One of the most valued times of my week is Monday nights. I have the evening perpetually blocked off in my calendar to get together with my girlfriends and The Bachelor and other Bachelor related shows. I’ve been a member of “Bachelor Nation” for the past several years; among my friends I have been known to know the intimate details of the contestants’ lives as well as any new hot tea.
Initially when others learned of my slight obsession for the Bachelor, they were confused. I was often asked, “Well aren’t you a feminist?” or, “How can you let your brain rot away with that garbage?” As a therapist, I respond by saying that my work is mentally engaging so when I watch television, I want to disconnect from reality and engage with light content.
Are the benefits of mindless media?
I began to develop a theory that there are true mental health benefits to media that allow us to disconnect from reality. I used to be slightly embarrassed by my dedication to The Bachelor franchise. However, as I took ownership over my guilty pleasure and theory, I realized that I was not alone in my love for mindless television.
As I spoke to other friends and family members, I found that most people have a type of show, movie, book, or other form of media that they dive into when in search of respite. In my social circle, my theory seemed to be holding true. This became significantly more evident over the past two years, as we are seemingly moving through one crisis after another from the pandemic, to political turmoil, to the impacts of climate change.
Clearly, mindless media has its benefits, but many may be curious about what those benefits are. Below I will discuss why so many of us are drawn to reality television, TikTok videos, romantic comedies, and beach reads—and why that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Three Benefits of Mindless Media
1. Mindless media is predictable.
One of the major benefits of mindless media is that it is often predictable. In a romantic comedy or lusty beach read, consumers can expect that two people will have a meet-cute, experience some sort of mild conflict, and end the story together and happy. On The Bachelor, viewers can typically expect to see group dates, one on ones, and a rose ceremony with a comedic scene in the credits. According to licensed psychologist Krystine Batcho, this predictability can ease feelings of chaos and anxiety. When we engage with content that we know will play out in a particular way, our anxiety goes down.
2. Mindless media creates opportunities for connection.
When I’m in a newer social setting, one of the first questions I often hear is, “Did you watch The Bachelor this week?” or “Have you seen the new season of Too Hot to Handle?” These questions put me at ease, because I know I will have something to talk to my new acquaintance about for at least the next few minutes.
Similarly, many friends who have moved cite joining book clubs as their way to meet new people. According to librarian Melanie Kindrachuk, “A book club can help you meet new people and make new friends, all in a relaxed atmosphere…. Just getting together and chatting on a regular basis can be fun.” Book clubs for folks who do not know each other well tend to read a mix of lighthearted books that hold the interest of readers, but do not tap into deeply controversial topics. This allows for the group to get to know each other and build relationships before forcing a terser conversation.
3. Our brains need a break
More specifically, our neocortex needs a break. Our neocortex is responsible for making hard decisions like whether or not to close on a deal or whether or not our patient needs an invasive medical procedure. By the end of the day, many of us feel quite tired from having made several challenging decisions, and that part of our brain needs a break.
The general thought is that when our brain needs a break, it needs to shut down. But, actually it’s more nuanced than that. According to rest and regeneration expert Matthew Edlund, our brains can rebuild themselves more efficiently if we vary our activities. If we are constantly in high pressure decision-making environments, our neocortices will not have the opportunity to repair and grow. But if we engage in other activities such as watching television or reading a novel, other areas of our brain are engaged, allowing the neocortex a chance to rest.
Mindless media in the time of COVID
As I reflect on the benefits of mindless media, I’m aware of how rare these benefits have been in our past two years. Since COVID-19 has been a part of our lives, our time has felt anything but predictable. Each week policies shift as a manner of keeping communities safe. These changes and shifts are necessary, but can leave us in a seemingly unending state of the unknown. Having something predictable like a weekly viewing party of a show can feel healing.
Similarly, at the beginning of the pandemic, one of my deepest pains was missing my book club. We continued to choose books, but we were unable to gather in our normal fashion and connect with each other about our daily lives. Now that the book club is vaccinated, we are more safely able to gather and discuss our favorite mindless books.
Lastly, these past two years have shown how valuable it is to allow our brains to rest. We often feel pressure to consume news to be informed, but we will burn out if we don’t take rest. This week, I encourage you to take rest in any mindless manner that feels welcoming.