Showing posts with label suspension of disbelief. Show all posts
Showing posts with label suspension of disbelief. Show all posts

Mar 17, 2014

Prayer and the fiction reader

Suspended disbelief is a powerful thing:
Ganshert has herself authored three works of evangelical fiction, published by WaterBrook.

Jul 22, 2013

'Conjuring' belief in demons

Forty years after The Exorcist made $441 million and lodged itself in the American imagination, the latest cast-out-demons based-on-a-true-story film hit theaters this weekend. The writers and director are hoping the $20 million production called The Conjuring makes some money -- and gets some viewers seriously considering demonic realities. 

"People should never be ignorant of demonic forces and think it can't happen to them," said Chad Hayes, one of the screenwriters. 

Chad and his twin brother and co-writer Carey Hayes have been adamant about the connection between their faith and this horror film, a connection which has pretty seamlessly blended with some of the studios' promotional efforts. The film's distributor, New Line Cinema, has subcontracted with Grace Hill Media for a specific faith-market campaign. The company arranged advance screenings for faith groups, including groups of priests, and has made the writer-brothers and the real-life exorcists available to the religious press.

Feb 14, 2013

Coming soon

First official artwork for Left Behind (the remake), which is reportedly on schedule to start production this spring. 

The original book addresses the possibility of the story of the rapture being made into a movie, and is very skeptical of that possibility: "If somebody tried to sell a screenplay about millions of people disappearing, leaving everything but their bodies behind, it would be laughed off."

The question now is: what if they did sell it, twice?

Dec 21, 2012

The postmodern technique of the most-sold Christian novel of 2012

The Harbinger begins by addressing its own problem of unbelievability.

It opens by directly dealing with the readers' likely problem of suspending disbelief for this novel. The subtitle is The Ancient Mystery that Holds the Secret of America's Future. The first page begins with that same phrase spoken as dialogue -- a bit of dialogue that could be between the author and the reader, or the author imagining that conversation, acting it out, playing both parts, his and the reader who's going to read this. And it starts by repeating that line:
'An ancient mystery that holds the secret of America's future.'
'What would I think?'
'Yes, what would you think?'
'I'd think it was a plot for a movie. Is that it? Is that what you're presenting ... a movie manuscript?'
'A plot for a novel?'
'Then what?'
He was silent.
'Then what?' she repeated.
It is the plot for a novel, actually, though within the fiction-world of the narrative the "ancient mystery" isn't fiction, as the character named Nouriel Kaplan insists twice on page two. And as the author Jonathan Cahn has also said in multiple interviews outside the fiction-world of The Harbinger.

On a Christian, apocalypse-oriented radio program, he said "the form is a narrative" but "90 percent of it is non-fiction." On a Charismatic TV show, he repeated the message of the book without any reference to narrative or a novel or fictions of any sort, but only to the "prophetic message known as The Harbinger." The host represented the work as revelation from the Holy Spirit, a characterization Cahn didn't dispute. In an e-mail interview with a Charismatic podcast, Cahn said,
[The Harbinger] reveals things that believers have felt in their hearts but without the evidence to back it up. It reveals a biblical mystery of specific template of judgment that is now playing out in America, before our eyes, lying behind everything from 9/11 to the crash of Wall Street, biblical harbingers of judgment appearing in New York City, Washington, D.C., involving some of the highest of American leaders, the replaying of an ancient drama of judgment, even giving exact dates.
This is also all presented in the dialogue in the first few pages of the novel, meaning the author, a messianic Jewish minister from New Jersey, contends that he is presenting non-ficiton as fiction, but within the fiction, the main character is arguing that the story seems like fiction but "it's not fiction -- it's real."

It's a fascinating bit of metafictionality, I think.

A similar thing happened in Left Behind, where criticisms of the book, specifically that it was badly written and unbelievable, were written into the book. Left Behind briefly calls attention to its own status as fiction, predicts the readers' response, and makes that response a part of the narrative, thus re-framing its own problem of plausibility as the readers' struggle with belief. The problem of believing that God is directing the apparently chaotic events of history, and that the Bible is relevant to todays world and to an individuals life, is collapsed into the problem of suspending disbelief to read a novel.

The Harbinger does the same thing, but more so, and more directly. Here the very postmodern technique of self-reflexivity is used, and used aggressively, but to a very different end.

This has caused some deal of controversy among those who, actually, are open to the idea of the imminent return of Christ at Armageddon to reign for 1,000 years.

I wouldn't want to say that this is at all related to that, but that novel, The Harbinger, is the only Christian fiction to make it onto's list of 100 most-sold books of 2012. It comes in at number 23 for the year -- ahead of J.K. Rowling's foray into adult fiction, the Steve Jobs biography, and John Grisham's latest.

