Bold and Beautiful Best Friends

Posted Feb 01, 2008

Believe it or not, there are likely scores of people beyond the Hollywood Hills who are deeply distressed by the screenwriters’ strike, which today enters its fourth calendar month. The non-industry victims are the TV viewers who bond ferociously with on-screen characters. These people’s devotion to the two-dimensional can be measured by intense absorption in TV programs and a sense of intimacy with the characters in play. Researchers talk about such attachments as “parasocial interaction with media personas” and “transportation into media programs,” which makes it sound like they’re videotaping people levitating into TV screens, rather than just hearing them gush about a massive crush on Zach Braff.

They find that people who are anxious over and preoccupied with their real world relationships are more likely than others to feel an intense interpersonal connection to their favorite TV characters. This sort of stands to reason if you consider that they might just be more intense about everyone to whom they’re exposed. But it gets puzzling: People who have a generally low need to communicate with others are MORE likely to have feel an intense bond with a soap opera character. Are The Bold and the Beautiful such ciphers that you can basically project anything––or nothing––onto them? Psychologists argue that the communication-averse may just be emotionally distraught, and their soap opera penchant reflects an escapist bent.

Dara Greenwood of the University of Michigan reviews the correlations between personality and media attachments in the January volume of Personality and Individual Differences.

Some scientists believe that one-way attachment to on-screen characters is essentially a human universal. Satoshi Kanazawa argues that because we evolved in a flat-screen-free world in which every human we saw was real, on an unconscious level we do not distinguish between Hollywood’s offerings and our real world pickings. Kanazawa, who is the co-author of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, found that men who watch network news are more satisfied with their friendships; ditto for women addicted to sitcoms and dramas.
Some of these women are surely pleased to know that soap operas are the one genre that has thus far escaped the strike’s long shadow. Not one of network TV’s eight daytime dramafests has stopped broadcasting new content. As the world turns, indeed.