When people talk about the ‘power of television’ they are often referring to the way televisual culture has an impact on our behaviour in real life. Children will watch violent movies and suddenly have the urge to hit something, teenage boys will yearn for a Coke after seeing an attractive woman down a can and home makers will tend to buy the brand name in cleaning products after watching day time television. Cynically speaking, this is the ‘power’ that the television holds over us in our every day lives. However, the same could be said for pop culture in general. Newspapers, movies, the internet; all these things hold sway over our purchasing decisions and everyday activities. Television, though, has another power that is separate from all that I’ve mentioned before.
As has been noted before here, to transcend is essentially to travel beyond our normal plane of existence. Brilliant television gives us the chance to do exactly that. When we sit down to watch a Game of Thrones or a Breaking Bad, we elevate ourselves away from the humdrum of our normal existence and become part of the world that we are seeing on screen. Our problems and issues melt away, until the only thing that concerns us are the difficulties that face the characters. This is transcendence in its purest form and its something that thousands of people around the world are engaging in on a daily basis.
With the proliferation of on-demand television services, more and more people have access to an endless supply of quality programming. This leads us to the inevitable argument: is too much TV a bad thing? Or alternatively: is too much transcendence a bad thing? Taking a break from our own reality can often be a vital part of decompressing from a stressful time. A difficult problem can be seen at in a different light after taking some time to transcend. However, if we start to indulge too much in transcendence then soon our real world problems start to hold less importance in our lives. As more time is spent in alternate realities, it is the problems of the characters that we prioritse, over our own.
When an individual is watching so much television that they are not capable to function in working life, or even socialise with real human beings, then it is clear that a dependent addiction is taking place. Much like a drug addiction, the dependent television user gains high levels of dopamine from engaging in others’ problems whilst ignoring his own. When protagonists of the show resolve their issues of inner conflict; the viewer, empathising at such a high level by this point, will feel a sense of accomplishment as if they had achieved something themselves. The same thing could be said about many other televisual media (with a case for video games being particularly well backed) but no other medium is as socially acceptable to binge on whilst being an essentially passive activity.