Sunday, January 5, 2014

Stories where skeptics are wrong

Lately I've been thinking a lot about queer representation in fiction, but what about skeptical representation?

Representation of skepticism is quite a bit different to me, because I don't particularly care about character representation, more about thematic representation.  There are certainly stereotypes of skeptics reinforced by fictional media (think Vulcans and House, MD), but I'm not as bothered by these stereotypes as I am about queer stereotypes, because skepticism isn't an entirely coherent or recognizable identity.

For an example of good thematic representation, see Harry Potter. It's wonderful to read that even in a world full of magic, there are wacky conspiracy theories flying around, and skepticism is still important.

On the other hand, in most fiction, when a wacky conspiracy theory or paranormal hypothesis shows up, there's a good chance that it's true within that story.  And it makes sense too, from a storytelling perspective.  We like stories about the unusual or fantastic, and we like stories that connect to our real life.  So why not depict an ordinary world, only in this world the supernatural is real!  But given that this is like the real world, most people don't believe in the fantastical.  But in the fictional universe, all those people are wrong.

It's okay that stories depict the fantastical.  But it annoys me when a story dwells too much on people's disbelief in the fantastical.  It feels like the story is trying to say something negative about disbelief.  But it's not criticizing disbelief in a very fair way, it's just using the limitations of fiction as a medium.  Fiction is limited to describing what is interesting and unusual, stories worth hearing.  There aren't a lot of stories about people brushing their teeth.  Imagine if someone somehow twisted this around to show that brushing your teeth is unnecessary.

I'm sure this isn't the intention of most people writing such stories, but the meanings of stories aren't bound by the authors' intentions.

There are several solutions that I find satisfactory.  One is to just not talk about people's disbelief that much.  Then I don't have to think about it too much.  Another solution is to describe further paranormal or conspiracy beliefs that are false within the fictional universe.

Dear readers, are you also bothered by stories where all the skeptics are wrong?

1 comment:

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

I'm always irritated by the fictional "skeptic" who ignores the obvious evidence of his or her senses because the narrative element seems to violate the laws of physics or ordinary common sense, as in Polar Express. The whole point of skepticism is that we are convinced by the evidence of our senses.

Of course, we can be fooled, and we don't see everything, so we want to be careful about using evidence to drastically change our worldview. But the stubborn "skeptical" character's resistance to changing the supposedly scientific worldview on the basis of overwhelming evidence appears all too frequently.