Saying Goodbye to Fictional Friends

A buddy of mine last week was very confused.

“Why are so many people getting upset with these shows finishing?” He asked.  “They’re just TV shows, they’re not real.”

My friend doesn’t watch a lot of TV, spending (in my opinion) too much time in the real world raising children and making retarded amounts of money.  With all of that in mind I think he is missing out on the joys of well-written characters, specifically those that you find on TV.

Whether it was 24 or Lost last week; whether it was Buffy or MASH or The Sopranos or Six Feet Under in the past; people can feel devastated when the characters they have grown to love are taken away from them.  I know I am more likely to become teary while watching a fictional character deal with some sort of hardship than I am at a funeral.  This may seem emotionally retarded but there is a sound reasoning for this.  At a funeral I try to keep my emotions in check so as to keep across what is happening around me and therefore not be a burden on anyone else.  When I am watching a TV show I can have a blub because the only thing I will have to deal with is acute embarrassment in case anyone walks in on me.  I think this is totally logical and makes perfect sense.

Still it is interesting to grasp why fictional characters can have such an effect on people.  When a character is well written, we understand all of their nuances, we understand why they make the decisions they make and why their indecisions come back to haunt them.  When they do something on the screen that seems completely insane, the TV viewers that have been taking careful note will remark, “Oh, that’s because his father belittled him when he was a kid” and then will not only forgive the character his trespasses but also understand his motivations.  How glorious that would be in real life!  How many times have you had one of your best friends do something monumentally stupid that you have been left lamenting something along the lines of, “Wow, what possessed them to do that?”  If you could have watched your best friend’s life like a TV show you would be able to remark, “Oh, that’s because his father belittled him when he was a kid” and you would then forgive your friend.  Alas life does not work that way and even those we’re closest with are still a mystery in every day life.

A few years ago I wrote a trilogy of one man plays called “Three Colours Hammo” which followed the story of a young girl called Calliope.  A funny and likeable character, her journey was one that was cut short before she blossomed into womanhood and often left audience members shattered in her demise.  It was interesting to have people approach me afterwards needing to know if she was real or not, had they invested in something that was false or culled tragically from my life.  This took me by surprise.  I never made any statements that Calliope was an actual person.  That she took on a life of her own left me speechless wherever the shows toured.  Calliope may not have been an actual person but she consisted of real events in my life.  A melting pot of experiences made up the lovely Calliope and therefore was she any less real than the people you stand next to on the train?  The way I met Calliope was how I met comedian Terri Psiakis.  The game “Imaginary Scrabble” Calliope played was a conversation I had with comedian Claire Hooper about a game she played called “Imaginary Guess Who?”  Calliope’s death was an amalgamation of a long departed friend Alex Collins and the way she died was based on a young boy who died at my Primary School in exactly the same way.  The beats of the dying friendship were based on the beats of a dying relationship I had endured not long ago.  These are all real events and therefore holds more sway with the viewing public from afar than the real life events that are so difficult to focus on when they’re just in front of you in your real life.  When watched from a distance they can take your breath away and inform your world when you choose to return to it.

So that is why I feel fictional characters can take such a deep and enduring place in our hearts.  The well written character is laid out before us, we understand everything that makes them tick and therefore we’re engrossed in the ride because more often than not we see bits of ourselves in those on the screen.  And if they can overcome insurmountable odds to achieve triumph, then that suggests to us we too can rise above the relentlessness of every day life and grasp our tiny triumphs with two hands.

Justin Hamilton

Fitzroy North

June 1st, 2010