Aliya Whitely, doyenne of quirk-fiction (I’m inventing a new genre for her as she’s having trouble fitting into one at the moment) has just put up an interesting post about Toy Story which got me thinking about the whole art/life (or fiction/reality if you want to sound less pretentious) thing.
I’m easily pleased by kids’ films and, lazily, I hadn’t bothered to look at the underlying nuts and bolts of Toy Story but Aliya’s right – the TS franchise takes the central premise that toys are alive and have feelings and runs with it to some disturbing conclusions. Disturbing because it follows that, if you don’t buy into the premise (and neither Andy, owner of Woody, Buzz et al nor Sid, the toy-torturer does) then you’re going to end up being, at best, thoughtless and, at worst, cruelly destructive towards your playthings.
Of course, without this premise, there’d be no film; the toys have to have human emotions rather than just being automata or we would feel no sympathy for them. But that’s the point of Aliya’s post, I suppose; should we be having sympathy for toys, for things that, in the real world, are inanimate?
It’s OK for us adults, we know it’s all fantasy, a fairy-story which we’re supposed to apply to our normal, everyday lives where how we treat people really matters. But do kids get this? Proponents of one side of the whole ‘effects of TV on their little minds’ debate constantly tell us that children know the difference between fact and fantasy, that they are – in fact – very sophisticated when it comes to telling the difference. I think that’s true but it doesn’t stop fantasy having an effect on them.
Take my own offpsring. They were pretty sophisticated with this sort of stuff – they had to be, they had stories pretty much force-fed to them from birth – but that still didn’t stop my older son having nightmares about some things that the British Board of Film Control thought were innoccuous enough to be given a U rating. ‘I know it’s not real’ he’d say to me and his Dad after waking from yet another bad dream ‘but I can’t stop thinking about it.’ Somehow, the reality of the film had insinuated itself into his mind and however much he told himself that it wasn’t real, the images had come to have a reality of their own and they frightened him.
So what about adult fiction?
As readers, are we affected, in unhelpful ways, by things we know not to be true?
As writers, are there genre conventions that make it difficult to represent life as it really is? For instance, there seems to be a feeling that ‘cosy crime’ is making a comeback at the moment because real life has become so morally ambiguous and the world such a threatening place that we need our fiction to shore up the feeling that the good guys do win in the end, that all is, truly, right with the world.
Are there conventions governing your own genre that you’re not happy with or are we all contentedly subverting such things in a thoroughly post-modern manner?
PS. Sorry, couldn't resist the PhD thesis-type title of this post!!