It’s late at night or an unexpected day off. We have a million things we should be doing, or we should simply be catching up on sleep. Instead, we’re flipping through the channel guide and tuning in to something we can’t actually believe, and not sure we want to admit, to wanting to watch. It has aliens, ghosts, sharks, zombies, or maybe just a natural disaster escalated by toxic waste.
Even as we settle in, we’re perhaps questioning ourselves why are we watching this? Surely we could find a better use of our time, or even a just a better show. The answer is simple: this special brand of brain candy fills needs we can’t easily do so elsewhere.
The need to recapture our lost childhood.
When we tune in to a mindless melodrama or a mockumentary about the paranormal or science fiction we are simply getting reacquainted with the people who once loved sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories, or doing the same with a best friend under the sheets with a flashlight. We are remembering that sense of wonder we once possessed, that innocence we had, when the world was a magical place that we couldn’t wait to explore and experience.
That part of us still lives on, but is sometimes starved for attention by the needs and responsibilities of adult life. We need to take time for the part of our minds and hearts that still dreams, and optimistically hopes to find a lost castle or pirate ship hidden in the woods behind our homes. We crave to cultivate that sense of fantasy, and if a favorite television show or movie or book can help that along, we can make time for it.
The need for sheer escapism.
Along with the need to recapture our youth sometimes we just need to lose ourselves in another world, or another life. We can imagine ourselves exploring alien landscapes, facing a radiation-fed super predator in the Amazon, or finding the key to a haunted house that hides a treasure.
We can indulge in sheer fantasy for a time to alleviate stress, boredom, or simply imagine ourselves as different people, in a world outside the mundane. Experts tell us that fantasizing can actually be good for us ;that as long as we don’t try to substitute fantasy for reality in our actual lives, that “escaping” can help us to be more creative, more productive, and happier people.
The need of vicarious thrills.
It’s okay for fictional characters to experience any kind of horror as long as we can watch from the security of our couches or beds. We know in our hearts what we’re seeing is not real, but we get an adrenalin kick just the same from allowing ourselves to live in the moment. There is a special kind of thrill that comes from watching something bad happen to someone on the screen, and knowing in the back of our minds that though we may jump when the villain pops out and scream our heads off, that he can’t really touch us.
We watch as hapless victims are turned into test subjects or eaten alive by zombies or possessed by ghosts and are glad it’s not us. We imagine ourselves confronted by the terrors and dangers that the heroes of the small screen face in such shows as Paranormal Encounters, or Sharknado 1-5, and suddenly our own lives don’t seem bad at all. We feel more alive, more secure, and more content with our own lives knowing that we’ve witnessed these experiences but will not have to live them.
So the next time you find yourself with a little down time, don’t feel guilty for indulging in your favorite show. Remember, watching may actually be good for you.