Broken Fiction

By | May 20, 2006

Here a point is made that I find is becoming a problem (for me, anyway) in movies and books. The problem comes when the author (or scriptwriter, or whoever) tries to be realistic in a field they don’t really know. If it happens that this field is something that I know about, and the author gets it wrong, all of a sudden any suspension-of-disbelief is immediately lost.

Unsurprisingly, many movies these days include references to computers. That’s all well and good, I can put up with some liberty there. I can handle “Movie OS” scenes where the person opens a file, and a flashy 3D visualisation shows it opening on the screen. I’m desensitised to that by now. However, when they try to get a bit deeper into it, that’s when everything starts to go wrong. The prime example in my mind is the movie “Swordfish”. This has a great scene where the “hacker” has to break into a machine in 30 seconds, from the password prompt. Apparently, it has “256-bit AES encryption” or something. A valid enough statement, but has no relation to a password prompt, nor breaking into the machine from there.

I find that this extrapolates quite cleanly into things that aren’t supposed to be fiction, also. It turns out that a certain amount of suspension-of-disbelief is required to read the newspaper. Usually, if you’re just reading it without thinking, you (well, I) tend to take for granted that the things it says are correct. This house-of-cards comes falling down the moment you read an article on something that you have first-hand knowledge of…and the reporter gets fundamental things wrong. (This was brought home to me today when looking up the date that something was on. One source said it was on the 20th, another said the 19th. Fortunately I erred on the side of caution and got it right). All of a sudden, all confidence is lost in everything else said in the paper. It’s somewhat unfortunate that this state doesn’t seem to last all that long.

I think that this reminder that “things may not be exactly as they’re written” is something that needs to be reinforced. It would be nice to be able to switch it off when watching/reading something fictional that tries to be taken seriously, however.

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