Sunday 10 June 2012

Historical fiction vs Historical fact.

Pt 2: The Psychology

OK, so last week we noted the overwhelming success and popularity of narrative over merely reporting facts, movies over documentaries, science fiction over science journals, human interest over human behavioral science, romance over “The Rise & Fall of Rome” etc.. etc.. and applied it to an educational context. Let’s explore the reasons why fiction in general is so popular.

I must butt in with a “But….” here. 

Personally I like docos. I watch far more of these on SBS than I do any movies, drama series, sitcoms and I definitely eschew soapies like the plague! This may be an age/cultural thing for me, but I’m certainly not alone in my preference. Documentaries are on the rise in popularity, especially docu-dramas (where historical fact meets a form of historical fiction, take note.)
I also have a fascination for certain sciences, but that’s more of a personal preference or professional interest. I don’t disparage these at all. But I appear to be in the marginal minority.
The point I was making was that in media, when it comes to the bottom line, and the top dollar, imagination is far more powerful than reality.


If you are a no-nonsense number-cruncher or a fact-finder of any kind, you'll probably be scratching your head and saying “I don’t get it! It’s reality that gets you real results.  It’s the truth that sets you free. It’s working with facts that makes the factory work. Why this fixation on fiction? Isn’t it time we grew up??”

Of course, there’s the obvious reasons that people come up with in reply, like:
I need some down-time from reality.
Gimme a good read/movie, I get a good high.
Facts are boooooooring.  They got no soul.
I leave all that dry stuff to my accountant/lawyer/systems analyst etc.
And so on. And all of the comments above are quite legitimate and balance each other.

But why do we need down-time from reality? The world of fiction is so seductive (I’m not talking about sexual fantasy here) yet destructive if we live in it too long. Why is it so hard to put a good book down, when the “real” world is screaming at us to be productive, make more money, become famous? Don't we want to be productive? Make more money? Become famous?

I’d like to suggest that one reason is that we have a certain divine spark within us that sometimes bursts into a flame of revolt against mediocrity and ordinary-ness. We are more than just a complex set of chemical reactions. We are more than a logical sequence of genetic code. We have this innate desire to rise above the cynical world of dog-eat-dog.

Back in the 50s I not only worshipped the Lone Ranger and Zorro, I became the Lone Ranger and Zorro. I wanted to be the mysterious knight in shining armor who became the friend of the friendless, righted all wrongs, outwitted and defeated tyranny. These were demi-gods to whom I related much more than the skinny, awkward, fearful kid that I was, whom other kids mocked. I was only vaguely aware of that divine spark within, that tried to take me beyond basic survival instinct.

Even in later life, a good historical novel can still do that for me, although the high is not so high, so the come-down to everyday life is not so painful. But I still long for the age of chivalry to return, although I know full well that very few knights lived consistently by that code.

More on this next week….

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