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Encyclopedia > Suspension of disbelief

Suspension of disbelief is an aesthetic theory intended to characterize people's relationships to art. It refers to the alleged willingness of a reader or viewer to accept as true the premises of a work of fiction, even if they are fantastic, impossible, or otherwise contradictory to "reality". It also refers to the willingness of the audience to overlook the limitations of a medium, so that these do not interfere with the acceptance of those premises. According to the theory, suspension of disbelief is a quid pro quo: the audience tacitly agrees to provisionally suspend their judgment in exchange for the promise of entertainment. The Parthenons facade showing an interpretation of golden rectangles in its proportions. ... This article needs additional references or sources for verification. ... Reality, in everyday usage, means the state of things as they actually exist. ... Quid pro quo (Latin for something for something [1]) indicates a more-or-less equal exchange or substitution of goods or services. ...


Further, inconsistencies or plot holes that violate the initial premisees, established canon, continuity, or common sense, are often viewed as breaking this agreement. For particularly loyal fans, these dealbreakers are usually accompanied by a sense of betrayal. However, the extent to which the suspension can be called compromised is often dependent on the beholder. A physicist, for example, may be more likely to question a fantastical breach of known physics, while an architect's suspension of disbelief may be damaged by being introduced to a building of unrealistic proportions. Similarly, 'common sense' is a relative term, and so the same piece of fiction may stand up or not, depending on the particular audience. A plot hole is a gap in a storyline that goes against the flow of logic established by the storys plot or story bible. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... In fiction, continuity is consistency of the characteristics of persons, plot, objects, places and events seen by the reader or viewer. ...


Though, as a theory, suspended disbelief is pervasive amongst critics — particularly film critics — most aesthetic philosophers reject it in favor of realism. Film criticism is the analysis and evaluation of films. ... Look up realism, realist, realistic in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...

Contents

Examples in literature

Suspension of disbelief is sometimes said to be an essential component of live theatre, where it was recognised by Shakespeare, who refers to it in the Prologue to Henry V: Serge Sudeikins poster for the Bat Theatre (1922). ... Wikipedia does not yet have an article with this exact name. ... Title page of the first quarto (1600) Henry V, also known as The Cronicle History of Henry the fift, is a play by William Shakespeare based on the life of King Henry V of England. ...

"[...] make imaginary puissance [...] 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings [...] turning th'accomplishment of many years into an hourglass."

However, not all authors believe that suspension of the disbelief characterizes the audience's relationship to their works. Tolkien challenges this concept in his essay "On Fairy-Stories", choosing instead the paradigm of subcreation. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien CBE (3 January 1892 – 2 September 1973) was an English philologist, writer and university professor, best known as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. ... On Fairy-Stories is an essay written by J. R. R. Tolkien, first published in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, Oxford University Press, 1947. ... A rendered conworld, as would be seen from space by an observer. ...


See also dramatic convention. A dramatic convention is a set of rules which both the audience and actors are familiar with and which act as a useful way of quickly signifying the nature of the action or of a character. ...


Examples in modern forms of entertainment

According to the theory, suspension of disbelief is an essential ingredient in the enjoyment of many B-grade science fiction films and television series such as the early series of Doctor Who, where the audience willingly ignores low-budget "cheesy" props and occasional plot holes, in order to fully engage with the enjoyable story — which may be the more so for those additions to its inherent outrageousness. The King of the Bs, Roger Corman, produced and directed The Raven (1963) for American International Pictures. ... Science fiction is a form of speculative fiction principally dealing with the impact of imagined science and technology, or both, upon society and persons as individuals. ... Film is a term that encompasses individual motion pictures, the field of film as an art form, and the motion picture industry. ... A television program is the content of television broadcasting. ... Doctor Who is a long-running award-winning British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC. The series depicts the adventures of a mysterious time-traveller known as the Doctor who travels in his TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension(s) In Space) time ship, which appears from the exterior... A plot hole is a gap in a storyline that goes against the flow of logic established by the storys plot or story bible. ...


