Towards the end of 2018, I read a lot of thrillers and procedurals. For a few months I burned my way through recent works by Lee Child, Michael Connelly, John Sandford, and others. It’s a genre I binge on every couple of years, catching up on what I’ve missed since the last time the urge hit me. They’re fun, light reads, and as long as you’re willing to suspend some disbelief, they’re pretty entertaining.
A few weeks into the binge, though, I stated having a tiny bit of difficulty combating my disbelief. Don’t get me wrong-I’m still enjoyed the books, but my “seriously?” moments seemed to be coming a little more frequently. I mean, how many times will even the most “maverick” police detective commit illegal searches, destroy evidence, or cover up a killing? For me, these eye roll moments are more amusing than anything else, but it did pique my curiosity, so I brought up the subject with a few police officers I know. Let me tell you, that was an interesting conversation. The two officers both said that they had difficulty reading or watching procedurals, because they just couldn’t turn off the fact-checking part of their brains. They had lots of examples, and I actually learned a lot about how police investigations work. During our talk, I also noticed that the two officers had very different emotional reactions to the topic. One was ruefully amused, while the other became seriously annoyed.
Reflecting on that conversation led me to conduct some totally unscientific research to see how other people reacted to their jobs or circumstances being inaccurately portrayed in fiction. Luckily, I have a wide circle of acquaintances, so I was able to get some broad perspectives.
Here are a few highlights:
- Attorneys discussed rules of evidence, discovery, and trial procedure. One spoke at length about the myth of the “courtroom gotcha”.
- Teachers lamented the portrayal of classrooms as either highly engaged learning meccas or difficult classes that magically turn around when the right teacher inspires them. “I’m not saying it doesn’t happen,” one teacher said, “but Hollywood makes it look so easy.”
- Medical professionals cited examples ranging from speed of recovery to treatment protocols.
- A journalist contrasted the glamour of dashing around chasing a story (Hollywood) to the mundane hours spent on research and fact checking (reality).
I discovered that once I got them going, people had a lot to say about fictional inaccuracies. They talked about dating, marriage, parenting, travel, and even pet ownership. I also found that once again, there was a range of attitudes, from “It’s hilarious” to “Whatever, it’s fiction” to “It makes me crazy”.
Continuing my completely unscientific analysis, I found a few factors that seemed to influence people’s reactions:
- The aforementioned teacher was not alone-many people commented on how fiction downplays the difficulties involved in various tasks and industries.
- The happier people were with their job/situation/life, the more likely they were to shrug off fictional inaccuracies. Those who were struggling or frustrated tended to really get annoyed while they talked about how authors, filmmakers, etc. get it wrong.
Did I come to any earth-shattering conclusions? No. Did I have a lot of really interesting conversations? Absolutely. In the end, it was definitely something worth discussing.
What do you think? How much does it bother you when art fails to accurately imitate life? Any particularly interesting examples? Let’s discuss!