Almost everyone, at least in the US, watches TV daily. We consume shows and movies like candy that our parents might suddenly take away. I suppose it makes sense then that we admire actors and celebrities or at least view them differently. So differently that they can sometimes make an easy transition into politics.
However, many of us obsess over books and several authors have the coveted name recognition and star status that many politicians only dream of. (Think J. K. Rowling, I realize she’s British so she couldn’t be President, just making a point). So why hasn’t a writer ever been president then?
Let’s take a closer look at what TV does to us vs books…
Is any of it real?
First, let’s talk about TV shows, specifically crime dramas. Does anyone really think that all crimes get solved by a genius detective with some strange personality quirk? Perhaps not.
But, studies have indicated that America may have a distorted view of the justice system thanks to crime shows (they even have a name for it – the CSI effect). Some of the effects include
- Viewers of crime dramas are more likely to believe the police are successful at lowering crime, use force only when necessary, and that misconduct does not typically lead to false confessions
- Jurors expect more forensic evidence (eg, DNA evidence) than is available or necessary, resulting in a higher rate of acquittal when such evidence is absent
This isn’t the only subliminal influence of television on our psyche. Even as crime rates fall, America’s fear of crime climbs. This has been linked to TV, including watching crime shows and TV news. It makes sense. We see more crimes, therefore we think crime is going up. But, it’s not reality.
Incidents of TV violence on broadcast television have increased since the late 1990s — as has the public’s fear of crime, the study said. The findings suggest that TV drama may “transport” viewers emotionally into the imagined world of TV shows in a way that creates fear of crime beyond the influence of the national violent crime rate or the reported perception of local crime.
And then there is “reality” television.
It messes with your head even more than crime shows. A recent study showed that people who heavily consume reality television come to believe that type of overly-dramatized interaction is how normal people act. Here is just one example of the study findings, it said that
Heavy viewers of these shows overestimate the prevalence of discord (e.g., affairs and divorces) and an emphasis on sex (e.g., sex on the first date, having multiple sex partners) in romantic relationships.
These are just a few examples of how TV and likely social media (which I’m sure will get the same degree of study in the coming years but doesn’t have it yet) essentially mess with our minds.
There is even something called the cultivation theory, which states
The more time people spend ‘living’ in the television world, the more likely they are to believe social reality portrayed on television
But books distort reality too, why don’t they affect our perceptions of reality?
There is an inherent difference between most books and TV. Authors are seeking not to distort reality, but to expose the truth of reality. Books aren’t being sensationalist to get ratings. They need to sell, sure. But writers are thinkers and a book spends a lot of time detailing their thoughts. (Not that all people making TV shows aren’t thinkers…The problem is with the medium itself…keep reading…)
There’s another aspect here though in terms of the difference between books and TV. We are visual people. When you read something, you aren’t seeing how someone acts, you’re conjuring it in your mind. But when you see it on TV, the behavior is modeled for you. It affects you differently than words on a page. Seeing is believing, the saying goes, right? Seeing is also doing. People mimic what they see, especially children. If you have children, think about that first time they said something and you said to yourself – oh wow, that sounds just like me.
In addition, watching TV affects a different part of your brain than when you read. For example, a study looked at the affect of TV on children’s brain development.
In kids who watched TV, the parts of their brain associated with higher arousal and aggression levels became thicker. The frontal lobe also thickened, which is known to lower verbal reasoning ability.
Another study looked at how reading affects the brain. It did NOT show any of these types of changes in the brain. Instead, the study saw positive effects on the brain in terms of increased language skills and critical thinking.
In addition, reading leads to active, reflective thought. It requites thought and concentration, whereas TV is passive and requires no effort.
America’s obsession with distorted reality is an obsession that distorts reality. And now it’s become reality.
Let’s look at our leaders for some evidence. America’s conservative arm first held up Ronald Reagan, an actor, as a paragon of conservative virtue and now we have a TV reality star as president and being treated by many like a conservative God (eg, he’s never questioned by his supporters, what he says is truth, no matter the size of the lie).
(Side note: to those of you who think he’s more than that and tout the fact that he is a successful businessman as one of his qualities, I think you need to look up the reality of his business acumen and then the word “successful” in the dictionary. He’s anything but. That’s a story for another time though…)
And, of course there was also Arnold Schwarzenegger, a movie start turned Republican governor. What does this say about us? Are we so blinded by TV, movies and social media that we can’t see truth from fiction anymore. (I’d argue, yes, that’s precisely the problem.)
America has never backed an author for President.
We’ve had an ex-actor and now a reality TV star as presidents. Why not an author?
I’m not counting presidents and candidates who have had written books about their lives or political views, that’s not the same. (With few exceptions most of them didn’t actually write those books themselves anyway.) They aren’t real authors. Writing isn’t their primary job. A real writer is someone who can’t go a day without writing or else he or she feels incomplete. A real writer feels as though forming words on a page into ideas is critical for mental and social development and growth. A writer cannot exist without writing.
To be fair, some presidents have written books and written them well. But, there weren’t many and that wasn’t a reason people voted for them. Can you name a president where someone said – wow, he was such a great writer, gotta vote for him? Nope. Can you name a president who you know because of movies or TV? Yep, at least two of them.
There’s an interesting article called – Presidents who write well, lead well. It’s an opinion piece (stressing here opinion piece) that talks about how presidents who write well do so because they are thoughtful and hard working.
Good writing very often signals a strong intellect and in many cases a deep vision. It also shows its author to be a person of some discipline, in that even those who are born with a great deal of talent in this area still usually have to work hard and make sacrifices to develop their abilities.
The viewpoint makes sense. Writers (usually) are thinkers. And thinking is good. We want someone to think through a problem before acting on it. Or at least I thought we did.
Personality over substance
Instead, in November 2016, after having thoughtfulness and personality, we reverted again to personality over substance. My husband made a salient point – we’re so concerned about extreme vetting of immigrants (code word for Muslims). Why aren’t we extreme vetting our president? Why aren’t we looking to see if the person has a well-thought out approach? Why aren’t we giving candidates a test to see if they adhere to “American values”? Why aren’t we looking to see if what they say is actually true? Or why have we stopped caring about truth?
I think we need presidents who still believe in truth and intelligent thought. Who better then than a writer!
Toni Morrison for President!
Unfortunately, in the current world, we will likely never have a writer as president. As I said, writers, authors whatever you call them, are at their core, seekers of truth. They want to delve into a theme or idea and expose it through fiction and non-fiction. It takes a lot of thought. Even authors who write things that seem to be purely for entertainment have a message they’re trying to convey. One they’ve thought through, probably extensively.
But, we no longer want thought. People believe what they see someone say on TV or Twitter, even when it’s proven false, even when it goes against the reality of what is happening to them, even when it’s just flat out crazy. Why? Because we can no longer separate the reality star from reality. And if this path continues, the reality for all of us will be nothing short of disaster.
“You should never read just for “enjoyment.” Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick “hard books.” Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for god’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, “I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.” Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of “literature”? That means fiction, too, stupid.” — John Waters