Dirt: Instant fandom, or, how we watch TV now

Without cable, we tweet, gram, and TikTok to show we're watching.

Dirt is a daily email about entertainment.

Day 4 of a week on HBO’s Industry: How shows get popular in the streaming era.

Day 3: Texts we’ve sent about Industry.

Day 2: Industry’s London.

Day 1: Industry’s logo animation.

With Netflix and streaming TV generally, it’s hard to know if or when other people are watching the same shows that you are. Most shows don’t debut at the same time every week and everyone binges at different speeds. In the pandemic, there’s also no water-cooler chat about recent episodes or random face-to-face recommendations. Everything happens online. The way to figure out if a show is a hit, or if other people love it as much as you do, is by looking for evidence on social media.

We tweet jokes, Instagram screencaps, and act out scenes on TikTok in order to demonstrate our fandom of a show, a commitment that happens faster than ever. In the deluge of streaming content, you have to advocate hard to get anyone to watch something new. What better way than posting about it?

(Referencing Industry characters Clement, Gus, and Barb)

From the perspective of American social media, at least, Industry went from zero to fandom over just the past few weeks (not coincidentally after HBO decided to dump all the remaining episodes at once on November 27). The viewer relationship isn’t slowly cultivated; as the tweets above show, all of a sudden you’re a devout Gus stan or you ship Clement and Robert. It’s instant fandom.

Publications and journalists both create and serve this fandom. We want memes, quizzes, impassioned personal essays! And we want them right now, at the speed of binging! The TV recap industry of a decade ago was about bringing slow insight to a show, on a weekly basis. Now, that’s way too slow, and who needs recaps when you can just watch the next episode? Criticism might have to speed up and fragment, too, which is part of the experiment of this newsletter. (Industry might be the first Substack-era hit TV show; writers like Matt Zeitlin and Jake Bittle are covering it on their personal newsletters.)

The instant stanning is partly ironic but also sincere. We want to connect with the invisible collective audience, to reach out to our fellow fans. Lately whenever I finish an episode or season of TV, I search for its hashtag on Twitter (#IndustryHBO) because that’s the only place I can reliably find the most recent commentary, which is coming not from a New York Times review — who knows when those even come out anymore? — but from viewers like me. By Kyle Chayka

The Dirt: If you’re not posting, you’re not watching.

Click the image below to see the TikTok; Substack doesn’t embed.

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