Are You Creating Panic With Pandemic Entertainment?

“A lot of TV shows and films shut down production in light of the coronavirus. Now that they’re following protocols and back on set, some narrative storylines in series like “This Is Us” and the upcoming season of “Grey’s Anatomy” are focused on what we’re all experiencing in 2020: mask-wearing, social distancing, quarantining, healthcare, the election, racial injustice. Do you think it’s a good or bad thing for audiences to relive what’s happened/what’s currently happening in our country?  Viewers are looking for an escape during these times, no? How do you think the pandemic will affect pop culture and the content we create/consume?”

Recently, a reporter asked me this, and it made me pause to consider whether pandemic-time entertainment should aim to boost morale. Here’s my opinion.

Too young to remember the 1938 War of the Worlds radio drama? Me too, but I still heard about the angry outcry it sparked when listeners believed the show to be a real broadcast about a real invasion.

I’m not too young to remember the 1983 movie “The Day After.” ABC’s hype had us all watching it, making it impossible for me to conduct class the next day. My joyous and energetic high school students returned the day after the movie subdued, scared and angry, hotly debating whether it was better to die before a bomb was dropped, or to die during the aftermath. Many of them could not shake the effects of the movie for months, continuously raising random questions throughout the rest of the school year. Too many asked my opinion about suicide, too frequently.

All this from a fictional movie about a situation we’ve never had to live through (only Japan has had that experience— at the hands of the USA). The hype may have died down, but the underlying anxiety persists. 

Today we find ourselves in the middle of another global pandemic. Our children are frightened, despite being soothed by scared parents. No one knows what the future holds. Many are waiting for things to return to normal. 

Is this the time for a movie like Songbird? If they don’t make that movie, someone else will make the first one, so the answer is, whatever

Let’s be real. Once you watch a pandemic movie in the middle of a pandemic crisis, you can’t un-watch it. If it generates emotions and fears in you, there’s no escape from that.

The masses will watch in horrified fascination, unable to look away. They will leave the viewing reevaluating their lives and their children’s future. Their hope will be dented. Depression and fear will skyrocket with the next news broadcast. Children who are too young to watch will sense the heightened fear in the air.

My suggestion is to leave reality programming for reality, and instead, fill your entertainment time with the kind that soothes and replenishes the soul. If you don’t do it when you’re relaxing, then when are you going to do it? 

Science has shown that we can deliberately reprogram our brain along a positive path. Conversely, watching the ever-breaking news on the pandemic passively reprograms your brain with fear and anxiety, until it becomes your new normal. 

I prefer the former. You may not be able to plan for the next turn the pandemic takes, but you certainly can anticipate pandemic topics portrayed for your viewing pleasure. Every time you replace a pandemic episode with an upbeat substitute, it will fortify you in some small measure. Let that deliberate positive path you build become your new normal. You’ll be better equipped to handle whatever life dishes out.

Read the HuffPost article here:

Read more parenting tips in my new book, “How To Keep Your Daughter From Slamming the Door.”

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