How Tv Has Made us Better Humans and the World More peaceful.

I think one of the greatest moral strengths and moral weaknesses of Human beings is their ability for empathy and putting themselves in other's shoes.
When we put ourselves in other people's shoes, actually imagining how we would feel and react were we in that same situation , it is hard to not be filled with empathy and understanding.
The big problem is, we just don't do it very often. I'm amazed at how frequently myself and others will rail against a person's behavior with annoyance or anger, only to be reminded of some facet about that other person that allows us to see things from their perspective and we are suddenly filled with compassion and understanding.
Not only do we not do this very often, but we tend to be painful bad at imagining how we would act in a situation we have not yet experienced. I am also amazed at how many times I will find myself harshly judging another person for how they behave in a particular context only to eventually find myself in that same context behaving the e same way.
But with Television and movies, all the work is done for us. With no effort at all we are put in someone else's shoes and are able to live their experience.
And what's more, television and movies allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of people we would likely never even meet. People from other parts of the world or people whom we might despise and choose to segregate ourselves from. By seeing them and how they are like us, and by seeing the villains who oppress and persecute them, we are reminded that our supposed enemies are people just like us and that we don't want to be the villains, we want to be the good guys who are understanding of what others are going through.
This is why I think even reality TV is a good thing. While I recognize there is much not 'real' about reality TV, it allows people, like A Gypsy family in Nyc (Ie. one of my new favorite shows 'American Gypsy') who we would otherwise not get the chance to empathize with to become real people that we can't help but wish the best for.
Movies and television can make us empathize with virtually anyone! It can even make a hardcore conservative root for someone robbing a casino as in Oceans 11. (To be sure there is also dark side of being able to make us hate anyone.)

While what I've said holds true for most forms story telling, including books, it has never been so accessible and so powerful until the development of technology to put moving images with sound. Outside of actual experience, few things allow us empathize with other people than getting to see observe other's experience in narrative form, even if fictional.
In fact, we are wired to do so. We have what are called 'Mirror Neurons'. Neurons in our brain that essentially fill the role of empathy. When we see someone lift a cup, mirror neurons in our brain fire that allow us to feel what it is like to lift a cup. When we see others hurt, we feel hurt. When we see others happy, we feel happy. When we interact with others, our mirror neurons cause our bodies to synch up, our vitals get closer together our body movements and facial expressions even mimic each other. I believe this is why every person has a 'feeling' or a 'vibe' about them. Because however they act and move their body, we literally feel it. I think everyone has experienced how a tense, stressed person makes you feel stress and tense and the reverse with a calm, relaxed individual. While mirror neurons can be triggered via our imagination through books, it occurs more powerfully and more easily through our sense of sight making TV and movies the ideal way to trigger this innate part of our biology.

By 1960, 90% of households had a television. And since that time, the world has gotten better in almost every way. The 60's led to an explosion of tolerance and understanding, manifest in hippies and the summer of love. Like never before the status quo was shaken up and people came to value the rights of others and respect the differences and individuality amongst humans. While no do doubt the factors involved are numerous, since the ubiquity of television (and now the internet, which can function in a similar way) we've come to see and value 'the other' like at no other period in time as manifest by the Civil Rights movement for racial equality, enormous strides in women's rights and sexual equality, and as we are now experiencing similar strides in the area of gay rights (and I believe that television, with shows like Ellen and and Modern Family play a significant role). What's more, we've seen a decrease in violent crimes to where it is now at a record low. When we can experience the lives of those we might want to fight in war, it becomes more difficult and perhaps that, (along with mutually assured destruction of the atom bomb) has led to wars being fewer than ever before and, as Steven Pinker has successfully argued (via a book I haven't read, but I've seen his TED talk) in nearly every way measurable the world is more peaceful than at any other time. And Even depression (anxiety and other mental illnesses), the awful thing which makes even the best of environments a living hell for some people has been mitigated through pharmaceuticals.

In a way, the prophesied millennium has come. If prophets from the past had seen today, with our long, healthy, peaceful lives it would seem like a golden utopia. Yet all of this has come as we've learned to rely more on our own understanding, rather that of Gods or ancient books. The more we as a society have turned away from prophets and scripture the better our world seems to be. The Millennium come, but from our own hands, not Gods except for the God Television.

I think one of the biggest potential troubles as we move forward is that as we have continue to have increasing choices and people are able to self select what media they consume, we may be able to go back to something closer to the pre-Tv era where you weren't forced to experience and empathize with people you weren't naturally inclined to.

No comments: