Hate-Watching “Revolution”: An Economic Analysis

Are you a REVOLUTION fan? After reading what’s below, all we can say to that is, “Why?”

By which we mean, “Don’t you realize the cost, man?! Don’t you know?!”

revolution-bannerby Mark Lee

As the first season of NBC’s post-apocalyptic drama Revolution came to an end, I really wanted to write a post about how the show reflects Hobbesian social theory and demonstrates the fragility of our modern, technology-dependent society.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to write that post. After a few promising moments early in its run, the show abandoned the exploration of big ideas and became a messy collection of bad plot devices and even worse acting. I’ll spare you from the details; read the AV Club episode reviews if you want a blow-by-blow recount of the inane pendant-chasing, gunfighting, and Charlie-whining that came to define the second half of the season. All this is to say, there’s just not much “there” there when it comes to analyzing Revolution.

And yet. I stuck with the show to the bitter end, partly to see if the show could possibly redeem itself, partly out of curiosity as to how the flimsy plot would play out, but mostly because I started to enjoy mocking the show’s flaws.

In other words, I was full-on hate-watching Revolution.

In case you haven’t heard of “hate-watching” TV, here’s a brief primer: to “hate-watch” a TV show is to watch a TV show in spite of (or perhaps, because of) one’s hatred of it. It seems to have been coined in the context of another NBC drama, Smash (about a Broadway musical, not the Incredible Hulk, sadly), though it’s been applied to other shows across a broad range of critical derision: everything from Newsroom to Two and Half Men.

It seems strange that such a phenomenon would exist, given the embarrassment of TV riches we have access to and the vanishing amounts of free time we have to watch TV. Fortunately for us, we have a framework for analyzing and evaluating this seemingly irrational decision-making: economics. Specifically, we’ll ask and answer the following questions: what are the costs associated with hate-watching Revolution? What are the benefits? And perhaps most importantly, what’s the opportunity cost? What else could I have done with the time I’d spent watching this crappy show, and how much utility would that have given me compared to watching Revolution?

Costs

Oh, the heavy price I’ve paid across these 20 episodes. Some of these are more straightforward than others, but let’s run through them all for the sake of thorough accounting:

Time. Including commercials, I spent a little less than 20 hours watching all of the first season of Revolution. I watched it on Hulu, so I can’t be certain how long the ads were, but let’s just assume it took one hour to get through each episode.

Anger. As the show’s problems mounted, I found ourselves yelling at the TV with increasing frequency:

“CAN CHARLIE POSSIBLY WHINE ANY MORE? OH, YES SHE CAN.”

“WHY ARE THERE SO MANY GUNFIGHTS? WHAT HAPPEND TO THE BIG DEAL THEY MADE ABOUT BULLETS BEING SO SCARCE? AND WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SWORDS?”

“SERIOUSLY? NANO BOTS?”

Disappointment. I had high hopes for this show and its potential to explore the big ideas I mentioned above, so when those high expectations gave way to weekly “escape from gunfight and capture” adventures and mind-numbingly stupid pseudo-science, the loss was far worse than if I were watching a less ambitious show with weekly “escape from gunfight and capture” adventures and mind-numbingly stupid pseudo-science.

Money? There’s actually very little monetary cost associated with watching a season of TV. Granted, I pay for a Hulu+ subscription, but I’d still pay for it even if I weren’t watching Revolution. If I weren’t paying for Hulu+, I could still watch it on Hulu or NBC.com for free. So let’s assume that the monetary cost of watching Revolution is de minimis.

Benefits

Yes, there are real benefits to hate-watching a TV show. These are the reasons why I kept watching, in spite of the costs listed above:

Reinforcement of superiority complex. I think most instances of hate-watching can be traced to this perceived benefit of watching a bad TV show. Being aware of a show’s badness while watching it reinforces one’s status as discerning consumer of pop culture. Simply put, knowing what’s good requires also knowing what’s bad.

Having a shared experience. In this case, my girlfriend and I hate-watched Revolution together. Like cooking, walking in the park, and zip-lining, this shared experience helps reinforce a couple’s bond, but even if I weren’t going for the domestic benefits of a shared experience, I’d still be connecting with others who were similarly hate-watching this show–and similarly reinforcing their pop culture superiority complexes–in communities of like-minded individuals.

Read it all