SDCC '14TV

SDCC 2014: The Psychology of Cult TV

Maya Zach ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Matt Smith in Doctor Who. Photo Credit: Adrian Rogers/BBC.
Matt Smith in Doctor Who. Photo Credit: Adrian Rogers/BBC.

Dr. Janina Scarlet, a psychologist who uses TV as a healing method; Dr. Travis Langley, a professor and the author of Batman and Psychology; Dr. Ali Mattu a psychologist specialized in anxiety and the cohost of Super Fantastic Nerd Hour; and Billy San Juan, a psychology intern, discussed the healing power of television. Though they noted the negatives of television (such as allowing it to take time away from work), these four self-proclaimed geeks absolutely see the value of television.

No matter how you look at it, television is an investment. Viewers both invest their time when watching a show and they invest themselves emotionally. The hope is that the show will pay off on this investment. When a show is well written and the characters face real situations, the investment tends to pay off. When watching a fictional program, viewers can get attached to the characters and the stories. This is particularly true when they suffer a similar traumatic experience or life-altering event.

Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox.
Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox.

When it feels as though nobody understands what is going through one’s head and what they have suffered through, television is there. This can be the case when a character battles the same demons as the viewer. Or television can just be used as an escape. When watching television, the viewer is wholly themselves; there is no reason to wear a mask while watching TV, because there is no one on the other side to judge. When watching television, it allows the viewer to be their own true self, without hiding who they truly are.

Television has expanded to so much more than just watching on a TV set or a laptop. Many people wear t-shirts and buy merchandise to show off their place in a fandom. It can be comforting to look across the desk and see a mini-TARDIS or a Psych snow globe; it serves as a reminder of something important and safe. It brings the viewer further into the world and turns it into more of a reality. And catching a glimpse of someone wearing a Buffy the Vampire Slayer shirt might spark a conversation. It becomes much easier to connect with someone over a shared topic (or geekery). And this connection releases oxytocin, which literally causes the body to heal.

Alyson Hannigan in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox.
Alyson Hannigan in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox.

Science fiction is an excellent way to broach some really difficult topics, without being head-on. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BTVS SPOILER!), Willow faces an addiction to magic that becomes brutal on herself and everyone around her. She manages to overcome this addiction through a lot of effort and through the help of her friends. This is “just a tiny bit different” from a person battling a drug addiction. But this little difference is enough to allow the viewers to talk about it; it’s different enough to not be a reality. This extra layer of supernatural elements changes the context, making it easier to cope and understand the tough situations.

Though there aren’t many studies based on the healing effects of television, these four are leading the charge in trying to prove the positive effects television can have.

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