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greg dahlen

Alumnus, academy of achievement

TEDCRED 50+

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Why do we like watching TV and movies when we know it's all fake?

I'm a huge fan of movies that are fictional stories, and TV shows. I often enjoy the adventure movies where things happen that really don't and probably couldn't happen in real life, and I guess other people do, too. I wonder why we enjoy them when we know they're all fake?

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Closing Statement from greg dahlen

Well, I really need to differentiate two kinds of "fake." For one, there's the fact that everything is fake in a fictional story in the sense that it has all been written by someone and is being put on by actors pretending to be someone. Then there's the sense of "fake" of things happening that are impossible, like Superman flying.

  • Mar 20 2013: I believe it's because it plays on our natural curiosity. We as humans want to understand different situations and how in those situations other people respond to them. Much like a dream, i think stories and TV help show alternative ways characters handle themselves and their popularity is based on the shows applicability. The more relevant a show or movie is too our lives / a lifestyle we wish to live, the more we want to understand and apply it.
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    Mar 21 2013: Greg, I would say that's not all the movies are not true !!
    it's may be the type of movies you watch is fake, you can try to watch (Dramatic, historical, or bio) movies.
    you will find them very useful and important, Cinema is an art like any other reflect our reality, emotions and our political situation.
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    Mar 21 2013: I would say that even fictional movies are an avenue of passing along some realities. It might appear to be fake if the fiction story is not directly evident in day to day life. Even though it is fictional it was created by mind/imagination of someone. The vehicle of imagination is one true way to pass message to people through stories, movies, books and such that could not be better expressed in reality.
    Enjoy all movies with open-mindedness, get entertained and sometimes tap into reality of imagination.
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      Apr 3 2013: There is something to what you say, mary. After all, many movies show things that happen everyday, like people talking, walking, working, eating. And even when they go to things that seem nearly impossible, they usually don't seem 100% impossible, there is a chance in a million they could happen.

      Now I'm wondering why something becomes a news story, why is that one thing that happens doesn't go in the newspapers, and another thing that happens becomes a big story, where it's in the paper, people are talking about it, etc.?
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        Apr 4 2013: Hey Greg,

        I agree with you that even though things might seem somewhat impossible at first, it is a matter of time, thoughts and resources the impossible becomes the norm.
        To contribute to you wondering why something becomes new story and popular while other amazing things fail to get to spot light....I would simply refer to one of the movies I just watched "Hero/Accidental Hero 1992"...(in my own words)When John Bubber "Andy Garcia is asked ...the world think of him as a hero, what did he think of himself"? He said that every human being is a hero, every story is a great story....what make some popular and others not so popular is because of media.
        I would simply put it that the media as a business covers what they think will make them popular. And given tv, radio, newspaper limitation of only having one story at a time, we end up with popular stories and some not so popular. But thank the internet and interconnectedness that we are experiencing..in the coming decade people will chose and identify with that make sense and give mean to them. The opinion leaders will slowly fade away and everybody will now that their stories matters to someone else.....
        Love, Mary
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          Apr 5 2013: By popular what do you mean, Mary, you don't mean like some kids were popular in school, got invited to parties and such?

          I would think many considerations go into a story becoming "news," whether it really matters in people's lives, whether it will sell papers, whether it will change people for the good or they need to know it.

          I hope that everyone always did have a sayso in how they chose and identified, not just sheep following the opinion leaders. One hopes the Net will help.
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        Apr 9 2013: Hey Greg,
        Yes some many things goes into considerations in deciding what becomes "news". Currently, our "news" are fear based because that what seem to work.....I bet the internet will play a big role in shaping what people think is news and popular....
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          Apr 9 2013: Still wonder what you mean by that word "popular." You mean the kind of news people are attracted to, want to read or hear?

