Fictiophilia: The Common (and Problematic) Condition of Falling in Love with Fictional CharactersThursday, May 22, 2014
I am back from Wheaton. Finished with finals. My new book proposal is out the door. And my life is (finally) calming down. Yesterday, we got back from a quick getaway to the beach with childhood friends—and we watched the entire 5 and a half hours of the original Pride and Prejudice movie.
It's fairly safe to say that I am one of those girls who cries and laughs and, quite simply, freaks out over Colin Firth playing Mr. Darcy. I swoon when I hear him declare, "You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." Mr. Darcy is high on my list of attractive book characters, followed by an array of others including Peeta Mellark (of course), Rhett Butler and Mr. Rochester.
While it's fun to giggle and cheer as a relationship slowly unfolds, I have come to find that the propensity to become consumed by made up characters is not only common but also dangerous.
This is what I refer to as fictiophilia, being in love with a fictional character.
It's uncanny how common and widespread this condition is. Trends show that women are becoming increasingly obsessed with fictional heroes, which can often have negative ramifications. In her book Research and Theories of Mass Media Effects on Individuals and Society, Mary-Lou Galician writes that becoming obsessed with fictional characters causes "emotionally disabling attachments filled with anxiety, fantasy and over-dependence."
This creates a false syndrome of love that does not really exist.
And this condition is not only found in books — but in anything that distorts or replaces our perspective of love and relationships. Examples of this are everywhere. The cultural obsession with forbidden love in Twilight, with the mysterious Edward Cullen. Jack and Rose in Titanic. Any novel (or movie) by Nicholas Sparks.
When we read books or watch movies, we open up our minds—and our hearts—to characters and situations that we feel like we have faced with the people in the plot. Reading has always been a way of experiencing. The danger of this, however, is that fictional feelings and experiences can very easily create unrealistic expectations and perceptions of a nonfictional reality.
Here are my two main reasons why this is a problem we shouldn't ignore.
1. Fictional characters are fictional.
Literature describes imaginary events and people. They come from the minds of authors who seem to magically weave words together to make their characters believable. Therefore, they seem real to us as we read narratives of their lives.
But they do not exist. And, because their lives and personalities have been created, they can often lead us to have expectations that are not possible or realistic.
A clear example of this for me is the book Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, which is a wonderful book as an allegory of Christ's love. However, because the story was a romance and followed the relationship between Michael Hosea and his wife Angel, I found the novel to be potentially problematic. This is an example of a Christian romance, meaning that Michael Hosea isn't only strong, kind and a good leader, but he is also a devoted Christian whose flaws are glossed over. For girls reading the book, this can idealize their idea of the perfect Christian man—who doesn't exist outside of novels.
2. When the fictional world seems better than the real one, we can lose ourselves in it.
Getting lost in an imaginary world can cause us to have expectations that cannot be met. According to the Romance Writers of America, "the three primary traits that readers look for in heroes are muscles, handsomeness and intelligence." In that order. The first two are strictly physical and have nothing to do with faith, temperament, respect or admirable qualities that we should be encouraging young people to seek in a relationship.
It's clear that we live in a highly sexualized culture, where lurid romance novels line the shelves and Fifty Shades of Gray is a number one seller. Fifty Shades (which I have no intention of ever reading) is a good example of fictiophilia gone too far, where readers gratify themselves through books and turn novels into unhealthy emotional stimulation.
Reading is a gift and an adventure that I love! But I have become increasingly aware of the danger of slipping into make believe too far, to the point that we become disillusioned with our own reality. Fiction should be a way to better understand the world, not to replace it. That book characters should show us what qualities we admire, and should not provide a way to become emotionally attached to make believe characters.
What do you think?
Is this a problem? Can it be fixed?