Are We an Obsessed Society?

As I bought my tickets to Comic Con this weekend, I began to think about obsessions.

This is my first Comic Con because I learned long ago to keep a significant distance between myself and my heroes. I am only going to see Matt Smith and Karen Gillan because I am obsessed (there’s that word, again) with Doctor Who and simply being in the same room as the pair, maybe even getting to see Matt flip his floppy hair out of his eyes or hear Karen with her deep brogue and even deeper red hair (maybe I should just call them the hair pair???) will be enough to keep me in a reverie for years to come. However, I didn’t opt for the photo op with my time-travelling role models. After a decidedly awkward run-in with one of my favorite comedians previously, I vowed to never meet any famous people face-to-face again (let’s just say, I freaked out a man whose act is completely built around his deranged childhood.)

Since then, I like to keep celebrities swathed in a mist of mystery that only television and film can truly shroud them in. And while I believe that Matt Smith and Karen Gillan will be perfect angels, I don’t trust myself to NOT say something awkward, strange, or horror of horrors, something that could be misinterpreted as rude. As a writer, you would think I would have attained some command of the English language, but in reality, I have no idea what is going to come out of my mouth next. And what’s more, when something unsavory comes out of said mouth, I am condemned to replay the awful memory in my head for months, even years, at a time.

And so, I wonder: what is it about our brains that makes us relive both wonderful and awful memories? Are we gluttons for punishment or lovers of the same? Actually, I think we are a bit of both. Repetition carves out our neural pathways, like a river rushes past a cliff only to chisel it down piece by piece, little by little. This constant flow of repetition allows us to understand things better, even encourages us to see patterns. But we can associate repetition with negative acts or processes as well. Whatever the stimuli, we will have a fairly strong reaction if we encounter it time and time again.

I know what you’re thinking. Duh, Bailey. We’ve all heard of Pavlov. Get on with it. It’s Monday, I don’t have time for your shenanigans.

And to that I say: okay, okay. Now that we understand repetition and pattern-making in our lives, how do we define obsession? Is an obsession a pattern but to the nth degree? Times a million, times a million, squared? Do animals simply have another name for it, “instinct,” and is it a gift from evolution? How many times do we have to revisit something to make it an obsession?

Here’s where my Communications degree gets put to good use: In today’s society, our paths to our obsessions have been sped up.

Let’s follow in the Doctor’s footsteps and time travel for a second. Let’s go back, oh say, about 100 years ago. The average life expectancy was in the late 40’s, and 2 out of 10 American adults could not read or write. But ah, the ones who could. Think of what stories meant to them! Books became an adventure, a moral, a comforting reality, all rolled into one. These 8 out of 10 adults might read until the pages of their books were softened with sweat and dog-eared to a comical level. How the words, after a time, would simply come to their minds. Perhaps they would not even have to read the page but could stare off into the distance and never miss a scene or portion of the plot, never miss a word. How well their brains served them, creating images out of words.

Surely, the lucky inhabitants of today’s age still experience an ancestor of that joy when reading.Yet, we live in what is easily called an “immersive society.” We read the book and we watch the movie, allowing both to create different images of the characters for us. This is something that I’ve written about before. But I was missing a few more steps in my previous musings about this topic: we also watch the sequel, we also watch the television show, we also watch the spin-off, we also listen to the soundtrack. We become completely immersed in what we are interested in.

Take my obsession with How to Train Your Dragon. I not only own a few Toothless figurines and the original movie, but I have the Christmas special, a few episodes of the television show, both soundtracks, and the ability to log onto a blogging site to connect with people who love and adore the film as much as I do. Not to mention what we can do with today’s animation, where the colors are so vivid and the characters are so minutely drawn that we are plunged down to the deepest depths of the film and never let back up until the lights come up in the theater. We have learned the three-dimensional art of story telling through several different mediums, transmedia narratives. We can start a story in a comic book, which is transformed into a movie, which is transformed into a spin-off, which is transformed into a television show. Until we’re not really sure where it started, and there are few of us who have read or looked at the “source text.” And that carries through in all society; we have our heads down, oblivious to our surroundings, fully immersed. And what a fascinating time to be alive! We are only going to get better at manipulating our stories and our ideas, until we have obsessions piggy backing obsessions. We’ll have interests borne out of the most abstract tide pools.

So, am I excited for Comic Con? To come breathe the same air as with actors in a show that I wrote my senior thesis about? Sure. But really, I’m looking forward to seeing all the people who have taken the word “obsession” and painted it with day-glo. That’s right; the cosplayers. The people who stitch and slave over their own gorgeous costumes, the people who dress up and end up looking more like the actors than the actors themselves. Because these are the people who have turned their passion into an art. As a writer, or even as a human, we all must honor that level of dedication. Because the word “obsessed” doesn’t seem to cover it.

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