‘I think I’m over-identifying with TV characters. Here’s why.’

This morning I woke up thinking I was a 23-year-old Latina prison inmate called Marisol, a.k.a Flaca.  I had a slim body with a goth sensibility, eyeliner like Amy Winehouse and tear drop tattoos. I was thinking/dreaming/wondering whether I was really guilty of dealing drugs.

Flaca checks out her new job

I am not psychotic. I’m just knee deep in Orange Is the New Black on Netflix. So deep that I'm doing what I always do tend to do when I fall absolutely in love with something on the television. I over-consume and over-identify.

The lines between reality and fantasy have become blurred. Binge watching only makes it worse.

I am not alone.

When I was freebasing the iconic show Friday Night Lights about life in small town Texas, I would wake up and say to my husband, "I’m really worried about Tim Riggins”. Instead of looking at me like a crazy lady he would say: “Me too, I’m not sure he should be doing that venture with his brother, but jeez it must be hard to deal with life as a nobody after being a high school star.”

Then I would try and flick my hair like Tammy, Tim's TV coach's wife.  

Folie à deux anyone ?

Tim Riggins - my worry is maternal ,I assure you

This has happened to me before. I thought I was a Wicca powered Willow while watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I wanted to be Anna in the English TV show This Life.

Sometimes it happens when I see a particularly powerful film - I woke up crying after dreaming I was Patricia Arquette losing her ungrateful son to college in Boyhood. It can happen when I read a resonating novel. Only last month I dreamt I was Alma, a 19th century botanist consumed with sexual longing while waking after reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things.

But it happens mostly with television when a character develops over time.  Especially when that character reveals more depth and is well-written and well-acted.  I dreamt about Flaca on Orange is the New Black after watching the episode with her back story.  I became her because she was so stripped bare at the end of that show. She walked into a room and discovered her new job in prison would be sewing underpants. Her face says so much. It says irony (her mother sewed for a living), optimism (she can do this) and the knowing that she’s being screwed (she knows the panties she gets cents to make will be sold for more than $20).

So why do we over identify with someone we have nothing in common with? Someone who's not even real?

It could be because we are hard-wired to try to understand and gain insight into people. Real or not.

It could be a need for companionship.  My partner is away at the moment, and television has become my adult companionship.

It could be what academics called 'wishful identification' - a phenomenon of adolescence where we identify characters just like us but more interesting, more beautiful or more whatever we want to be.

But I think it's more the opposite.

Orange is the New Black cast.

While I want characters to be relatable, I also like them complex and out of my world. Flaca and I have nothing in common except we are women. I like to escape reality and they set up an alternative world for me to enter. Just like my dolls did when I was young.

When life is rather little, suburban, lived in a radius of dog walks, school drops offs, office jobs and a bubble of tenuous security and shaky safety, it can be easier to identify with others hardship than our own hurt or loss or boredom or life.

What I love most about Orange Is the New Black is the hint of menace in the air and the way it plays with that fear within us all of being locked up. In an episode with a missing screwdriver I was terrified it would be used to kill. It became a tool for, ahem, self love. The show springs surprises by playing out aggression, kindness, goodness and horror. Just like life. But not like our life. Or at least not too much like our life.

There's a term for over identifying.  A condition. It's called 'Parasocial Interaction'.

PSI is described as an illusionary experience, when someone in an audience interacts with personas as if they are engaged in a reciprocal relationship with them. That's more me watching and screaming at Q and A rather than OINTB. I do admit to feeling too close to Jan Brady for much of my tweenage years. And I am still dealing with childhood trauma and flashbacks to when Molly died on A Country Practice and when Henry Blake died on the way home in M*A*S*H.

But now, older and more damaged, I don't talk back to TV characters - I just become them, quietly, on my own in my dreams.

Molly before it faded to black

Sometimes I just love my reality jumbled.  Before I had kids I used to go to the Sydney Film Festival. I'd work a dawn shift as a news journalist, have a nap, then watch films from 5pm till midnight.  By the end of the two weeks I didn't know if an uprising was in the news, in my dreams or in a film.  Reality would get scrambled between all three. It was wonderful.

Being in bed with a bunch of female prisoners is as close as I get to a different reality. So I welcome them into my dreams and psyche. I don't worry if I wake up someone else, because by the time I have my first cup of tea I'm me again. In my dressing gown. Back to my reality. Happy I'm here, but enriched for being elsewhere.

Where should I go next?

Like this? Why not try ...

The TV show that will make you laugh so hard you might wee a bit.

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