I believe in mystique. I don’t believe in magic, because magic always fails under scrutiny. What I do believe is that an amazing impossibility is always more entertaining than dull reality.
I once went to a magic show. Not a “magic show” with some hack magician showing off a few parlor tricks and calling it magic. It was an event in a theater with a famous performer. I walked in the door a skeptic, and I remained a skeptic walking out. During the show, however, I was a believer. Somewhere in the depths of my subconscious I knew everything was smoke and mirrors, but none of that mattered. At the time I was happy to pretend, at least until the end of the act.
Unfortunately, this is not a talent shared by everyone. I have a friend who thinks suspension of disbelief is an obscenity. Watching a movie with him will eventually turn into a game of “That’s Impossible!” He has a demon inside him that possesses him and forces him to point out every flaw in every film he sees.
I think that misses the point completely. Yes, the average action movie ignores the laws of physics, nature, and the criminal justice system, but so what? Fiction is not about writing the most realistic story possible, it is about entertainment. If the story is compelling and the action is interesting, does the improbability of the plot matter?
I believe it doesn’t. Novels, movies, television, and magic all try to entertain you, and usually make no claims beyond that. An exceptional few try to make you think or make you raise questions. Even those stories don’t try to pass themselves off as the absolute truth. They use their story as an example, and hope the audience will ponder it further.
I believe that the point of good fiction is to amaze us, to make us wonder, and sometimes to make us think. A good magician is not someone who can make his audience believe his tricks are real, but one who makes the audience wonder for a brief moment if they could be real. In the same way, I believe that it is not whether or not we can have entertainment that is completely grounded in reality that is important. I believe the important part is whether or not we can be made to believe long enough to enjoy the show. In the end, I believe we need to be willing to believe the unbelievable sometimes, if only for a little while.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.