There’s a disconnect between our imagined humanity and the reality of being a primate. Many of the modern beliefs that we have are aspirational, rather than descriptive.
Whether it’s about the relationship between genders, different ethnic groups, the nature of human violence, or what-have-you, there are a whole variety of beliefs that we’d like to be true, and that we judge each other by.
But at the same time, these ideas (which are a good chunk of culture) are proscriptive rather than descriptive of human nature. Or to put it another way, these rules tell us how to get along, not what it means to be a person.
“Are You Not Entertained?”
The funny thing (though it isn’t all that funny) is how clear this all is when we look at the safety valves that exist in society and the escapist entertainment that we consume.
It just takes a different perspective for us to understand ourselves a bit better. We just need to take the idea that what we seek out as entertainment is somehow a metaphor for what we’re missing in real life.
That doesn’t mean that everyone who plays shooter games really wants to be some kind of mass murderer. But it might mean that we players, in our everyday lives, find it more necessary to avoid conflict than we instinctively would.
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that we should listen to our instincts! It means that the everyday world we’re confronted with isn’t much like the one that we were evolved to exist in. Well, to coin a phrase, “no duh!”
The Detective Story
The theme of a detective story isn’t always that the good guys win in the end. To tell the truth, a lot of the protagonists aren’t particularly “good” people anyway. What is always true in stories that are true to the genre is that everything that happens, happens for a reason.
All detective stories have an underlying theme: no matter how messy things look, they all make sense in the end. Tony Hillerman. Agatha Christie. Heck, even Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series.
In detective stories, things make sense in the end. And that’s a far cry from our real world experience, where we’ll never know it all, see it all, or be able to piece it all together — in the real world, things often don’t make rational sense.
The Action Movie
In just about all action movies, being “right” is the reason that the main character wins. It doesn’t matter how many baddies stand against him or her, the truth of their claims are proof against the realities of tactics, numbers, and training.
Of course, “right makes might” is fantasy fulfillment in the most blatant way. How many times have we been in the right, only to lose out to a more eloquent (if wrong) argument, or more deft political maneuvering? And how frustrating is it that the world is terribly complicated, and problems can’t be solved just by killing them all away.
But we live lives where cooperation is more important than conflict. We work with people, we live with people, and we depend on people for all the necessities of life. Action movies let us dream of a world where it’s more important to be right than it is to get along.
The Romantic Comedy
If wanting, on some basic level, to kill all your problems away (and not acting on it!) makes the action movie genre appealing, then the opposite, the story about being loved in all your imperfection, is the basis of the Romantic Comedy.
To put it all in perspective, most romantic comedies are about someone connecting romantically with an “impossible” partner: the unpopular girl and the captain of the football team, the office clerk and the prince, the heir and the stuntwoman. We might say that the metaphor of the Romantic Comedy is that “love conquers all.”
Romantic love, as part of marriage, is a pretty new (and culturally constrained) idea. Historically, many marriages were as sexy as Wall Street mergers — and as carefully considered.