My dad, unfortunately, is in the hospital (not the best way to celebrate the New Year, but there you have it), so I am in a hospital room watching what my Dad likes to watch on television, which turns out to be (among other things) Law and Order - Special Victims Unit.
And I am very alarmed.
I don't watch much television. Actually, just about the only television I watch on a regular basis is the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report. The main reason that I don't watch a lot of television is that it scares me. I "like" it too much. I watched lots of television when I was growing up and I find the television way too compelling. I start to watch it and I cannot stop.
Now that I have learned more about how the brain works, I understand better why I am like this - and it makes me even more frightened of television. Our brains are sponges, absorbing data (visual data, aural data, smells, tactile feedback), searching out patterns, and then making decisions (and taking actions) based on those patterns.
Television is a particularly powerful feeder of data, with its combination of sound and visuals, and specifically voices and faces, which humans have a hard time blocking out. So it seems to me that the stuff we watch on television can have an enormous impact on how we feel about ourselves and the world around us.
Which brings me back to Law and Order SVU - it is, of course, just one of countless police and forensic/crime programs proliferating on TV these days. And as I watched it here in the hospital, I found myself getting agitated. How could I not? Bloody scenes, highly dysfunctional, psychotic people, bad things happening to good people, tension, anger, grief....
[Just watched a young woman lie on the floor with a knife in her heart bleed to death.]
And I worry that anyone would want to watch these sorts of programs. What is it about humans that we would seek stimulation through the virtual brutalization of our fellow species members? What are we missing? A lack of purpose, send of excitement in our own dull lives? A "safe" connection to people who are hurting, as a way to assuage guilty feelings about our relatively comfortable existence?
Whatever it is, it doesn't feel very healthy to me. I think I will stick with science fiction.