Monday, July 24, 2006

From the Mail Bag: "Better than Real"

Dear Barbara,

I have a question about a statement you made in your comments about Superman Returns. You said, "Maybe that is more like real life. Certainly it is. But stories are supposed to be better than real life." I had a discussion with someone about this who says that real life is the best thing there is, so a story should be like real life. I said that I thougth the point was that because our vision is marred by the fall, what we see is less than real life, so that if we are to see life as it really is (in a story), it will appear to us to be better than real life. Is that what you meant, or something different?


Dear R.G. -

We say that stories must be "better" than the real as a reaction against a lot of narrative efforts in the modern era, that have been so focussed on realism that they lost the ability to serve the audience in the unique way that stories (i.e. as art) are supposed to. The real is not entertaining to people. If it was, they would sit in their living rooms at night and stare at each other instead of turning on the television.

Stories are constructed and so offer a vision of artificial necessity to an audience that experiences real life as random. That is, the parts in a story are related to the whole in a relationship of necessity. Life isn't random, of course, but our perspective is limited so it often seems to us that there is no cause and effect in our lives. This particularly rankles in the moral area: Some people to bad things, but appear to suffer no ill effects. Or else, Innocent two year olds get terrible diseases. Stories offer a "kharma" that assures the audience that their gut sense that in the end good will triumph is correct.

Stories also offer a clear resolution to an audience in an intimation of an ultimate resolution to our own individual and collective stories. We yearn for resolution (because we were made to end our pilgrimage in God) and stories give us a momentary relief from our yearning in their resolution.

Stories - as with all good art -- also present an artificial harmony to a human society that is inharmonious. In a good story, all of the parts are sifted so that only those are used that will complement the other parts. In a good story there is nothing extra, gratuitous or-vice versa, missing or incomplete. Again, real life is like this, but because of our perspective, we can't see it.

Stories are not objectively "better" than the real. But they are better for the human viewer than the real because they offer God's perspective -- one that is complete, necessary and harmonious.

Hope this helps.

God bless - Barbara


Becky said...

Good post. I have had several "discussions" with those who think non-fiction is the only way to go. You have explained the matter well.

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