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The effects of fantasies

April 13th, 2004 · 3 Comments

At misbehaving.net Jill Walker linked to an article by Naomi Wolf and opened discussion on her theory that artificial images of women – in Wolf’s words cybervision(s) of perfection – adversely affect men’s attraction to the real thing.

What I’m wondering: aren’t emotional fantasies also potent in creating unreal expectations for relationships? Books, movies, TV, magazines, and music often depict interactions between men and women – and people in general – that are artificial and deceptive, writing false definitions of how marriages, families and friendships function. The media entices us with illusions, stoking what’s simmering inside our own minds. Who would settle for reality after seeing the passion and perfection between people on TV?

Not to say that all entertainment, books, movies or media should be forced to reflect real life constantly as some kind of mandate. Who wants to watch a bunch of people griping or wiping diapered bottoms? Fairy tales are fun. I enjoy a cute boy-gets-girl or chick flick once in a while. But I am concerned that just as visual images of perfection affect what happens between real bodies, “airbrushed” emotional depictions and descriptions of life may seem more satifisfying than learning to love people as they are: warts, bad habits, flaws and all.

This disillusionment with reality happened to me when I was a child. My brother was ill with cancer, suffering a weak immune system, so I was isolated socially in order to help protect his health. I spent a lot of time alone reading books. I read many stories where kids were emotional siamese twins of sorts, kids who had special relationships with each other and stuck together in all kinds of situations. Then when my brother was healthier and I was older, I was able to get together with other kids in the neighborhood and at school. But I found myself dissatisifed, longing for the kinds of best friends I had read about in books. The world wasn’t what I had thought it was. For years I was broken-hearted, hoping to find that best friend fantasy from a book.

So I fear that the way marriages, families, friendships and all kinds of relationships are portrayed on television and in books, music, movies and magazines (even blogs?!) leaves people longing for a fantasy and unhappy with the real thing. Problems often can’t get solved in three minutes as in pop songs, thirty minutes as in sitcoms, or even two hours as in film. Love is labor. To make a relationship work requires work, pain and patience: the opposite of happy, hedonistic depictions. I worry that people looking for Love will walk away from it, seeking some sort of elusive fantasy instead.

To quote Tracy Chapman, love means: “if I tell you the right words at the right time, you’ll be mine.” I didn’t find true love with some L.A. lifeguard who sauntered up to me on the beach and whispered I was the woman he had always wanted. I didn’t give myself and my life to a man who had all the right words (or right moves) at the right time. I married a man who loved me. And I loved him. It wasn’t all roses and romance – although I did get some of that too. It was bumpy and uncomfortable at times. Yet Ted is someone who saw me as I was (no swimsuit model or perfect poet myself) and still wanted me. He’s the best friend I always wanted from a book. No – he’s better 😉

When you find the real thing, it’s better than any fantasy. Because it’s real. And it makes all the artificial images seem so fake.

Tags: marriage

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dean Esmay // Apr 14, 2004 at 12:19 am

    This is the constant irritation I have with a certain breed of feminist: the obsession over women without acknowledging the other realities. Movies and TV tend to do a little–a little–less physical idealizing of men, but then, they tend to idealize them in emotional and personalitiy traits that are equally impossible to live up to. Or hell, just try reading a romance novel some time. Jesus, what man can live up to any of the heroes in those books? It’s ridiculous.

    But it’s fantasy and it’s art.

    Here’s the really interesting thing: what’s life going to be like in a few decades, when it’ll probably be affordable for most people to alter their appearances medically? Think what nanotech, genetic surgery, cosmetic surgery and increasing wealth at all levels of society are likely to do.

  • 2 Bob V // Apr 14, 2004 at 5:01 am

    I read a bunch of blogs about economics, a bunch of blogs about technology, and Seedlings & Sprouts. I think the main reason I read it is that Julie has convinced me that she understands love and that by reading her blog I will be better positioned to recognize it when it happens. I know that sounds excessively goal-oriented, but I’m a guy.

  • 3 Lucy // Apr 14, 2004 at 3:01 pm

    How odd that you and I are both concerned about the impact of media, yet from completely different points. You seem to think that perhaps people will see love and couples in the media as something to aspire to and I shudder to think that they’ll see them as something to settle for.

    My husband isn’t perfect. But, he treats me with gentleness and respect and passion. He has NEVER said anything critical of me. Never. True, he’s said critical things of my actions but even that is in private. He’s never called me names, or been vengeful and vindictive. He doesn’t lie and plot. He’s a nice guy. For me, this is reality.

    My friends think that we must be “faking” being happily married. Afterall, the marriages they see making it are like the ones on EverybodyLovesRaymond (and other sitcoms). Yeah, now there’s a functional marriage. Name-calling and deceit and nagging/whining are the way to go. But its ok because everyone makes up at the end, and the ends justify the means. They come away with the message that this is the best they can hope for. Its so sad to settle for less because you don’t know there’s anything better out there.