Why Fiction Is Good for You: The Beautiful Lies of Novels, Movies, and TV Stories Have Surprisingly Powerful Effects
Is fiction good for us? We spend huge chunks of our lives immersed in novels, films, TV shows, and other forms of fiction. Some see this as a positive thing, arguing that made-up stories cultivate our mental and moral development. But others have argued that fiction is mentally and ethically corrosive. It’s an ancient question: Does fiction build the morality of individuals and societies, or does it break it down?
This controversy has been flaring up — sometimes literally, in the form of book burnings — ever since Plato tried to ban fiction from his ideal republic. In 1961, FCC chairman Newton Minow famously said that television was not working in “the public interest” because its “formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons” amounted to a “vast wasteland.” And what he said of TV programming has also been said, over the centuries, of novels, theater, comic books, and films: They are not in the public interest.
Until recently, we’ve only been able to guess about the actual psychological effects of fiction on individuals and society. But new research in psychology and broad-based literary analysis is finally taking questions about morality out of the realm of speculation.