Thursday, April 11, 2013

Media Burnout and How to Avoid It

Don't worry. I'm not feeling burned out from watching movies and television, or writing about them in the slightest. However, the issue of media fan burnout is a very real thing that I've experienced before, and I thought it would be appropriate to devote a post to the subject.

I consume an awful lot of media, including movies, television shows, podcasts, and more. Occasionally I get carried away and overdo things, marathoning entire seasons of a show in one day, or piling on the major contenders before the Oscars, so I can get in on the fun of the predictions. When I was an anime fan I used to be much worse. I'd fast-forward through episodes of repetitive action shows, and plow through masses bottom-of-the-barrel titles that I expected would be terrible, in order to keep up with the wider fandom conversations. As a result, I've gone almost completely cold turkey on anime for over four years. I burned out so completely, that I'm still extremely hesitant about taking a look at any new shows. I expect I will, eventually, but it's going to be a while.

Everyone engages with media differently, and everyone has different experiences. I can only really comment on my own, but I suspect that many of you hardcore movie and television fans out there will find this familiar. I can't keep up a consistent level of interest and enthusiasm for media if I'm not constantly exposing myself to different things. That doesn't mean I have a short attention span, or that I can only watch new media. It means that I have to be careful to avoid falling into ruts or overly familiar patterns. To a certain degree I have to plan out what I'm going to watch and when I'm going to watch it. There's a lot of time management involved, and I make sure I pace myself - no more marathons unless it's for a special occasion.

This year so far, for instance, has mostly been devoted to watching the classics. After the flurry of new movies at Oscar time, I needed a break from the breathless, breakneck entertainment news cycles, so I started working through William Wyler and Zhang Yimou and Fritz Lang movies. I finished "The Wire" and caught up on shows like "Elementary" and "Merlin." A few weeks ago I eased up on the classics and started renting my way through some of the more obscure 2012 titles that had reached DVD, the movies that weren't the best of the year, but I figured were still worth a look. And it's all been very easy and laid back and I go at my own pace.

And now things are just starting to pick up again. "Mad Men" is back, one of my favorites, so I'll be following that weekly, with "Breaking Bad" to follow afterwards. In May, it'll be in another busy period. I'm planning to see the next "Star Trek" and "Iron Man" movies in theaters, and maybe "The Great Gatsby" depending on how the reviews shake out. My next round of Netflix Instant is scheduled for May too, so I can watch "House of Cards" and the new episodes of "Arrested Development." And "Venture Bros." will finally be back on the air. And Season 7 of "Dexter" will be on DVD, so I can go catch up.

There's a lot that I'm looking forward to, and working in the down time gives me a chance to work up anticipation. With anime, I was going so fast and so hard that I stopped being able to enjoy what I was watching. The more I watched, the less I would get out of it, until I found it simply wasn't worth the time and effort anymore. I was too overwhelmed to enjoy the good shows when I found them, while the bad stuff just grated on my nerves more and more. I didn't look forward to anything, because it all started to look the same.

I've been able to avoid this since I quit anime for other media. In addition to a much slower pace and more down time, I take pains to cycle through mainstream entertainment, art house and indie movies, and the oldies so if I get tired of one category, I can move on to the next. Television shows usually aren't as much of an issue because they're cyclical by nature. They go away long enough every year that you're glad to see them again when they come back. Why yes, it is time for "Doctor Who" again.

I've enjoyed my last few months wearing my pretentious movie fan hat, but over the last few weeks it's been a struggle to work through more serious, politically charged movies like Nikita Mikhalkov "Burnt by the Sun" and Chris Marker's "Grin Without a Cat." So yesterday I set aside the next big epic on the list, Warren Beatty's "Reds," and watched a bunch of "Project Runway" episodes instead. It's about time for blockbuster season again, and I'm ready for it.

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