Thursday, June 25, 2015

Fictional Realities

The other day I was reading an (old) article about Roger Ebert's reviews for movies he really hated. Down in the comments, folks began talking about one of the movies in particular and one person made a very interesting comment:
I think an ending that says "the entire movie you just watched never actually happened" is just about one step above "it was all a dream." I don't like walking out of a theater thinking that there's a chance that nothing I just saw mattered and I was tricked.
I am certainly not arguing that this person is wrong, I can completely see where that opinion comes from, but I immediately thought: "why?" Why can we accept so much from our fiction (superheroes, talking alien robots, The Rock) but a simple reminder that our fiction is fiction yanks us out of it?

Back in 2011, when DC launched "The New 52," I remember taking it badly. The universe I had grown to know and love was GONE 4EVR. Never mind the fact that "my" universe had already replaced another that came before it back in 1986. Now, four years later, we might even be moving to yet another new universe with all this Convergence stuff.

... and again: all this headache over stuff that really isn't real in a physical sense. Yet it is real, isn't it?
First off, there's the argument that it's all "real" as long as it has meaning and value to the people who experience it. Just because the work is the creation of writers and artists (and editors and colorists and who knows who else) doesn't mean it's pointless. Many other authors, stronger than I, have reflected on the power of story in our lives (sorry, I'm no Neil Gaiman). This TED talk lesson has some interesting thoughts on this:

Second, there's the fact that we in the audience are collaborating to create these worlds. This is what I think probably plays most into the comment from the poster above. If we assume there is a contract between creator and audience, that each will treat the fiction as real (at least during the experiencing of it)... and then the creator "breaks" that contract... then the audience can certainly feel betrayed. I think this can be an interesting tool, though, and can enrich the narrative if used inventively. Of course, my examples are both going to be from comics: Warren Ellis played with this expertly in Planetary and DC Comics played with it during their brief flirtation with Hypertime (lightheartedly explained here).

Lastly - and this mostly applies to the kind of canon you see in a larger shared universe, like in comics - substituting a new "reality" does not destroy the original. It is still there. When Star Trek rebooted in 2009, they made an effort (much appreciated) to tie the new continuity into the old. Even if they hadn't, though, all my old  Star Trek would have still be there. I wasn't going to chuck decades of old DVDs and novels into the garbage. The same is true for comics. The NĂ¼ Fiddy-Too didn't magically burn all my old comics. Disney is scrapping thirty-plus years of Star Wars Expanded Universe canon to make way for their new universe, but that doesn't erase the stories I grew up loving (although some folks are happier to see them go). Personally, I'm a "Talon Karrde & Thrawn LIVE" kinda guy.

I always enjoy ruminating on the concept of fictional realities, and how much they mean to so many people. We can take this all back to that one movie the original poster was commenting on. I feel like, if the movie itself is enjoyable and well put together, then the story (and the ride) can still be worthwhile and enjoyable... even if it's only enjoyable once. It doesn't have to completely be wasted just because the creator winked at you at the end and said, "Hey... this was AN IMAGINARY STORY!"

... aren't they all?

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