I’m a creature of solitude. When people remark, half-joking, half threatening, that I’m destined to become a crazy old cat lady, I often think to myself, well, at least the cats don’t talk back. The thing about this solitude is that to make up for any actual lost human interaction, I turn to the TV for emotional closeness. When I come out of one of my working binges, the ones where I haven’t seen anyone for a month and I’m wearing the same leggings, stained with god knows what, reeking of pickles, I often reward myself by going on a TV binge.
I know what everyone is thinking. Damn girl, you need some friends. I agree with you to a certain extent. Living in NYC has always made it extra hard to make friends unless one has a wad of cash and or an extensive social group. I’ve yet to find a balance same with most of the people whose company I do very much enjoy. But sometimes, I just need a picker-upper, a quickie in emotional comfort or the feeling that I’m in the loop of someone’s personal life, all things possible and easily provided by TV.
It’s gotten harder since the cable company has gotten wise to my sly tactics and are now only providing me with the basics ““ABC, NBC, FOX, channels which I have a hard time wanting to spend more than a couple of seconds on. PBS used to be my go-to and since they have sliced it from my basic plan, I am trying to make up for the quality time I used to spend with Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Gwen Ifill. When the world felt chaotic and disastrous, Gwen could break it down and drop some knowledge in such an objective manner that I felt like hey, if she’s keeping her cool during these times, so can I.
I don’t often feel that manic loyalty to certain TV characters, solely because TV is sort of last-ditch measure for me. Like a lover scorned, I tread with caution around getting caught back in the television dedication, scared that I might get my pop culture heart-broken again. Et tu, Lost? So when I do find “that show,” characters become embedded in my life and I take on the glazed, drooling privilege of just shutting down everything for the chance to see what’s happening in this narrative. It’s the definitive act of storytelling, but in a way that numbs your brain. Storytelling, when done effectively, is about embedding our experience, however distant it may be, into someone else’s. We learn lessons, we receive warning, and above all, cast ourselves in the struggles that characters go through. It’s an easy way to deal with our own ideas of “struggle,” except TV or great storytelling provides it in an immediate sense.
Because of my talent of being a shut-in, I often project my own issues on the narrative of certain characters or find myself relating a little too much to them. Somehow, TV characters become my friends and I have caught myself thinking, “Well, what would Omar Little do?” I have latched onto these special connections with TV characters and friends. Slowly I would morph into seeing their point of view, feeling shattered and disappointed when they were hit with something tragic or disappointing. High joys that came to them, came to me. I squealed with delight when Sun and Jin were reunited in Lost and sobbed through my own insecurities and fears when they both sadly drowned together (sorry, Lost folks who aren’t through all the seasons). And when D’Angelo is taken out in prison with Stringer Bell’s order ? I walked around depressed for days, convinced that good was hard to come by. Of course, admitting that you are having these thoughts from a television show ? Well… it’s complicated.
Scientifically speaking, we do experience waves of “emotional closeness” if we come to rely on television for any form of companionship. When we get involved in the aspects of characters lives, we experience degrees of attachment. We respond to human faces, human interactions and above all, storytelling. When our favorite characters are killed off or a series just happens to end, we experience parasocial breakups, a fancy word for emotional distress caused by fake characters disappearing from our lives. The thing is, in parasocial breakups, we experience the exact same symptoms that we would experience in a real life friendship or relationship ending. Companionship in TV, as close as you can feel to Jack or Sawyer or Omar or Bubbles, is like an other artificial interdependence that gives you the idealization and sensation of idea of what you are craving: love.
So have you ever found yourself relating more to television characters than might be particularly healthy? When you get so caught up in their specific, easily managed in thirty to forty minutes of drama that the ongoing realities of your own life either slip away or seem pale by comparison? Do you tend to get more into certain story lines or characters when you yourself are feeling down or stressed? What are the characters you always end up relating to?