I have a love-hate relationship with TV. Mostly hate. I hate its mind-numbing nonsense and its vapid standards. I love its Amy Poehler and its theoretical Star Trek physics.
Here’s the thing: when I watch TV, I feel like crap. This almost never fails. I still do it (occasionally), but it always seems to mess with my mood. There’s something about sitting on my ass and staring at a glowing screen that doesn’t bode well with my bod.
But TV isn’t supposed to make us feel good. Really it’s designed to reel us in like so many psychologically insecure lemmings — to get us addicted and make us want to buy ALL THE STUFF.
Because of TV, I’ve had absurd expectations about life for as long as I can remember. Thank you Kelly and Brenda, for leading me to believe I’d look good in high-waisted jeans and meet Dean Cain on a summer trip to Paris. Thank you Mr. Feeny, for leading me to believe I’d have a teacher who’d, well, teach me something. Thank you AC Slater, for leading me to believe any other man on earth could pull off a mullet. Unrealistic expectations at every turn.
Putting aside my anecdotal biases, there’s science behind it. Studies have shown that happy people don’t watch a lot of TV. Unhappy people do. Am I suggesting that TV causes unhappiness? No, but I think there’s some mutual causation at work.
Unhappy people are probs more likely to park themselves in front of the TV and disengage from life (I’ve done this more times than I could possibly count, particularly during depressive episodes). But, TV also fuels negative thinking and what Dr. David Burns calls “do-nothingness” ( a tendency towards inertia that’s common in depressed folks). Netflix, while utterly awesome, has also ushered in the era of binge watching, which probably isn’t the best of developments.
Stats show the average American watches 34 hours of TV a week. That’s almost as much time as we spend at work every week. And we think it’s not affecting our state of mind?
Essentially, TV thinks for us. It’s like we’re turning our impressionable psyche over to a duplicitous shill of a master who wants is for us to buy lots of Bud Light and feel bad about our thighs.
Even more horrifying, our brains can’t really tell the difference between what’s actually happening and what’s imaginary. Our conscious minds can, obviously, but the physicality of our grey matter can’t. So it reacts negatively (in a biological capacity) to violence, stress and heartache just like it would if we were really witnessing it. Chalk up another black mark against the idiot box (that was my gram’s pet name for TV — and she spent a LOT of time watching soaps).
Let’s just say that TV never helped anyone get happier. Therefore, I’m not such a fan. Of COURSE I think there’s good TV, brilliant TV, TV that’s made me laugh so hard I peed (season 7, episode 2 of Full House in particular). But it’s rare. And even the good stuff is good only in small doses. As with any potentially addictive substance, it’s good to practice major moderation when it comes to TV viewing. In my humble opinion.
Jimmy Buffett once wrote, “Life does not come without risks. You learn to take them, or you stay home and watch life on TV.” TV has always seemed to me a (pale) substitute for real life. You can be living it, or you can be watching it. Take your pick.
In conclusion, I’m not suggesting you quit OITNB cold turkey. I’m just sayin’, TV can mess with your mind, and I think it’s important to pay attention to how the boob tube makes you feel. Maybe take a break from it every once in awhile. ‘Cuz a little more sunshine and a little less Game of Thrones slaughter scenes probably never hurt anyone.