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“It all depends on how we look at things, and not how they are in themselves.”

—Carl Jung

In our modern society, the field of psychology often categorizes certain behaviors as “healthy” or “unhealthy,” largely based on the belief that our actions are primarily influenced by our environment. However, an intriguing aspect of human behavior is our tendency to consume media like TV shows, movies, fiction novels, and music, which often express beliefs, feelings, and attitudes inconsistent with psychological theories. This raises questions about the influence of mythology and media on our daily lives. In today’s digital age, entertainment has become a prevalent and easily accessible form of escapism—from binge-watching TV shows to immersing ourselves in fictional narratives, we often turn to media to distract ourselves from the challenges and complexities of real life. While entertainment can provide temporary relief, it is essential to recognize the potential consequences of this obsession with escapism. In this article, we will explore the concept of alienation and its relationship to our reliance on entertainment, delve into the power of myth and its influence on our psyche, examine media’s influence on perception, and discuss the potential negative effects of media portrayals of human behavior. By understanding these dynamics, we can gain insight into the importance of balance and the need for creative expression in order to foster personal growth and fulfillment.

Additionally, many followers of New Age spiritual traditions believe in the inherent beauty and balance of life, but this viewpoint may misinterpret ancient traditions, such as NeoPlatonism, Hermeticism, and Taoism. Interestingly, these individuals often indulge in entertainment as a form of escapism, which contradicts the notion of a all this perfection. (Of course, the Gnostics just accepted that the universe is the flawed creation of an evil demiurge, which makes it easier to explain the need for escapism.) The obsession with entertainment also distracts from real-world problems, causing us to turn a blind eye to suffering and environmental damage. Entertainment should not be used to avoid reality. Balance is about accepting and appreciating all aspects of life, including the difficult times, in order to fully grasp its beauty.

The Alienation Factor

The (in)famous German communist commentator Karl Marx developed a concept of alienation that can inform sociopolitical discussions beyond critiques of capitalism versus communism. For Marx, “alienation” refers to the estrangement of human beings from their own labor, from the products they create, from their fellow human beings, and from their own true nature. Similar criticisms have been leveled against communist societies. Marx argued that alienation plays a significant role in people’s lives, leading them to search for meaning and fulfillment elsewhere. This is not a Marxian analysis of the media’s role in psychology, but Marx’s idea that a capitalist society encourages individuals to pursue material wealth and profit, rather than their own creative and spiritual potential certainly seems to be a factor in what we see happening today as mental health disorders, such as depression, are at an all-time high. Marx argues that this, in turn, leads to a sense of dislocation from one’s own humanity, with individuals feeling disconnected from their innermost desires and passions.

German sociologist Max Weber‘s perspective on alienation differs from Marx’s as he attributes it not to the ownership of the means of production, but to the emergence of bureaucracy and the rationalization of social life. Marx argued that capitalism resulted in the worker’s “expropriation” from the means of production, wherein individuals were compelled to sell their labor, effectively losing control over their own destinies, to private capitalists. In contrast, Weber contended that a loss of control in the workplace was an inevitable consequence of any system characterized by rational coordination of production. According to Weber, individuals would be required to join large-scale organizations in order to engage in socially significant actions—very much the state of affairs we see today with political parties and special interest groups. However, in doing so, they would have to sacrifice their personal desires and aspirations to conform to the impersonal goals and procedures of the organization itself and its orthodoxy, thereby experiencing a sense of alienation and detachment from themselves.

Although the mental health profession aims to address this void in various ways, many still struggle with feelings of alienation and emptiness. As a result, individuals often turn to entertainment and fiction to distract themselves from the mundanity of reality. They mythologize their experiences, immersing themselves in daydreams and fantasies inspired by the media they consume. By identifying with fictional characters and stories, they seek inspiration and courage to face life’s challenges, incorporating elements of these narratives into their own lives and careers.

