This past week I made my way to the highly touted Toronto International Film Festival to catch a screening of Zach Braff’s wonderful new flick, The Last Kiss. As I took my seat amidst the seemingly calm audience, I realized that I’d be sitting nary a few rows away from Mr. Scrubs himself. Also, seated in his divine row was Rachel Bilson of The O.C., who happens to co-star in the film.
Feeling rather smug for having snagged some the best seats in the house, I didn’t quite notice the hoards of DVD-wielding, teenaged fans around me. Some were tightly grasping their Scrubs sets, others bracing themselves to toss their O.C. discs at the diminutive Bilson in an attempt to get an autograph. I saw a strange glow of admiration/obsession illuminate in the eyes of just about every fan in the pit of adolescence I had sat down in.
Most of the kids surrounding me couldn’t have been more than 17 years old. As they gushed about seeing their fave O.C. star, or the boyish charm of the uber-geeky Braff, it was evident they had formed quite the attachment with these people, despite presumably having never met them in their lives. At the question-answer session after the movie, it dawned on me that this so-called ‘Love’ they had formed for their favourite stars was nothing more than an attachment to roles past. One of the young girls sitting next to me eagerly asked Braff and Bilson how they had used their TV roles to inspire the acting they did in Kiss. At first Braff asked for clarification. Bilson fumbled over her words a little. Both seemed to look at each other in a bit of confused daze, as Braff took the mic and said he didn’t know how to answer the question.
I watched closely as the young girl next to me shrugged deep into her seat, a little confused, a little heartbroken. For her Braff’s Scrub character J.D. was as a real a man as the speechless guy standing a few feet away from her holding the mic in his hand. Bilson’s Summer was purely personified by the tiny tanned girl fashionably standing on the stage. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that while watching Kiss, the young girl thought of Summer and J.D., perhaps taking a mini-vacation from their lives, to embark on a different adventure. Imagine the horror then when it hit her that these people were not in fact their characters at all, but merely lackluster people who couldn’t reflect or articulate anything about the roles that had seemingly affected her so deeply.
It seems like a logical conclusion to come to–we are all aware (or most of us are) on some level that the characters we form attachments to on TV aren’t actually the great names they attest to. But one of the persuasive potions of powerful, resonating television is imagination. So where we most of us level-headed individuals consciously boast about knowing the difference between fiction and reality, dividing ourselves from the ‘freaky fans’, we still have to immerse ourselves in a pool of imagination to fully form fan-status with a TV show. We all form schematic attachments (albeit in varying levels of intensity) to great characters, which is undeniably explained by our ability to judge just how well a character does in a new role.
Why do we cringe whenever we see, say, John Stamos in a new role on television? Because for most of us he’ll always be our longhaired, super-cute Uncle Jesse. It’s the same reason why I can’t sit through most of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s movie roles; I can’t stand someone who was once Buffy the Vampire Slayer crawling around, hiding from the demonic ghosts she used to effortlessly pummel. In other words, we all believed in the characters so inherently once, that we can’t let go. Perhaps this is a testament to the strong writing of TV classics or human nature helping us gain comfort from the stories of our time. Maybe this fan-flaw is the very thing that defines the sustainability of timeless tales on the small screen.
It’d be nice if some stars–particularly the ones who’ve graced our screens for long periods of time would keep that mind. Suspend the disbelief a little, I mean.
After all, I’m sure they were fans once too.