10 March 2014

The Willing Suspension of Disbelief

In 1817, Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the term the willing suspension of disbelief. Coleridge was a poet and philosopher who suggested that if a writer could weave in a semblance of truth in a fantastical tale, then the reader will suspend judgement concerning the plausibility of the narrative. This is true in a sense, but back then we didn't have the popular phenomena that is reality television. Who writes that stuff?

Today, the burden is placed on the reader or the audience and their willingness to push aside the notion that the narrative is preposterous, relieving the writer of any artistic or creative responsibility for providing the introspection necessary to make it seamless to the reader. Instead, they just write the story and you either like it or you don't. Forget researching crime scene triangulation, we have this fantastic device whereby its presence alone will determine from whence the trigger was pulled.

What about that show of surviving in the wilderness, Mountain Men? Oh the dangers that lurk. Oh my! In the solemn voice of  D. B. Sweeney, the narrator of Mountain Men:

The mountain man has become lost, and he is without any gear, food, or water. How could he have made such a costly mistake? This could be his last evening alive out in this ruthless, arctic air. 

Oh, but don't worry, I'm sure the camera man filming this scene will videotape mountain man's entire demise.

"Cut! That's a wrap. We'll film the trapping of food scene after lunch."

How can I possibly take this writing seriously given the medium of television? I might be willing to suspend disbelief if I read it as a fictional novel, but the effectiveness is lost in translation when it comes to reality television. You see, they have to mix in the drama or nobody would watch it.

How far are you willing to go before you're no longer entertained and wish to call bullshit? When does the fantastic leave you feeling duped?


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