Escapism or self-care? The complicated role of streaming platforms amid the pandemic

Although streaming platforms such as Netflix offer an escape from the pandemic, it is important to check back into reality. Photo by Thibault Penin on Unsplash

In the first six months of 2020, there have been many social, political and economic events that have undoubtedly led to mental, physical and emotional trauma all over the globe. In the U.S. alone, there was a fatal plane crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant and eight other beloved individuals; President Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives and acquitted by the Senate; and social unrest rocked the nation after the deaths of unarmed Black citizens at the hands of the police. 

However, the most devastating event is arguably the global pandemic that began after a deadly virus surfaced in Wuhan, China and quickly spread worldwide. The Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has upended and drastically altered the lives of billions of people, infecting millions and killing thousands of the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions, as well as those who fall into neither of these categories. In addition to the dangerous nature of the infectious disease, the virus has put everyone on high alert, harshly reminding us that nothing is guaranteed in life and that life as we know it is always subjected to change. 

Considering that all these heart-wrenching events happened one after the other, it is hard to look at the dumpster fire that has been these past six months and not quote the “Ight Imma Head Out” meme; this famous meme of Spongebob tiredly getting out of his chair with the destination unknown adequately describes how many people across the globe feel about this new decade. We all want to be Spongebob and head out, too. We want to fast forward and reach a more acceptable, stable, less traumatic reality. After all we have endured, can you blame us? Unfortunately, there is no fast forward button, no time travel machine and no magic wand to make life right again. So how are people coping with all this stress, anxiety and depression associated with these challenging months? Many people have been surviving these hard months one streaming platform at a time.

It is a blessing that the pandemic hit at a point in history where we can easily seek shelter in imagined and virtual worlds. Streaming giants such as YouTube, Netflix and Hulu have been lifelines, keeping us afloat in a sea of uncertainty. When the lock down first began, we all praised Netflix for releasing a quirky documentary called Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (dir. ‎Eric Goode‎; Rebecca Chaiklin) just in time to make the stay-at-home orders bearable. Because of their ability to distract and entertain millions, streaming platforms have seen a steady rise in subscribers and profits. For example, Netflix has added 15 million new subscribers since the pandemic hit, and Disney+ has seen over 50 million new subscribers. This increase in activity has been a direct result of people looking towards television shows and movies for a reprieve during the nationwide lock down and quarantine measures. Additionally, there are a lot of people who are working from home and that comes with a lot of its own stressors and pressures. It is important to note that some people are streaming their beloved programs to decompress after 8 hours of Zooming.

Since the pandemic, most major streaming platforms have seen a rise in activity as well as in new subscribers. Photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash

Furthermore, as essential workers maintain the economy, save lives and keep many important systems in our society from falling apart, all the everyday citizen has to do is socially distance. By staying home, staying six feet apart and wearing masks when traveling outside, we protect our loved ones and neighbors from exposure and give health care professionals a fighting chance against the virus. Streaming platforms make staying at home easier, keeping our minds from the strange world outside that has been characterized by one tragedy after another. These platforms fill our time but there are other, more productive ways to pass our days indoors. In the same way that as we balanced work-life balance before the quarantine, we can balance streaming and improving our communities.

We can start by slowly weaning ourselves off streaming platforms.  We can alternate a series or film with 15-30 minutes of researching current events. Then, we gradually build up that research with action steps that we can safely afford to take while maintaining mental, physical and financial health. Perhaps action and activism involves signing petitions, donating to different organizations, switching our purchases to support companies whose values align with our own, reflecting on our own harmful actions and correcting our behavior to become better individuals moving forward. 

Instead of watching streaming platforms, people should put their time and attention towards positively impacting their communities. Photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash

It is difficult to say whether these streaming platforms are a necessary feature of our self care routine or simply a vehicle for escaping the current moment. It is important to take a break and remove ourselves from current events. These breaks allow us to catch our breath and process what goes on around us. But after days, weeks, months of alternating between streaming platforms, we must ask ourselves: Should we be glued to a screen while the world rages on? Or, should we research ways to support front-line workers, individuals struck by poverty and people disproportionately affected by the virus? Should we hold our representatives, state and national representatives accountable for their response to the pandemic? Should we find affordable mental and physical health resources to take better care of ourselves? And are we able to do that while also taking moments to decompress and enjoy a mindless TV series or YouTube channel?

We must consider these questions in the long stretches of time between the turbulent present and the uncertain future. Instead of watching mind-numbing shows and questioning what day of the week it is, it may be helpful to put our time and attention towards positively impacting ourselves and our communities. Rather than becoming dependent on streaming platforms, we must work towards what it means to live within this current moment. We must recognize that we are all shouldering a shared tragedy. This trauma surely binds us in powerful ways, but it does not necessarily have to define us. It is normal to need a reprieve but eventually, we will have to wake up and face the moment head-on. After all, 2020 is far from over and our future may depend on our ability to do more than survive the next six months. 

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