Suspension of disbelief is also supposed to be essential for the enjoyment of many movies and TV shows involving complex stunts, special effects, and seemingly "unrealistic" plots, characterizations, etc. The theory professes to explain why action movie fans are willing to accept the idea that the good guy can get away with shooting guns in public places, or never running out of ammunition, or that cars will explode with a well-placed shot to the gas tank. For other uses see film (disambiguation) Film refers to the celluliod media on which movies are printed Film — also called movies, the cinema, the silver screen, moving pictures, photoplays, picture shows, flicks, or motion pictures, — is a field that encompasses motion pictures as an art form or as... A television program is the content of television broadcasting. ... The introduction to this article provides insufficient context for those unfamiliar with the subject matter. ...


Superman and other examples

One of the most-well known examples of suspension of disbelief is the audience's acceptance that Superman hides his identity from the world by simply donning a pair of glasses, wearing conservative clothing, and acting in a "mild-mannered" fashion. Not only is the disguise so thin as to be ridiculous, but also in the TV series, Adventures of Superman, this absurdity was carried to an extreme. Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen constantly suspected Clark Kent of being Superman, yet when obvious evidence was right in their faces — such as times when Clark was missing his glasses — they never saw the resemblance. (Noel Neill and Jack Larson, in DVD commentary, said their standard answer when questioned about this was, "We wanted to keep our jobs!") Superman is a fictional character and comic book superhero , originally created by American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian artist Joe Shuster and published by DC Comics. ... The cast of Adventures of Superman from 1953 to 1957. ... Lois Joanne Lane-Kent is a fictional character who appears in DC Comics’ Superman stories. ... Jimmy Olsen (full name James Bartholomew Olsen) is a fictional character, a photojournalist who appears in DC Comics’ Superman stories. ... Noel Neill as Lois Lane on the serial version of Superman. ... Jack Edward Larson (born February 8, 1928 in Los Angeles) is an American actor, librettist, screenwriter and producer. ...


Strangely, while some audience members took issue with the flimsiness of Superman's disguise, they didn't take issue with the idea of the existence of a superbeing whose only weakness was kryptonite. One defending suspension of disbelief might say that flying, along with the rest of Superman's abilities, is a foundational premise regarding the character, which the audience accepted as part of the deal at the beginning. On the other hand, the audience did not sign on for obtuseness bordering on mental deficiency by a half-dozen main characters and therefore this violates the original deal. Lex Luthor in front of a displays of kryptonite and holding Green Kryptonite. ...


Video games are also said to require suspension of disbelief. Often, realism is compromised even in games set out to be realistic either intentionally to not overcomplicate game mechanics or due to technical limitations. Some games based on Spider-Man have the comic hero swinging around a city with his webs sticking to nothing but the sky. Another example is of Solid Snake's performance of near impossible acrobatic stunts in Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes remake as opposed to his more down to earth style of combat (due to graphical limitations during the time) in the original Metal Gear Solid. Others feature instant death upon falling into water instead of giving the player a chance to swim out before drowning. Also, in many video games, a character will say the same phrase over and over indefinitely when repeatedly talked to. Some video games begin with a tutorial in which the player is taught how to play. These are often woven into the story, so a character in the game might say to the hero, "Press the triangle button to jump! Walk up to a crystal to save your game!" and so forth. In the fictional context of the game world, such sequences make no sense — the hero is being told to push a button which (from his perspective) does not exist, in order to perform normal activities such as jumping and running. According to the proponent of the theory, it's up to the player to reconcile this problem by suspending his or her disbelief. This article is about computer and video games. ... A game mechanic is a rule or set of rules intended to produce a set of outcomes in a game. ... Spider-Man swinging around his hometown, New York City. ... Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes is a stealth-based game that was developed by Silicon Knights and Konami for the GameCube and released in March 2004. ...


