Nov 7

Pre-emptive strikes and preschool TV

So much of the violence in the world seems to come from the idea of the pre-emptive strike. It’s about being ruled by fear. The fear that someone wants to harm you makes you want to harm them first. And then they feel threatened and aggressive. And sure enough it looks like they do want to harm you. Your initial fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

And so people die and everything goes to shit. Countries level other countries.

On a far smaller scale, children punch other children in playgrounds.

Part of this is massively reinforced by entertainment that existed long before television – stories of good guys versus bad guys. Absolutely naive and yet still a staple of stories today. Makes for a very easy watch in movies or television. Were the cowboys the good guys and the Indians the bad guys? Every side ultimately sees themselves as the good guy, and so any aggression aimed at someone with opposing views is justified. We kill the bad guys and that makes us good. Hmmm…

But there is more to it when it comes to television.

In studies that began in the ’60s*, researchers gauged the perception of the world and how it relates to television viewing. What they found was a ‘mean world syndrome’ effect. Basically, those who watched much more television were found to be far more afraid of the world around them. To the point where many heavy viewers of television would seriously overestimate crime figures and the risk of them becoming a victim of violence or crime. Not really surprising with all the Criminal Minds, CSIs and so on, is it?

Television viewing can lead to the perception that we live in a more dangerous and mean world (hence ‘mean world syndrome’) in which people can not be trusted, we are in constant danger and we need to take steps to defend ourselves.

And so children punch other children in playgrounds or countries level other countries.


This is one reason I adore preschool television over other areas of entertainment. So much preschool television reinforces the idea that people can be good to each other, that people aren’t out to get you, that we can help and be helped and that the world can be a wonderful place to live.

I remember reading about a TV conference where someone said that we shouldn’t be sugaring up our children’s television because the world isn’t actually all that nice. Sure, that’s true. And it never will be unless we start believing that it can be and work towards that rather than reinforcing the bitchy, cruel world often depicted in shows for the older kids. Preschool television shows a caring, nurturing, helpful, inspiring, playful, gentle, fun, whimsical, creative and peaceful world. No mean world syndrome. A beautiful world. One I think we’re capable of. Eventually.

Isn’t that something to aim for?


*(Gerbner, 1970; Gerbner, Gross, Morgan & Signorielli, 1994)

3 thoughts on “Pre-emptive strikes and preschool TV

  1. Andy Latham

    I sometimes find myself wondering why there are so many shows and films illustrating the nastiness of the world. We know from reality that the world is not pleasant, why do we need to create artificial unpleasantness too unless the reason is to show how good can overcome it? Wouldn’t we do better in giving ourselves a break from the real world’s shortcomings? Basically take a leaf out of the book of pre-school TV?

  2. Jay Post author

    Yep, I think so, Andy.

    Although we have another choice too that I’m becoming increasingly happy with – turn the TV off!


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