So, I started writing this the night there was a (possible) (unconfirmed) (oh please no) major character death on The Walking Dead. (And then I forgot all about this, perhaps distracted by the long wait for confirmation.) I sat watching the episode with my mouth hanging open, “NO” the only word I was capable of forming (which evolved into the very meme-y “NOPE”), and rode it out until Talking Dead – the show also known as TWD fans’ therapy session) came on. And host Chris Hardwick unsettled me even further than I already was rattled when he gave a disclaimer near the beginning of the show.
“There are people who’ll be like ‘what are you so upset about? It’s just a tv show!’ And yeah, yeah – we get it – it’s not a documentary – we know that. But when this becomes part of your ritual, when this becomes part of your Sunday night family experience, you project yourself into the show, you place yourself in the minds of the characters and by their sides, and when you lose characters you get attached to, it hurts your heart.”
And I have to say I was a little shocked, especially afterward when I was remembering it as being more apologetic and less defensive than it was. Had he been getting flak about investing too much time and thought and emotion into people who don’t technically exist?
Here’s how I think about it. When you’re reading a novel or watching a fictional tv show, you’re nearly always seeing the characters in the thick of things, during crises and traumas and extreme circumstances. And when is it you really get to know someone? During crises, etc. If a book or show is well-written, you are going to experience what the characters experience in a realistic – but heightened – manner. You’ll share their point of view – even their thoughts. And you’re going to spend quite a bit of one-on-one time with the major characters; after all, it takes hours to read a book, and most tv shows keep the same cast of characters for years. In short, you get to know them – and get attached to them – very quickly, and after a while you’re probably going to know the fictional characters you spend a lot of time with better than most of the actual human beings you work with on a daily basis.
Which may be a case of sad but true. I know Frodo and Sam, the Doctor and Rose Tyler and Sarah Jane Smith, Leonard McCoy, Harry Dresden, Scout Finch, and a cadre of other marvels of fiction far better than the people with whom I share ordinary, mundane day-to-day with.
And one reason I know Elizabeth Bennet and Peter Grant and Peter Wimsey and Ben January and Dr. Maxwell better than the people I work with is – well, it’s very simple. I have no choice about the chuckleheads at work. You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family – or your co-workers, unless you’re the boss. I would never see most of my “work family” (*choke*gag*) ever again if I had the option. But I choose to spend valuable free time with books and television and movies. I could be listening to any music of my choice, or learning a language, or playing white noise when I pop in earbuds. But right now I’m listening to The Fellowship of the Ring. I choose to listen to The Fellowship of the Ring.
I’ve read the book more times than I can count – but that’s what I opened up to listen to.
I cried – hard – when two characters were killed on “Torchwood”. I literally had a hard time at work the next day. When my favorite person died in Serenity – I cried even harder, and for about three hours; I don’t remember the rest of the movie because I was … a little distracted. I still haven’t entirely forgiven Joss Whedon, and I’ll never watch the film again – can’t. Because I knew those people. And I had come to love them. Fictional or not, they were something darn near friends, had attached themselves to my imagination, my psyche, my life like Velcro. Tearing them away hurt.
I have no idea what it’s like to go through life unaffected by fiction.
You know, maybe it would be easier.
But I choose not to ever know.