Comfort or Catharsis: The Media We Turn To For Emotional Relief

Comfort or Catharsis: The Media We Turn To For Emotional Relief

It’s old news that global media consumption has rocketed over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the sudden stagnancy of our daily routines, many of us were fortunate to be able to access a spectrum of online content while we did (and continue to do) our part in waiting for restrictions to lift. And now, as we make our way through Mental Health Awareness Week, I gathered some friends to look back on the films, series, and albums that have helped us through some of our darker moments.

Music

For the sake of not devolving into a listicle, we eventually decided on the parameters of artists and/or albums that were our go-to soundtrack for our grey days. One person’s selection was the Irish band Kodaline – whether you’re wrestling with insomnia or clearing your head with a walk, any Kodaline album will step up to the plate and let you steep in the feelings that have been knocking around your chest. Another’s was the 2020 album THE ANXIETY, released by WILLOW and Tyler Cole, which covers the kaleidoscope of emotions that one is subjected to when living with anxiety. Of course, there was also a clamour for what the media has dubbed “sad girl music” – artists like Mitski, Lorde and dodie, whose works have never shied away from exploring their own inner turmoil. I was among those who cited Lorde’s album Melodrama, appreciating how, through each song, she continually builds this desire for an emotional release after restraining one’s self for such a long period.

“Anything that makes me feel fourteen again,” one friend simply said. “I thought I was the edgiest individual that no one could ever understand, apart from Imagine Dragons, apparently. But listening to my old playlists and soaking in that teen angst – it’s a catharsis I can’t explain.”

Film and Television

I shan’t insult anyone by spending too long on this – the films we grew up with will always be sources of comfort, nostalgia, and safety for us. Disney and Pixar have definitely dominated this area and do not need much explanation, though I will shout out some of my friends’ favourites: Lilo and Stitch, Ratatouille, Aristocats, WALL-E, and Mulan (the original animation, as it was aggressively emphasised to me).

Some friends reminisced about the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice miniseries and Colin Firth’s wet shirt, while others could recite the court scene of Legally Blonde with both fondness and perfect intonation. Though I only started watching them recently, there is a nostalgia beautifully captured by Studio Ghibli films such as Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbour Totoro, and Howl’s Moving Castle. Their quiet romanticism of daily life was something that carried me through my struggles with the monotony of lockdown.

The light-hearted tones of The Office, Parks and Recs, Brooklyn 99 and The Good Place [help] to create an atmosphere of “low risk, high emotion” that you can allow yourself to be enveloped in.

When we were needing minimum mental exertion and could not focus on on a feature-length narrative, we had an array of television series to binge. A Michael Schur comedy is always a safe bet when it comes to comfort media, with the light-hearted tones of The Office, Parks and Recs, Brooklyn 99 and The Good Place helping to create an atmosphere of “low risk, high emotion” that you can allow yourself to be enveloped in. Shows with similar tones to this are One Day At A Time, The IT Crowd, Gilmore Girls and Chewing Gum.

When a sitcom wasn’t satisfying the hunger for escapism, then we often turned to classic supernatural and sci-fi fantasy such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Being Human and the short-lived but iconic Firefly. A personal favourite of mine that balances these ideas of “low risk, high emotion” and fantastical escapism is the surrealist animated series The Midnight Gospel, where a “spacecaster” travels to collapsing worlds and interviews their inhabitants.

Sometimes, self-care really is just watching some flamboyant birds of paradise dancing their way through the mating season.

However, rounding off this list of comfort series is not a fictitious work, but a collection of documentaries. Yes, I am indeed referring to the nation’s environmentalist grandad, Sir David Attenborough, and his recent works that include Seven Worlds One Planet, Our Planet, and The Year Earth Changed. While important topics in their own right, there is also something inherently soothing about Sir Attenborough’s gentle teachings combined with the cinematic sites of the natural world. Sometimes, self-care really is just watching some flamboyant birds of paradise dancing their way through the mating season.

Even from just a few conversations, it’s incredible how expansive our selection is when it comes to comfort media. What are some shows or albums you turn to in your lower moods? Do you look for escapism or catharsis?

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