Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Fairy Tales and Fantasy for Artists - p6

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Dragons: The Need for Altruism and Heroism

Ty Hulse

People are drawn to fantasy because they want to be heroic and they want a hero for themselves. Black and white worlds have long been an instructive tool for helping people through emotionally turbulent times. Many people naturally feel an urge for adventure, for the opportunity to be the hero. This drive makes sense in a world where humans once needed heroes that would protect the village from the sabertoothed cat. This need for heroism doesn’t just manifest in physical ways. In many stories a protagonist will help someone from the wrong side of the tracks to open up emotionally. Consider the stories of “Twilight” and other Paranormal Romances. In these stories a person, usually a man, needs to be rescued from their own emotional and psychological inadequacies, as well as from a society that they struggle to exist within. 

 

The desire readers have for someone to come and help this poor emotionally and psychologically weak character is much the same as the desire to help a physically weak one. Both stories are about helping others overcome some inadequacy as a way of bonding with them. Obviously, such stories are made stronger when the target of the aid is a potential romantic partner or children, those it makes sense for us to be instinctively geared to protect. Thus, the reason that paranormal fantasy typically depicts the woman psychologically rescuing the socially and emotionally weak or scared, yet still desirable man. 

 

It is perhaps because of the desire to act the hero that people tend to enjoy witnessing acts of heroism, and by now most of us have likely heard the theory of “saving the cat” in order to get an audience to identify with a character. The act of rescuing and helping someone, especially something cute, works to endear an audience to a character because we intrinsically feel a desire to be protected – and so like those who might protect us.

 


Peoples desire to see altruistic and heroic behavior is confirmed by psychological studies. For although many aspects of a character can influence how the audience feels about the character "studies consistently demonstrate that moral considerations (especially ones related to empathy) are central to liking a character." According to research by the psychologist Farrelly “altruism was rated more desirable, particularly for long term relationships, by both men and women.”

 

It makes sense for people to not only like to witness displays of altruism then, but to also fantasize about being altruistic and heroic and fantasy provides a perfect and safe vehicle for people to explore these desires. As importantly, evidence indicates that such displays of altruism in a movie can increase empathy and altruism in the viewers. Meaning that showing people acts of heroism can make people more likely to care about others like the person who is depicted as needing to be rescued. 

 

Battling dragons is the perfect vehicle for showing heroics and a character’s altruism, because dragons represent so many of the things that would prime us to feel a desire to protect others. Being larger than life, dragons can be used to make us feel immediate concern for the hero that is meant to be fighting them. The predatory nature of the dragon certainly, but also their role as an awe-inspiring force of nature. Feelings of awe related to media have been found to increase feelings of empathy in people, and few things are so awe inspiring as a dragon. It makes sense than for ideas of empathy to get wrapped up with the notion of a dragon.

 


 

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