are activated by the craving.
Psychoanalysts theorize that poor impulse control, i.e., the inability to defer enjoyment to a later time, is the result of the failure of the ego to referee the contest between id, or pleasure principle, and the superego, or morality principle. The ego is the reality principle that is supposed to satisfy the needs of the id while respecting other people’s needs. The superego, of course, advocates the delay on moral grounds. If the ego boundaries are weak, the id takes over and forces us to run on impulse power.
In terms of cinema, some people try to circumvent the delay by making or obtaining bootleg copies of the movie ahead of the official release. Others reduce the delay by attending the midnight premier, though they may have to suffer for the short-circuiting of the delay by waiting outside the theater for hours—or, in the case of the Star Wars trilogy, for days. This may be a case of delaying gratification in order to avoid delaying gratification. Of course, it’s conceivable that people may endure the long wait as a way to secure bragging rights by being in the select group that sees the movie first.
Of course, skill in postponing fulfillment may be a disguise for avoidance-related behaviors such as procrastination, or disorders such as anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression.
The common sense notion is that when we attain what we long for, we enjoy it, maximally savoring it. That is the explanation for why some moviegoers go back to watch a beloved newly released film over and again. For others, one time is enough, at least for a few months. Some compromise between the two by viewing a certain movie annually.
But there is another dynamic at work. We discover that fulfillment of a desire isn’t as gratifying as the anticipation of it. This is especially evident in sexual relations. There may be a disillusionment after sexual intimacy, called post-coital tristesse, a feeling of melancholy after coitus that is most common in men, and common enough to have earned an acronym, PCT.
If something is not as fulfilling as we imagined it would be, then we might have a tendency to “gorge” on it, adhering to the principle of quantity over quality. It is commonly understood that alcoholics or overeaters may never feel satisfied, no matter how much they indulge. Studies of the overeating disorder have shown that the person who is overeating may not only feel guilt or embarrassment while doing it, but may also be numb, as if he or she is not really there.
We all have had the experience of watching a much-anticipated movie after a lot of preparation, scheduling, or slighting others, and becoming progressively more disappointed and disheartened. This isn’t nearly as good as the first one. I expected a lot more. Have I wasted all this energy on a movie that sucks?
In fact, anticipation may not be viewed as positive view of a desirable future, but as a kind of stress or tension that requires indulgence to be relieved. A person’s previous experiences can cause him or her to obsess about what future events will be like. When realization of a desired goal fails to allay the tension, we can generate more anticipation, imagining that other, future experiences will be fully gratifying. We may take action to solve our anticipation challenge.
Binging may also be associated with ritual behavior, such as going from bar to bar on one’s birthday or graduation day at the urging of friends who want to see how much you can “take.”
This could conceivably be applied to movie-going. A person wants to see what it would be like to watch movies for twelve hours at a time. Watching seven and a half hours of Arrested Development would certainly tax most people’s consciousness. But there may be a natural shut-off valve to watching so much of something in your home. You could just fall asleep. Some people can only fall asleep in front of their TVs. Most of us had fathers who practiced this every night, though they called it “resting their eyes.”
Considering the two processes of holding oneself back from indulgence and overdoing it, the reality may be that our lives are a combination of delaying and binging.