Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Crazy Shenanigans in Books vs. Movies and Television

Last month I read Susanne Colasanti's latest novel, So Much Closer. In it, a girl finds out her longtime crush is moving to New York City, so she follows him there and enrolls at his new school in the hopes that he'll notice, and fall in love with, her. It's not a bad book, but the entire time I found myself thinking about how unbelievably unrealistic the whole thing was. I mean, really? It just seems crazy. The whole time I was thinking about how insane this character is and how I couldn't believe what she was doing.

It just wasn't very believable.

And then Saturday night I watched television. More specifically, I watched iCarly and then Legally Blonde, both of which I love. In the first, a girl checked herself into a mental institution because she likes a boy. And I assume everyone has seen Legally Blonde, but on the off chance you haven't, she follows her ex-boyfriend to law school in order to become a lawyer so that he'll go out with her again and ask her to marry him. Now, these things are equally as unbelievable as the plot of So Much Closer, but I accepted them so much easier. A mental hospital? From vapid sorority girl to law school student? No problem.

And the craziness doesn't stop there.  In Pushing Daisies, a character joins a convent to get away from the guy she's in love with (and also there's a dead girl who's never recognized by her family, but that's another type of crazy); Lizzie McGuire passed for an Italian pop star for, like, a long time. And I easily went along with those things.

So why is it that the most unbelievable (and, let's face it, usually pretty stupid) things happen in a TV show or movie, but when similar things happen in books it's so difficult to get past? All of the shows and movies I mentioned? Love them. The book? Well, the idea that The Office references were so obscure people wouldn't get them was my breaking point.

There is something wrong here, some disconnect between the fictional stories we see on television and the ones we read in books. Is it because the on-screen stories are comedies while most books aren't? Maybe, but even those books that are comedies couldn't get away with the type of storylines and character choices we see here. There are some things not even Scarlett and Spencer Martin can make believable and realistic.

And if it's not comedy, what is it? Is it easier to accept that worlds, though they look like our own, are their own universes when those worlds are shown on screen instead of in pages? Is it easier, somehow, to nitpick books? Are story mediums like television and movies more about escapism, whereas books are about relating? I don't know, but the more I think about it the more interesting the question becomes.

What do you think? Is it easier for you to accept the crazy things characters do if those characters are in TV/movies instead of books? And why?


  1. Do you know or remember the TV show called Felicity? Its starting plot was exactly the same as that of So Much Closer. Felicity's long time crush moved to NYC to attend university there, and Felicity followed him, hoping to get together with the guy eventually. It does sound crazy, yet, the show was a huge hit.
    I have no idea why it is that we accept craziness in TV shows. But for some reason we expect YA fictions characters as realistic as possible.

  2. This is SUCH an interesting post. I've never thought about it before, but you're absolutely right.

    (And I'm glad cziffraandi mentioned Felicity. I couldn't read So Much Closer because the first chapter - or however much was in the Kindle sample - was so incredibly similar to Felicity.)

  3. cziffraandi
    I know of Felicity but I've never actually seen more than a few minutes of it. I have seen it mentioned in many reviews/conversations about So Much Closer and it's interesting that - with the same premise - it was a hit show.

    Keris Stainton
    I'm trying to figure it out but I really have no idea. I keep thinking about the spy novel I'm writing and how I'm trying to keep it from being too ridiculous because I want it to be believable that these things could happen whereas every spy show/movie I've seen has been over the top ridiculous (ahem, Get Smart... and it's WORKED for those stories).

  4. I think maybe, maybe, it's because TV and movies are rather mindless. It doesn't take much brain power to just sit and watch something, so we end up just accepting what's before us. Whereas, reading takes work and concentration. It's just black writing on white paper and we have to conjure up pictures in our own mind. I think that just makes things harder to swallow.

  5. Jenny
    I think you may be onto something there. While I hesitate to call TV/movies mindless (I think it depends on what you're watching and how invested/interested you are in it), they're definitely a much more passive form of entertainment. In books, there are a lot of blanks we often have to fill in for ourselves - like the particulars of what people look like and the world they live in - whereas on-screen, those things are decided for us. In a book the word "superficial" is up to our interpretation whereas in a movie... say, Legally Blonde there's no room for interpretation. And maybe that makes certain plots or character choices easier to accept?