On Suspending One’s Disbelief

This holiday break my kids took me to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker currently in theaters. I hadn’t been to a Star Wars showing in years, and I’m not a big theater-goer these days, but it was fun to share the afternoon with them.

What struck me beginning with the previews, was the absolute assault on the senses movie-going has become: the in-your-face visual stimulation, the pounding sounds reverberating throughout your body, and the repurposed physical environment to help you surrender to the writer’s will for a few hours.

Story itself is a powerful driver in society, as everyone tunes into compelling narratives even as they continue to craft their own. The Jedis and Siths fight to the death and somehow still live on, through an alchemy of lore, legend and special effects, but our takeaways mesh with our own values and experiences, celebrating the common experience of all humanity. Successful storytelling reflects reality, and in the process reveals timeless truths, but the WOW factor of making a story a multisensory experience takes its inherent power to an entirely new level.

This having been said, Star Wars purists have problems with The Rise of Skywalker, pointing out inconsistencies and unlikely twists in the Lucas legacy that offend their sensibilities while mainstream fans gladly celebrate a new welcome installment of the enduring Star Wars saga. My longtime friend and former teacher, Peter, a playwright, is fascinated with this facet of storycrafting: luring the audience to willingly suspend their disbelief with a story so inviting they gladly let go and embrace the reality of the writer.

With so many advances in technology, today’s stories are making it hard to resist this allure. And in terms of entertainment, why not? Everyone loves to escape to another place and time once in a while. But here’s the thing…there are so many voices trying to draw us in on a daily basis through television, movies, gaming and social media. It’s personalized and pervasive…and it’s easy to give in to its allure.

Guilty pleasures aside, in real life suspending one’s disbelief is becoming the new normal. The news is rife with people and media presenting the same information…yet sounding like completely different stories. Meanwhile, the public gravitates towards news sources and online communities that reinforce what they choose to believe. Yet none of this changes the fact that the only way to get to the truth is pushing back with a reality check…asking questions…poking holes…refusing to surrender one’s disbelief.

In Star Wars terms, our force is the truth: agreed-upon facts and the natural, logical consequences learned through real-life experience. In seeking out only what we want to hear…we surrender that power in exchange for convenience. Everything becomes negotiable…everything is in play…and while it can unleash endless possibilities in virtual environments, there’s no such thing as “alternate facts” in the real world. You can’t code reality into a contrived convenience mode. Try, and the error messages start flying.

There is no dark side in the truth…it simply is…and it reveals itself in time. No matter how exhausting it is to resist an assault on it, the eventual reckoning if we don’t is ten times worse.

Make your narrative solid enough to withstand the allure of easy answers…resist the temptation to suspend your disbelief!

And now back to our regular programming…

Walter McKenzie is Senior Director for Constituent Services at ASCD, leading its affiliate, connected community, professional interest community, student chapter and emerging leader programs.

2 thoughts on “On Suspending One’s Disbelief

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s