Don, Peggy, and Other Fictional Friends? Engaging with Characters in Television Series

in Projections

As the frequent use of metaphors like friendship or relationship in academic and colloquial discourse on serial television suggests, long-term narratives seem to add something to the spectator's engagement with fictional characters that is not fully captured by terms such as empathy and sympathy. Drawing on philosophical accounts of friendship and psychological theories on the formation of close relationships, this article clarifies in what respect the friendship metaphor is warranted. The article proposes several hypotheses that will enhance cognitive theories of character engagement. Spectators tend to like what they have been exposed to more, and the feeling of familiarity is pleasurable. Familiar characters are powerful tools to get the spectator hooked. Furthermore, by generating an impression of a shared history, television series activate mental mechanisms similar to those activated by friendship in real life. These factors, and several others, create a bond with characters in television series that tends to be described in everyday language as a sort of friendship.