Although for anyone of my era, the willing suspension of disbelief will bring up images of Rowan Atkinson saying, “I’m not having anyone stare at my willy-suspension in disbelief”, it actually has a very important meaning in writing and story-telling of any sort. It is basically saying OK, we know this is fiction, but we are prepared to suspend our disbelief willingly in order to enjoy a story. It allows us to believe that Harry Potter can fly, Shaun of the Dead is perfectly likely to happen and Shrek can write with his ear wax.
However, once you break the pact, and remind the audience that it’s not real, you make them feel silly for allowing themselves to believe it, and you take away the magic.
The way this can happen is when the plot becomes implausible – Dot Cotton marries a twenty-year-old model. Or we are reminded it’s only a film - we see the boom floating about in the air above the actor. Or the writer gets a fact wrong – people are sitting in the back seats of a two-seater car (my usual). It jolts us into disbelief and we feel conned and are no longer happy to suspend our disbelief.
For this reason, I’m always amazed that The Archers website has photos of the cast in character: they all look COMPLETELY different to the people I have made in my mind by listening to the radio and therefore it reminds me I’m an idiot for caring that David’s having a hard time, and can’t someone PLEASE see that he’s suffering.
However, tonight was the pinnacle of stupid (in my humble opinion). In the attempt to be up and with it for the kids, I pretended to give a chuff about who killed Lucy Beale. I ironed my way through the live version and even cried as Ian hugged his family close at the end. “Good on you, Ian Beale!” I wanted to cry. “You’ve taken one for the family, and we will excuse your sweat because of it!” But as I mopped up the tears and wiped my own sweat on my sleeve, along pops Zoe Ball with a microphone and interviews Adam Woodyatt and asks him about his performance!
I threw down my iron in disgust, and then picked it up again pretty quickly. Suddenly Ian Beale wasn’t a social hero, he was a sweating actor and I was an idiot who had just wasted half an hour of my life. Bobby was no longer a murdering monster, he was a kid with pushy parents, and Jane, well Jane still had our sofa cover on for a dress.
Come on BBC: this is basic…
If you liked this blog, why not buy the books?