TV Traveller Blog - Matt Graham

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Why fiction can kill…


Fiction is one of the most powerful creations of humanity, as ancient as cave paintings and stone tablets on which were written man’s oldest stories.  The problem is that it unleashes forces which are almost impossible to control.  This man below knew all about those forces, because they made him travel to New York City and shoot someone.


One of the big items in the news this week is the sale of the DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES format to Mo Abudu’s African media empire in Nigeria.  Mo Abudu, mentioned on this blog already, is one of Africa’s most important women and a kind of local Oprah Winfrey to one of the world’s most powerful and least known entertainment industries, Nollywood.  Abudu is counting on the success of a format that’s already become hugely successful around the world, and hoping that it will help cement her position as Nigeria’s biggest media personality.  Abudu has become a well known face for her talk show that covers social issues in the country, but her acquisition of the HOUSEWIVES format with a successful local remake at her Ikeja studios will hopefully allow her to become a major power in Nollywood media. In Nigeria as in everywhere else, fictional programming has a greater power over people than unscripted programs.   The question is:  why?

Its very simple.  Fiction strengthens the way people think.  It has an invisible power to influence our decision making and the way we see the world.  While documentaries and non fiction books make detailed arguments for and against different cases, the simple fact is that a good film or a TV show is more likely to influence your thinking and the way you view the world. This begets something astonishing which surely cannot possibly be true; something that is made up, is much more powerful than something which is actually real.

The power of fiction has an awesome influence which is not yet understood over the human mind.


Think about two rather scary examples, Adolf Hitler, whose actions changed world history utterly by hastening the fall of European power and whose love of Wagner influenced everything he did, or take the man who shot John Lennon in 1980.   Here you can see Jared Leto portraying him in a film a friend of mine made about the murder a few years ago, called CHAPTER 27. His name was Mark David Chapman, and he was obsessed with a novel called THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, so much so that it altered his sense of reality to the point where he murdered someone.

Fiction is a dangerous force, but it has a hugely positive power when harnessed correctly. It has the power to unite people and to teach them about their choices, and about how to live a good life. Societies all use stories to help teach morality or to explore the reality behind society, creating myths like Columbus’s discovery of America or King Alfred burning the cakes.  A show like DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES has the power to influence and uplift a whole generation of Nigerian TV viewers; accustomed to low quality soaps and b movies from Nollywood, they have been crying for years for higher quality product.


HOUSEWIVES is a universal format. People go to live in the suburbs for a quiet life.  The thing is though, life is never really that quiet, and even people there still engage in affairs, kill each other, and even commit suicide. Everyone secretly knows this. DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES was culturally influential in the United States because it probed the hypocrisy of suburban life by exploring the secrets of the characters in a dramatic way that involved the audience. In other words, it was a massively inventive and creative, brilliantly written drama, and the audience responded hugely.  The first season was narrated by a dead woman for example.  Characters were instantly recognizable as regular people in a familiar setting in the suburbs of a major landlocked American city.

The show’s influence on American broadcasting has been enormous and has helped to spawn other scripted shows like DEVIOUS MAIDS or unscripted shows like THE REAL HOUSEWIVES franchise, which actually did attempt to document the “reality” of the suburbs, but without the power of the fictional show.  There’s a truth here that is not a pleasant one for many; avid readers of fiction have a greater ability to deal with life than people who stick to non-fiction.  This second group is more likely to be depressed, and to find themselves feeling adrift in life, feeling like the universe is pointless.  They are more likely to be unhappy.  Most people actually already know this instinctively.

In other words, Fiction helps you deal with reality, even though it is all made up.

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