Television Un-Reality

TV has a lot to answer for, particularly in terms of therapy.

Television has been blamed for 101 problems in the world, and I’d like to add a few more.

For example, was there ever any likelihood of one of the characters in Seinfeld changing when they went to counselling?

What would have happened to the show if their fears, social skills, neuroses, or quirks had been turned into something more functional in general society?

There is a cynical line about therapy, that people go to therapy not to be cured of their problems, but to perfect them.

Well on TV they go to therapy to find new and more extreme ways to dramatize their problems.

But this isn’t even my main concern about TV.

The fact that TV is poor at representing therapy and counselling is no surprise.

After all, it is equally bad at representing most areas of real life.

At least there are more toilets in TV homes these days than the constipated lot of previous eras.

No, the real problem is more insidious.

It’s the mangling of social communication and interaction skills.

Here’s what I mean.

Actors are acting.

They are not exhibiting real human body language, real human speech patterns, or real intonations in their voices.

And yet we watch them in more closely examined detail than many people in our day to day lives.

How well can our brains distinguish the mismatch between acting and reality?

Just take for example watching someone on a TV show telling a lie. As we watch and try to work out the plot and decide if they are lying or not, we are trying to read confusing signals. They are all acting, so they are all lying!

So…

Is the solution to watch less TV and get more human interaction?

Maybe.

Or is the solution to make sure we know how to use different communication skills for our day to day lives, than we do for TV?

And how might we know when we can trust that we’re successfully noticing these distinctions?

Ah, forget it. Let’s just watch ‘reality’ TV shows instead.

-Dr Martin W. Russell

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