A few thoughts on pain voyeurism.

Thursday nights I watch Grey’s Anatomy; I’ve done so nearly every Thursday for the past fifteen years. I recently came to the conclusion that I don’t enjoy it as much as I used to.

But I was in a mood and didn’t want to do anything but sit on the couch and watch television and it was Thursday, so what are you going to do?

My apathy didn’t abate as the hour drew to a close so I continued to sit as the next drama unrolled across the screen. It’s called A Million Little Things. I’ve seen bits and pieces and as far as I can tell, it’s about a group of thirty-something friends who are going through incredibly dramatic and angsty experiences, all piled one on top of the other. Nobody ever has a good day.

I used to love shows like that. I used to love to disappear into Grey’s Anatomy and ER before that.

But I don’t seem to get off on vicarious pain as much as I used to.

The emotional kind, at any rate. The physical stuff, the shows that are short on plot and high on explosions, violence, and body counts? Those I enjoy very much. I worry, a little, about what that means, but then I buy myself a popcorn and move on.

I enjoyed it more, if “enjoyed” is the right word, when I didn’t realize how true-to-life these shows are. Okay, yes, they’re over the top. It’s rare that among any group of friends, everyone’s lives are falling apart in horrific ways at the same time. But time-compression aside, they’re on point.

Life is hard and horrible things happen. Life can suck in ways you never have imagined in your younger years. And, what I didn’t use to realize when I watched other people’s misery on television is that in real life, pain doesn’t end. Our lives aren’t magically repaired at the end of an hour in response to a pithy and heartfelt speech. We rarely get tidy resolutions.

We also wear less makeup, don’t dress nearly as well, have as many pairs of high-heeled shoes, or regularly get blow-outs, but that’s a whole other train of thought.

Life is ups and downs and the latter are plentiful. Life is full of ugly and hard and pain. The more pain I witness, the more hard-times I’m involved in, the less I seem to enjoy watching fake pain for entertainment purposes.

These kinds of shows have value, I suppose. They teach lessons, sometimes. They can certainly be cathartic; I’ve had many a good Thursday evening cry.

But I wonder sometimes if they’re good for us in the long run? Is an over-exposure to pain desensitizing like violence? The same thing has happened with the news: if it bleeds, it leads. Voyeuristic pain, everywhere we turn.

Sometimes I wonder if the steady dose numbs the senses and makes people less empathetic?

I have no idea and while it’s an interesting thought to ponder, it’s not relevant for my purposes. Sometimes you don’t need to understand the deep behind the decision.

I’m tired of it. My kids have pain and my friends have pain and my parents have pain and I have pain and I’ve concluded that what I want from entertainment now is diversionary escapism.

I may never know if the kids forgive their mother for cheating on their father and having a baby with some other man, partially contributing to his suicide; I may never learn if the wife of the dad’s best friend forgives him because she found out about their affair and now has to help raise a love child; I may never learn if the best friend who is recovering from breast cancer stops torpedoing her own relationships.

I’ve realized, however, that what happens doesn’t matter and that I don’t really care. I think I’ve finally learned that people on television aren’t real; their problems are ultimately irrelevant. Contrarily, what happens to me does matter and lately, these shows for me simply depress. Maybe a steady diet of dire is not good for any of us.

On the other hand, a little of The Great British Baking Show does wonders for the soul.   

Do you like television dramas? Do you think having your heart wrenched is a good thing?

10 thoughts on “A few thoughts on pain voyeurism.

  1. I thought GA was supposed to come to an end YEARS ago. No?
    Never watched it.
    I think it’s good to watch some drama sometimes just to see that other people go through similar struggles as we do. Or that they have it worse sometimes. Too much of it is not good, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was a diehard fan of ER- watched it to the bitter end. It did become utterly ridiculous with the one-uppers though. I love “A Million Little Things” and also “This Is Us”. I love a good drama. I love a good cry. For me I think maybe it helps me actually feel the things all bundled up in myself? Now whether or not thats good coping- IDK. But I also like comedy and suspense and action and horror. Maybe I just like to be swooped into a range of feelings? Interesting post- thanks. Never thought about it that way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah, I’m so torn about this. In one instant, my mind tells me there’s a great value to stories inasmuch as they foster empathy, compassion, and understanding of human lives much different than our own. However, in the next instant, I think we can, indeed, be over-exposed to the emotional baggage of drama, draining us of the of the emotional reserves we have for actual life! And, a pragmatic problem is this: we can’t know how draining a show is until we’re already in the middle of it!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The Great British Baking Show is SUCH a feel-good watch. It’s just like a wholesome competition to make food. That’s it. I rewatch it all the time because it’s so nice. That said, I do occasionally enjoy watching dramas for the sole purpose of getting a good cry in, but it’s typically a movie. I don’t really like the idea of committing to a drama for the long haul.

    Liked by 1 person

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