I don’t like the term escapism. I think it sounds at worst patronising and cute at best. Although I don’t like the term, I do agree with it’s meaning. I love reading a book or watching a TV show and escaping from a real world to a fictional land if only for a few minutes. Needless to say, millions of other people across the world feel the same way but what happens when you you are unable to tell the difference between fiction and reality?
This rant and rambles post was inspired by an interview I saw with Lena Headey who played Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones. When asked how she was greeted by fans Headey explained how she was once stopped on a street and called a “fucking ugly bitch”. In case you don’t know the character Cersei Lannister is a main antagonist in Game of Thrones and is guilty of mass murder, rape, insest and countless other crimes. Needless to say, Headey herself did not commit these crimes and the Game of Thrones TV show, despite being inspired by real historical figures and events, is fictional. The dragons are a dead give away. Headey later explained in the same interview that when she was at Comic Con with Peter Dinklage, fans would go out of their way to avoid her and ask Dinklage for his signature. I was confused as to why not just one indivuial but several hundred would treat Headey this way.
This isn’t an isolated case. There are countless examples of actors being mistaken for the characters they play. Some of these examples are quiet humorous, especially when the actors respond in character. When Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock in the original Star Trek, was approached by student scientists asking him to read their work Nimoy would take their paper, read through it for a couple of moments and say something along the lines on “I think you’re going along the right lines, keep going.”
Other examples are more serious. Toby Alexander who played Grey Atkins in EastEnders was reportedly attacked on the street by an old woman with a walking stick. When the police later arrested this old woman she explained that Alexander was a wife beater. In EastEnders at this time Alexander was involved in a story line where he was emotionally and physical abusing his wife. In the census of 2001 and 2011 thousand of participants ticked Jediism under religion, explaining they followed the religion of the Jedi from Star Wars. After the release of Silence of the Lambs which stared Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector, his wife left him because she failed to see him as anything other than the serial killer.
Perhaps the most famous example is Anne Kirkbridge’s portrayal of Deirdre Barlow on Coronation Street. Deirdre spent forty years on the British soap and was loved by the nation. In 1997 Deirdre was betrayed by her lover and sent to prison after being framed for a crime. This sparked outrage in the media and lead to the creation of the Free the Weatherfield One campaign. The campaign’s aim was to have Deirdre Barlow released from prison and consisted of over thousands of members. These members campaigned outside prisons, spoke to their local MP’s and even asked the Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, to intervene. Although a vast majority of the members had joined in jest or to show their support of the show, those that camped outside prisons were adamant that there had been a miscarriage of justice, despite the fact Deirdre Barlow was a fictional character! Thankfully for all those involved, Deirdre was released from prison after serving a small part of her sentence.
Why and how do people confuse fact and fiction? How can you fail to tell the difference between an actor and a character? Unless you are 1) A really young child or 2) someone with mental health difficulties there isn’t any excuse. Or is there?
In Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard (1981), Baudrillard examines the question, how could you tell you are living in a fake reality if the reality you lived in was very realistic? Baudrillard’s book was published before the invention of the internet which with the latest advancements in technology (such as VR headsets and updated graphics on games consoles) has made fictional worlds even more believable. There have been plenty of different studies who have tried to determine how much time must past before people can loose the ability to distinguish between real life and fantasy. Although these studies have all reached different answers they all refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
The hierarchy of needs shows what basic human needs must be met before more completed needs can be addressed. For example the most important needs for all humans are air, water, food and rest. Once a human has achieved all of these they can then look at more complicated needs such as the need of a shelter and the need for human interaction. The problem is that because the internet is more powerful than it has ever been once the first layer of needs has been met, the more complicated needs can be found and resolved online.
If that sounds like a big block of text, we can examine the ideas in different films. The Matrix for example, follows the story of Neo who realises the world he’s living in is just a simulation controlled by machines. The Matrix is directly based of Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation. Another example is Jim Carrie’s film The Trueman show in which a man living an normal life is unaware he is the subject of a reality TV show. This film was so successful that they even named a disease after the film.
To people who suffer from these delusions they are unable to tell the difference between the two different worlds and their various inhabitance. If you wanted to look at it from a theological standpoint, you could argue that these fictional worlds do exist within their own realms of existence, ie the world in video games are real within a games console.
If you had to choose a fictional world to live in, what world would you choose? Let me know in which ever method you choose and I’ll see you next time.