Though you may not want to admit it to yourself, many of us have shared this experience – we wake up and struggle to get through the day, all in anticipation of the moment when we can climb into bed once more. Clutching our pillows, we pretend that it is a certain person. Not just any person, though, but someone who does not actually exist in reality. Yes, many of us have had unhealthy relationships with fictional characters.
I have cried exactly twice in my adolescence. The first time was during Snape’s flashbacks in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, and the second time was only a short while ago when Sybil Crawley passed away, very abruptly and to my utter astonishment, in television’s Downton Abbey. I may have also shed a tear or two when Blaine and Kurt broke up on Glee. I was taken aback when I saw Ned Stark’s head being chopped off at the end of the first season of Game of Thrones, which was followed by at least a week of Stark withdrawal. Finally, for all the Grey’s Anatomy fans out there: who wasn’t sobbing and banging their fists on the wall after the season eight finale?
Mary-Lou Galician, in her book Research and Theories of Mass Media Effects on Individuals and Society, points at the fact that “obsessive extreme, ‘romantic’ relationships are a form of addiction,” and that such obsession with fictional characters can cause “emotionally disabling attachments filled with anxiety, fantasy and over-dependence.” If Tumblr fandoms all over the world read this, they would have a field day.
However, these kinds of relationships act as a bond between real people. If one were to study the intricate internal structure of a fandom, they would find people working in unison to fuel each other’s addiction on a daily basis. GIFs of Sherlock circulate the Internet and are shared by millions of people during one of the show’s long hiatus periods. Others take time out of their days trying to make their Teen Wolf photosets just right in order to finally post them on the internet, and get approval from like-minded addicts all around (yes, I am talking about you). Homestuck is a fandom that started as an interactive web comic in which fans could influence the outcome of the story. It grew to such a large size that it bled off the internet and into real life, resulting in huge (I’m talking about hundreds of people) reunions in which fans dress up as their favourite purple-headed, grey-skinned, zodiac alien thing.
Then we have the mother of all forms of fanaticism, fan fiction. These short stories, which extend the imagined world’s story as per the writer’s own imagination, take over the writer and their reader’s lives. What’s more intriguing, fan fiction has a subsection commonly known as “slash fics,” which are homoerotic stories about the sex lives of fictional characters we have come to love, regardless of whether or not they are gay. Sherlock and Watson, Derek and Stiles, Harry and Draco, the list is endless. People share these stories, swoon, think about how much better the world would have been if they were actually true, and then cry in unison.
There are different levels to this madness. On one end of the spectrum, there lie the LiveJournal and Tumblr fandoms; on the other there are a large number of people in the world, who, at one point or another, have had a crush on Edward Cullen (or Jacob Black).
Another branch of these kinds of relationships are people who are in love with anime characters. According to one close source, the character Kida Masaomi, from the show DRRR!! (pronounced Durarara), was a very big part of her life during high school – her friend even wrote a fanfiction about how Kida took her to her high school prom, because she had no date at the time.
Don’t get me wrong – I encourage all forms of affection toward cartoon characters as well (I had a huge crush on Aladdin when I was a kid). These strange, but often totally understandable obsessions bring people together and give us all something to freak out over. However, we do have to remember to keep at least one foot grounded in reality. Bear in mind the relationships that we can cultivate with real people, without having to bond over an unhealthy love for a fictional character (or not).