Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Viewing "The Exorcist" Changed Her Life

Here's an email I received last week:

Dear Dr. Cantor,

I just finished reading "The Elephant in the Living Room" and came across your research for the first time. The issues you raise has made a tremendous impact on the choices I am now making for my children ages 5 and 1. While I feel I have been mindful of their viewing habits (no TV for the one year old), I saw room for improvement and have taken action.

I wanted to share with you an experience I had as a child that changed the landscape of who I am. When I was nine, my parents left me in the care of my 12 year old sister for the evening. While they were out, we watched "The Exorcist". The terror those images instilled in me lasted for YEARS. It set in motion obsessive compulsive behaviors and bizarre rituals I developed in order to protect myself from demonic possession. No matter what I did, I could not "unsee" Linda Blair's body transformed by Satan. As a young adult I sought counseling (for several reasons) and was finally able to watch the film again and deal with the horror I had seen.

It saddens me when I look back on my childhood and see so many passages marked not by family experiences, but rather by The Bionic Woman, and the Love Boat/Fantasy Island combo that I watched for years. Yes, we had other issues at home, and in some ways TV was my escape, but like any other vice, it came with a high price tag.

I wish TV was not so much a part of our lives. My husband likes the background noise at night, when the kids are asleep, but I would rather enjoy a quiet evening. TV has a huge impact on marriages. I am curious to know if there is research in that particular area.

Thank you so much for your valuable work. I plan to order your books for my family.

-- Concerned

Dear Concerned,

Thank you very much for your message. It is good to hear that my work is helpful to you. And you certainly are not alone in your traumatizing experiences! If you haven't seen it, you'll enjoy a brief paper I posted on my web site that reports similar experiences:

I agree that the dominance of TV in our lives is not a good thing and that it does affect family life and marriages greatly. I am not familiar with any research that specifically answers your question about the effect of background TV on marriage, (although there is research that shows that it interferes with homework! and there's some research about fighting over the remote!) I do believe that the emotional impact of the background noise of television is negative -- that it probably increases anxiety levels. However, many people find silence aversive and always want to have something on, be it music, chatter, or whatever. I think that people can change, though, once they get accustomed to peace and quiet. We are regular TV viewers in my family (although I try to turn it off when there's nothing good to watch ), and I notice how much calmer I feel on the occasions, like vacations, when TV is not available. I certainly don't like to have the TV on in the background when I'm reading, as I've found doing one thing at a time is so much easier and less stressful. (Try to tell that to all those teenage multi-taskers!) So it might be worth attempting quiet evenings or quiet moments in your home if it wouldn't cause too much conflict.

Do any other readers have similar media experiences they'd like to share?

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