Why are we so attracted to fiction?

Well, why are we so drawn to novels and movies?  I’ve been thinking this through, believe me.  And I think I’ve come up with one possible answer.  First of all, I can only base my conclusion on what I and people around me feel about novels and movies.  And let’s face it—we like what the pages of books and the television screen holds in store for us so much because…these two inventions make us humans feel like gods.  WAIT!  Hear me out.  And give it a thought.  One thought.

I’ve considered how I myself feel when I read a book.  Lemony Snicket in his A Series of Unfortunate Events calls it dramatic irony, when you know what’s going to happen in a story or what the true circumstances of a story are before the characters do.  I see novels as access to one-way glass: you’re looking in on someone else’s life, someone else’s story other than your own, and they can’t see you do it.  And the truth is that people around the world love to do that.  To look in and experience someone else’s troubles, someone else’s drama, even if it’s only for a moment, and get away with it.  The proof of this is the people who do something called “people-watching” in major European cities, like in the coffee shops that line the streets of Rome and Paris.  Also, all those celebrity magazines that sit in the aisles of grocery stores?  Exactly.  You know that everyone around you always says to “get a life,” to focus on your own affairs, but they’re basically telling you all this great advice while they themselves are reading excerpts from an article about some actor’s terrible marriage.  I don’t need to point out the hypocrisy and arrogance here.  Noel Coward already did that in his play Relative Values.  But my point is that we, as human beings, naturally enjoy stepping out of our own shoes and slipping into the shoes of another character, whether in a book or a movie.  And to have that person we’re interested in watching not see us do the observing?  Priceless.

Movies take less effort from the mind than books do.  Books require concentration from your imagination, to visualize all the settings and characters, the action and drama that books normally contain.  But movies are prepared fiction.  All you have to do is watch and understand what’s going on.  Books are more work.  Movies are more of solid entertainment squeezed into one place.  Sometimes books take longer to enjoy when there is profound material behind the surface of the author’s words.  Anyway, the way that humans are allowed through the cinema and written word to have a complete perspective of another character’s life makes them omniscient.  Perhaps not completely “omniscient,” but partly.  This attribute usually is listed under the characteristics of deities.  Humans who believed that humans were god-like also believed in humanism, a philosophy which started in the Renaissance Period.  I don’t believe it.  Humans are not gods.  They are a creation of matter and reason.  But it is obvious that somehow, we weak creatures secretly want to be closer to this all-powerful idea of a “deity,” a supernatural being that has ultimate power.  Power.  Humans are attracted to power.  And through movies and books, we feel more powerful.  Because we see what the characters themselves cannot see—the future, the past, the present.  All angles of their lives and the lives of those around them are within our vision.  We can choose to relive any person’s life, during any time period or setting, realistic or fantastical.  How attractive and “god-like” is that?  It’s what rulers and dictators across the centuries wanted more than anything: control.  Control over other people.  However, it’s a one-way glass we’re talking about.  We do not impact the fictional (or non-fictional) characters we observe.  They impact us, even if they never see us or imagine our existence.

Books and movies have within their power to bring to our attention the ideas, actions, and circumstances related to other people besides ourselves.  Knowledge is power.  And knowledge lies in books.  Movies are tied to books.  It’s kind of a vicious circle.  In any case, this is what I have found to be true during all my readings and the movies I’ve seen: I like to step into other people’s lives.  I like to make virtual friends with people I’d love to meet in real life through books and movies.  I often would like to participate in the stories I experience visually, to not be a mere spectator.  Wouldn’t we all?  One thing is certain: fiction is attractive.  Very, very attractive.  Because it makes us feel more powerful, more “god-like.”  And not so…human.

Natalie Gorna

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2 thoughts on “Why are we so attracted to fiction?

  1. Slava September 27, 2011 / 09:38

    I agree that knowledge lies in books. When I read fiction, I experience something new and it’s very close to a real-life experience, as if I did things myself. The experience of written personages make your horizon broader.


    • Natalie Gorna September 27, 2011 / 17:04

      That is all so true. Indeed, I forgot to mention that when I read books or watch good movies I feel like I’m standing right in the middlle of the events the character are experiencing. 🙂


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