TV and movies are a problem. Sure, it is all good entertainment and a way to pass some time. But, unfortunately, TV and movies hold much more power over us than many people understand. Over the years in my practice, I have seen many people negatively impacted by the subtle messages delivered in movies and TV shows.
From a young and impressionable age, TV and movies has a way of influencing our expectations of the world. Children start to learn what relationships look like, what success supposedly looks like, what the social expectations of the world are, and so on. Whether or not it’s just meant to be art and entertainment, people unconsciously can easily internalize what they see on TV as the “way things are supposed to be”. I’m not necessarily referring to the explicit plots lines as much as the implications of more subtle elements of movies and TV shows. How people communicate, act, express emotion, deal with conflict, etc.
Movies and TV have often made it very hard for many people to feel comfortable in their own skin. They have seen on TV and in movies when growing up how people are meant to be socially, how a man or woman should act in pursuit of relationships, what sex should be like, how to be a good parent, what a grand gesture should look like when we let someone down, what a powerful or successful person in business and work should act like, dress like, talk like, treat others, and even how to be a hero or a villain. When people feel they can’t live up to the standards shown on the screen, they tend to feel not good enough as people — like they’re not living life correctly. If they can’t socialize in a captivating or charismatic manner the way they saw it done on the screen, then the feeling is they’re just socially awkward or not good at socializing.
TV and movies also contribute to how people experience things like phobias. For example, how airplanes in TV shows and in movies always seem on the verge of disaster, and how people unconsciously internalize these images, adding to their fear. This can happen with other phobias like elevators, spiders, snakes, etc. Movies can easily increase anxiety when making low risk scenarios reasonably seem to bear higher risk.
TV and movies have a way of making things seem very real. And, to make it worse, in the last few decades, movies have gone from a point of somewhat pure entertainment to trying to depict things, no matter how fictional, to appear as real as possible. No matter how unrealistic or fictional something may be, TV and movies are made to make every possibility seem like a real one — like it could happen to you.
There are many ways movies and TV can unintentionally mentor us into unhealthy lessons and work against mental health. To take an example, scenes that show how a person responds to anger. In most movies, anger is responded to with acting out — yelling at the person who is making them angry, or fighting them, or getting some form of greater revenge even to the point of murder! Someone always has to win and someone always has to lose. How many problems are resolved in movies with violence? That’s an interesting study in its own right.
For many people, the images of perfection that arise from movies can be the most damaging in some ways. The feeling that you must always be able to say the right thing, do the right thing, know how to respond to issues, and basically have the ability to do everything “right” on the first try, like you saw it done in the movies. However, consider how many takes actors and directors have to get scenes exactly as they want them to look. It is an unmanageable expectation to imagine that life in one take in the real world can match up to an entertainment world with multiple takes to get it right. But still, many gain the impression from movies and TV shows that this is what they need to aspire to. It may not be people’s conscious process, but unconsciously it can wreak havoc. It adds up to increased stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of failure when the impossible standards can’t be reached. And at the same time, decreased self-confidence and self-esteem.
Movies and TV shows rarely depict balanced responses to problems. They generally show people what they would most like to see. Someone who is angry may like to see someone respond to anger with a fist fight in a movie because it acts in resonance with our internal emotions. When movies show the fist fight, for example, it may make an emotional identification with the scene in the movie. It may make for an entertaining movie at times. But in real life, should one’s anger really lead to a fist fight? Not if you want to handle your emotions in a healthy and non-destructive manner.
Entertainment is meant to play on people’s emotions. In some way, it’s meant to allow people to fantasize with their emotions. Shows and movies act out what one feels. That’s why people connect to movies on such a deep level. However, this ends up blurring the boundaries between fantasy and reality. It is rare to see actual role modeling of mental health issues portrayed in movies. How entertaining would that really be, to watch movies where people are handling their surrounding environments in a balanced and healthy manner? The problem is, the more we see the acting out, the more we are influenced by it as people.
I’m not suggesting people stop watching movies and TV shows. They are entertaining and have their place. But be aware of what messages you may be receiving from these movies on a deeper level. Is it impacting how you see yourself in certain contexts? Is it making you feel like a failure or not good enough in certain areas of your life? Is it adjusting your viewing of the world in which you actually live? What is it doing to your expectations of yourself? What is meant to be entertaining and meant to stay with you in your life?
The impact of TV and movies can in many ways run your life, and also hurt your life.