Let’s Bring Some Light onto Our Screens and Uplift Our Entertainment
“Whoever tells the stories of a culture really governs human behavior.”
—George Gerbner, Former Dean at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania
I scroll through Netflix to see that Clickbait is the #1 TV show of the week. The description on Wikipedia says it explores “the ways dangerous and uncontrolled impulses are fueled in the age of social media.” Apparently, one of the characters “is missing, having appeared on a viral video, which contains a chilling message saying that he will die should the video reach 5 million views.” Lovely.
Several other shows in the top ten are about serial murder, suicide, rape, revenge.
Dayna is visiting me in Colorado and after an hour of perusing Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and HBO Max for something to watch that we haven’t yet seen (and which isn’t soul-crushing), we have finished our dinner, eaten dessert, and are on to popcorn.
Ugh. Bummed out and grossed out, I throw the remote across the room. Why is everything so dark, depressing, and dystopian?! Why are stories about the worst possible vision of humanity so compelling and prevalent?
I’m not saying we need to get rid of all our murder mysteries, cop shows, and films about the pathos of being human. But come on. The scales have gotten way out of balance.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was in such dire need of some innocent entertainment that I found myself watching episodes of Father Knows Best (yes, from 1954). Scary to think that insipid sexist storylines set in a world of racial injustice were somewhat soothing compared to most of what is on TV today. I only lasted a few episodes, but such was my level of desperation.
Watching Roku TV
Having struck out at finding anything to watch, Dayna and I end up staring at the Roku screensaver. Have you ever watched it? It’s actually pretty good. Speckled among the cityscape of iconic buildings and monuments from great films (the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, Seattle’s Space Needle) we discover all kinds of movie Easter eggs—Godzilla, the Emerald City, the Daily Planet, and more. Finding as many as we can becomes our evening’s entertainment. After about thirty minutes of this, Dayna says, “Well, I guess we should call it a night.”
Mean World Syndrome
It doesn’t take much to see the link between the stories we’ve been telling and the world we are experiencing.
“Mean world syndrome,” a term coined by the great media scientist, Professor George Gerbner, is characterized by cynicism, hatred of humanity, and pessimism. It is what happens to people when they watch stories like No Country for Old Men or The Revenant—both Oscar winners for best picture.
How can this preoccupation with violence and darkness be explained? How is it that “story,” which has historically been used as a myth to teach and explore our highest possibilities, got hijacked by negativity? How is it that Hollywood and the publishing industry, the purveyors of story in our culture, have gotten so enamored with one-upping each other on how dark they can be?
Wired for Negativity
We seem to be wired for the negative. Our brainstem, or “reptilian brain,” the oldest part of our brains, which evolved millions of years ago, is a fear-producing machine. It is designed to scan the environment for threat to keep us alive amid what were once near-impossible odds.
“The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences,” psychologist Rick Hanson says, “and like Teflon for positive ones.”
And our sped up, adrenaline-driven modern life, disconnected from the natural world only makes this worse. This explains why the dark, hyperbolic, and tragic keep attracting more and more of our attention.
Evolving Beyond the Reptilian Brain
But what if the brain weren’t designed for physical survival? Would we all just sit around all day and do what the ancient yogis and Rishis in India did—meditate under a tree, do some yoga, barely eat, and definitely not have sex and procreate?
These seers did not identify with their bodies. They were awake to the fact that this is all a big dream, that who we really are can never actually be harmed or endangered. If we had all been enlightened from the start, it would have been a failed experiment—a video game not worth playing because the avatars involved in the drama didn’t believe it was even real. Kind of uninteresting if you’re trying to have an experience of yourself, which “God” or “Source” clearly is doing. S/he is like an artist painting feverishly, canvas after canvas. Or a storyteller telling every story imaginable.
For the art, the story to work, it has to be believable, and the forms in the dream have to survive long enough to dream the dream. In order for both of these to happen, the inner eye of true perception has to be veiled by a fog of separation and fear. But what is paradoxical (you always know you’re getting close to truth when you hit upon paradox), is that our survival instinct is the very thing that is threatening our future survival. For the story of humanity to continue, we must evolve beyond the programming that previously kept us alive. We aren’t running from predators or hunting for days on end so that we can eat anymore. But we are still acting like we are. This has to end.
Beyond our reptilian or instinctual brain, we evolved an animal or emotional brain and finally a human or thinking brain. We also have an intuitive or spiritual brain located in the pineal gland and parietal lobe. We need to activate and cultivate it.
The veil of ego—just the belief in separation and a fearful, separate little me—has to be lifted from our consciousness so we can see the truth of our oneness.
We don’t need to all sit around meditating under trees all day, but we must be willing to sacrifice our old ways of being on the altar of a new consciousness. We have to put love, oneness, and “focusing positive,” as the Akarans from our novel Awake say, above all else. Yes, the ego-mind will say it’s too frightening. That reptile in there is not going to go down easy. It will keep telling stories about division and war and brutality. But we must tap into our higher mind—the intuitive, spiritual mind. The mind, which has access to what Akarans call “the Wisdom”—the love and intelligence that makes up the very fabric of the Universe. We can choose to start listening to this mind. To replace the old stories of fear and hostility with visionary stories and inspiring art that lifts us up as the magnificent beings that we are.
As Dayna is about to leave the room, I have a revelation! It’s Friday night. TED LASSO IS ON!!!! I jump off the couch and claw around on the floor, trying to find the remote. We turn on Apple TV+ and watch this much-needed breath of fresh air, kindness, and goodness that so many of us are yearning for. No wonder it just made history with its twenty Emmy nominations and seven wins.
A beacon of light, this show reminds us of what is possible. We can turn the tide of dark entertainment towards an uplifting trajectory by telling more stories that reflect our true nature—the beauty, infinite presence, and undivided Love that we all are. Not some Pollyanna version of life but interesting, modern, badass stories. For as George Gerbner said, “whoever tells the stories of a culture really governs human behavior.”
What stories do you want to tell?
For some inspiring spiritual entertainment, click here to read Awake: The Legacy of Akara.