January 18, 2019

Photo Credit: (ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)  

Finding out that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father probably didn’t have any practical implications for your life. It didn’t translate into a raise at work or help you lose 15 pounds. So why do we care so much about the fates of fictional characters? William Flesch is the author of the book "Comeuppance: Costly Signaling, Altruistic Punishment, and Other Biological Components of Fiction." He argues that we root for good guys and gals because we love making bets on people. And, once we make those bets, it’s imperative that we are proven right.

Three Takeaways:

  • Flesch says that Casablanca is the perfect example of making a bet on a good guy. The movie’s protagonist, Rick Blaine, starts off as justifiably bitter. But because he shows signs of goodness — combined with the natural charm of Humphrey Bogart — audiences are confident that he’ll do the right thing in the end.
  • But sometimes authors and directors lose your trust. And that’s something that director Alfred Hitchcock once got in big trouble for. So much trouble, in fact, that he had to change the ending to one of his movies.
  • What’s the real-life equivalent of betting on a fictional character? Flesch says rooting for a sports team. You can cheer or yell at the TV, but despite your limited participation, chances are you’re going to make little impact on the game itself.

More Reading:

  • We tend to root for the underdogs, both in fiction and in real life (unless you’re a Yankees fan). Vox explores why.
  • Hitchcock isn’t the only creative type who got panned for a divisive ending. Let’s take a look back at one of the most controversial television series finales of all time: How I Met Your Mother. (And Seinfeld got its fair share of criticism too.)
  • Comic-Con is probably one of the best examples of people showing how much they care about fictional characters. Rolling Stone magazine takes a look at the history behind the convention.

television, William Flesch, Culture, Fiction, Stories

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