When I was at uni, I took an Aesthetics class. The Philosophy of Art. I don’t remember much from that course except for a couple of essays on Plato and Tolstoy.
Plato was keen that when educating the young men of his Republic that their art be censored and that the youth should only consume art that promoted nobility. So poetry shouldn’t be about loucheness and hedonism, rather they should be about promoting bravery in battle and moral uprightness.
I was reminded of this recently after binge-watching a series of Mindhunter on Netflix, a show about the FBI’s profiling of serial killers in the 1970s. This is show that goes deep into the minds and motivations of deeply disturbed people, and it’s very entertaining and very compelling. We watched this off the back of Unabomber, another Netflix show, this time about the hunt for another serial killer, Ted Kaczynski. Again very entertaining and compelling.
The question I had was: “is this type of show good for me? Is it making me a better human?”
You might say “lighten up mate, it’s just a show”.
But is it just a show? Say that you watch 2 of these series. That’s nearly 20 hours of dark subject matter. Are we really saying that this has no effect on your brain, on your neural pathways? By exposing yourself to the fetishes of psychopaths, is your own mind becoming corrupted or infected? What are you consuming to offset this? What positive, elevating content are you consuming to counteract this negativity?
Let’s look at what Plato might recommend for our viewing consumption.
Say you watch one hour of TV a day after work. Instead of Netflix, imagine that for one month you watched TED Talks. A TED Talk is around 15 mins, so that’s 4 TED Talks a day. That’s 120 TED Talks a month. How much more elevated do you think you’d be on this diet as opposed to on just consuming Netflix?
We can do the same with our other channels of consumption. Take Instagram. If you wanted to lose weight, replace the photos of burgers and huge pizzas with buddha bowls and salads. Make your feed one that is congruent with your overall goals.
Who knows how long we’re going to be in lockdown for? But we could make the best use of it possible. Instead of bingeing Narcos, then Narcos Mexico, maybe we could watch Roma, an Oscar-winning piece of world cinema? Instead of being glued to the news, we could listen to long pieces of the greatest classical music.
One of my best mates who’s currently in lockdown in Rome asked his parents for some musical inspiration to listen to during the Easter weekend. They came back with Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s St John Passion. We listened to the Messiah on full whack yesterday, which was elevating, and reminded me of a goal I’ve had for years after reading an interview with Emmanuelle Beart who blared out classical music in her country house during the interview (maybe that story doesn’t travel well!).
During this lockdown, we can read the great books we’ve put off, or listen to the full Ring Cycle (18 hours), or watch the greatest films in the world, do 1,000 pressups, take virtual tours of the world’s greatest galleries (like the Rijksmuseum) and museums online and using mobile phone apps. Do things and consume things that elevate and edify.
Right off to listen to the St John Passion. Why don’t you join me?!