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Psychology of Cult TV: Better Living by "Geeking Out"

Psychologists discuss television's power to encourage, empower, and unite fans

At WonderCon Anaheim, Dr. Janina Scarlet gathered a team of psychological professionals to discuss the value of television in a standing-room-only panel titled, "Psychology of Cult TV," during which they explored television's power to encourage, empower, and unite fans.

Program description: "Join a panel of therapists and scientists (mad or otherwise), Dr. Janina Scarlet (The Superhero Manual), Josué Cardona (Geek Therapy), Dr. Travis Langley (Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight), and Elizabeth Ann (NerdLush), as well as some surprise guests in discussing the psychology behind TV shows such as Doctor Who, Sherlock, Firefly, Arrow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and others. Find out how TV shows might help us cope with painful experiences and geek out in discussing such fundamental questions as: With all the regenerations, what is the Doctor’s true identity? What makes Sherlock a better detective than London’s finest? What does psychology tell us about the demons that live inside us? With these questions and more, this panel is a must for loyal fans of these shows."

Even though the description addresses a number of in-fiction questions, we spent most of our time talking about the impact these and related shows have on their fans. We contemplated the mean of "cult TV" and sometimes had to distinguish other popular programs from those with cult followings. Which programs create communities of fans and why? Is it good to "geek out" over a TV show? Does joining the cult of fandom help people avoid feeling alone or does it actually reinforce ostracization from the rest of society? Overall, we concluded: TV good...sometimes. (Nobody defended Keeping Up with the Kardashians.)

At NerdLush, Charity Tran said of the panel, "The range of lessons brought by the panel was wide and varied," including examples of perseverence, empathy, recognizing self-destructive behavior, and making a difference. The Mary Sue's Alan Kistler reported, "The panel did agree that, as with any other hobby, it was important not to let a show override your life or ignore any consequences that happened, large or small, due to habitual or binge watching." You can read their detailed write-ups of the panel for much more information, and you can watch the entire panel on YouTube:

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