Yet another example where suspended disbelief is said to be necessary is kayfabe in professional wrestling, wherein the characters (that is, the professional wrestlers) somehow manage to keep their violent exchanges to the confines of the wrestling arena. They do not follow each other home, assault each other between TV episodes, bring guns to the ring and shoot each other if they are losing a match, etc. In professional wrestling, kayfabe (pronounced KAY-fayb; IPA: ) refers to the portrayal of events within the industry as real, that is the portrayal of professional wrestling as not staged or worked. ...


Another major example of suspended disbelief was The Flintstones cartoon series. The characters have televisions, cars, telephones, and various appliances that would be powered by electricity in modern society. The "prehistoric" characters were even shown to celebrate Christmas and travel into the future. The Flintstones is an American animated television series produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions. ... A Flintstone Christmas is a 1977 Christmas TV special featuring The Flintstones. ... // The cover art to the VHS release of The Jetsons Meet the Flinstones. ...


Gary Larson discussed the question with regard to his comic strip, The Far Side; he noted that readers wrote him to complain that a male mosquito referred to his "job" sucking blood when it is in fact the females that drain blood, but that the same readers accepted that the mosquitoes (in "fact") live in houses, wear clothes, and speak English. Gary Larson is the creator of The Far Side, a (sometimes subdivided) single-panel comic strip which appeared in many newspapers for fourteen years until Larsons retirement January 1, 1995. ... The Far Side was a popular one-panel syndicated comic created by Gary Larson. ... Diversity 41 genera Genera See text. ...


A further example can be found in Star Wars and other films which include a space setting, where sounds caused by spacecraft (e.g. engines, gunfire) can be heard despite the scenes being viewed from within space itself. Such sound effects are often vital for creating the atmosphere of a scene, such as space battles. Star Wars is an epic science fantasy saga in the space opera genre and a fictional universe initially developed by George Lucas during the 1970s and expanded since that time. ...


Actual use in film

In the 1994 Touchstone Pictures release of the film Ed Wood, the main character, Ed Wood, played by Johnny Depp, uses the term in the dialogue. He is on the set of Grave Robbers from Outer Space, which was eventually released as Plan 9 from Outer Space. He is arguing with one of the producers who asks, "How 'bout that the policemen arrive in the daylight, but now it's suddenly night???" to which Ed replies "YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING! Haven't you ever heard of 'suspension of disbelief?!'" [1] The term is also used in the film " Basic Instinct' when the character Catherine Trammell, played by Sharon Stone, explains to the detectives while riding to the police station in the back of the police car that she usually applies the application in her fictional stories. Gus Moran, the detective friend of Michael Douglas, then responds "suspension of disbelief! I like that!!"[2] Touchstone Pictures (also known as Touchstone Films in its early years) is one of several alternate film labels of The Walt Disney Company, established in 1984. ... Ed Wood is a biopic directed by Tim Burton, starring Johnny Depp as the cross-dressing cult movie maker Edward D. Wood Jr. ... Ed Wood can refer to: The movie director Ed Wood, Jr. ... Johnny Depp (born John Christopher Depp II[2] on June 9, 1963, in Owensboro, Kentucky) is an Academy Award-nominated and SAG Awards-winning American actor and for his performances in the films Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Whats Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Ed Wood (1994... This article or section contains a plot summary that is overly long or excessively detailed compared to the rest of the article. ...


Criticism of the theory

As in the examples of Superman's powers and Gary Larson's cartoon, it is unclear that suspension of disbelief correctly describes an audience's perception of art. If the theory were to be true, the individual events of suspension would appear to be highly selective. (It would appear that one chooses to suspend disbelief for the ability to fly, but not to suspend it for myopic co-workers.)


Aesthetic philosophers generally reject claims that suspension of disbelief accurately characterizes the relationship between people and "fictions." Kendall Walton notes that, if viewers were to truly suspend disbelief at a horror movie and accept its images as true, they would have a true-to-life set of reactions. For instance, audience members would cry out, "Look behind you!" to an endangered on-screen character or call the police when they witnessed an on-screen murder. (See Walton, "Fearing Fictions") The Parthenons facade showing an interpretation of golden rectangles in its proportions. ... Kendall Walton is a philosopher at the University of Michigan. ...


