Fiction Into Reality: Why We Borrow From What We Love

Geeks of all stripes are in on a secret: being a fan is fun. And no matter where your obsessions lie, we share a whole lot in common; we read, we watch, we talk online, we theorize during downtime, we cosplay and meet at conventions. We can quote entire films back and forth, we read each other’s fanfics, we collect prop replicas… (Or is that last one just a me thing?)

And we also assimilate. Not in a creepy Borg kind of way, but it’s an interesting phenomenon all the same.

As a kid, I was burdened with a certain brand of weirdness. My obsession with Star Wars made me unlikely to interact with girls who were interested in gossiping, or playing house or sports. Luckily, I had a few friends who bolstered my obsession, and one afternoon we all made a pact—on certain days, we wore clothes that reminded us of the characters we were always pretending to be on the playground. So I was constantly donning cream-colored garments and tall boots to emulate Luke Skywalker, and another of my friends had a white pant and vest combo that looked like Leia on Hoth in Empire Strikes Back. I don’t know that anyone noticed our funny uniforms, but it made the sometimes-dull school days that much more exciting.

It was many years before I realized that I’d never been alone in this. And what I mean by that is—what fashion statements have you borrowed from favorite characters? There are some people with enough confidence to walk about in Tom Baker’s ten-foot long scarf, and while the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors did not create the trends of trainers with suits or cool bowties, they certainly spread them around. Watching the current Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey, Jr. has me constantly longing for trousers with suspenders attached by buttons rather than clips.

What about food and drink? Once when I was bartending, a man walked in and begged me to make him a Vesper martini, Bond’s cocktail of choice from Casino Royale. Being a fellow fan, I could recall the ingredients from memory and got right on it. (Interesting fact: if you want a version of the drink that tastes more like it would have in the 1950s, when Fleming invented it, you need some extra quinine and a higher proof vodka.) As I was mixing, I made sure to tell him that the drink might not go over well—combining gin with vodka? Shame on you, 007—but he simply had to try it. It was important to him. And while I’m not sure it suited his palate all that well, he was pleased as tropical punch to be drinking it. Myself, I’m partial to darjeeling tea because I saw Phileas Fogg order it on The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne. Most would say they prefer earl grey and lay the blame on Captain Picard.

What about words, or turns of phrases? Who uses “frak” when they don’t want to curse, or “frell” perhaps? How many of us say “shiny!” when we’re excited? Adopted colloquialisms from different times because we’ve read too much Dickens or Twain? Scientists have found in many cases that our ability to evolve has a lot to do with our ability to mimic behavior—these little adaptations might just be inevitable.

There’s so much more, up to and including characters who affect your entire life’s path. I went on an archaeological dig as a university student, and the man in charge of our little expedition wore a brown fedora. It seemed like quite the coincidence until his phone went off… and played the Indiana Jones theme. Safe to say that an entire generation of archaeologists exist primarily because Indy summoned them as children to his noble calling. I admit to going through a period where I considered it myself, only deterred by the fact that I’m not particularly talented with linguistics.

And then there’s body language… which opens up a whole different window on another floor of the house. I’m sure if some psychology major wanted to do a study to see how subjects altered their physical person (even their voices) to match a character they admired, the data on that would be fascinating. I find myself doing it unconsciously all the time, the same way I would around a good friend or family member who I’d spent too much time with.

But why do we do these things? Absorb these bobs and pieces and let them reconstruct parts of us? We can say it binds us to the geek community when we’re together, sure, but I’d wager it goes far beyond that personally. Maybe it’s a little bit about courage. About reinvention. About taking charge of yourself, and becoming the person you want to be. When you drink earl grey, maybe you feel as though you’ve gained some of Captain Picard’s enlightened perspective. When you take archaeology classes, maybe you’re certain that you could be the one to discover Tannis. When you wear a fantastic greatcoat, maybe feeling awkward at parties becomes an element of your working genius.

Part of the reason why we love fiction is the ways in which it inspires us, encourages us to be more and dream farther. And sometimes adopting the qualities, clothes, or patter of someone who feels like a friend—even if they aren’t real—can help us do the things we never imagined were possible. Others will call it escapist and make fun, but that doesn’t change a thing. There are so many people who contribute to our lives and define what we will become. Some of them are real. Some of them are made of words or pixels or gigabytes of film. All of them are important.

Image created by DeviantArt user NBetween.


Emily Asher-Perrin owns far too many waistcoats, and it is all fiction’s fault. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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