Our previous experiences profoundly influence our future actions because humans tend to turn to the behaviors earlier observed in others when making decisions, explanations or predictions. When acting out of habit rather than plan, humans tend to depend on the history of previously reinforced actions (Gershman et al., 2016). Thus, behaviors observed in media, particularly TV shows and movies, can also profoundly affect one’s behavioral tendencies. I believe the shows that I was exposed to growing up have influenced my worldview and expectations.
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As a child, I found Avatar: The Last Airbender to be one of the most exhilarating shows. The animated series told a story of a boy that had to fulfill his destiny as the Avatar, the master of all four elements, and bring balance to the world after a 100-year war. In middle school, I was engrossed by a post-apocalyptic science fiction show, The 100. The coming-of-age drama plot revolved around a group of criminals led by a young doctor Clarke sent for testing the Earth’s habitability a century after a nuclear apocalypse. Finally, in my late teens, I profoundly enjoyed the sitcom The Good Place, a philosophical comedy that explored the hardships and implications of being a good person in the modern world through the lens of a seemingly terrible human being, Eleanor. Despite portraying different social and personal issues, all of the shows followed an identical storyline development framework: an ordinary person suddenly embarked on a great yet challenging self-exploratory adventure. The hero continuously faced increasingly demanding adversities but always bounced back and achieved their goal.
In my opinion, growing up constantly exposed to a mindset that dictated that “being good” was the most important variable in the course of action of any personal experience has had both its merits and downsides. During my childhood and early teens, the notion of non-familial loyalty impressed me and ultimately became one of my core values. Moreover, by constantly seeing such storylines, I was under the impression that if the hero adheres to their work ethic and shows utmost dedication, they would achieve their objective no matter what.
Nonetheless, although all shows conveyed that persistence and endurance were essential to persevere, they failed to highlight the fact that massive failures are sometimes inevitable. As I encountered what seemed like my first considerable defeat, I felt agonized because I expected that the circumstances would change in my favor at the very last moment despite all the hardships. I had to accept that success in its conventional understanding would not always be the outcome. Similarly, as painful to admit as it was, being on the opposite side of “the hero” spectrum as possible. Everything depended on the perspective.
The faults of portraying a character as inevitably successful could also benefit young viewers if they make their fruitful conclusions in spite of unmet unrealistic expectations. Personally, the shows did affect my worldview, but eventually, I realized the extent to which they should have done so. Like the Avatar, I have to find a balance. Not for the world but just for myself. Like Clarke, I have to deal with the unknown. Not for the survival of the human race but just for myself. Like Eleanor, I have to find what it means to be a morally righteous person. Not for the entire population but just for myself.
Gershman, S. J., Gerstenberg, T., Baker, C. L., & Cushman, F. A. (2016). Plans, habits, and theory of mind. PLOS ONE, 11(9), e0162246.