Suspension of Disbelief (Fiction)

Recently I’ve noticed an odd tendency in myself to believe what I’m told in the context of fiction. Even when it’s a character I don’t trust, even if I’m pretty sure they’re the villain, I will believe everything they say that is not directly related to whatever bad things are going on is true. I mean, clearly the writers just want us to know more about the world they’ve built, right? So even a dishonest character must be telling the truth about the general history and mechanics of a world. Otherwise everything would just be too confusing and we’d miss out on the story!

Spoilers for The Wicked and the Divine (through issue 11) and Infinite Loop (through issue 2). Possible spoilers for Dead Like Me (through episode 4, and “possible” both because it’s been around for years and because the “spoilers” are speculation that’s probably wrong).

Have I talked about The Wicked and the Divine here? I don’t think I have. That’s a shame. It’s a fantastic series. Good story, great characters, beautiful art. Also some great commentary on things like celebrity culture, the state of contemporary religion, the purpose of religion in general, etc. Loving it all.

Right from the beginning we’re introduced to the basic concept – every 90 years 12 “lucky” people find out they’re really gods in human form. They get to be celebrities and inspire everyone else, but they die within two years and can’t use any of that power to help themselves. Some details get filled in along the way, like relationships between them and how they feel about their situation. We find out Ananke, the old woman who finds them all and helps them remember who they are, used to be one of them but gave up divinity (whatever that means, since she’s immortal and still has powers…) to stick around and help every new generation remember the details earlier so they can be more effective in helping humanity.

I don’t like Ananke. She always seemed fishy to me. But somehow it never occurred to me that if everyone’s stories match it might be because they were all told the story by the same person with an interest in maintaining those beliefs. It’s never quite clear about how the whole “god” thing works, and I’ve had several questions pop up as I’m reading. Were these characters always the gods just with dimmed memories, or do they get possessed or something? How much of their personality is based on their human wiring and how much on the deity in question? Do they actually even have memories of being whatever god they’re supposed to be, or are they trusting Ananke based on the fact that they really do have magic and feel like special snowflakes? Huh.

I don’t really know where the writers are going with this. I have some ideas, but whether or not they’re right and whether or not the story Ananke tells is true isn’t really the point. The thing that interests me is how easily I can set aside any doubt when it comes to fiction. I enter into the mindset of a fictional world and accept that the impossible is true while I’m there. Hey, I already accept that these people snap their fingers and make fire happen, why should I disbelieve anything I read in that context?

I just started watching Dead Like Me, which has a bit of this unreliable information going on as well. It’s about a world where when some people die, they become grim reapers and collect the souls of the dead/dying. And just like WicDiv, I can’t quite tell if it’s intentional and meant as clues or if it’s just a mistake. But Rube, our guide to this world, gives weird and demonstrably untrue information. Right from the start we’re told that gravelings (the things that cause accidents leading to deaths) can’t be seen. Like you might catch a glimpse of them out of the corner of your eye but you wouldn’t be able to watch them.

But the main character, George, always sees them. She correctly predicts an incredibly bizarre cause of death her first time out while the experienced reaper training her dismisses her idea. But she knows it, because she saw the graveling she’s not supposed to be able to see. Does that mean she’s special, or can everyone see them and they just don’t say anything because they don’t want to contradict the bosses? Or do they learn not to see them because they’re not supposed to, so they ignore it and therefore aren’t as tempted to jump in and stop deaths from happening? (Or is it just a mistake and I should pretend the line explaining they’re invisible was never said?)

(The wikipedia article says the living can’t see gravelings, so it’s possible I just misunderstood. But he tells her this after her death and it sounded like he was saying she wouldn’t be able to see them. So far (granted I’m only a few episodes in) she’s the only one who seems to look at them, so that backed up my interpretation. Guess I’ll have to watch it again and see if I missed something.)

A lot in this series just doesn’t make a lot of sense and I can never decide whether it’s a hint that we’re not being told the “truth” (within the context of the show) or if it’s just a mistake and I should be pretending not to notice the inconsistencies. And the weird thing is, I’m okay with that. If I found out that it doesn’t matter at all that what Rube says isn’t true or how souls work in this world or anything else, that I’m just supposed to ignore it and focus on the rest of the story, I’d do that. I’d just lock it away in the “relax, it’s just a show” part of my brain and keep watching without ever thinking about it again. How screwed up is that!? (Okay, not that big a deal in terms of a tv show or a comic, but it has implications for real life when it comes to religious/political/ideological belief.)

Infinite Loop is a comic about a time-traveler who fixes paradoxes (“anomalies”) set in place by rebels. The conversations she has with her co-worker provide some details about the philosophy of the future world, one where they’ve basically done away with silly emotions like love. See, love leads to pain. The story starts off with our main character describing several events in the past that she’s visited where a lot of violence and death took place, all because of love. Because someone loved someone of the wrong gender, the wrong religion, whatever. So obviously love is at fault here and it should be avoided. Since in the future they’ve put a stop to it, they have a nice peaceful world.

Except we find out in the very next issue that this “peace” is maintained by the same ignorant bully-types that have caused problems throughout history. There’s no love, but there’s still plenty of violence and death. It just happens in this sanitized way – they’re not killing, they rationalize it by saying they’re just cleaning up. They point their anomaly-erasing gun at things (or people) and ta-da, problem solved. They also act in an obviously hateful way and it seems odd that anyone would see love as the cause of violence and hate when you have these counter-examples right in front of you, but I suppose since they’ve started just erasing whoever they don’t like instead of fighting it out, people might just think that proves the point. “Hey, look. We killed love but still have hate and there’s no fighting now. Told ya.”

I don’t think as a reader we’re ever meant to buy into this whole “love is the problem” philosophy anyway. But our protagonist clearly does. From the little we see, it seems society as a whole is on board. And since no one is actually being faced with people they dislike or having to see the death that goes on to maintain their utopia, they accept it. Weird how easy it is to stop asking questions if you’re given what seems like a good enough reason.

Wow, I’m already over 1000 words. I should probably wrap this up here and talk about this issue in the real world next time.

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