Tuesday, April 03, 2007

star struck out

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?


jodi said...

i saw him while people watching/sitting on old campus. it was quite unexpected to say the least. of course, i couldn't say anything but rather just followed him creepily from a far.


Hi Mina, I don't know if you remember me, but I am from the livejournal world of several years ago in Phoenix. I clicked on your link from DC's site, and just read like the past 20 entries in your blog. Anyway, I just felt compelled to say hello! Looks like you are doing well.

This comment has been removed by the author.
Dash said...

Walton, as far as you've described the argument, makes a very interesting case, but I simultaneously wonder if the question needs to be adressed via such abstraction and whether or not Walton is right. Let's leave aside such problems as quantifiablity and focus only on his argument, the subject/object switch. Walton would seem to have hit upon a useful guide. The fiction that affects us is the fiction that we allow to enter into our realm of experience. That is not to say we necessarily make them into a part of our world, or join with them. Identification with the object, and closeness to the events depicted, is an essential part of our reactions to literary fabula. My own readings of texts about death have become fuller now that I am closer to the subject, and Sandy Cohen is the object of desire because he fits so many archetypes (being attractive doesn't hurt either). Closeness and/or the ability to identify with the characters is an essential part of our experiences with texts. They may not become a part of our world, as much as they remind us of things that already are a part.

herman furry paws said...

Dash only watched Season 1 and even then it was "just for the boobles."

elmrockcity said...

Dash, I hope you're not implying that you're terminally ill...although that would make for great blogging material.

Identification is definitely an essential facet of the reading process. But do you think non-identification (for example, a protagonist we find alienating, like the main character of Coetzee's Disgrace) can also provoke a visceral reaction?

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