Too Smart For Our Own Good

I was on Sonia Mederios’s blog yesterday reading How To Build A Zombie where she asked what the most believable explanation for zombies was. The question was brought on by another blog by Rafael Pinero called Zombies Don’t Work For Me. For Rafael, zombies require too great a suspension of disbelief to be entertaining. This got me thinking about how different today’s audiences are.

Looking back on 80s movies and TV(AKA The Greatest Time Period in the History of Ever), much of it, by today’s standards, would be totally ridiculous. Back then I didn’t have as much knowledge as I do now and it wasn’t as readily available to find. Years later and armed with a smarter brain, I still have love for the majority of what I loved as a kid. Partly because of nostalgia, but mostly because it’s just really good entertainment, despite its gaping holes.

Is this a call for a mass dumbing down of entertainment? No, obviously what worked as little as ten years ago won’t fly with audiences now. There has to be evolution, but first and foremost it’s entertainment, not reality. I’ll use 24 as an example.

In its eight years on TV, the people in charge of the CIA-ish Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) never figured out how to keep spies from infiltrating them. Their ineptitude might make you think they never tried. Who cares, I say. I’m glad there always a spy because One Man Army Jack Bauer would eventually find this person out. And of course he’d have to beat this person’s ass until he got the critical info needed to stop the terrorists. Now THAT’S entertainment.

Lethal Weapon is another good example. The last act of the movie has two detectives waging war on a heroin ring. On what planet would that ever happen without them being, at the very least, fired if not worse? If they handled things the way real cops do, it would’ve been a friggin’ boring climax.

Even my main man, Joss Whedon, is no different. Yes, I noticed Angel, a vampire who admits to not needing to breathe, huffing and puffing after an intense battle. I also noticed him not break a single bone when thrown from a skyscraper, but have his skin pierced by a bullet just like anyone else. And if I cornered Joss and asked for an explanation, I’m sure he’d come up with something or at least stall until the proper authorities took me away. The man is a genius after all.

Lest anyone think I’m coming down on them for being too critical, I’m not. Everyone, including me, has a threshold and whatever that is depends on your individual expectations. I just feel like we’re missing out if we want too much to make perfect sense. It limits where the entertainment can go creatively and it takes the focus off the most important part. The fun.

Do you think audiences in general are getting too critical? What’s your threshold?

6 comments on “Too Smart For Our Own Good

  1. I think some of this is a product of the information age. It’s like those commercials where the people start spewing info and go rapid fire one topic to the next at the speed of the micro machine guy. When we see something in a movie or on TV that raises are little antennae, these days we can readily whip out our smart phones and go check to see if it’s true. People flock to wikipedia (God help us all that the world considers that a factual and reputable source of information) or wherever Google sends them and get to go AH HA. We are an age of skeptics, who struggle with disbelieving anything remotely wrong or not real. Which is an issue for those of us who traffic in the not real in what we write. It makes it that much harder to create a story that’s well-crafted enough, with enough veracity that the reader loses him or herself in the tale instead of focusing on the “well it would never happen that way.” It can be a slippery slope to walk as a writer, one where you’re constantly worried about getting it “right” so as not to appear like a newb or a dumbass to more well informed readers. It’s one of the reasons I don’t write straight police or FBI procedurals anymore. Because I never felt like I got it right ENOUGH and my concern over research destroyed the creative part of the process.

    Nice post!

  2. I really enjoyed this post. What I think A LOT when I’m watching TV is– Man, I could NEVER get away with that. These TV guys are so lucky!

    So this post reminded me that’s probably not true. There’s probably not a double standard in which TV/movie writers can get away with all kinds of stuff that would never fly in a book because the consumer is always too wowed by effects, moving music, shiny objects, and guys taking off their shirts to pick the story apart the way book readers do.

    Yep, I’ll just keep telling my paranoid self that.

  3. Great post and great points! I do think that we become more and more cynical every generation. Or maybe we’re just more vocal about it.

    I imagine that my threshold is pretty low, but even I have my limits. I can read about zombies and superheros without question, but tell me that someone like Jean Gray is 5’6″ and 115 pounds, and I call foul. (Hello, self, she’s not even real…) So my limits are not consistent at all.

  4. I’ve said this many times in many places online…I just want to be ENTERTAINED. So I have a pretty high tolerance for make believe. Yeah, there’s going to be a point where I say, “No way, this is impossible”, but it takes a lot to get me to that point. I try not to over think entertainment. I have to think too logically for my job. When it’s time to read or turn on the TV, I want the possibilities to be endless. Anything can happen in a made up world. Especially in the paranormal realm. After all, is it possible that Damon Salvatore can REALLY be that sexy? No, wait…I didn’t mean to say that….

  5. @Kait- This reminds me of Mythbusters. The whole show is based testing the accuracy of myths and many times the myth loses. It’s a cools show you can learn something from and it’s really awesome to be the guy telling everyone he knows the cool fact he learned. I think it’s become fun to point out where TV and movies don’t make sense. Like we’re saying, “Hey, you screwed up and I figured it out!”

    @Susan- I’d like to think that while everyone has a threshold, we can accept a story for what it is and not what it lacks. Like the premise of Castle is completely ridiculous from a realistic point of view, but what it does entertainment-wise nothing short of awesome. And by it’s huge fanbase, the people watching get it.

    @Nina- Haha, I can’t disagree with you there. The way Marvel draws some of their woman, it’s more like 115 pounds in her boobs.

    @LL- Yes, Damon is inhumanly good-looking and because I don’t come close to his looks, I must conclude that he is gay. There, now I feel better about myself.

  6. You’re right! Sometimes my obsessive little writer’s brain does wonder about all the details and timelines and plausible explanations but then, when I just sit back and enjoy, I can really enjoy. I love some of those shows and movies from the 80s and 90s. So what if they aren’t all perfectly internally consistent. They’re just good stories.

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