          What do you consider a newsworthy story, mary? What do you consider a story that is not "fear based"? Are you talking about good news, are you saying currently the media doesn't report enough good news?
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        Apr 11 2013: Hey Greg,
        Yes, by popular I mean the kind of news people want to read or hear. Personally, I think that most the news generated today are focused on fear. Most of the news covers accidents, wars, political and policy problems.....People generally get attracted this type of news because of fear. I would say the media report good news such as a warning against an impending disaster, however most of news are generally note worth my time. To me a story that impact people's life in positive way is worthy of becoming great news, otherwise it is bad news....( If I watch movies that entertaining or educate me then that is great media, if I read an article that contribute positively to my well being then that is great news, if I turn on the TV and watch breaking news and I have hope for a better tomorrow, then that is great news...otherwise if I feel fear, desperate or wanting..then I keep away from such news)
        Hope I answered your question,
        Love, Mary
  • Mar 23 2013: As we know that we the people are temporary in this planet and in order to being an hard working guy we should some times be Jolly.And that comes from watching TV,Going to movies.If I went to an action movie and after coming out from the theater say If I watched out a bruce lee movie and I feel like kicking some one as I got the powers of Bruce lee..Lol. By watching movies we can analyse the creative work of Director's.Watching adventure movies basically I perceive How will be my life like this.It's just an Analogy from Bogus to Real which we'll see it in the Reel.
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      Apr 4 2013: Yes, when we watch a film, we can just relax and let the film do the work.

      Also, you're right, we identify with the characters, if we see the main character fighting evil successfully, we might feel good, think about the times we've fought evil or resolve to fight it in the future.
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    Mar 22 2013: Movies and TV shows exist because they have a universal appeal, so the form and types of of shows and movies actually tell us what people like watching,

    So we do we enjoy fiction? A number of suggestions have been made; for example there is a theory that we enjoy the adrenaline rush of an action movie, or a theme park ride, because they allow us to experience what it is like to be in dangerous situations without being in danger. Maybe this ability to safely rehearse dangerous situations developed because people who enjoy rehearsing them fared better when in actual danger.

    This did not start with movies, it started with stories around the camp fire.
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      Mar 22 2013: Good points Seamus,
      Adrenaline rush which allows us to experience what it is like to be in danger, without actually being in danger, and this experience may give us the opportunity to "rehearse" dangerous situations so we might do better in actual danger. Do you think that watching these kinds of things starts programming our brain? Do you think watching these "scenes" can "normalize" some of the behaviors?
  • Mar 21 2013: Because we take it as an entertaiment toimagine us to experience more different things in our lives.To some extent,It is also one kind of conversation we like to have in our lives.
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      Mar 22 2013: I agree Edulover....entertainment...and....we can experience different things.....or.....relate to many of the same ideas.

      As Seamus insightfully says....this idea did not start with movies....it goes WAY back in history to stories around the camp fire, theater, etc.
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      Apr 6 2013: What sort of conversation that we like to have in our lives, edulover?
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    Mar 21 2013: ESCAPE.
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    Mar 21 2013: like stories from the beginning of time - there's entertainment and sometimes, valuable information. it isn't preached at you; it isn't legislated that you must watch; it isn't forced on you, it's there for the taking.

    also, escapism and imagination still need an outlet - especially in this age of machine and "information".
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      Apr 6 2013: Good point that I must remember, some it is just for entertainment, and some of it is valuable information, you can't say it's all one way or the other.
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    Mar 21 2013: G'day Greg

    There isn't a big difference between let’s say a fictional movie & spirituality in a way it gives us what is unattainable for the most of us in our normal mundane life, we can live the dream & feel good about it & why not?

    Love
    Mathew
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      Mar 30 2013: I'm wondering now if my original statement was wrong, Mathew, that TV and movies are all fake. It seems more accurate to say they are a mix of impossible and possible things.

      I love your idea but I can't quite say why. I probably would have said spirituality was about attainable things, such as you can really attain more serenity. Maybe spirituality is a mix of attainable and unattainable.

      Sorry I can't quite come up with anything dramatically good here. Thanks for your love.
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        Mar 30 2013: G'day Greg

        I wouldn't say all TV & movies are fake but they can be all misleading in one sense or another, we could ask how a documentary can be misleading? One's interpretation or deduction of a said thing doesn't make it right even when supposedly proven.

        Let's say they had TV's around before they knew the world wasn't flat, they would have telecast that the world was indeed flat & if you venture too far out into the ocean you will fall off the known world.

        I think we should take what is presented to us through the media as what you said here being possible & impossible or plausible & implausible in our own mind making our own deduction to what is fictional to what is nonfictional. Most of us are a little weak minded & take on the reality of others without trying to think for ourselves, we are becoming non-thinkers relying on the perception of other people’s reality to say what’s what.

