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You Press Play, Reality Presses Pause

Updated: Nov 7, 2018

When I come across friends or classmates who tell me, “Oh, I don’t really watch that much TV,” or “Yeah, I’ve seen a couple of episodes of that,” I have an automatic emotional reaction. I don’t judge their opinions, but I honestly think they’re missing out.

I consider television a passion, not an activity. Whether it’s a sitcom I’ve already seen three times playing on a loop while I study or new HBO drama I anticipate each week, this art form is my go-to. Don’t get me wrong, the right album or a good book can help me relax, but watching TV affects me in a completely different way. Having seen more than 50 different series, some more than once, I like to call its effect on me creative hypnosis, but that can't been scientifically proven.

So, what is it about this medium that captures our attention and lets us escape reality?

Turns out it’s not a simple answer. There are many aspects that apply to everyone who connects with television. No matter the genre, we all get invested in the stories and characters.

These aspects of television — dialogue, acting, subject, plot, soundtrack, and cinematography — fulfill our countless, often unidentifiable, needs. You can like a completely different genre than your best friend, but you two have the same desire to block out your realities.

I asked girls in my sorority what show they scroll to first when they just can’t deal with their stress and emotional drama. I was given a surprising list of titles.

The “Office” and “Friends” were the most popular responses. Even though the average college girl may not be able to relate to the daily lives of employees at a small paper company or the dynamic of a frighteningly close group of friends in the late 90s, college kids crave comedy.

These shows, while critically acclaimed, aren’t about exploring the complex social issues of modern times. Their creators just wanted to make characters that people love and write scripts that make people indulge in the simplest human reactions. I have watched both of these series countless times (I started watching “Friends” when I was 11 years old and my three older siblings passed on that right of passage). Despite the fact that I have been laughing at Chandler and Phoebe and crying during “The One With the Morning After” for almost nine years, I am never tired of it.

Television shows are sacred for a lot of us. For me, it’s the memories I associate with them. It’s the characters I grow to desperately root for and the new approaches to classic family, friendship and romance narratives.

We each find something unique in our favorite series. The individualistic quality of this entertainment form is attractive, but television also has an innate appeal because of its ability to reflect our society. The ways it does aren’t always the same, obviously. A TV show’s story can weave its way into our reality by taking on a very current issue, like sexual assault, or it can paint a picture of a world that’s grounded in our reality, but aspirational. We want to be a part of that story.

The currently airing drama that has everyone in a perpetual emotional roller coaster, “This Is Us,” not only reflects elements of our modern society, but also depicts family dynamics we can all relate to. We see glimpses of our families in the heartbreaks, the personal triumphs and the petty fights, and we visualize our childhood and adolescent memories.

That is what it comes down to. As a 20-year-old studying public relations, I have learned extensively about the power of storytelling. For us, its about creating content for social media that is both memorable and shareable. Those fundamentals apply to television the same way. We explore different genres and find little things we like about some series, but we remember the stories that make us care. We race to text our friends about new episodes because we want to see if they feel the same way about a character’s decision as we do, and every one of us escapes our reality to be, if just for a moment, in a different one.

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