Exploring the Power of Myth

Joseph Campbell, a renowned scholar, highlighted the significance of myths and archetypes in shaping individual and collective consciousness. His book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” is a seminal work in the study of myth and its role in shaping human consciousness. Campbell’s research on the hero’s journey has been influential not only in the fields of mythology and psychology but also in literature, film, and popular media.

The hero’s journey is a central archetype found in myths across cultures, with variations in different societies. This narrative pattern involves a protagonist who embarks on a quest or adventure, facing various challenges and obstacles along the way before ultimately achieving a goal or completing a transformation. Campbell argues that this universal pattern reflects deep-seated psychological patterns that help individuals navigate life’s challenges and transitions.

An example of the hero’s journey archetype can be found in the ancient Greek myth of Perseus. In this story, Perseus is born to a mortal woman and a god, but he must rescue his mother from the clutches of an evil king, who threatens to marry her against her will. Perseus sets out on a dangerous journey to defeat the king and save his mother, encountering various challenges and obstacles along the way. Ultimately, he accomplishes his goal with the help of magical weapons and divine intervention, transforming into a heroic figure in the process. The hero’s journey archetype is not limited to ancient myths, but can also be found in modern-day stories and films. For instance, the plot of the popular movie, Star Wars, follows a similar pattern to the myth of Perseus. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker sets out on a dangerous mission to save the galaxy from the oppressive rule of the Empire and its leader, Darth Vader. Along the way, Luke encounters many challenges, including facing his father, and ultimately succeeds in his mission with the help of his allies and the power of the Force, transforming into a heroic figure in the process.

Carl Jung, another influential figure, explored the depths of archetypes and the collective unconscious. In “The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” Jung emphasized the universal presence of symbols and stories across diverse cultures, suggesting that they are rooted in profound psychological patterns. These archetypes serve as powerful tools for self-realization and understanding our place in the greater scheme of things. Jung’s and Campbell’s theories complement each other, as both scholars recognize the universal presence of powerful symbols and patterns in human consciousness.

On the other hand, while their ideas remain relevant in modern society, there is a potential danger in the widespread overidentification with media narratives. For example, in overidentifying with the hero’s journey archetype, people may be perpetuating a culture that promotes delusions of grandeur and narcissism. While engagement with literature, art, or mythology can provide valuable insights and help individuals connect with archetypal patterns, Jung also stressed the importance of balancing external influences with personal introspection and self-reflection. A healthy approach, in Jungian theory, involves integrating external influences into one’s own unique experience and psychological development.

The obsession with media and entertainment, as well as overreliance on mental health, can create a cycle of consumption and lack of creativity. People often consume media that influences and shapes their moods and behaviors, but rely on mental health experts to prescribe “healthy” or “unhealthy” behaviors, mixing up the issues and reducing their own capacity for free and independent thought, and creative expression. Overreliance on these external sources can lead people to alienation, disconnection, and a lack of fulfillment. Therefore, it is essential to emphasize the importance of creative expression and self-realization in overcoming alienation and fostering personal growth and fulfillment.

Media’s Influence on Perception

Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman were pioneering media theorists who argued that media has a profound influence on our perception of reality and the formation of our beliefs and behaviors. McLuhan famously claimed that “the medium is the message,” suggesting that the medium itself shapes our understanding and experience of the content it communicates. According to McLuhan, different media create different sensory environments that influence our perception of reality. For instance, print media is linear, text-based, and analytical, whereas television is more visual, immersive, and emotional. McLuhan argued that these differences in media environment have a significant impact on how we process information and understand the world around us.

Postman further explored McLuhan’s ideas in his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” which argued that the form of media we consume shapes our worldview and influences our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. Postman contended that television, in particular, was a medium that emphasized entertainment, sensation, and spectacle over rational discourse and critical thought. He argued that this focus on entertainment and superficiality had significant consequences for how we process information and view society. Postman also warned of the dangers of the “information overload” created by modern media technologies. In his view, the constant bombardment of information and entertainment could cause people to become passive and demotivated, unable to engage meaningfully with the world around them. Postman suggested that we need to develop a critical awareness of the media environment in which we live to avoid being manipulated by it.

Escapism: Out of the Frying Pan!

