Bring background shows back to the foreground

Lila Baltaxe | Senior Graphic Artist

“The Office,” “Friends,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Frasier,” “The Simpsons” –– all comforting sitcoms that many consumers have watched and rewatched again.

A lot of us are so familiar with these television shows that they’ve been demoted to what people like to call “background shows” — television you turn on while doing any combination of tasks, often browsing other forms of media.

Despite their demotion from the foreground, the fact that we entrust these shows to be our background entertainment speaks to their relevancy and cultural importance. You know what to expect from them. They have consistent and comfortable plots. You know the characters like the back of your hand. 

Some people take those as reasons to reduce them to white noise, but I disagree. 

Each of these shows defined a period of time: either the one in which it was released, or for many of us, brings back memories of when we first watched it.

So why do we demote them to mindless background noise?

The idea of background shows speaks to the overstimulation media causes for young people nowadays. We aren’t just distracted by social media — we have to play a show, watch TikTok and somehow do our homework at the same time. 

Even videos we see on social media such as TikTok or Instagram and Facebook reels have been made split screen, so as to provide another layer of distraction to keep a viewer watching an already existing video. One video at a time is no longer enough to hold our attention, no matter how entertaining it may be. 

Gen Z’s and millennials’ attention spans are so fried, it’s become a joke on social media to put a Subway Surfers stream on the screen split with another piece of content.

It reached a point when Matty Healy of The 1975 made commentary on Gen Z’s social media usage, by projecting Subway Surfers and slime videos on the screen behind him as he spoke to hold his audience’s attention.

The existence of so-called background shows is a prime example of our unfortunate need to be fed multiple streams of content at all times. 

Despite this apparent requirement of video and auditory distraction, calling background shows by this title diminishes their value, in both technical production and to the general zeitgeist. 

If we claim to love these shows so much, why don’t we give them our undivided attention?

These programs, as much as any other, should be appreciated for the works they are, rather than demoted to mindless media playing while we scroll other forms of media.

Taking shows out of the background, and paying attention to only one source of sound or video at once, makes for overall healthier media consumption. 

But in another sense, the practice may reignite your love for a show that was once important to you — which is why I’m an advocate for bringing these “background” television shows to the foreground once again.

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