I wasn’t sure how to take it when my editor sent me the link to a Variety story with the headline “Studies: TV pushes away loneliness,” the subhead “Viewers have illusion their social needs are being met,” and the note, “Can you do something with this?” But he assures me it wasn’t a comment on my personal life (or lack thereof) but on my “uncanny knack for making those kinds of stories into relatable PopWatch items.” Right.
So according to four new studies reported in the Journalof Experimental Social Psychology, and distilled by Variety‘s James Hibberd, viewers can experience a profound sense of belonging, a “social surrogacy,” when watching their favorite programs. Subjects reported feeling “less lonely” when viewing the shows. They “verbally expressed fewer feelings of loneliness” after writing about the shows. Even just thinking about the shows “buffered subjects against drops in self-esteem, increasesin negative mood and feelings of rejection.”
All that is normal, right? TV is supposed to be an escape. If you’re not thinking about yourself for an hour, it would make sense that your self-esteem isn’t going to drop. It’s also supposed to engage you. What’s the point of watching a show every week if you’re not going to get to know the characters well enough that you can call out the writers when they have them do something that they never would have done? I suppose the finding that “subjects whose ‘belongingnessneeds were aroused’ wrote longer essays about their favored TVprograms” is a little worrisome. Maybe I want to belong at the Jeffersonian and that’s why my Bones recaps are always twice as long as they need to be for a PopWatch recap. That could also explain why I used the “we” in my lengthy Brothers & Sisters recap yesterday — as in, Kitty and I were both having an emotional affair on Robert — and talked about going to Happy Hour with Kitty, Kevin, and Sarah. Now that I’m thinking about it, I also recall imagining myself in bed with Richard Castle and his daughter, Alexis, watching TV, and eating ice cream for breakfast in an item about Nathan Fillion’s new show. And didn’t I once do a Valentine’s Day-themed post about which TV character I’d date? (I was going to end with the question ‘When does your TV officially become a surrogate?’ but then I remembered how I recently named my DVR “Peter” and spent, like, 15 minutes during a morning commute pondering whether or not he was gay, and I got my answer.)
Let’s all pretend that our relationship with “our shows” is healthy for a moment, and that we’ve never missed out on a real-life experience to stay in and watch one of them (The PopWatch Confessional that started it all!). Which show is your social surrogate and what needs do its characters fulfill?