        Relating spirituality to fictional media seems a little lame but a lot of people where convinced that 2012 was going to be a big change one way or another or we could look at spiritually aware people who are convinced they too can be of divine nature in realities like this one. What convinced them of these things? Media of one sort or another which can lead to delusional thoughts however you can’t say spirituality is all delusional as it is a mix, as you said, of the attainable & the unattainable.

        Love
        Mathew

        PS I always enjoy our conversation Greg as you don’t seem to be subjective on any one topic but very opened minded to various possibilities.
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          Apr 5 2013: Well, what I maybe was thinking is that a movie is like spirituality in that the hero of an action movie often does both things that are quite mundane and things that are extraordinary, in the same way that a great spiritual leader, such as Jesus or Buddha, did. For example, Jesus did mundane things, like get up, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast; and then he did extraordinary things, like changing water into wine and healing blind people.

          I would say that both things are rather like a dream, in that in a dream one also does mundane things, like walking and talking, and also extraordinary things, like flying. Why is that, Matthew, what is that saying when we fly in a dream?

          What do you think really happened when Jesus supposedly changed the water into wine? Do you think he really did it? Or perhaps he had some jugs of wine hidden in a closet, and switched them with the water when noone was looking?

          Love your pointing out that once upon a time all the papers would have said the world is flat.

          I really loved your conversation where you admitted if you had to go to war you might be a little cowardly, I think most of us feel that. Perhaps you need to take some fighting arts classes to develop that side of you. For Christmas my brother bought himself, my sister, and me archery lessons, so we've been going every Saturday and shooting.

          lovegreg
  • Mar 21 2013: Because we just know it's fake, we don't feel it.

    Movies are one kind of art and art has the incredible ability to create real emotions.

    And we enjoy feeling emotions.
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    Apr 20 2013: May be we like watching it because we are used to do that. In our days they are a lot of fictional stories, so we watch them, we have fun, and try to know more about them. Also sometimes people just want to sit and watch, it doesn't matter what they will watch.
  • Apr 12 2013: Its because in movies the possibilities are endless. They show how creative, imaginative and powerful we are. They inspire and challenge us. Though I agree that some of the things that happen in the movies couldn't do so in real life, there are also some that could (maybe in a different way). That's why I keep watching movies besides them being breath catching, eye popping, jaw dropping, mind blowing, heart stomping, tear welling, nail biting and epic.
  • Apr 6 2013: Willing suspension of disbelief
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    Apr 5 2013: G'day Greg

    I don't have any religious beliefs as such myself but yes I believe Jesus turned water into wine, if you look at water & wine as just slightly different vibrative substances remembering wine is mostly water as we are you then see how one vibration can effect another vibration as science has proven, not that science is that well advanced yet to be able to turn water into wine but if by thought a lone one can change the structure of water crystals why not wine into water?

    With the cowardly thing yes it is a short fall of mine however I thought on this some what. If I saw a person shooting people randomly I think I would be that angry I would find some way in taking them down.

    I wrote a small poem once dreaming the dream which had no starting or ending point it was infinite even after so called death, to me that's life itself as a whole even after death as you dream your own dream believing in what YOU want to believe not what others want you to believe.

    Love
    Mathew
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      Apr 6 2013: So I'm still wondering what it means when we fly in a dream, Mathew. Most of the things that happen in dreams are a little realistic, walking around and talking, but flying is not.

      But I do remember briefly I had the idea when I was walking that if I moved my shoulder blades as though I had wings, sort of rolled of them toward each other back and forth, I might evolve wings and be able to fly.
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    Apr 1 2013: .
    .
    It is like training or rehearsal.
    So, it is helpful.
    That's why.
    .
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    Mar 23 2013: It's because we are curious to know how much more fake life can get.
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      Apr 4 2013: Great joke, Pabitra. Now I'm thinking TV and movies aren't all fake, the things in them just don't happen too often. Like we don't see someone falling ten stories and then saving themselves by grabbing a flagpole. I wonder if you could really do that in real life, save yourself that way?
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    Mar 22 2013: My own feeling is that we are narrative animals. Our stories are a key part of our identity, and watching them can form part of our programming. Assuming of course a computer is a good analogy for the way our brains work.

    Though, I suspect, the connection is a complex one. For example we do not just take in everything we see. We filter out a lot of information, we have to have a level of agreement with the way the message is transmitted, and a level of trust for the sender of the message.

    There seems to me plenty of folklore evidence that our stories shape the way we think. The question then is how might watching a type of scene repeatedly normalize some behaviors. It might be that the behavior that is normalized is the passive watching of violent events, as that is after all what we are doing in a movie theater.

