Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Emotional Payoffs-- What are Yours?

     I like to think of myself as a logical person. And compared to most women I meet-- I am. I recently joined a book club with some other moms in my area and I'm currently struggling to get through yet another book that I have no interest in. I logically thought that joining a book club among my peers would be good for me: broaden my horizons and all that nonsense. And I won't say it hasn't introduced me to some titles that I actually liked very much, but overall I've realized that what tickles my fancy doesn't often coincide with that of other people. I'm very good at dissecting books and listing the reasons why I don't like what I'm reading and in doing so I have discovered that my logic actually often gives way to emotional triggers when reading. In other words-- a book can be relatively poorly written, but if it has the right emotional payoff I can overlook almost any flaw.

     I have also realized that the personality traits that make me the kind of person who prefers sci-fi over soap-operas also makes it really hard to find common ground with women who want to read stories about the emotional journey of losing a child/spouse/parent etc. etc., ad nauseum. Or the journey of child/spouse/parent with cancer/alzheimer's or other tragic disease. Why do people read this stuff?

     Well, to be fair, I suppose people read that stuff because it resonates with something inside them. Perhaps it's a situation that they've dealt with and they need the solace in knowing they are not alone. Or some other psychobabble-- I don't know. So what does that say about me? Why do I want books that are completely outside of the real world? Why do I prefer an emotional journey that features magic, vampires, sword fighting and many other things I'm unlikely to encounter in this lifetime? I don't know-- and I can't afford the therapy to figure that out.

     But the one thing I have really gotten out of this book-club journey is the realization that I'm not as logical as I thought. I'm not interested in broadening my horizons. What I'm really looking for is the connection one gets from meeting other people who are interested in the same things; pretty much all the reasons I started this blog.

     What has stood out to me is the fact that what feeds me emotionally when I read is vastly different than what feeds my real life-- though it's not a universal rule.

For example:

Revenge Stories: Love them. I get a vicarious thrill from watching movies like "Payback" and "Kill Bill." But I'm not at all vengeful in real life. Seriously. When I feel wronged, I stew for a bit and then walk away. I might fantasize about a few bits of petty revenge, but I would never, ever act on it. I've never even called ex-boyfriends just to hang up on them (back in the day when we could do that). I suppose I admire the chutzpah of the people in those movies. Wouldn't it be great to just act on your impulses like that?

     So what other triggers do I have?

Impossible Romance: Don't look at me that way-- I am a girl after all. I admit it, I'm a sucker for "Pride and Prejudice" and I've viewed it a bazillion times. I don't watch a lot of romantic comedies but when I do I tend to trend toward the ones that feature the classic Cinderella story. In fact-- I like Cinderella stories of all kinds. Give me a good against-the-odds football story like "The Blind Side" and I'll cry like a baby. But, like the revenge-thing, I've never had this particular struggle in real life. I was never attracted to the bad boys and I hate the emotional roller-coaster of unstable relationships. Hate it! But I do like happy endings, so that must be it.

Comic Book Heroes (being saved by...): When other women tell me they don't like comic book movies I'm baffled. Who couldn't love Batman? I mean seriously. There are few movies that will get me in line faster than anything featuring someone who wears an armored suit of some sort. I guess I am a sucker for a guy in uniform-- who knew? I don't think this is a hard one to figure out. Justice is hard to come by and many caped crusaders operate on the vigilante side of the street-- so it goes hand-in-hand with my love of revenge flicks. Only in costume! But what really gets me in the gut are the moments when the hero swoops in to save the day. I hope I'm never dangling off a bridge in a bus-- but if I am I would love to live in a world where there's a chance that Superman could hoist us all to safety.

Vindication: Something tells me this is probably a universal trigger. How many times have we been sure of something only to have everyone we know tell us we're nuts? My personal grudge comes from arguing with people over the housing market during the boom-- try to tell a house flipper you think the market it going to take a turn for the worse; it doesn't go over well. And do they ever admit you were right? Never. So seeing a movie or reading a book that validates the main character is sooo satisfying. I think J.K. Rowling had this down to a science in the Harry Potter series. Almost every book had a situation in which Harry tried to warn everyone about Voldemort-- only to be met with scorn. And then, events play out and Harry is vindicated. And the best part is that Harry actually gets credit for being right! I get a rush just thinking about it.

