Yesterday, Bardi posed a worthwhile question about the importance of Fact vs. Story. I spent too much time on Netflix this weekend and wound up down a similar path, so let’s expand!
I’m not one for medical dramas, but I love House. I love the tension, I love the characters, and I love the big, fancy medical words. I spend every episode wondering how they manage to come up with a new uniquely complicated disease or condition every single episode. It almost distracts me from the fact that blood tests don’t work that quickly, hospital administration doesn’t run that way, and no one keeps their job after they bust into an operating room and disrupt the sterility required for safe (see also: legal!) surgery. I’m a sucker for a good story and a brooding middle aged modern-day Sherlock Holmes.
We all know dramas based on real professions are mostly bogus*. My other die-hard fan allegiance is to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Am I the only viewer who knows fingerprints aren’t an exact, magic science? Of course not. But every time I spend 42 heart racing minutes watching Olivia Benson swoop in at just the right minute in the interest of justice with a Hail Mary of epic deus ex machina proportions, I forget how much I know about the true nature of the law. So, what does that mean?
It means that, when done well, the height of the drama you have to offer can trump the pinpoint accuracy of your science (or law). It’s like those romantic comedies about protagonists who love the wrong person (until falling for Mr. or Mrs. Right just before roll to credits), just because they’re beautiful. All it takes is some smoke, a mirror, and a good story.
A lot of people are deeply resentful of a lack of realism. Even when the subject matter is fantasy, sometimes you just can’t win. Apart from other glaring snags in quality, the Twilight Series endured criticism for its portrayal of vampires despite the fact that (okay, as far as we know), they don’t even exist! Vampires, werewolves, zombies, space travel — no material is immune to scrutiny. So then how the hell are we getting away with continuing to tell stories without being absolutely faithful to the confines of reality? By what measure is a story good enough to compensate for a sometimes negligent abuse of physics, chemistry, and biology?
I argue that humor is capable of putting a thick gloss over any glaring flaw. If Detective John Munch wasn’t a paranoid, colorfully opinionated skeptic, I might not always be able to tolerate the deliberately intense drama of SVU. Unless it is completely inappropriate to the tale, humor is one of the most used tools in my arsenal, second only to character arc and development. I would gladly have watched six more seasons of House if there were a guarantee that every character would continue to evolve at a believable and engaging pace. I submit that, as long as your story is powerful, hilarious, or clever, you can walk through fire in flip flops and a bathrobe.
What is the secret to taking certain liberties with reality and its limits? Would you prefer to live in a world where the rules are followed? Are humor and drama poor excuses for ignoring the facts? Or, would you argue that fiction has a right to bend the rules, and that to read fiction is to accept a certain level of unreality?
Congratulations to ‘Shane the Flame‘ for taking Week One.
Monday morning can wait. Belly up to the reading list for Week Two instead.
In the meantime, Week Three has launched for those of you who signed up. Show us your Glitches in 350 words or less.
*Fun Fact: Study (see also: medical professionals Netflix binging) suggests the most factually accurate portrayal of the medical profession is Scrubs.