20 January 2013

Idiot plot, idiot society

David Brin notices something about what he calls our favorite cliché. He notices that we don't believe it.

It is we in fiction who show no respite or mercy, relentlessly depicting civilization as irredeemably stupid or morally bankrupt. If movies and novels were our basis for judging – say you were an alien relying only on the testimony of our adventure flicks beamed into space – then you would conclude that no human institution can be trusted. Cops won’t answer when you call. Or they’ll arrive late. Or if they come in time, they’ll prove staggeringly inept. Or else, if they swoop in swiftly and seem competent, they will turn out to be in cahoots with the bad guy.

Now imagine that your typical film director ever found herself in real trouble, or the novelist fell afoul of deadly peril. What would they do? They would dial 9-1-1! They’d call for help and expect – demand – swift-competent intervention by skilled professionals who are tax-paid, to deal with urgent matters skillfully and well. In other words there is a stark disconnect between the world that film-makers live in, and the worlds that they portray. An absolute opposite of expectation.

And what's more, it's deeply related to the Idiot Plot, in which the story only moves forward because everyone in the story is an idiot.

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