‘It’s just a TV show.’
‘Calm down, it’s just a movie.’
I used to think people who said these things were insane. They didn’t get it. Fiction created by other people was important. It was near life or death, okay? What the hell was wrong with them? Why were they all, ‘It’s only tits and dragons.’
I used to get really invested in my entertainment, is what I’m saying.
Like, really invested.
Television and film were the big ones. And the lives of people involved in my favorite shows and movies. Things created by people I would never know or who would ever know I existed would rule my life and my emotions.
I was personally invested in these things. Barbra Streisand married James Brolin and I was: How could she do this without consulting me? I felt slighted, somehow. It gave me a stomach ache.
Background: Why I Was Delusional—It Makes Sense in Context
I have avoided reality as much as possible for most of my life. Reality and I were simply not on speaking terms.
Reality was alcoholic parents, a genetic predisposition to depression and anxiety, growing up gay in the American South and all sorts of other fun things that I did not want to deal with. And can you blame me?
Luckily we had two things in my house that helped in my quest to focus on anything but what was happening in the actual world around me: televisions and VCRs.
I watched a lot of TV and I recorded my favorite shows and re-watched episodes for hours at a time.
Every week an episode of whatever show I was obsessed with would air. I would tape it and watch it until I had it memorized in time for the next episode to air the following week.
But that wasn’t enough. I also learned all about the actors on the shows. Everything. Birth places and dates, who their best friends were and their birth dates. No fact was too random.
This was before the internet so this sort of stalking required buying magazines. My bedroom was a firetrap with all the magazines.
Also music—I listened to music constantly.
But it was mostly the shows and movies. You don’t want to know how many movies I had on video. You probably couldn’t know, because I never counted, but it was probably hundreds.
I binge-watched shows before it was possible to binge-watch shows. I’d sit in my room and re-watch the same five episodes over and over and over.
To this day, I can identify any Designing Women episode on mute by the clothes the women are wearing.
I was firmly convinced that, if I could only meet whatever celebrities I was obsessed with at the time (and it was obsession) we’d be best friends.
They’d take me away with them to one of their houses (and I knew where all of their houses were) and I’d never have to see or think about my family or the jerks I knew ever again.
So fast forward to 2015.
The University of Texas at Austin published a study that shows people who binge-watch television are more likely to be lonely and depressed.
They found that the more lonely and depressed the study participants were, the more likely they were to binge-watch TV, using this activity to move away from negative feelings.
I also think seeing something familiar repeatedly is comforting. I’d watch the same episode dozens of times because it was a known to me—I had control over it in a way. These were my friends and they wouldn’t let me down. Unlike literally everything else in my life, which was a giant unknown and was bound to make me feel terrible about myself.
How I Learned to Love Reality
A few things happened.
I met my long-time biggest hero-worship celebrity at the height of my adoration. That experience changed how I thought the world worked and made me never want to meet another famous person ever again.
Actually, first, it made me want to be famous so I could treat people like shit and get away with it. (I have since recovered from that philosophy but it made me appreciate the decent human beings who’ve attained fame.)
Then I moved to a town where they film movies and TV shows and for many years I worked in a place that celebrities frequented on occasion. So I’ve met a fair number of them. Some are nice, some are assholes. Some look exactly the same in person as on screen, some… makeup is miraculous. (The camera adds more like twenty pounds, btw.)
I do not go out of my way to meet any though.
The other thing that happened was I slowly began to enjoy my actual life. The one happening in front of me. This was a gradual process that began in my early thirties and has really solidified this last year.
Kink—The Final Draw into Full-Time Reality
I hadn’t been really taken with a television show in some time when I came into the kink scene a little over a year ago. At that time, though, I was into a show for the first time in awhile, for whatever reason. That sort of, ‘Time to re-watch that episode I’ve already seen twice’ that I was familiar with from … all of my life.
But then I discovered this kink thing. It was interesting—it was teaching me things about myself. It was making me see the world in a different way.
I want to help other people learn about themselves (eventually I’d like to become an educator), I want to teach about consent issues and generally make the kink world a safer place. And the vanilla world, if they’re interested in using ‘yes means yes’ rather than ‘no means no’.
Being happy with myself and my own life means I look forward to getting up in the morning and no longer need distractions from reality. I only wish I had more time in the day to do all the things I want to with the reality I now have.
I no longer need to watch an episode of a show twelve times. Once is plenty. I don’t have time to watch television at all, mostly. House of Cards is supposed to be great, but I’m trying to decide if I want to shoe-horn it into my schedule of learning, reading and writing. Personal growth seems more important than a fictional show.
A Note About Fiction—It’s How You Use It
Fiction is great—I’m a writer—I love fiction. I write it all the time and I enjoy reading it. I have conversations with fictional characters I’ve created a whole bunch.
I’m not saying fiction isn’t important and can’t teach us things about the world and about ourselves. Or that entertainment isn’t important. But there’s a huge difference between using fiction to enhance your life and using it to hide from your life twenty-four seven.
Celebrities’ lives are their own form of fiction. Who you think they are is not who they actually are. It’s not a good idea to get too attached. Still, there are certain ones I have an inordinate amount of trivia about in my head. That stuff doesn’t just disappear. Listening to people debate what a person (who is basically a fictional character) is going to do, as though they have any actual knowledge about that person’s inner life reminds me of me. I knew exactly how all of my favorites thought and what decisions they would make from who’d they’d marry to what underwear they’d put on to what color they’d paint the bathroom in the guest house at their vacation home in Ireland.
Hint: No I didn’t. I had no idea. And neither do you.
It was all a fiction. A method of focusing on something other than my actual life that could have been used to either work on my own problems or better the world in some way.
Gossiping about people you don’t know is like that person who is up in everyone else’s business. Do they seem happy to you? Are they walking around giving unsolicited advice because they’re so damn happy they need to share it with the world? Or people focused on the sex lives of others. If you’re happy with your own life you’re really not bothered by what other people are doing. Being obsessed about something that’s either fictional or policing other people’s perfectly legal behavior is a way of not focusing on your own problems.
The Gift of Reality
Real life is so much more compelling now than any fiction another person could create for me. Another person’s life isn’t nearly as captivating as what’s happening right here.
My emotions are no longer controlled by the whims of a writer who probably didn’t write each episode in such a way that it could withstand being dissected by discussion groups on the internet. They write on short deadlines and lots of caffeine. (Or other stimulants.)
I get to be in control of my own life now. Or at least I get to see where reality takes me.
I get it now.
It’s just a TV show.