Friday, October 10, 2008

Skeptical in the face of overwhelming evidence

We recently watched The Brothers Grimm for our Fall Film Festival. It is a movie that I greatly enjoy from start to finish, with very few weak points. There are two villains in the movie and, not to give too much away, the titular brothers are caught between them. One of the forces is magical and the other is rational - atheist, for all practical purposes, an advocate for reason, science and order (by way of military might). This conflict between reason and magic is a central theme throughout the movie and although I use it as an example, the theme is certainly not unique to The Brothers Grim. It is a very familiar theme, in fact, used anywhere from The X-Files to Lost to Pete's Dragon and Star Wars. The hero either starts out as a skeptic and ends up a believer or they start out as a believer surrounded by skeptics and, by the end of the story, have convinced the world (or at least their friends) of the truth.

This is all well and good. I have absolutely no problem with this - I recognize these as storytelling devices and works of fiction. In the world of The Brothers Grimm, for example, some magic is real and cannot be made false by the often violent protests of the French general. In these stories, the magic is real and to be a skeptic in the face of the evidence provided is to be a fool. Faced with magical forests and other obvious displays of magic, I can think of few atheists who would not be convinced. As an interesting side note, I find it an interesting touch that Scully is constantly the skeptic in the face of Mulder's overwhelming evidence while still clinging to her crucifix despite her great personal doubt. It is a theme I would like to have seen examined more thoroughly.

Anyway, my problem is not with these stories. I love fantasy as much as anyone (and more than many). What I dislike is the tradition; I dislike that the story is so familiar that anyone reading this has no problem recalling at least five stories with this theme. I hate that skepticism is looked on with such disdain or amusement. The skeptics of fiction are never right, and their science is often laughed at. I cannot think of a single film (aside from Scooby Doo) in which everyone believes in something mysterious and it turns out to be only the wind (or Old Man Jenkins). And I am not trying to be a spoilsport asking for equal representation, but I do want to see skepticism shown in a more positive light; I do see the potential problem - "Mysterious things are going on. Everyone is worried and thinks it is ghosts and magic. The skeptic proves that it was nothing all along." The Village is a good example of why this idea makes a terrible movie.

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