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A new study suggests that those laughs could be leading to tears.
According to a study coming up in "Psychology of Popular Media Culture," researchers at the University of Michigan conducted a survey designed to test how the shows we watch on TV, specifically sitcoms, romantic comedies and reality-based dating shows affect (or is that infect?) our outlook on love. According to the results, they found that people who watch sitcoms are measurably more cynical when it comes to their views on love and romance. While that may be news to some, I find it entirely predictable and here's why:
Pay Attention To Their Intention: Writers and producers of situational comedy TV shows are under enormous pressure to find an audience quickly or go get a "real job." That's because entertainment shows like American Idol, America's Got Talent and The Voice are oftentimes far less expensive to create and produce and far less of a gamble when it comes to attracting viewers in today's "short attention span" world. That's why your deepest fears and insecurities are very fertile ground when it comes to getting your attention whether it's a comedic TV show, reality TV or even real events from today's headlines. After all, how do you think "If it bleeds, it leads" became such a common maxim among journalists? Simply put, the media knows they have a better chance of being successful at getting your attention if they spoon-feed a steady diet of your worst fears right back to you, but at what cost to you, the "consumer" of this poisonous junk food for the mind?
Art Imitates Life — Or Is It The Other Way Around? You could easily make the case that television influences culture more than culture influences television, but people essentially look for the evidence they want that validates the world view they want. Here are a couple of examples where television depictions were way out in front of sweeping societal changes. For example, you may not realize that Bill Cosby became the first African American star of a network television drama, I Spy, and was soon nominated for a Prime Time Emmy — three years before the Civil Rights movement gained ground in 1968. Likewise, it's not a stretch to say the growing presence and visibility of gay characters on television shows and even likable stars like Ellen DeGeneres coming out publicly at least greatly helped influence public opinion when it came to real-life issues like same-sex marriage legislation. Simply put, what we see on television slowly and safely bypasses our "filters" and influences our "model of the world." It puts a face on issues of the day and over time, this new information and experience gets "normalized" by familiarity and has real, demonstrable effects on "public opinion."
Where's The Harm In A Simple TV Show? Perhaps one of the reasons that regular sitcom viewers have gotten so jaded when it comes to love and romance is due to the prominent and pervasive use of "the Big O." No, I'm not talking about orgasm. I'm talking about objectification. That's basically what happens when we take away the compelling human characteristics that makes a person likable and reduces them to a one-dimensional caricature instead. You've got about 23 minutes to "bond" with characters after you take out time for commercials in a typical 30-minute show so there's no time for complexity. That's why you get over-simplified buffoonish characters who are easy to ridicule and be the "punching bag." The incompetent Dad? The nagging wife or mother-in-law? The dumb, blonde bimbo? The goofy neighbor? There's a reason these seem so familiar — but there's one character it's just too easy to lampoon.
Man-Bashing Is Disguised As Entertainment: One of the most popular targets of objectification has to be the male head of household figure. Every night on prime-time TV, we're served up another bumbling dad with a wife who's clearly "out of his league" when it comes to beauty, brains and witty banter. Is it any wonder why women may get this subtle message that they might have to "settle" when they choose a partner? How many times have we seen the wise-cracking kid or "intellectually superior" wife speak down to, insult or ridicule the hapless but harmless husband or father figure on TV? Ironically, this happens often because it's "safe" to lampoon the one who's seen as powerful. Insult a woman or child and you're seen as a misogynist or bully; go after the man and it's hilarious. However, this repetitive, institutional man-bashing has a cost when it has become so familiar, and it magically sneaks into your sub-conscious first, and secondly, our culture. After all, how do you really feel comfortable deferring to the judgment of the good-natured dolt who's been the repeated butt of your jokes that ridicule his very intelligence and competence?
Don't Even Get Me Started On Dating "Reality" Shows: As a relationship coach, I just can't bring myself to watch shows like "The Bachelor" and its evil spawn. That's because a huge part of my job is to help smart, successful women really understand men so they can bring out the very best in them rather than suffer through the worst from them. These shows aren't entertaining when they're built on generating scarcity, competition, fear, lack and pointless drama — also known as the exact wrong way to wade into the dating pool. Here's what the voice-over doesn"t say; "Stay tuned to see who's going to get that 'final' crappy rose and who's going to get totally shunned and ostracized from the group because they're just not good enough." You've got to be kidding me. You need a study to know how bad that messes with people's emotions?
Tune Out The Garbage And Tune Into Something Better: If you're serious about finding or creating even more love in your life, turn off the tube and instead channel your energy into a more positive pursuit. Get yourself into a great place where you know your value and are grateful to be right where you are today. If you have no idea how to begin to do that, reach out to me for a consultation or find a qualified coach or counselor who resonates with you. Here's the thing, and this could either scare you or excite you, you don't necessarily attract what you want in relationships. You attract what you are and what you believe is possible for you. If you want something better, it's up to you to do what it takes to be better. At the very least, turning off the tube and taking some time for you would be a very good start in the right direction.
Good luck, and here's wishing all the love you truly deserve.