The suspension of disbelief, so Aristotle says, is that theatrical principle which allows the audience to accept fiction as reality and fully experience the moments. I’ve always thought it should be the suspension of belief because what’s so hard about not not believing. Fiction by definition is that which is not real (though not necessarily unreal, at least as of the mid-1960s), or as Lawrence Block so well put it, “telling lies for fun and profit.” But I guess if you’re willing to shell out the money to have someone lie to you, whether at a play or through a novel, you’ve already surrendered at least some of your beliefs. To give up disbelief is the willingness not to stand up in the middle of Act III shouting “Oh come on now!”
Of course the author has some responsibility to make it not absurdly unbelievable except perhaps in a good farce. I thought of this while watching television the other night. It was a new age television drama that is supposed to reflect life itself. But I’ve seen this particular problem is lesser dramas, comedies, and even movies of the theatrical release type. That is the vibrating cell phone.
I am willing to disbelieve when our hero shoots it out with 5 or 6 bad guys all outfitter with automatic weapons against his pistol compact enough to slip into his tuxedo breast pocket. I can disbelieve with the best of them that someday man will fly faster than the speed of light. It even doesn’t stretch my discredibility that a fresh faced girl from Kansas can move to New York and beat out the actresses who have trained since they were 4 for the lead in the new Broadway musical winning a recording contract, and a Tony, in the process.
But I cannot disbelieve close to enough that everybody on TV and in the movies can hear their phones on vibrate from 2 rooms away. Seriously.
Seriously, is it only the programs I watch and the movies I go to that even the actors take the notice when we are instructed to mute our pagers, phones, and other electronic devices?
Maybe in the movies I can see the director being paranoid that if he or she were to call for a real ringtone too many audience members would reach for their phones and miss whatever nuance is playing out in the screen as we watch the character carefully traverse the rooms to the buzzing handset. I guess on the television shows a ringing phone would distract us to the point of missing the next commercial. Although I might be tempted to go looking for my phone thinking a) nobody in the show has a phone on them and b) holy crap, where did my phone get to?!
So I’m willing to not disbelieve in ghosts that run roughshod over New York, to take on non-unfaith that mild mannered bartenders double as CIA operatives, and to really buy that a computer can inhabit the body and soul of a foreign exchange student. But…
If anybody out there is working on a screenplay, please keep in mind that the suspension of disbelief goes only so far. And it stops at the end of my cell phone.