    Or, as seems a bit more likely to me, we learn how a hero is supposed to behave, as we are adding a tiny bit more detail to the model hero in our memories every time we watch a hero in action.

    Even though we know what we are watching is not real, the screen can still fool us. If you ever meet a familiar face from TV in real life, our first reaction is to think we know them. But maybe that is a different conversation.
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      Mar 22 2013: I LIKE using a computer as an analogy for the way our brain works Seamus! I also agree that we have filters, which we, as individuals are more or less aware of, agreement and trust are factors regarding whether or not we will accept or reject information. It's like turning on and off certain programs on a computer. We can allow information to come into our computer/brain by "opening" it.....or not.

      You say..."If you ever meet a familiar face from TV in real life, our first reaction is to think we know them". That happened to me locally, because I did quite a lot of TV commercial work, and I wasn't really well known or anything, so people would stop me on the street and think I was an old friend. I was apparently very familier to them, so they wanted to connect, and they could not usually "place" me. Now, 20 years after the fact, I look at films or photos of characters I played, and although logically I KNOW it is me, it almost feels like observing someone else!
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      Mar 30 2013: Seamus, I'm having a bit of trouble gaining the gold from your comment because I'm getting confused as to when you say stories, you mean when we tell each other real stories about things that happened to us, or when we tell madeup stories, or both?
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        Mar 31 2013: I mean both Greg, my suspicion is that we give little extra weight to the spoken stories people tell us about things that really happened to them or, more often, people they know.

        Like many people I have a folklore theory that stories are important for human society in that they capture knowledge about how the society and the world work and in a sense program people with that knowledge.

        Let us assume that, for humans, stories are a form of evidence in our decision making using Bayesian logic.

        There are a few reasons for giving more or less equal weight to 'true' and 'made up' stories. First of all, other evidence aside, there is equal probability that a story will be true or not. Secondly our experience tells us that in a certain percentage of cases people have told us as true stories that turned out to be false. Third we know that 'false' or made up stories are used to teach people truths about the world. For example think of the truths in fables and fairy tales.

        Oral story telling, to my mind, must have formed a key function in how we develop the second evolutionary channel; the development of all those things that make us different from other species of animal.

        So my short answer to the original question is we like watching things that are fake in TV and movie shows because we are programmed or hard-wired to collect information on experiences beyond our own immediate experiences. We do not care if the second hand experience is true or false because we should treat them all with an amount of skepticism.

        P.S.
        By the way there is another theory that we enjoy stories because they allow our brains to rehearse, and so give us the chemical rush, of dangerous experiences without actually being in danger. I saw a report of that theory being presented by a man, with a caption telling me he was a scientist who studied thrill emotions. - You could probably look that up.

        So you should give more weight to that than what your told by an eejit from the country
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          Apr 5 2013: Many good ideas in both your comments, Seamus. But what do you mean by "the second evolutionary channel," in order to understand your comments I believe I have to understand each detail.

          I am a bit surprised that you don't more strongly differentiate stories people we know tell us about things that happened to them versus stories on TV and movies. My thinking in this question is that in the stories people we know tell us about real-life things that happened to them, we can enjoy because we can empathize with the feeling they had as they experienced the events, and also learn what happened to the other person and what we might do in the same situation. Watching a movie, on the other hand, we know it's very unlikely we will ever fight anyone on top of a boxcar of a rolling train, a la James Bond, so why do we enjoy watching that? Maybe because it's something we hadn't even thought of it as a possibility before, the movies show us things that conceivably could happen and we've never thought of in our little life?
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    Mar 21 2013: Cloud Atlas, a strange movie of current times, past times and possible future times yet the same theme all the way through, do you remember intermissions in movies Greg? This one would suit stepping back to those days where one would be able to stretch your legs and buy some more lollies or popcorn, now, one can watch 2 or 3 in a sitting.

    Maybe it's me but movies are trying to upload too much into too short a period of time.
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      Apr 6 2013: Now are you saying that it's today's movies that try to upload too much? Or was it always that way for you?

      Personally I've always been okay with a fast pace in movies. I would say they have to move fast to keep the viewer engaged.
  • Mar 21 2013: "Once upon a time" is one of the most powerful anchors ever invented. Don't you want to go in...............?
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    Mar 21 2013: I vote for entertainment as well