Problems the theory presents

The theory would seem to create several other problems, were it to be true.


Issues with self-reference: One problem the theory suggests is apparent in characters' self-awareness — when a character addresses the audience directly or otherwise realises that he is a character in a work of fiction. This action would seem to challenge the audience's suspension of disbelief, which would according to the theory make the audience unable to enjoy the fiction. But in fact, self-referential moments do sometimes entertain audiences. It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with Self-consciousness. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ...


"Canon-puncturing": Suspension of disbelief would also appear to present problems in pan-canon role-playing games or intercompany crossover. When a number of characters from various different sources are brought together, the characters could potentially recognize others as being fictional. The phenomenon is known as canon-puncturing.[3] This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... This article is about traditional role-playing games. ... In comic books, an intercompany crossover (also called cross-company or company crossover) is a comic or series of comics where characters published by one company meet those published by another (for example, DC Comics Superman meeting Marvels Spider-Man). ...


For instance, in one episode of Step by Step, Cody acknowledges Full House as a fictional TV show. The character of Steve Urkel guest-starred in an episode of Full House as well as an episode of Step by Step. Obviously this would present a contradiction to someone suspending disbelief, since if Urkel was a real person in the Step by Step world — a world in which Full House was fiction — he wouldn't be able to get into the fictional Full House world. Step by Step was an American television sitcom which was aired on ABC from September 20, 1991 to August 15, 1997 and with a network change moved to CBS from September 19, 1997 to June 26, 1998. ... Full House is an American television family sitcom that originally ran from 1987 to 1995 on the ABC network, and has remained on the air in reruns. ... Information Nickname(s) Bruce Lee Urkel Gender Male Age 13-22 Date of birth 1976 Occupation Student, inventor Family Mr. ...


Problems are also noticeable in Friends where celebrities such as Winona Ryder and Bruce Willis are mentioned by name and later appear playing characters other than themselves. It would seem that the characters in the shows would recognize the celebrities, therefore making suspension of disbelief impossible or at least illogical. For the use of the word in a general sense, see Friendship. ... Winona Ryder (born October 29, 1971) is a two-time Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe-winning American actress. ... Walter Bruce Willis (born March 19, 1955) is a German-American actor and singer. ...


Another circle of fiction was created by Matt Groening when Futurama appeared as a television show on The Simpsons and vice versa. Matthew Abram Groening (born February 15, 1954[2] in Portland, Oregon;[3] his family name is pronounced ) is an Emmy Award-winning American cartoonist and the creator of The Simpsons,[4] Futurama and the weekly comic strip Life in Hell. ... Futurama is an Emmy Award-winning animated American sitcom created by Matt Groening, also the creator of The Simpsons, and developed by Groening and David X. Cohen for the Fox network. ... Simpsons redirects here. ...


See also

Suspension of judgment is a cognitive process and a rational state of mind in which one withholds judgments, particularly on the drawing of moral or ethical conclusions. ... // The phrase deus ex machina (literally god out of a machine) describes an unexpected, artificial, or improbable character, device, or event introduced suddenly in a work of fiction or drama to resolve a situation or untangle a plot (e. ...

External links

  • Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, Chapter XIV, containing the term

  Results from FactBites:
 
Suspension of disbelief - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1507 words)
Suspension of disbelief refers primarily to the willingness of a reader or viewer to accept the premises of a work of fiction, even if they are fantastic or impossible.
Suspension of disbelief is also essential for the enjoyment of many movies and TV shows involving complex stunts and special effects.
One of the most-well known examples of suspension of disbelief is the acceptance that the iconic superhero, Superman, hides his identity from the world by simply donning a pair of glasses, wearing conservative clothing, and acting in a "mild mannered" fashion, which contrasts with the large and in-charge personality of Superman.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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