Last Night the Telly Saved My Life
This week’s posting is an unapologetic affirmation of the healing power of the telly. Interesting isn’t it that our new TV behaviour is called ‘binge - watching’, language that still carries an assumption that TV watching is addictive, harmful and out of control? I get irritated with the chat that says that too much telly, or too much of the wrong kind of telly is bad for us. I object to the classed (at least in the UK) and moral high ‘horsery’ of those who believe that we would be better served by ‘reading a good book’ or ‘going for a walk’. Well who says?
I’m not onto something new here. The idea that film and TV can be therapeutic is supported by a lot of theory and a lot of evidence. There is a whole body of work on what has been called cinema therapy. The basic premise is that watching film or TV is an unconscious process that can free us from our usual mental inhibitions, and at its best be transformative in some way, and thereby healing. While the ego is occupied trying to follow the plot, the unconscious is free to process symbolic messages and connect us with our deeper emotions. There is also a body of work that explores the neuroscience of TV and film watching, which is having a brain effect, which then affects all sorts of other things at a psychophysiological level. In short watching the telly has the capacity to be a meaning-full experience, and one that can be really enjoyable, and one that connects us to other people.
It’s also ‘a bit of escapism’, we often say that in an apologetic way. I’m fascinated by escapism as a thought, why do we want to go, where do we want to go, what do we want to get away from? Richard Dyer, a wonderful thinker and writer on film and TV said that escapism, at its best, enables us to go there and come back better. For me, if watching the telly, somehow, enables you to go there, into whatever fictional world the programme creates, so that you come back to the here and now feeling a bit better, then it is serving an honourable human purpose.
I have worked with clients whose lives have literally been saved by the television. On the dark nights, in the grip of frightening suicidal thoughts they have put the telly on, and whether consciously paying attention or not to what they might describe as ‘just some company’, they were soothed or strengthened. They could also take some resilience from the fact that they had found a coping mechanism. This is not a trite thought. If the suicidal thoughts came back, they could always try putting the telly on.
I have worked with clients who were so wounded and withdrawn that I experienced them as being like a piece of paper, almost folded in 2, but with a tiny opening between the folds. In that tiny opening they started to let me in by talking about what they watched on the telly the night before. It felt safer and at their pace, than getting into their feelings. It was only through talking about Coronation Street that one client and I slowly started a working relationship.
Film writer James Hickey has talked about film and TV as offering us ‘meaningful coping’. I love that he has deliberately flipped the word ‘mindless’ to ‘meaningful’, watching TV is never mindless. Of course, sometimes it feels more meaningful than others. To those of you who have escaped into TV and ‘come back better’ I salute you. To those of you seeing a counsellor or therapist, if you don't already, maybe try talking about the film and TV that is meaningful to you. To those of you who will find in the TV a way of ‘meaningfully coping’ when the dark days and nights come, I wish you well.