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3 min read

Selective Suspension of Disbelief

I am going absolutely nuts trying to find a good term to describe something I am tentatively describing as “Selective Suspension of Disbelief”.

Now, I understand the concept of “Suspension of Disbelief”, and how it applies to fictional narratives, but my problem is distinctly different, though related.

Specifically, I am looking for a term to describe when one has suspended their disbelief for a story to a large extent, but then balks at some other smaller stretch that pales in comparison to the overall suspension.

Allow me to illustrate what I mean:

While sick a few weekends ago, I was laid up on the couch not wanting to do much. One of the cable channels in my area was running the Star Wars films back to back all day. I sat through each movie and allowed myself to be fully engrossed in it. Until The Empire Strikes Back.

Specifically, the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Luke gets his hand cut off, finds out Vader is his father, and hurls himself off the catwalk down the shaft on Bespin. He falls.

Right into another shaft that is conveniently about a meter wide and sloped like a funhouse slide.

It was at that point that the little guy at the back of my brain sat up and said:

Really? He just happened to fall directly into the center of another shaft?!

There is the crux of the problem. I had suspended by disbelief about the Force, spaceships, Darth Vader and lightsabers. But I just couldn’t fathom Luke falling into that other shaft.

At the time I didn’t even realize that I was doing it. It only came to light when I was watching The Matrix with my wife later. The scene where Neo and Trinity are rescuing Morpheus. There is the amazing fight scene in the lobby, the encounter on the roof with the agent, the bullet-time scene (still amazing, btw), then the helicopter with the minigun they commandeer.

As they are hovering outside the floor where Morpheus is being held, Neo bears the minigun on the three agents standing around Neo, when my lovely wife looks at me and says:

“How does he not hit Morpheus with that gun?”

I looked at her and started my tirade. Really? How does he not hit Morpheus? Forget that we are in a computer generated world while sentient robots and machines harvest our body heat as an energy source, or that Neo just dodged fucking bullets.

At that point my brain stopped and remembered the air shaft on the Bespin Mining Colony.

So what do we call this phenomenon?

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