Outsider Success Stories: I blame John Hughes for this one. "Pretty in Pink," "Breakfast Club," "Some Kind of Wonderful" and "Sixteen Candles" all featured lovable misfits who come out on top. Mostly they negotiate the treacherous world of high school and pitfalls that come with trying to edge up in rank among the cliques. I watch those movies and think that's me! And no matter how well we do in our adult lives those insecurities never leave and it's nice to think that sometimes the nerds do finish first.

Well, I think I've exhausted my well of clichés for the day (I wrote this in a rush). So now it's your turn. What flips your emotional switches?


Dungeonmum said...

I'm so glad you wrote this post, I could have done it myself. Gave me a bit of a shiver reading it actually, if that doesn't sound too strange.

I made it my mission this year to read as widely as possible, just to get out of my fantasy bubble, as I thought I must be. But it's hard. I found, like you, that when I choose mainstream stuff it tends to be things with violence and vengeance, or even just violence for its own sake (which worries me a bit, I did a course recently and thought I'd try and do some real world writing, but everything ended up very violent. It was fun though). I feel like the black sheep in my writers' group as everyone else is into the tragic journeys as you call them. My stuff has a lot of tragic journeys too, it's just not this world.

Apart from Pride & Prejudice (sorry I lost interest very quickly, everyone seemed so fricking BORED - sitting round playing cards and doing absolutely F all for most of the day) I heartily plump for all of your choices: impossible romance, comic book movies, vengeance (Kill Bill is awesome).

I don't think there's anything WRONG with craving fantasy and sci-fi over real world settings. The way I see it, people need stories and the more like a story it is (i.e. the stories we first heard as children, or the myths and oral traditions passed down over time) the more enjoyment we will get out of it. I think it's weird to want to read about depressing things in this world, don't we have enough of that already? Fiction is supposed to be different from real life, a slightly altered version of it, and the more like real life it is (the crap parts anyway) the less interested in it I become.

As for emotional switches, yes I think that is what keeps me locked into a book, emotional tension. It's not enough to have violence and plot and interesting characters. There's got to be some emotional investment, not necessarily something I've ever experienced in my life. I don't believe people read to remind themselves of things they've experienced or want to experience, they just want to enjoy the ride.

Stephanie M. Lorée said...

My mother reads what I like to call "Lifetime" novels. Much like Lifetime movies, these novels feature abused/depressed/suicidal/ill/whatever women who overcome horrible situations or at least learn to cope with said situation.

I can't stand them.

To me, reading, movie watching, television, are all entertainment activities. I don't want to be depressed by real life atrocities while I'm being entertained. I want magic and mayhem, the crazy and beautiful. I want love and war and fire-breathing dragons.

I want to escape.

That's my emotional trigger: escape. Take me somewhere I've never been before, in the shoes of someone I could never be, and let me experience something impossible.

Budd said...

I tend to like an underdog story.

You should join or start a science fiction book club. I have a meeting at one tonight. We read Left Hand of Darkness. Slow moving story, but I bet the people in your women's book club would enjoy it.

Charles Gramlich said...

Revenge and vindication are big ones for me. I know that's because I feel pretty powerless in this huge world and there's not much I can do to fight it in reality.

I also don't understand how folks want to read and watch, over and over, the personal journey story that you mentioned here, the dealing with cancer or that sort of thing. Living through such an experience once is enough not to ever want to revisit it.

Lisa (starmetal_oak) said...

I definitely relate to the same triggers you mentioned. Especially the Revenge and Comic Book Hero ones!

I also like stories about women who become empowered. Like an underdog story but specifically about a woman.

I personally hate "depressing" topics and anything too real-life. Maybe it's because we get enough of this in the news and in reality, I really don't need to spend my money on it either.

M. McGriff said...

Can totally relate with you on this post. I was never one for the ultra mushy romance stories or personal journey stories all the time and I find it hard to relate to a lot of women because of that. I don't want my heart strings constantly tugged all the time! I don't like being emotional 24-7! LOL

I'm drawn to stories that push the envelope of convention - whether it's an out of the norm fantasy story like Game of Thrones or a personal journey movie that has a weird element thrown in the mix, Like the Benjamin Button movie. I'm looking for things that make me think, analyze, and disect the social norms we see. I'm also a nut for the supernatural, fantasy, sci-fi stuff because it provides the escape I need from the real world!

