Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Realism Canard, Or: Why Fact-Checking Fiction Is Poisoning Criticism. - Parabasis:

This odd tension-- that narrative art creates its own world yet helps shape our view of ours-- has given birth to (or at least popularity to) a new brand of criticism that measures a story against real life to point out all the ways that it is lacking. You've seen it before, right? "Five Things Parks & Rec gets right about small town budgeting bylaws." Now with Gravity busting box office records, we're getting astronauts and scientists telling us that there are many points where the film departs from real life. Entire critical careers are now founded on churning out "What X Gets Right/Wrong About Y" blog posts, posts that often completely ignore issues of aesthetics, construction, theme or effect to simply focus on whether in "real life" a given circumstance of a story would be possible.

In real life, people don't talk the way they do in movies or television or (especially) books. Real locations aren't styled, lit, or shot the way they are on screen. The basic conceits of point of view in literature actually make no sense and are in no way "realistic." Realism isn't verisimilitude. It's a set of stylistic conventions that evolve over time, are socially agreed upon, and are hotly contested. The presence of these conventions is not a sign of quality. Departure from them is not a sign of quality's absence.