What would Jesus, Batman, and Jon Snow do?
How fiction suits help us power through the hell of everyday living
Jun 24, 2017
Welcome to the age of the avatar. While our ancestors had their spirit animals, we have our spirit book, TV, and movie characters.
Okay, about the title: You got me. Jesus is a historical figure, not a fictional one. But he is also the protagonist of the bestselling book of all time, and it’s his name that has sold a thousand WWJD T-shirts, all right?
It wasn’t that long ago when we sought wisdom from parents and teachers—real, actual, living, flesh- and-blood people. But that’s all in the past now.
Now, things are different. Every form of fiction, from digital comics to PDF versions of bestselling novels to seasons upon seasons of TV shows, can be consumed from the light-emitting rectangles we keep in our pockets, and because of our proximity to these fantastical worlds, Jughead from Riverdale has become more real to us than our own family members.
We look up to these fictional characters. We tattoo the words they speak in our minds, on our skins. During Halloween and cosplay parties, we even dress like them.
Comic book writer Grant Morrison first coined the term “fiction suit” to describe the mental costume one puts on to make the worlds of fantasy and reality indistinguishable from one another.
We all wear fiction suits now.
In a way, fiction is just the instruction manual of the Greater Human inside us all, giving us examples of dire situations and how our brothers have survived them through courage, wisdom, or kindness.
Most of the time, we have a whole wardrobe of characters to choose from, depending on the problem at hand. Someone stole your wallet? Put on your Sherlock Holmes suit and start investigating like a high-functioning sociopath. Mired in office politics? Try that Frank Underwood suit for size and play the game dirtier than everyone else. Stressed out beyond belief and need a break? Hey, there’s a Garfield suit that lets you eat lasagna and sleep all day.
Why do we do this?
Fiction is simply a product of our survival instincts. Our ancestors had gathered around bonfires to hear the tales of great hunters and how they had eluded danger and escaped death while hunting and foraging for food. In a way, fiction is just the instruction manual of the Greater Human inside us all, giving us examples of dire situations and how our brothers have survived them through courage, wisdom, or kindness.
That’s why we shouldn’t feel guilty if these fictional people become our surrogate parents or teachers, and perhaps in the end, our very own surrogates.
People change. People falter. Ideas persist. Ideas go on forever.
So go ahead. Ask yourself: What would Enteng Kabisote do?
Hey, everyone has their own hero.
This story was originally published in Northern Living, June 2017.
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