Have I Been a Truth-in-Fiction Snob?

25 Jan

I am a person who has no faith in Hollywood to recreate anything that resembles actual history.  I have no interest in being misled regarding historical fact, and I know every historically-based movie will distort or add historical “facts”, even maybe purposely deceiving viewers on important issues in order to support the story line or the director’s ideology.

Therefore, I do not watch movies based upon historical events.  This includes movies based upon recent history, such as alleged biographies of Nancy Reagan or Zuckerburg, or the upcoming movie on Steve Jobs, as well as movies like “Lincoln”.

I feel the same way about books, of course.  I love studying history, but give it to me straight – don’t feed it through some filter that wildly distorts events, personalities, intrigues, etc.

So a fellow blogger with the handle ‘nebraskaenergyobserver’ posted a couple of references to columns written by a Professor Matthew Pinsker, a Lincoln and Civil War scholar, in which he reveals some truths about Lincoln not mentioned in the movie “Lincoln”, and tells us how he feels about the movie.  These articles are featured on the site “The Recovering Politician”, and I have included the link to the first article below.

Here’s a small part of what Dr. Pinsker had to say in his first column on this subject.

Excerpts:   [Bolding is mine]

It’s a mistake to worry about whether “Lincoln” the movie is historically accurate.

It’s historically inspired and inspiring but by definition any work of art that blends fiction (such as invented dialogue) with fact should never be considered “accurate.”

Spielberg himself acknowledges all this when he describes his movie as a “dream” and as a work of “historical fiction”.  .  .  .

[Pinsker writes here about important issues that the movie ignores or downplays.  Then he goes on to say . . .]

That doesn’t mean that the movie has no use in the history classroom or for the lifelong history student. “Lincoln” the movie creates an unforgettable historical mood or experience that almost no actual history of the period can match.  .  .  .

So, accurate?  No. But excellent anyway?  Absolutely.  In other words, don’t go to this movie (or any historical movie) to learn the facts.  Go to imagine the experience and to enjoy the illusion that a great filmmaker can create.

[End of excerpts]

I’m not sure that Dr. Pinsker has won me over, but I’ve not quite thought about historical fiction in entirely this way before.  Since almost every serious creator of historical fiction will try to create an accurate sense of the historical period (mood, manners, and culture) with which it deals, we should be able to subvert our aversion to being misled regarding the facts, while immersing ourselves in a sense of what living in that period was really like and enjoying a non-factual story.

I think I may need to be more open-minded, and change my attitude about some historical fiction.  I wonder if there is an AA equivalent for people with my aversion to distortion of truth.  Or maybe just a counselor.

The problem is, if I want to continue to keep up with current events, I have to deal with my aversion to lies, deceit, and distortion every day when I watch the news.



3 Responses to “Have I Been a Truth-in-Fiction Snob?”

  1. NEO January 25, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    I understand what your saying here, and feel the same way, mostly. I have found however, if you can sort the real people from the main characters, older historical romances like Thomas B. Costain’s or some of Frank Slaughters can be very helpful for establishing a sort of feel for the period. But, if you have any interest, you still have to follow up with real history, especially source material.

    • illero January 26, 2013 at 7:44 am #

      Thanks for the response. I’m really going to give it a try. A second concern I have about such movies and books is that I am convinced that many people watch/read these offerings and really do think they have just had an actual history lesson. A very dangerous way to “educate” our populace. So do I boycott such offerings on this principle alone?

      • NEO January 26, 2013 at 9:20 am #

        I think many do, but I’ve decided that reasonably accurate history with a few fictional characters is probably somewhat better than no history

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