Studying Human Interaction

There was one and only one episode of The Big Bang Theory that I ever watched (and that not completely–came in partway in).  It was one where the main characters were going to a Halloween party.  First they’d all come out dressed as The Flash.  Then, after an argument they all went and changed costumes (with no one allowed to be The Flash).  One of the characters, dressed as Frodo, made a comment “I don’t want (don’t remember the name) to think I look like a dork.” Pause so the audience can laugh (because, of course, he does “look like a dork”). Yeah, that pretty much ended my interest in the show right there.  My life had been “make fun of the geek.” I didn’t need to watch a TV show on that theme.  But, I was overseas and it was the only thing on in a language I understood so I continued through the episode.

The point I wanted to deal with here, however, wasn’t the “make fun of the geeks” aspect but some events that centered around one of those characters and the halloween party.  This character (don’t know the name.  Could look it up but don’t really care enough to do so) got in a huddle with the others at one point and said that he’d been observing the interactions between the men and women at the party.  And one typically starts with someone saying to another “How wasted am I?”

So, we follow some of the other characters for a bit and then return to this one, sitting on a chair, when a young woman sits across from him and says “How wasted am I?”

Cut away to other characters for most of the rest of the episode.  Then, at the very end, they cut back to this one.  He’s in bed.  The young woman of “How wasted am I” is next to him on her side and sleeping.  There is a rather shell-shocked look on his face.

Looks like his observations paid off.

There are a number of problems with that.  We can certainly question the ethics (or even legality) of a sexual encounter which starts with one person being “wasted”.  However, it’s a different point I want to consider here.  And that’s the idea of observing what others are doing and mimicking that as a way to “learn” social interaction.  The problem with it is that unless one already has a good grasp of social interaction it simply doesn’t work.  Oh, sure, if one has that grasp one can observe others and derive tips to “sharpen ones game”, but without an already pretty good understanding to start with what you end up with is a rote script:  character A’s line followed by character B’s.  Then character A again.  Then character B.

The problem is that the other person will go off script pretty much immediately leaving the putative student of human behavior lost for a reply.  It just doesn’t work.

What you end up with is not the character from The Big Bang Theory, but the beta unit from The Last Starfighter.  Left behind to take Alex’s place while Alex was up fighting the bad guys and totally clueless about how to treat Alex’s girlfriend Maggie he listens to another couple and tries to use the man’s lines to woo Maggie on Alex’s behalf.  Since Maggie is quite different from the other man’s “girlfriend” (apparently one of many) and the relationship she has with Alex also quite different this does not go well.

It’s a lot easier when you’re writing.  Then, you can take these snippets from studying real people and weave them together because as the writer you can ensure that they stay “on script” and you get to define the kind of relationship they have and build the personalities of the individuals in question so that a given response is appropriate.

Real life, however, is much harder.

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