Chapter 10 of The Oxford Handbook of Entertainment Theory, “Binge-Watching as Case of Escapist Entertainment Use” by Anabell Halfmann and Leonard Reinecke, explores the concept of binge-watching TV series as a form of escapist entertainment. The authors define binge-watching as the act of watching multiple episodes of a TV series in one sitting, often on streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. The authors explore the motivations behind binge-watching, arguing that it serves as a form of escapism, allowing individuals to temporarily forget about their worries and problems. They also suggest that binge-watching can be a way of coping with stress and anxiety, providing a sense of comfort and familiarity in difficult times.

The chapter then goes on to discuss the potential negative consequences of binge-watching, such as its potential to lead to addictive behavior and social isolation. One of the key concerns the authors raise is the potential for binge-watching to lead to addictive behavior. They suggest that the easy availability of streaming services and the ability to watch multiple episodes in one sitting can make it difficult for individuals to control their viewing habits. This can lead to a compulsion to continue watching, even when it interferes with other aspects of life, such as work, school, or personal relationships.

Additionally, the authors note that binge-watching can contribute to social isolation, as individuals may spend long periods of time alone in front of the screen rather than engaging in social activities. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression, particularly if binge-watching becomes a primary source of entertainment. The authors also examine the psychological factors that may contribute to binge-watching, such as personality traits, emotional states, and social influence. For example, individuals who are high in neuroticism or anxiety may be more likely to engage in binge-watching as a way of coping with stress, while those who are low in self-control may struggle to limit their viewing habits.

Media Portrayals of Human Behavior

One issue with media portrayals of human behavior is that they often differ significantly from the principles promulgated by the mental health profession. While mental health professionals prioritize the promotion of mental and emotional well-being, as well as healthy coping mechanisms, media portrayals often favor exaggerated behaviors, negative coping mechanisms, and unrealistic depictions of relationships and interactions. For example, TV shows like Modern Family and Last Man Standing, while humorous and entertaining, can serve as examples of how unrealistic depictions of relationships and interactions can influence people’s expectations and potentially lead to negative emotions. It is important to remember that such portrayals of characters and their personalities are fictional exaggerations that lack the depth and complexity of real-life behaviors and interactions.

In Modern Family, the show presents an idealized version of a blended family, where conflicts are typically resolved within a single episode, and characters always seem to come together in the end. While this makes for entertaining television, it may create unrealistic expectations for real-life relationships. Viewers who are dealing with similar family dynamics and conflicts may feel a sense of shame or disappointment if their own experiences don’t align with the harmony and ease of conflict resolutions depicted on the show. Similarly, Last Man Standing portrays a traditional family structure with a strong, no-nonsense father figure who always has all the answers and a picture-perfect family dynamic. This depiction may lead individuals to believe that such flawless relationships exist in reality, causing feelings of isolation or inadequacy when their own family dynamics fall short of this idealized image. Criticisms have also been leveled against both sitcoms for presenting a polarized view of the world, on either side of the sociopolitical spectrum, which could be exacerbated groupthink and echo-chambers, as people receive validation for their pet sociopolitical views via the media they consume—otherwise known as confirmation bias.

It is important to recognize that the media can influence our expectations of reality, particularly with respect to relationships and interactions. Engaging in constructive and creative activities that allow us to explore the world and our own consciousness should take precedence over consuming media and products. Media has the ability to shape our expectations of reality, particularly in regards to relationships and interactions, leading to potentially unrealistic and harmful beliefs. While TV shows may offer entertainment and escapism, it is crucial to limit consumption and approach media with a critical eye. Instead of allowing media to shape our understanding of the world, we should prioritize engaging in activities that foster personal growth and creativity. By taking a step back from media consumption, we can focus on our own experiences and perspectives, allowing us to avoid the negative emotional impact associated with overidentification with unrealistic depictions of ourselves, our loved ones, and humanity as a whole. Ultimately, by consuming less media and engaging with the world around us, we can broaden our knowledge and understanding of the world and our place in it.

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