When you’re on the spectrum, it’s not unusual to bond more easily with a fictional character than with real people. It’s neither right nor wrong; it’s simply a fact of life. So, philosophical questions like these take on legitimate importance. Because if you've found, as I have, that obsession over fictional works is a state of bliss, it follows that you want that obsession to last. But how?
Discussions on the topic abound on Wrong Planet: "Do you wish fictional characters were real?" “Yes, I do. Sometimes desperately enough to make myself feel sick. *shrug*,” says BelindatheNobody. "Sure would bring color and smiles to this grey and unhappy world... Sigh... :(" adds Celtic Frost.
"Does anyone think of a favorite character as your alter-ego?" another topic asks. "I go so far as to have 'conversations' with some of them," says a user named conundrum. "On occasion, this actually helps me figure stuff out. :)" "I pretend… they are my imaginary friends who support me and encourage me," writes IdahoRose. "Oftentimes [they] possess characteristics that are present in my own personality, so I guess you could say they bring out the best in me." CMD explains that she identifies with characters who are fellow outsiders. "Whenever I become upset over how different I am from others, I try to figure out how they coped."
Latching onto a fantasy can be incredibly uplifting, and practical, however illogical it might seem. Fortunately, there are many ways for us to feed our daydream.
Fandom today goes far beyond watching a TV show or reading a book. It’s creating fan art, writing fanfic, partaking in cosplay, joining online communities, and more. In this way, I think fictional characters can be said to be alive. They live inside us when we draw them, or write stories about them, or debate what they would do. Fantasy universes are our modern-day legends, like folklore of old, handed down through past generations.
At the same time, our obsessions can also be deeply personal. I watch a cartoon by myself, but in a community, I encounter other fans, each with their own personal interpretation. Maybe another fan’s vision supports my own, or maybe it clashes. Personally, I won’t read fanfic when it comes to my most beloved characters. Shipping? I find it juvenile and offensive. As for fan art, when it's respectful and faithful to the original, it can be awe-inspiring.
Can you imagine if our real-life relationships worked this way? If you had to draw a caricature of your best friend instead of talking with them? If you included a quote from your pilates partner at the bottom of your signature? If you put your sister and your former roommate into a romance, and then wrote scenarios for them?
And yet, we go to these great lengths and more, to stoke our obsession with an imaginary character. Maybe that’s because even the most basic social interaction is prohibitive. Like talking to them. Like being able to shake their hand, Aw, heck, we'd like to give ‘em a big sloppy hug! It’s only a natural desire when you meet a real-life person you like; so why not fantasy characters, who are the most awesome people we know? Whoever develops the technology for personalized interaction with fictional characters, will make themselves a lot of money. I say, if we have Siri on our phones, why not Harry Potter? Pikachu? Sheldon Cooper? Insert your own preference.
So if fictional characters do possess a sort of "life," can they also die? We hate to see our favorite shows or books end. It can be like losing a friend. I found one take on this topic in a most unexpected place.
Angry Beavers was a late-90’s Nickelodeon cartoon. A show worth watching, if not worthy of obsessing over. Recently, I happened across the unaired final episode, "Bye Bye Beavers," on YouTube. What I found was far more edgy and profound than anything ever scripted in the show. In a fascinating 10 minutes of dialogue, heavy on ad-libs, the beavers learn they are animated characters in a cartoon, that is now ending, and they will cease to exist.
Norb: We’re over! How could they do this to us? There is no dog! My doofy brother, we’re goin’ buh-bye!The characters then proceed through the Stages-Of-Cartoon-Being-Over, from denial, to bargaining, to acceptance. They offer a few choice words for the network honchos who pulled the plug. Best of all, they interact with their own voice actors, and name-drop other characters they played in other cartoons. Basically, they confront the concept of "cartoon death" by obliterating their "cartoon reality."
Dag: Bye-bye? Why-why?
Norb: Because we are over! As in done, through, finished, ended, terminated, extinguished, down for the count, adios …. We aren’t real! We’re animated characters in a cartoon. Real beavers don’t have appliances, they don’t use bathrooms, and they don’t talk!
"Bye Bye Beavers" is the kind of awesomeness you'd only expect from a hardcore fan. How cool is it, seeing it done by the people who made the cartoons? They acknowledge that the characters are something bigger than the show. They get it. They know what matters to fans like us.The characters cannot die. How can they, when we're here discussing them, ten years later?
A Beavers fan named dpstq expands on this point in a video commentary called "Bye bye beavers and its overall impact." "There’s more to this than just two characters breaking the fourth wall," he explains. The show’s creators, in making this final episode, "wanted us to see this not as a show, but as an experience."
Yes, most definitely, cartoons are an experience! True fans have known this for years. When you hear the Wrong Planet members talk about how much their favorite characters mean to them, can you doubt we’re no longer talking about just a TV show? Sometimes it’s a coping mechanism, or an imaginary friend, or a splash of color in an otherwise hopeless world. We live this stuff. It's something sacred.
The Beavers commentary goes on, “Imagine the kind of ending that last show would have had, if the creators, still making the characters aware of what they were, also made them aware of what they meant. It would have been a melancholy, bittersweet, but perfect ending. Even though Daggett and Norbert may vanish away forever, they knew that they were made for a reason.”
This is the key. What if fictional characters could speak to their devoted, emotionally invested fans, which describes the majority of us? Animaniacs spoke with tongue in cheek to its crazy, nit-picky fans in 1995’s "Please Please Pleese Get a Life Foundation." But I doubt the sincere approach has ever been done. What if our favorite characters knew we love them, and they loved us back?
That may be beyond the realm of the possible, so we depend on our imagination to make our fantasy last. "Don't stop imagining. The day that you do is the day that you die." goes the refrain of a song called "Seventeen" by Youth Lagoon. Indeed, fantasy is vital long past our youth. It keeps us hopeful, helps us deal with everyday problems, and enables us to learn about ourselves. As long as we keep imagining, we keep our inner fantasy worlds alive, and thereby, our own selves as well. Stoking the very fire of life energy within us.
I admit I have the most amazing conversations with my favorite fictional characters. They tend to be one-sided conversations, but, eh, what can you do? Not with my own characters though. That would be weird. Or maybe just redundant. But maybe some of you have talked with Fuzzy?
I haven’t stopped imagining. Have you?