Friday, January 20, 2012

Psychological Implications of the "Fantasy" vs. "Reality" Binary

In “Women Read the Romance,” Janice Radway commentates on the work of Dot Evans and its popularity amongst women readers. She notes that one of the reasons why, if not the primary reason why, she attracts such interest and popularity is that her readers enjoy the “figurative and literal escape” from the “real world” that absorbing the books’ material invokes (47). Such escape from real world to dream/fantasy world is shared by these women because of a “certain sadness” and “sense of betrayal” that they feel about men in general but, namely, their respective loved ones / husbands, which suggests “an assertion of deeply felt psychological needs and a means for satisfying those needs” (48).

The readers do not tolerate or appreciate romances that involve serious abuse or perverse/promiscuous activity/description, and, conversely, desire romances that involve the heroine realizing that her lover’s “apparent emotional indifference was only the mark of his hesitancy about revealing the extent of his love for and dependence upon her” (50). I find the psychological commentary on this information particularly insightful and fascinating. In light of this commentary (based on Freudian and psychoanalytic theory in general), the notion of reading fantasy as both a literal and figurative means of escape is perhaps most striking for me. Not only does such desire/action imply the extent to which patriarchy grips and conditions us – especially women within the context of romance – but it also says something about media in general.

In my opinion, media – for the most part – is far more fantastical than realistic, though any sharp duality (i.e. that between “fantasy” and “reality”) in general can be semantically problematic. Media falls under the category of “business” far more than it falls under the category of “science.” While the aim of science is accuracy, truth, objectivity, the aim of business – at least relative to the incumbent paradigm – is more about appealing to emotion, “make-believe,” and “magic.”

People watch shows, buy products, and read stories more often than not because such things, as mediums of information, represent or symbolize fantastical aspects of their lives that, clearly, these information-consumers do not have. People project themselves onto the protagonist of television shows or video games because, psychologically, they do not feel that kind of fantastical or mythological fulfillment in their own lives – in “real life.”

I am not against fantasy, story, art, or media in general, by any means. I am not prescribing anything here. Rather, relating this discussion back to the women about whom Radway writes, I am describing that this is but one example of people wanting to escape the real world into the fantasy world because the latter realm contains or embodies something that the former one lacks. Perhaps “fantasy” can be “reality;” perhaps it cannot. Regardless, the main point that I am trying to communicate is that the content and success of fantasy/story/art/media illustrates that which its subscribers or adherents do not have (or do not feel they have) in the context of actuality. 

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