Jamie Sedgwick said...

I can relate to almost all of your observations here (with the exception that I don't really take part in writer's groups and I'm not female). But as someone who experienced more than my share of childhood tragedy, I can't for the life of me understood why some people consider it entertainment.

I embraced fantasy as a child to get away from the real world. Like you, I don't want to watch a group of miserable people waiting to die. I want to see them fighting to live. I want to seem them overcoming the obstacles, striving against the system, doing whatever it takes to set things right. However, the fact that I don't like or understand it doesn't change the fact that it's a major market. Ironically, I always thought those people were probably the ones who'd had very sheltered lives and were experiencing some sort of vicarious emotional need by reading/watching fictional characters suffer.

I suppose this would make an interesting study, if a person had the resources to do it.

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

I think your tastes are perfectly normal and very sweet!

After I finish this Steven Pinker book on my Kindle, my next will be Something Borrowed, which is a total fantasy romance for chicks. But I was reading it on this girl's Nook and I got hooked!

Truth is, I'm looking forward to a little romance. I miss my SATC!

Devin said...

I didn't think I was really into the Revenge/Vengeance stories...until, while watching "X-Men: First Class," I realized I would happily watch an entire movie about Erik Lensherr hunting Nazis down, one by one. And now that I think of it, I got the same feeling from watching Liam Neeson in "Taken." So I guess I do like those stories, so long as the justification for seeking vengeance is suitably large-scale. To work for me, it needs to be more than "The gangster killed my girlfriend/fiancee, and now I want revenge." Apparently there need to be Nazis or Islamofascist sex-slave ringmasters... I guess I need for the end result to be more than just "I killed you for what you did and now I feel better;" it needs to be justice on a larger scale, the righting of a vast wrong; taking down a villain whose absence will make the world a better place. And if the protagonist is just as bad as the bad guys, I lose interest.

Far more than that, though, fantasy has always connected with me. One of the real triggers for me is beauty; specifically the beauty of Creation. Everything from a wild, vast, even surreal fantasy landscape to the hidden, cryptic and mysterious secret places overlooked by most casual observers. There is so much beauty in this world that people take for granted; and when I find myself frustrated by the pettiness, fractiousness, and sinfulness of my fellow human beings, I find solace in these beautiful, awe-inspiring vistas that speak to me of a benevolent and masterful Artist-Creator. Elwin Ransom's ecstatic reactions to the alien worlds of Lewis's Space Trilogy perfectly resonated with me. One of my favorite comics series - Thieves & Kings - remains firmly cherished in my heart not so much for the somewhat convoluted story (though it certainly has its moments) but because of the beauty of the settings, from the towering city of Oceansend to the dangerous gardens of the dragon Cespinarve Rogue's dream. Miyazaki films (which T&K takes considerable inspiration from) do the same thing for me.

Another trigger for me is manhood, and those things which remind me of what masculinity is ideally supposed to be. As a counter to what strikes me as emasculation, condemnation or outright mockery of traditional masculinity espoused by much of the politically-charged entertainment we see, reading or watching stories in which male characters exhibit and extol virtues such as honor, responsibility, sense of duty, humility in manner and self-perception but boldness in affirming what is right and true, piety and respect for that which is sacred, hope and the inspiration of hope in others, courage and valor speak to me. The scene in Jackson's "The Two Towers" where Théoden grips his sword once more after Gandalf breaks Saruman's grip on him never fails to move me.

Speaking of that scene, another trigger for me is redemption. Knowing that there is hope for a person so long as they still draw breath - that a person can rise from their foolish mistakes, chronic vices, hurtful behavior, errors and wrong-headedness and become not just a decent fellow, but a hero and a leader of men - kindles hope in my heart for myself, and for others. I love stories in which fallen men and women find the strength or the opportunity to change their ways and become heroic. I like when the villain has a change of heart and becomes one of the good guys. Having said that, I'd like to see more stories where said penitent villains don't get killed off shortly after their conversion...

SQT said...

Devin-- That is an awesome post. So much better than the one I put us to start the conversation. I especially like the part about manhood. I've said before how I dislike the slacker/metrosexual thing that is so popular these days-- My main gripe about Seth Rogan as the Green Hornet stems from this phenomenon.