I’ve been watching unnecessary amounts of online T.V. programming for the past two weeks. At first it was an excuse to just “catch” up, because of course I have been behind on a few of my old regular programs, though my T.V. programming was never as regular as say, my colon’s schedule. Of course, ABC.com was my first stop because it has my first choice shows. Grey’s Anatomy, Ugly Betty, and for a while there, Pushing Daisies.
I caught myself up on the Meredith and Derek’s commitment turmoil (per usual), Callie’s forage into the lesbian sisterhood, little Grey earning her big girl points with Mc. Steamy (whom of course I will always find much better looking than Mc. Dreamy), and last of all Izzie’s well… likely demise on the show. I started watching all of these on a Friday night in the end of February. It was my first Friday at home in the span of about five months. I wanted to relax and be alone, as long as we all still agree that one can be alone while entering into a covert friendship with the characters one is viewing.
Four hours, five episodes, and a half a carton of chocolate Soy Dream frozen desert later, I was balling like a baby because my life, or should I say the character’s lives were in utter chaos. When I found out that Izzie’s hallucinations weren’t her usual charming quirkiness and really the cause of an underlying illness, I felt as if one of my best friends was going to die. But wait… did I say it had been almost ten months since I had seen this show? I mean really, what was going on? Could one really just leave all of her friends behind without a word and ten months later come back with arms open saying, “give me all you’ve got?”
Apparently so, because that’s exactly what I did. I hadn’t realized that I missed Meredith, Derek, Callie, George, Izzie, Dr. Bailey, and Christina – okay maybe not Christina – so much. I longed for their laughter, their disputes, the obligatory montage’s at the beginning and end of the show that sum up the “moral” purpose and pursuit of the episode, though most of all, I longed to cry. Grey’s is the one show that can turn me into a five year old with badly skinned knee, sobbing and needy.
There is a term for this, just like there is a term for almost anything one does, like the acts of sleeping and eating: Para-social Relationship. Yes, my need to know the day to day happenings of all of my favorite doctors and interns is really my innate need for relationships. Having lots of friendships outside of this alternate reality cannot keep one safe from developing these kinds of relationships. Just the act of coming back the next week to see what is/has “happened” to a character (this includes reality stars) means that a relationship is forming or formed. According to Donald Horton and R. Richard Rohl’s 1956 paper, Mass Communication and Para-Social Interaction:
One of the striking characteristics of the new mass media – radio, television, and the movies – is that they give the illusion of face-to-face relationship with the performer. The conditions of response to the performer are analogous to those in a primary group. The most remote and illustrious men are met as if they were in the circle of one’s peers; the same is true of a character in a story who comes to life in these media in an especially vivid and arresting way. We propose to call this seeming face-to-face relationship between spectator and performer a para-social relationship. (215)
The grim reality of the situation is that once I had caught up on Grey’s, I felt not only exhausted from the emotional barrage that had been lain upon me in only a matter of hours, but sad because I could not hang out with my “friends” for another week. I realized that I did not have their cell numbers and couldn’t ask how Mc. Steamy was doing after his dick had almost been snapped like a dry piece of spaghetti, or how Meredith was feeling after she watched someone executed. Logically I knew that these pseudo relationships were not real, but they had all the baggage of a four year friendship that’s seen its share of ups and downs.
That’s when it all began. I began blowing off real friends for my T.V. ones. I would say I was feeling too tired to do something after work just to have another few hours with my new T.V. friends because the next friend I had to catch-up with was Betty.