Many would likely scoff at that news, a response that's expected by the text and anticipated, written into the story. "I don't expect you to believe me yet," the main character says. "But hear me out!"

Sep 12, 2012

The exorcist in the American imagination

What does an exorcist look like?

A Roman Catholic priest, if you believe the movies.

There are exceptions. The very recent Sam Raimi film Possession makes the unusual move of having the demons and exorcists be Jewish. In The Last Exorcism, from 2010, the exorcist was a white-suit wearing Southern evangelical. There are also demon films like the Keanu Reeves vehicle Constantine and the Denzel Washington vehicle Fallen where the hero isn't a cleric at all.

For the most part, though, exorcist movies depict exorcists as what sociologist Michael W. Cuneo calls "hero priests."

Pretty much the entire list of "best exorcism films" has Catholic exorcists. From The Exorcist and it's sequels and prequels to The Exorcism of Emily Rose, from The Amityville Horror to [Rec]2 and The Rite, the exorcists of the American imagination are Roman priests.

But why?

Mar 16, 2012

Hey You!
On interpellation of suspended disbelief

Every Jack Chick tract ends with a choice: accept Jesus or don't; take this goofy cartoon proselytization seriously or as a joke; believe or disbelieve.

This is obvious.

This is the whole point of evangelism, to get one to the moment of decision. Where one must make a decision. Where one has to choose, and there are just these two choices, all the world bifurcated into two exclusive options, and all of one's actions, possible and potential, are at this moment now choices, one way or another. Accept. Or reject.

Say a prayer.

Or throw the little cartoon tract away.

What's interesting to me, though, is how one becomes the "one" caught in this dichotomous choice.

The text at some point turns on the reader, and changes the rules.

The text, at some point, reaches out to the reader to include the reader, turning directly to face the reader and say, "You." And announces the reader's reading, and on the basis of the reader's reading announces there is a game being played, with a limited number of possible moves and no way not to play, as not playing is a certain sort of move in this game that has already begun, by virtue of you the reader's reading.

What interests me here is how suspended disbelief -- with which the reader believes conditionally in order to read, the condition being always the opportunity to step out of that pretending to believe, the freedom to look up from the book -- is turned into an ultimatum to believe or disbelieve.

Feb 17, 2012

Metafiction moments in Left Behind

Except to point out how miserably bad it is, people don't usually talk about the writing of Left Behind. Jerry B. Jenkins wrote the book in about 24 days,* and it shows.

The two most common responses to the book -- even as it sold millions -- were to find the writing bad and the plot unbelievable.

It's interesting, though, how exactly those responses are written into the fiction.

There are moments where, very briefly, the text is metafictional. The fiction is structured to draw attention to it's own fictionality, and acknowledges, with a kind of foreknowledge, the readers' negative response. The text, in a sense, shouts, "YOU!, you are responding in a certain way, responding right now, but that's also a part of the story, too, so don't get distracted -- keep reading."

In one example of this, a character thinks, "If somebody tried to sell a screenplay about millions of people disappearing, leaving everything but their bodies behind, it would be laughed off."

The novel itself is evidence, of course, that such a story wouldn't be "laughed off" before selling in the millions. However implausible the story may be, it's affirmed, still, in a sense, as plausible, because readers are reading.

In these metafictional moments of drawing attention to it's own implausibility, the text takes the disbelief of the readers and absorbs it. The readers' skepticism and disbelief is folded into the fiction. It's taken in, encircled by the story. It makes that disbelief not something separating one from the fictional world of the last days of the novel, but, rather, a key part of that world, a part connecting the reader to that world.

Thus, disbelief is not a reason to stop suspending disbelief, but another part of the story about which disbelief is suspended.

Nov 14, 2011

Reading as a kind of believing

Imagine if J.K. Rowling were to try to make an argument that Harry Potter existed. It would be very hard to convince anyone. Even if she had a lot of logic and history, and good arguments, even if she said it was revealed by God to be true and that many serious and smart people believed in Harry Potter, most of us would remain skeptical.

We wouldn't actually believe.

More, we probably wouldn't even actually engage with the idea. It's just so implausible, we wouldn't even weigh the arguments and consider the claim.

Imagine, on the other hand, that she didn't give us an argument, but a novel, a story, which started with an invitation to suspend disbelief. Imagine if she said, essentially, "you don't have to really believe in Harry Potter, just pretend." She might have started out, if she were going to do this, with the opening, "imagine ...."

Or she might have begun,
"Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold with such nonsense."
That's not an argument to believe something, but an invitation to suspend one's normal disbelief. The text isn't asking you to believe -- since, "of course" it's not true -- but to just not not-believe for a little while.