Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Love, not actually

For about a year I've been working with a wonderful personal trainer.  Not only is Kevin an outstanding running coach (who has kept me going through the last eight months during which I've dealt with a back injury and various other health problems), he's also funnier than hell.  I swear, some sessions we spend as much time laughing as working out.  We're pretty similar in a lot of ways, not least that we both are frequently baffled by how absolutely weird the human race is.

So when I got an email from him a couple of days ago with the subject line, "Humankind is completely BONKERS," along with a link, I figured it had to be good.  I'm happy to say he didn't disappoint.

The link brought me to a story about a Japanese gentleman named Akihiko who has fallen madly in love with a woman named Hatsune Miko, and decided to marry her.  Here's where the problems start, though.  First, Hatsune is only sixteen years old, which is a little troubling.  But that's not the only issue.

Hatsune is a computer-generated hologram.

I swear I'm not making this up.  I know I say this a lot, but I can sense y'all looking at me like I've lost my marbles.  Akihiko calls himself a "fictosexual" -- someone who is sexually attracted to fictional characters.  Now, let me say up front that on some level, I understand.  My love for Doctor Who led to my basically being in lust with both Amy Pond (played by Karen Gillan) and Captain Jack Harkness (played by John Barrowman).  (Being bisexual comes along with the problem that I can get my head turned by just about anyone.)

But I've never lost sight of two facts: (1) Amy and Captain Jack are fictional characters; and (2) any attraction I have for them is disappears as soon as I turn the television off.  I might have been a bit goggle-eyed by Amy in her sleek little policewoman outfit and Captain Jack when he had all his clothes vaporized by a robot, but that was where it ended.

It turns out there's a name for this: a parasocial relationship.  The researchers who studied this -- it was the subject of a paper in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships last October, and in fact I touched on it in a post shortly after the paper came out -- describe it as "a false sense of mutual awareness with favorite characters and [the presence of] strong emotional bonds with them."  So somehow, the fact that the characters they love aren't real and are played by actors who have their own quite different lives and relationships gets lost, and they feel like that love is somehow reciprocated.

The researchers found that the likelihood of forming a parasocial relationship tended to go hand-in-hand with what they call avoidant attachment.  This sounds like an oxymoron, and it sort of is; a push-me-pull-you battle between a desperation to have a relationship and a powerful desire to avoid emotional connections.  When you think about it, it's at least somewhat understandable.  Actual human relationships are demanding, because humans are not only complex creatures, we sometimes hide parts of our personality that only come out later, or change because of external circumstances.  "Relationships" with characters in television and movies, on the other hand, are entirely one-sided.  You can read anything you like into them.

Well, most of the time.  I've run into people who are deeply enamored of a fictional character, and then become furious when the character "betrays them" by either doing something unexpected or (worse) falling in love with another character.  Or, sometimes, when the character is at odds with the actor portraying him/her.  To use my previous example -- apparently the actor John Barrowman can kind of be a putz, and there are allegations that he said and did some things behind the scenes that were completely inappropriate.  My guess is that he's not someone I would want to spend time with.

But I can still think that Captain Jack is hot.  Because he and the actor who plays him are not the same person.

So while attraction is one thing, actually going all in with a fictional character is in a different category altogether.  Or, in the case of Akihiko, a computer-generated hologram.  I'm particularly puzzled about the "sexual" part of "fictosexual."  As Kevin put it, "What if his penis is a USB-A plug and her vagina is a USB-B port?"  Which is it exactly.  Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer to get cozy with someone who is actually flesh-and-blood.

Anyhow, that's our excursion into Weird Human Behavior for today.  I wish I had a good explanation for it, but failing that, I think I'll fall back on Kevin's assessment: "Humankind is bonkers."


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