Monday, October 12, 2009

Wait, this isn't real life?!

I hate to admit it – I really do, but in the interest of full disclosure to the masses of strangers that, of course, read my blog religiously, it must be done!!

Here is goes … I have been watching a lot of TV lately … I mean, A LOT!  A couple of clarifying points are needed here: one – I’m technically not watching TV, seeing as how I don’t actually own one; I am, rather, watching – in rapid succession – season after season of Veronica Mars on my computer, courtesy of the network execs who realized that they could make SO much more money if they could get people to buy multiple series on DVD.  Two: I have been working furiously to get an art piece done by last Saturday for my nephew’s birthday gift – the project ended up taking about 100 hours, and exactly two weeks before the party I was only about 40 hours into it; as most of this work is anally repetitive I generally do it with a show playing in the background.  So … yes, a lot of TV watching!

The purpose of this post is not, however, to reveal my secret shame – no, no my friends – but rather to add my two-cents to a long-standing debate: do the things we watch affect us?  You know the one I’m talking about; it goes something like:

Person one: “I think watching violent movies and playing violent video games makes kids more prone to violence.”

Person two: “I think your stupid face makes me more prone to violence!”

Oh yes, a civil debate if ever there was one.  Perhaps my stance on the matter is obvious from my grossly simplified characterization of the debate itself, but let me take you through my journey of choosing sides …

Like I said, this journey involved a lot of TV watching in a very short period of time: 2.5 seasons in 1.5 weeks … yup, yup, a lot of TV!  I think it is this very circumstance, however, that intensified an effect already taking place – that being that the entertainment that we choose to partake in, perhaps especially the shows/movies/games/etc. that we choose to watch very much effect our everyday lives – but one that is generally subtle enough that we often don’t make the correlation between what’s happening in our own personal lives to the effect entertainment has on us. 

I don’t know how many of your are familiar with the show Veronica Mars – it’s basically about a girl detective who picked up her skills working for her private-investigator father.  She tries to solve the mystery of who killed her best friend, who killed a bus of kids, who raped the girls on campus, etc., lolley-pop licking fluffy-bunny, uplifting topics all, I assure you!  As with all shows aimed at the high school/college crowd, it’s full of high emotion, passion and angst … ahhhh television!  I just recently, within the last couple of days, began to notice a correlation between my mood, emotions and interactions and what was happening on the show – a correlation that at first I denied, then was weirded out by, and finally knocked my on my ass because of the implications.  I have always been a fence-sitter on this “effect of entertainment” debate, not because I haven’t noticed the correlation before, but because it was subtle enough I could easily pass it off as something else, but this experience was so dramatic and obvious that the connection, for me, could no longer be ignored.  I began to notice that if I stopped watching the show when the main character was angry about something – which happens a lot, you have to keep the people coming back to find out what happens! – I was much more likely to be irritable and cranky; if the main character was dealing with the fallout from a particular sexual encounter (which is dealt with throughout the show), I would find myself dragging up issues from a similar, but not exactly the same, encounter that have been dealt with years ago and are really best laid to rest; if she was having problems in her relationships, I would be more irritable with my partner, and alternately if things were going well I would be more understanding and happier.  All of this from a show that, although I find interesting, I barely (consciously) paid attention to – it was noise in the background, a way to keep time; how was I to know that my brain was absorbing the emotions from the show and forcing me to act them out in my own life? 

Like I said earlier, I think this affect was exacerbated by the amount of time I spent watching the show, but I don’t think it was caused by the amount of time spent.  I really have to conclude that all those times in the past when I thought to myself, “hmmm … I don’t understand what’s wrong!  I felt fine an hour ago!” after watching a show is much more than coincidence, but rather my response to what I’m seeing.  I have to believe that this is true for the greater population as well, but – again – the affects are so subtle that it can be difficult to see the relationship.  I have to wonder, as well, about the specific affect on children. 

