When I lived in Israel, there was a story in the news about a family who sold their house and used the proceeds to buy lottery tickets. They figured they had to win. Win big. After which they would buy a new house. It didn’t work out as planned. They ended up with a giant pile of worthless lottery tickets and no house. A perfect example of “what could possibly go wrong?”
Watching television gives one many opportunities to ponder “what could possibly go wrong?” Last night, on CSI, a show whose time has come and probably also gone, what’s-his-name played by Ted Danson is using his lovely daughter as bait for a serial killer. Really.
What could possibly go wrong with that?
It took all the creativity of a team of writers to come up with an unbelievable happy ending. Unbelievable in the sense that I didn’t believe it. Garry didn’t believe it. I bet even the guys who wrote it didn’t believe it.
I try not to take this sort of thing personally. It can’t be that the people who write scripts for television shows think we are that stupid, do they? When I worked at Doubleday, many long years go, we wrote about books because, you know, Doubleday is a publisher. There were very few rules about how we were to write. We were allowed a great deal of creative freedom, one of the many pluses of the job.
The one warning we got was to never, ever, write down to our readers. Because you never know who is reading that book. As the editor in charge of the Doubleday Romance Library, I got to read the surveys on who actually reads romance novels, an oft-maligned genre of literature.
These light, fluffy stories — all pretty much the same plot — always sold extremely well. It seemed that fans of the genre could not get enough of them. Yet survey after survey showed that the readers of romance novels were, of all of our reader groups, the best educated.
How could that be? Well, it turns out that many people in high-pressure professions don’t want to read serious books. They want to be gently entertained. They like books with no ugly deaths, no tortured souls. They appreciate knowing there will be a happy ending and if they forget to finish the book, it doesn’t matter.
Whoever is in charge of the story lines and scripts for many current television series, seem to have forgotten about not talking down to us. They obviously think we are stupid. The result? I stop watching their shows. When the stories get ridiculous, when the “what could possibly go wrong with that?” factor outweighs its entertainment value, we move on.
For me to accept a story, to suspend my disbelief, you need to give me a hook. Something that lets me accept whatever is happening as “possible.” Like, there you are on planet Alphabetazoid in the far away galaxy of ZYX900042 and everyone speaks colloquial 21st century American English. You want me to believe it? Tell me they are using their “Universal Translator.” Or have babel fish in their ears. I want to believe, but you need to offer me a little help.
Of course, that’s useless when confronted by the vast sea of true-life human stupidity. People who really do sell their homes to buy lottery tickets and other “What could possibly go wrong with that” scenarios. I will need to continue to deal with the depth and breadth of human stupidity as best I can.
At least on television and in the movies, though, give me a break. Help me believe. Because I am not stupid. Really. I’m not. I just like stupid television shows.