Friday, June 01, 2012

Finding Truth in the Fiction

Reverb Broads Prompt for June 1, 2012

With what fictional character (book, movie, TV, etc.) do you most identify? Why?

Ok, the very first prompt of this month long blogging project and I'm stuck? How is this possible? Dang you, Abell. I read and watch and enjoy so much media that I can think of dozens of characters that I identify with quite a lot. But just one? Come on. Sensory overload hits. I try to think of a favorite and I'm bombarded with a flood of options. Too many good books, too many good shows, too many good movies. I indulge in so much wonderful, engaging, well written, well crafted, well acted art that finding myself inside all of it is no problem at all. I relate and identify with nearly every protagonist I read about or watch, because most of what I consume is so well written. This is probably why I'm such a rabid and voracious reader. I am painfully empathetic and engaged in others people's stories, so that I see myself in all of them. Maybe that's just my raging case of narcissism. Either way it makes this prompt HARD (read that in a whiny entitled voice like a Valley Girl taking an algebra test, because that's my character today.) Aren't we supposed to identify with the protagonist? Isn't that the hook and the draw of so much of the media we enjoy?

I can think of my favorite books and movies and TV shows, and tell you why I love their protagonists and side kicks with ease. (I'll save that for another post, because I know you've got laundry to do and I don't want to keep you much longer.) But don't make me pick one character. I can't be one character because I'm a real person. And no matter how well-written a character may be, they can't be real. You can't create the complexity of real people in a hour long TV show or 500 pages of a novel or a 90 minute movie. You need to get close, but there is too much contradiction, too many hidden motivations and thoughts racing under the surface, too little time to make it that real. You should get close. The best artists and writers do. But I digress.

It doesn't matter if characters aren't exactly real. They shouldn't be. Close enough is good enough. Because there's a purpose to fictional characters that can't be served in quite the same way through reading non-fiction writing or watching documentaries. An exaggerated version of a real life person, these characters, have something valuable to share with the viewer or reader. The exaggerations or simplifications clear away all the other details of a person and leave a focus point. You can get to the truth without sticking to the truth. Or let's let David Foster Wallace explain what I'm attempting to say here in three rambling paragraphs in his most concise language: "Fiction’s about what it is to be a f*cking human being."

While I know I'm not exactly like Betsy, Tacy and Tib, or Matilda, or Pippi Longstocking, or Lloyd Dobler, or Lucy Honeychurch, or Jane Eyre, or Anne Shirley. I'm not Tom Joad, or Jo March, or Scarlett O'Hara. I'm not Tracy Flick, or Max Fischer, or Buffy, or Willow. I'm not Joan Harris. I'm not Leslie Knope, or Lorelai Gilmore, or Elizabeth Bennett, or Liz Lemon, or Amelie, or Monica Geller, or Raylan Givens, or Dolores Price, or Tom Wingo, or Claire Fraser, I'm a bit of all of them. (Think how much more therapy I would need if all of those personalities were actually crammed into my head? Yikes. I guarantee Monica and Raylan would get into a fist fight, but I'm not sure who would win.) 

 Photo of Timothy Olyphant as US Marshall Raylan Givens included simply for your eye candy pleasure, and to distract you from my rambling argument here that is simply trying to hide the fact that I'm too indecisive and lame to just pick one character and go with it.  Did it work?

I see who I want to be in their courage and boldness. I see who I wish I wasn't in their folly and regrets. I see our shared curiosity about the world and our need to ask "why?" so often. A shared zest for the world at large and interest in making that world prettier, better, happier, or more fair. I see their commitment to their friends and family. I see characteristics that I want. I see their deep need to improve their lives. I see a shared appreciation for the little things in life, like massive quantities of coffee or cracking the caramelized sugar of a crème brûlée, I see the truth of who these fictional characters are and the way that they make me think about my own failures and fears, desire for growth and movement, and a really organized closet.

I see this truth because they aren't real people. They have just enough blanks and openings and empty spaces that I can project myself onto them. I can see myself in their reflections, because the fiction of them leaves room for that. It leaves room for me in there. The way that these fictional characters help me see the truth of myself and my struggles and my journey makes them wonderful friends and guides, but they are not me. They can't be me. Because there is too much inside of me to fit into an hour long TV show. (And I read so much in real life, just think how boring that show would be, snore.)

So which fictional characters do you relate to the most? You don't have to just pick one. (But please don't say Bella from the Twilight series. I can't take that. I will have to mock you. Hard.)


DanaCK said...

I did not say "Bella." ;)

bethany actually said...

I love the character of Marshall Mann on the TV Show "In Plain Sight." He's like Frasier in his tendency to use big words and pontificate about minutiae or philosophy or math, but he's much less stodgy. And Erin used to call me Frasier, so...