Take Two #109: Reel vs. Real

By Kyra-lin Hom

By age 12, we all know Hollywood is fake. We’ve learned about wires, prosthetics, and special effects. If you’re like me, you’ve converted hours of behind the scenes footage into hours of messing about with friends and a handheld camera. Ironically, it is our sheer confidence in being ‘intelligent’ viewers that blinds us to how ridiculous the media we consume really is.

Because it isn’t our ready consumption of computer graphics, convenient plot twists, overdone emotional angst, or scientific nonsense that is Hollywood’s crowning achievement in makebelieve. That award goes to something much subtler: the total subversion of our understanding of reality.

In this era of information, we are very much what we see, hear and read. Most of us will never chase down an enemy, jump out of an airplane or have a lucky streak in Vegas. Yet we are all intimately familiar with these experiences thanks to stories. There are even instances of victims actually throwing themselves backwards when shot because that’s what they’ve seen happen in film. For those wondering, bullets don’t punch you in the chest unless you’re wearing a bulletproof vest. Getting hit by a bullet without one would not throw you back.

We know that some things in movies are completely ridiculous, but others are close enough to fact that we internalize them as reality without thinking. For example, we all know that cars don’t explode upon impact. If they did, rush hour traffic updates would be noticeably more exciting. But we’ve learned to accept exploding cars in film because we associate cars with gasoline. Gasoline is flammable. Therefore cars are potentially explosive. This makes sense, right? Wrong.

Believe it or not, cars are not explosive at all. Even if you could get at the gas with some kind of spark (and bullets do not work for this), you would get fire not an explosion. Big difference. So much for us outsmarting the movies.

Film is full of other examples just like this one. We’re so used to the utterly ridiculous that the only mildly preposterous seems to make sense. The TV show Mythbusters has several episodes devoted to testing the plausability of outrageous movie moments. Check it out. You’ll probably be surprised at what you thought you knew.

Most of these moments (such as surviving a four-story fall into a dumpster) occur in action films. But it isn’t just our perception of the external world that has been modified by film and media. It’s also our perception of our selves: the range and limitations of the human body.

On one end of the spectrum of false perception is the visual, what we see. A girlfriend of mine – not athletic – commented that the actor playing Thor needed to work on his abs. I – an athlete – was left indignantly speechless. That is a man who not only worked out for hours with a personal trainer every day for months but also went on a special diet all specifically for his one shirtless scene in the first Thor film. Are you kidding me? That’s up there with the tabloid ‘reporters’ complaining Scarlet Johansson’s recent weight loss has made her breasts too small. With those kinds of obscene standards, how are the rest of us supposed to measure up?

On the other end is physicality, what the human body is actually capable of. I grew up on comics, action-flicks, and the idea that if you just push harder you’ll go further. At age 25, I’ve now had three surgeries to repair sports related injuries. Turns out the Batman treatment for a broken back, hang by a rope until you can stand again, doesn’t work all that great. And I’m not a rare case. It’s incredibly frustrating when your role models aren’t limited by things like reality. It’s even more frustrating when, as a kid, you don’t know that.

It took me a while, but I’ve finally learned that the only way to really experience the world is to live in it. Cheesy, I know, but true. Carpe Diem, everyone.

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