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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Can a person fall in love with a fictional character?

I say stuff like that a lot: “Oh, I’m madly in love with the Doctor!” But I don’t mean that as, you know, for real. I think it’s a good metaphor for describing how big an impact fiction can have on us, and it’s also perfect for encapsulating how intimate filmed entertainment (TV and movies) can be, how they do make us feel like we know people who don’t know (and who don’t even really exist!).

But apparently this is becoming a real issue — maybe even a problem — for some actual humans (as detailed at PSFK):

This week, we came across the NYT Magazine article uncovering the growing subculture of “2-D Lovers“, grown adults in Japan that have found romantic love with their favorite characters from anime, manga, and video games. The article considers the possible cultural forces propelling the trend – namely, “the difficulty many young Japanese have in navigating modern romantic life”. The article reports that more than a quarter of Japanese between 30 and 34 are virgins while 50 percent of men and women don’t even have opposite sex friends. For some, it seems 2-D love may be the only way to experience romantic (and sexual) pleasure.

The article was followed by a Scientific American story published a few days later, reporting on another separate yet related phenomenon: social surrogacy. The article discusses the findings of new research that suggests watching your favorite TV shows can alleviate loneliness and provide a sense of belonging just as effectively as true interpersonal interaction. The study showed that individuals found a similar sense of comfort when ’spending time with’ (watching) their favorite tv show characters as if they were real-life friends. Watchers would even grieve when losing their ’social surrogates’ (due to a show cancellation, for example), experiencing the same despair and longing as they would with a true friend.

(Go to PSFK for links to the original New York Times and Scientific American stories, as well as a bit of analysis about and extrapolation from the trend.)

Is this just a bizarre aberration of our cultural struggles to come to terms with new forms of communication and entertainment? Or is this the start of something that will be truly enduring? I don’t mean, Will we have to extend marriage benefits to people and the fictional characters they love, but will this become a kind of fantasy that will eventually be prominent enough that we won’t be able to just dismiss is with a laugh?

Can a person fall in love with a fictional character?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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