Lyn Gala

One writer's journal through one version of reality


Emotional Hangover

I think indulging in story is an exercise in psychic vampirism. I’m a vampire, and I don’t want to give up the literary blood source—which might explain why I write my own stories when the vein goes dry. Psychologists would disagree since they call it the “paradox of fiction,” but whatever.

I have to say that right now I’m having the same sort of post-good-story fictional psychic spillover from Supernatural that I had the first time I read Brave New World or The Count of Monte Cristo.  Yeah, don’t just me.  I was nine or ten, and I was obsessed with the Count of Monte Cristo there for a while.

Besides, it’s not like Supernatural is some literary classic, but it pulled at the angst, the guilt, the pain in a way few shows do.  Buffy hit that note, but let’s be honest—most television pain revolves around broken relationships and self-importance.  I don’t feel for them, and I felt for the boys.

So, when we fall into this story funk, this place where the mind keeps rolling over the emotions and the events of fiction, psychologists call it the paradox of fiction, the idea that A) We have emotional responses to fiction.  B) “Emotions for objects logically presuppose beliefs in the existence and features of those objects” and C) We know fiction is fiction.  The quote came from Jerrold Levinson. I’d cite it properly, but honestly, who cares?

The Greeks called this same feeling catharsis and said we needed to let our negative emotions all hang out and have a good cry at a play before we got too caught up in our own lives and self-destructed.

So here’s the question… does everyone feel this psychic vampirism?  I feel like I’ve been emotionally feeding off the story, and now that the story has come to a logical conclusion, it’s like I’m full. I’m actively avoiding the sixth season because I don’t want to spoil the taste of a really good meal.  I want to start Joey W Hill’s vampire queen series, which Emma recommended, but what if it ruins this angst perfection?  The last time I felt this sense of perfect ending from television was Xena.

Yeah, I know.  Xena sucked at the end.  I don’t even want to talk about magical children because it will depress the hell out of me.  However, the ending was perfect.

Xena dies to stop a demon, and when she learns that she could return only at the cost of 40,000 souls trapped in a magical spell, she asks Gabrielle to let her go.  These two have died and come back to life so many times that it’s not funny, but Xena won’t live at the cost of other’s suffering. This after she tortured and burned her way through her corner of Greece. But that decision leaves Gabrielle alone.

And in the closing image, Gabrielle stands at the side of a ship going somewhere, and suddenly Xena is there beside her. Xena’s ghost will follow Gabrielle, waiting for the time when they can be together again.  It was a perfect image and I just wanted to live in that moment.

But the part that’s depressing (and that makes me wish I could unlearn some stuff) is that psychologists would call that a pre-programmed response… an emotional program triggered by stimuli designed to elicit a quick and consistent reaction in response to a specific problem.

Psychologist Katja Mellmann believes that the paradox of fiction—our ability to have real emotions based off fictional situations—comes from evolution.  These emotion-programs detect triggers, real or fictional.  Like she points out, we have the same emotional response to a baby as to a doll that has the specific features of a baby (awwwww… isn’t that cute???) Kindchenschema may be an interesting idea, but am I really that pre-programmed?

According to Mellmann, I am. The situational parameters or structural features trigger the program and as it continues, certain subroutines engage depending on which features the person observes.  She would call it perfectly logical.

Of course, that doesn’t explain why Susan dislikes Supernatural and its habit of killing women, and I really love the angst and see the women’s deaths (and the men’s too) as just part of the angst-mill.  It doesn’t explain why I adore the ending of Xena and other fans are still bemoaning it a decade later.

I guess I’m just going to hope that Mellmann is wrong and I’m right. My emotions aren’t pre-programmed, and while I am feeling my internal literary vampire, I have a choice about what blood to feed on.

Right now, I’m still enjoying my last meal so I’m going to go clean my house.