One of the things I’ve learned this semester is the concept of realism within a literary context. “Realism” is defined as the technique an author uses in an attempt to portray people as they actually are, distinctly real (this definition is directly taken from my lecture notes for Dr McNamara’s English 393 class). In other words, the author creates his or her characters in a way that makes you feel as though you can identify with them and experience what they are experiencing within a given plot. You’re able to get into the characters’ heads, individualise them and feel as if you know them on a personal level. Often, this is what causes us to become very attached to certain characters in a book and be able to empathize with them quite profoundly.
What if you were to take the concept of realism and apply it to other forms of entertainment, for example a movie or a TV show? I realise that not everyone is a reader, so the beautiful thing about realism is that it’s not limited to books. I want to talk specifically about realism in the TV show Freaks and Geeks and Disney’s Tangled.
I only watched Freaks and Geeks for the first time last fall. My boyfriend had mentioned it a few times, and one night when I was feeling particularly bored and unable to sleep, I decided to give it a chance. That’s quite literally one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. From the beginning of the first episode to the end of the last, I was completely hooked.
The show follows the everyday lives of two siblings, Lindsey and Sam Weir, throughout their high school experience. Lindsey is a 16-year-old girl who is having an identity crisis; the former math-lete has become friends with the school’s group of “freaks” and the whole plot surrounding her is about Lindsey finding herself in her social environment. Her 14-year-old brother Sam is among the “geeks” of the school and struggles alongside his best friends to escape his geeky reputation and win the heart of his crush, Cindy Sanders (who turns out to be a dud anyway).
Each episode has its own story, and the best part is that everything that happens in the show, with the exception of episode 17, actually happened to either the show’s creator, Paul Feig, or one of the show’s writers. Every character is relatable and lovable in their own way. Viewers can feel Lindsey’s insecurity on a spiritual level, and we genuinely want her to find her place. We’re also able to sympathise with Sam and his friends who feel ostracised in a school full of different social groups, none of whom can accept them for who they are. Real issues are addressed, and Feig does an excellent job of capturing the essence of what it’s like to be a teenager. Though the show takes place in the 80s, the concepts explored are still extremely relevant today. As I watched it, I was able to identify myself in different characters, especially Lindsey. I especially love how nothing in the show is out of the ordinary, there are no crazy camera effects or supernatural events; it’s simple, it’s relatable, and it’s easily the best show I’ve ever seen. I was devastated when there was no “next episode” button at the end of season 1. Throughout its eighteen episodes, I honestly felt like I was experiencing things along with the characters, and at times, it felt like I was the one going through their different ordeals.
When Tangled came out, I saw it three times within a month of the release date. I love all things Disney, but for some reason, this was my all-time favourite film for a solid five years. I love how Disney took a classic story and made it into something so fresh and lovely. In the movie, Rapunzel is a wide-eyed, innocent young girl who has been kidnapped and locked in a tower for her entire life. She wants nothing more than to go outside, primarily to find out what the floating lights are all about. She doesn’t know until the end that the floating lights are actually lanterns that her parents, the king and queen, release each year on their long lost daughter’s birthday. Although the story isn’t realistic at all, Rapunzel’s spirit and childish curiosity are traits that all of us have been able to relate to at one point or another. We get to know her on a personal level, her hobbies, her favourite food (hazelnut soup), and her hopes and dreams. We’re all rooting for her and Flynn Rider throughout the film, and nothing is more annoying than the presence of the evil Mother Gothel. Rapunzel’s infectious personality is what makes her so lovable, and it’s easy to become lost in the plot and feel as if you’re the one on the quest to see the floating lights. We feel like we know Rapunzel, and because of that, we hate whatever she hates and want whatever she wants.
I wanted to talk about Game of Thrones and realism, but I’ve already gone on too long. I find it incredibly fascinating how this creative technique engages audiences, and as a writer, it’s my goal to be able to incorporate the same levels of mastery into my own works!
Sidenote: if you haven’t watched Freaks and Geeks before, what are you even doing with your life?