The Jersey Shore Theory: How Media Can Effect Us

What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.” – W. H. Auden

At some point, media companies made a very profitable discovery: people seem to enjoy watching other people’s problems instead of dealing with their own.

Tony Robbins made a simple statement about what drives the majority of decisions, “we are pleasure seeking and pain avoiding creatures.” This seems like a very obvious thought but most people don’t consider their decisions in such straight-forward terms. Therefore, when it comes to deciding whether to deal with problems in our own life or watching other people’s problems on TV, Facebook, etc. the answer is easy:

– Dealing with problems = pain

– Watching others = pleasure

Dealing with problems is obviously painful. The question is why does watching others bring us pleasure? It is very simple: American culture is obsessed with comparison. We do it in our daily lives through different status symbols: car, clothes, jobs, houses, etc. When it comes to money, psychologists have found that it is not simply how much wealth a person has that leads to their satisfaction but how much they have compared to those around them.

The media companies have provided us with the perfect opportunity to make these comparisons. We can watch others live drama filled lives in order to feel better about our own. Living a life of comparisons creates a wall between you and your dreams. This wall is created in two ways:

1) Shift in Perspective: A person can start to get the false impression that lots of people live similar lives to those on TV. The people we watch are the extreme. When we watch the extreme all the time, we start to lose sight of what a full and happy life looks like. We allow more drama and problems to slowly become a part of us because we still feel above that extreme. Our whole perspective is subtly shifting in a negative direction.

2) Time Waster: Comparison becomes an addiction. It creates TEMPORARY relief from our problems. The initial problem is never dealt with and usually becomes larger. The issues begin to add up and we need more distractions to continue to have that relief. We have essentially created a problem easing drug. This drug will be the biggest time waster you ever encounter.

Pharmaceutical companies have found success providing drugs that give temporary relief from our problems. It looks like media companies have done the same thing.  Why are Jersey Shore and Real World two of MTV’s most successful shows ever?  Why do people spend hours each week just “looking around” on Facebook?

When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.” – Lao Tzu

What dangers do you see from comparing yourself to others?

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