Series addiction

Did you see the last season of Game of Thrones?

I frequently remember, with more than justified nostalgia, those nights in the late 1970s and 1980s in which twice or three times a week Lucía and I used to go to the cinema. Due to a question of geographical location in Havana, but also because of a preference that increased with the years, the theatres located around La Víbora and Santo Suárez were our favourites: the Alameda, Los Angeles, but especially the Mónaco, which for us had a special charm and is still today one of the indelible sites of our most affective memory.

Undoubtedly one of the elements that solidified our relationship was the love of cinema we shared. Seeing films and then, during long walks through the streets of those dear barrios, talking about them, was an act of love and of knowledge: between Lucía and me, as persons, and with cinema, as art. Those were the times in which, moreover, in the first days of December we participated in the competitive fever taking place (and still taking place) among Cuban cinema buffs to see the largest amount possible of films during the days of the Havana New Latin American Film Festivals.
The 1990s, with its crises and transformations, changed that habit we enjoyed so much as a cultural and social act, but not our love of cinema as art. We needed so much to consume audiovisual products that we even sat down to watch some Brazilian soap operas (fortunately it was the time in which titles like Roque Santeiro and Vale todo, classics of the genre, were being produced) and, with many of our savings we were able to at last buy our first VCR, of that today forgotten Beta format, to use it to see the works we could choose in the underground video banks. And cinema continued accompanying us, even forming part of our lives, since Lucía worked for several years as a direction assistant and filmmaker, and I attempted to write my first scripts, to a great extent driven by the workshops organised about that technique in the late 1980s by the enthusiastic and indispensable Ambrosio Fornet.


But in recent years, as has happened to other cinema consumers, our love of cinema suffered a powerful shock when we started seeing and enjoying a TV series in which we immediately felt something new was in the making. If memory does not fail me, the first one to introduce us to what today can be described as “series addiction” was the long serial The Sopranos.


Our prejudice against television and our defence of cinema as a great art then started being undermined by a type of audiovisual product that addicted the spectators, but with more elaborate artistic resources than those usually used by teleplays, such as a new language and with a production outlook very close to that of cinema.


The definite fall of our defences against TV series materialised with our contact with the first season of The Wire, broadcast, by the way, by a Cuban TV channel. In that detective series produced by the HBO chain what was most important was not the crime plot but rather the police officers, the criminals and their lives, while the TV tempos were formally altered while a an in-depth reading of the society in which the plot took place was delivered. With those ingredients the series enveloped us like no product made for a “minor” means had ever done. Afterwards we have been able to confirm that our experience was not a particular case: for years The Wire has been a cult product and considered a classic of the genre.


Since then, and throughout the last 10 years, we have lived a growing addiction to the series that…today has become a universal phenomenon. It is strange for a militant cinema buff to not have seen the five seasons of The Wire (I have done so twice), the so many others of Breaking Bad, the still on-going saga of Game of Thrones or the devastating House of Cards, just to cite some of them, and also the magnificent Scandinavian serials, especially their original version, among them The Killing, The Bridge or the very revealing The Government or the powerful British miniseries.


And cinema? “Going to the movies,” so close for so many years has become, on an international level, a habit in crisis. It’s not by chance that in many countries the large theatres of the times of glory have been turned into mini movie theatres, with much more reduced capacities. The blow of the qualitative increase of television and the emergence of other increasingly more accessible and efficient supports to consume cinema, have greatly affected assistance to the theatres. In Cuba, where everything is so special – especially starting with the already frequently mentioned Special Period – the question regarding the generalised decadence and even massive death of these spaces, people’s difficulties to get to them and the increasingly chaotic programming, so distant from its quality and variety which we used to enjoy in the 1980s, has become complicated.


However, in addition to those burdensome situations, it is also true that in the last decade (to be generous) the quality of cinema, in general, has decreased in a visible and galloping manner. In the United States as well as in Europe, and even in Latin America, the artistic value of cinema has turned into an exception compared to decades ago. And that one of the causes of such decadence has to do precisely with the increase in the quality of TV products in the form of serials and the facility they offer spectators to consume them. And one of the consequences has been the exodus of talent (actors, directors, but especially script writers) from the film studios to the television sets, with the visible increase of the aesthetic quality of the serials.


Nowadays a rather generalised state of “series addiction” is exists in Cuba. For some years consumers on the island have been able to enjoy the best, the mediocre and the worst serials of recent production through random paths, but since several years through the initial modalities and the current ones of the “packages,” with the possibility of choosing and, above all, being up to date and keeping abreast of the serials broadcast in the rest of the world…with a difference of barely 24 hours. A virtue made available through globalisation and the digital era.


For the old and nostalgic cinema lovers, what used to involve a social act and like consuming culture, the transfer of preferences has been stealthy but deep. Today the majority of spectators, even the most demanding, only consume the cinema that most interests them, the one most recommended to them, the one that has been able to be sifted or comes protected by the names of great creators, while dedicating increasingly more time to the consumption of TV serials, living their saga and asking one another if they have already seen the last season of Game of Thrones. For those who haven’t seen it, do you want me to tell you how it ends? (2015)

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