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Image / Editorial

5 Signs You’re Suffering From Culture Overload (And What You Can Do About It)


by Sophie White
09th Nov 2017
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Do you feel under siege by the wealth of new show, books, podcasts and films you need to “catch up on”? Sophie White is exhausted from it all, when did entertainment start to feel so much like a to do list?


I have a confession to make, I still haven’t watched the new series of Stranger Things. I know. What am I possibly doing with my life that could be more important than catching up with Eleven and the gang? Well, to be frank, I’m almost afraid to admit this but I’m busy, currently halfway through season one of The Leftovers (I know, I know, I’ve left it very late) and I’m trying to finish Jon Ronson’s new podcast and I have 14 books on my bedside table that I haven’t read yet. Literally 14, I counted. And now I’m giving myself anxiety just thinking about all the shows I haven’t even touched yet.

Welcome to culture overload, my friends.

If you think culture overload sounds wanky then perhaps you’ve never heard of Stendhal Syndrome. I know I hadn’t until I started to research the possibility that we have reached a zenith in terms of cultural output and that this supposedly golden age of media is getting to be, well, a bit much.

Stendhal Syndrome is basically an art attack, a psychological state brought on by over exposure to a deluge of beauty. Findings have shown that it is commonly suffered by visitors to the stunning and busting-with-art, Italian city of Florence who simply cannot cope with the scale of beauty to be found there.

It wasn’t named until the late 70s when an Italian psychiatrist at a Florentine hospital began noticing an influx of tourists who appeared to be suffering from curious symptoms such as panic attacks and temporary bouts of madness.

Sound familiar?

In 2000, Guardian columnist, Mark Ravenhill, complained that ‘the trouble with art these days is that there’s too much of it’. In the year 2000 (TWO THOUSAND) this guy was complaining about there being too much culture to absorb. Back then, not only was there exponentially less culture to absorb, there was easily half the mediums through which to absorb said surfeit and the shows weren’t even remotely as good as what we’re dealing with now. There was no online streaming services, podcasts, on demand telly, YouTube was barely a thing yet, not to mention the 24-hour soap opera of social media. Cry me a river, Ravenhill, you basically had to decide between Friends, Sex & The City and Law & Order. You know nothing of our current struggles. In the here and now, the pressure to consume new media is nearly outweighing the pleasure we get from it.

So here are the 5 signs, you may be suffering from culture overload…

#1 The anticipation of a new season drop on Netflix is accompanied by mild anxiety about how you’ll find the time to watch it along with all the other shows recently recommended to you and saved on your phone notes. And still work, see friends, parent your kids, update your blog, listen to the news, post on Instagram and on and on.

#2 You feel enormous pressure to immediately binge everything the minute it comes out so that you’re not out of the loop on the Whatsapp group or in danger of accidentally stumbling across spoilers on Twitter. Binging is such a waste of good TV.

#3 You multitask like a boss to try and stay on top of the constant stream of content. It’s become a very unpleasant compulsion that I watch TV with phone in hand, reading tweets about the show from anonymous nobodies while I’m actually watching the show. When Making a Murderer was the biggest visual event of the century the pressure to get to the end was so intense that one night, the idea of having sex at the same time as watching Making a Murderer was actually mooted as a time-saving measure. That, my friends, is culture overload (and peak married). Incidentally, we did not go through with the plan, as we decided the content of Making a Murderer would be off-putting. I suppose I hardly need to add that we opted for Making a Murderer and not the sex.

#4 You find social gatherings have become an unpleasant game of one-upmanship about who has watched all the shows. When you are the person who has watched all the shows it must feel great, you’re informed, erudite, in the know. When you’re the person who hasn’t watched all the shows, the evening descends into basically being assigned impossible realms of homework. I slump home positively dreading the new “amazing” shows that I “have to” watch.

#5 You start to find it hard to commit to a show. Watching series’ or reading books or even reading slightly longer articles has come to resemble that feeling when you’re at a party and you know the person you are with is constantly scanning the crowd looking for someone better to talk to.

And the answer to all this angst is… *drumrolllll*…. a time machine. I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to suggest except a return to a simpler time when there was only one show widely talked about (Friends), though that was a decidedly more bland era of ONLY white people, with impossibly nice apartments for their pay grade. Hmmmm on second thoughts I’m going to enact these three simple rules to better combat my culture overload.

One, I will leave my phone in the other room when watching TV.

Two, I will not recommend TV shows to others unless they ask me, lest I trigger their own culture overload.

And three, whenever people start to tell me that I “have to” watch/read/listen to anything I’m going to burst into a really obnoxious drunk-uncle-at-a-wedding style rendition of I Did It My Way, until they go away.

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