While I was perched in my usual roost at the Book Trader counter yesterday afternoon, Peter Gallagher--aka Sandy Cohen from the O.C.--walked into the cafe and into my life. Needless to say, it was the highlight of my day, if not my senior year at Yale.
I always imagined that, if I met a celebrity whose work I had admired as much as P.G.'s (and by "work," I mean seasons 1-3 of the O.C.), I would somehow FORCE myself to hatch an interaction with him or her. At the very least, I'd like to ask Sandy, er, Peter, the following questions:
1. How do they* get so big?
2. Didn't you ever want to slap Seth in his smarmy, Garden-State soundtrack listening-head?
3. Didn't you ever want to slap Kirstin in her Botoxed, vodka-chugging face?
4. Would Sandy consider giving a master's tea?
5. What does it feel like to be the moral compass for our generation?
*the Eyebrows, of course
The fact that my fantasies completely ignored the prolific acting career of P.G. is a testament to the strength of the well-known essay I was reading that fateful afternoon in Book Trader, Kendall Walton's "Fearing Fictions" (and you thought this was going to be a fluff post, reader!). Walton's essay--which seems more like a psychological study than a philosophical one--attempts the unravel why works of fiction can elicit emotional responses. The fact that representations produce literal reactions (fear, sympathy, butterflies in the stomach) generates a paradox; while most (re: everyone but celebrity stalkers and live-action-role-playing gamers) readers/viewers are aware of the fictional nature of what they are reading/watching, they still respond in a very real manner. Why does this happen?
Walton rejects several potential explanations: the idea that we "half-believe" what in what we see (after all, our heartbeat doesn't "half-increase" when we watch The Exorcist), the possibility that we suspend our disbelief (non-delusional subjects notwithstanding, we are completely aware of fictionality), the prospect that we are motivated by a "gut" belief as opposed to an intellectual one (our response, while motivated in part by physical indicators, does involve cogitation), the theory that we experience fleeting, momentary shifts from reality (nope--the emotional response is usually drawn out).
Walton's solution to the paradox (if you have access to the Journal of Philosophy, it's in the Jan. 1978 issue) subverts the typical conception of the subject/object relation; rather than converting fictional representations into reality (believing what we see is true), he argues, we convert ourselves into part of the fictional experience, merging with the work to form a "larger world." This act, writes Walton, is partly involuntary and partly willful; our comprehension of the principles of "make-believe" and our material response (butterflies et. al) are implicit factors, but our willingness to play along, to "impersonate" our own real emotional states," is a conscious decision.
So when I see Sandy, the ultimate television dilf, giving sage advice to the misguided youths of the O.C, acting the perfect husband, and demonstrating impeccable legal ethics on the silver screen, my heart flutters; despite my awareness of his fictionality, I experience an internally tangible response, I obey the principles of make-believe, and I impersonate myself in l-u-v. But what the hell happens when Peter Gallagher strides into MY WORLD, collapsing the fictional and the literal into each other? Is my reaction--which feels the same as when I watch him on TV--real, half-real, or make-believe?
And, more importantly, why didn't I take a camera phone picture of him?