At 26 I didn’t at first realize what was happening – I accepted my emotions as my own and never questioned if they might be a figment of television.  Imagine, if you will, a pre-teen who has grown up in American society – watching violent television, cartoons, movies, playing violent games.  How is this child supposed to separate her own emotions from the “figment” emotions?  When do those “figment” emotions honestly become his own?  Are our brains actually wired to separate television “reality” from actual reality?  Certainly I have not experienced the violent murder of a best friend, then think her brother/my ex-boyfriend killed her, then realize – when he tries to kill me too – that it was actually the father of my best-friend’s then/my current boyfriend, then experienced the violent murder of a bus full of children which I think is my fault and that someone has a hit out on me, and then experienced multiple attempted/successful rapes all within the span of 3 years, and all the accompanying emotions associate with such experiences … I doubt many people have, but I imagine that if my best friend was going through everything I just detailed – everything that the main character of Veronica Mars, or any other television show experienced – it would affect my life in some of the same ways the show actually did.  Perhaps our brains haven’t evolved to distinguish the difference between entertainment and reality yet, and if this is true, perhaps the loads of money spent on counseling and drugs for violent, troubled, “misbehaved” children is misdirected.  Could it be as simple as turning off the TV?

Image courtesy of this website.


  1. hahahaha...I have so had this experience. With Veronica Mars. I think I don't necessarily take on the emotions of the character though...I take on their personality. So, after watching a show like Veronica Mars, with a strong female character, I feel like I can take on the world, solve anything that comes my way, stand up to anyone etc. etc. =) After watching 10 seasons of Friends, I started to feel neurotic like Monica, ditzy like Rachel, or even nerdy like Ross. lol Any for like a month after I watch a series, almost everything I do or see reminds me of one of the characters.

    It is interesting because research currently stands on the opposite side: violent tv/video games do not necessarily increase the likelihood of violent acts, but based on my limited experience, I totally think they could.

  2. I've definitely experienced this, on many occasions. More than I'd like to admit!!
    The first thing that comes to mind is when watching Six Feet Under (GREAT show if you haven't seen it already - we own the series if you're interested lol). The writing and acting on that show is incredible, and I found it difficult to 'marathon' episodes like I could with other shows. The emotions are way too intense to watch more than one or two at a time. I got very into the characters and their lives, and would need a break once the episode ended so I could take it all in and reflect (sounds pretty pathetic, I know!). Even though I may not have gone through exactly what they did, it certainly brought up past experiences into my thoughts. Maybe each episode should come with a detox CD you could put in when the show finished...

  3. It's great to read about someone who sees the effects... I haven't had access to television for over 6 years. Do I miss it? NO!! I have a television, don't get me wrong, and my husband and I like to watch movies. But we get to choose the movies based on their ratings, and when we don't like it, we take it back for a refund.

    I remember watching a lot of shows when I was little that I can't believe I watched now. I see how children are GLUED to the TV. When I was little, we actually played OUTSIDE. I know, it's crazy... outside!

    I don't watch TV, and neither will my children. But we will watch quality movies with no drugs, no sex, no bad language, no violence. As rare as those movies are...

    Besides... I keep myself so busy without TV I couldn't imagine having it accessible. I use music in the background during projects. Then I can sing and enjoy it while I work.

  4. Oh yeah - whenever I watch Buffy, I'm always like, "hell yeah I'll walk alone in the dark - just you try to mess with me!" I have to remind myself frequently that I live in reality and, no, I couldn't kick the scary-man's ass! That's what makes it all so obvious to me - I know that the studies don't agree, but I don't understand that! Here we are, all adults, saying that TV and movies effect us in a major way (because when you get right down to it, effecting your sense of identity, if even briefly is fairly major!) And we understand what's happening. One would HAVE to assume that the same thing is happening to kids, who probably don't have any understanding that it's happening, and have very little impulse control ... let's put two and two together here folks! I certainly don't think that entertainment is the ENTIRE reason for violence in our culture, but I do think it's a contributing factor especially for violence in children.

    I haven't watched Six Feet Under, but I hear it's good. There are definitely shows that you can't just watch several seasons straight through, you'd be way too depressed ... actually, the later seasons of Buffy were like that for me - they were really depressing! (I'm totally in love with Buffy, btw ... actually, it's much broader than that - I'm totally in love with anything Joss Whedon, but Buffy is by far my favorite!)

    I have just given up on watching the rest of Alias though. I got through season 3 and I just couldn't do it anymore. I didn't like it - I was constantly making fun of it - and it's actually really super violent, and I just had to ask myself, why?! What was I gaining from this show? Absolutely nothing (expect the idea that it MUST be okay to kill the people who betray you, and every time I think my mother is dead, she's totally going to come back and I'm going to have to act all surprised!).

    I did watch a lot of TV as a kid too, but I have SO many scars and crazy near-death stories of my childhood because we did totally play outside ALL THE TIME! Wow ... the stories ...