Emotional Health · Health

‘Law and Order’ Every Night: Unhealthy Addiction or Simple Stress Reliever?

My friend Rose, a very serious intellectual if there ever was one, says her L&O habit is definitely linked to the comfort brought by the sense that you know the characters. Despite the fact that they don’t tell you very much about their personal lives, their personalities are very consistent and, again, predictable. She says that you can turn on the show and find these familiar characters  “reliably and passionately fighting for the good against the impossible odds – and. . .(sometimes) winning, like imagined perfect parents.” Perhaps your husband, when confronted with the threat of aging and illness, is attracted to this as well?

For adults, at least, most of the bad effects of TV viewing come from being sedentary. Meanwhile, your husband’s problem seems to me to be one of degree and rigidity. Molly Haskell and her husband were “addicted” enough that they had to set rules for themselves: no more than one episode per night, and they could not watch any one episode more than three times. However, it was definitely something they enjoyed doing together.

Perhaps you could confront your husband about the extent that his habit leaves little room for you and for other activities. Would he be willing to compromise by cutting down either by substituting other activities or watching other shows? While “numbing” one’s mind with a TV show, especially after a hard day at a stressful job may not be such a sinful or destructive habit, especially when compared to say, two or three martinis, new evidence suggests that TV may even be good for you. A study published last week in the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts reported that subjects who watched “high quality” fictional shows, like Madmen or The West Wing, subsequently scored higher on tests of empathy when compared to subjects who had watched non-fiction shows. This study resembles one done previously comparing literary fiction to non-fiction, whose methodology has been questioned. But there’s no doubt that there are many high-quality shows on available these days. Can you and your husband make it a joint project to find a few to watch together?

If your husband remains stubbornly rigid about his habit, remember that like most things we do, it serves a purpose and will be best overcome if he can find a substitute. Cutting down, rather than eliminating, seems a reasonable goal, and suggesting a walk after dinner followed by a choice of different activities may be the way to go. If this creates significant anxiety, you may be dealing with a deeper problem, but I suspect, like most of us, your husband just wants to believe, for a little while at least, that the world is divided into “two separate but equally important parts” and that life’s problems can be resolved in just under an hour.

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  • Christine Kulikowski October 25, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    I’m addicted to all versions of Law and Order, but also NCIS, Criminal Minds and a couple of other crime shows. I watch for three reasons: my husband watches the news all the time (literally)on different stations, then goes back and sees it again; I’ve had about 15 orthopedic surgeries over the past 20 years and I watched all the crime dramas, as I spent month after month in bed or at physical therapy. I should say that my husband spends a lot of time on his computer while the news is on and reads books (mostly mysteries!). He raises his head when something new pops up. I’m a writer of mysteries and I do work while Law and Order is on. For us I think the repetitive stories (factual and fictitious) are white noise, blocking out distractions.

  • Sally Bahner October 22, 2015 at 10:03 am

    OMG, except for a few details, I could have written this myself, even the name is the same! My husband is also addicted to Law&Order thought it is mostly confined to weekends, all weekend, and occasionally late afternoon when he gets home from work. He goes to bed very early because of his work hours, so thankfully that eliminates week nights. If he’s home during the day, the program will surely be on.
    He’s 70 and has a lot of aging issues and few interests (a whole ‘nother ball of wax), and I suspect there is indeed a lot of mind-numbing comfort in the show. He says he likes the show and its characters. But it makes me crazy — I’ve seen them all and I can’t stand to sit through yet another repeat. I have plenty of other things to do and if there’s something I want to watch, I put my foot down.
    (Can you imagine how much money is being made on the residuals??)

  • hillsmom October 22, 2015 at 10:02 am

    Something to ponder. I love Blue Bloods which is around in reruns as well as a new season now. But there are other things to do as you have mentioned.