Sunday, December 7, 2003
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When is it important to fact-check fiction?
Last year, Gregg Easterbrook mocked the New York Times for publishing a correction saying that it had made a few errors in recounting a plot point from the HBO series The Sopranos. Easterbrook noted:
Now, I take Easterbrook's point that this sort of corrections policy can border on the absurd, but consider, as a counterexample, Alex Kuczynski's essay in today's NYT on religious interpretations of the movie Groundhog Day. Here's Kuczynski's plot summary of the movie:
There are two errors in this plot summary. First, Bill Murray's character Phil Connors does not save the homeless man from freezing to death -- indeed, this section of the film shows that as the day repeats itself, the homeless man dies no matter how much Phil attempts to save him. Second, although it appears that Connors has successfully seduced the producer at the end of the film, the dialogue suggests that Phil restrained from any hanky-panky, acting like a perfect gentleman.
Nitpicky details? Perhaps, but in an article on how "the film has become a curious favorite of religious leaders of many faiths, who all see in Groundhog Day a reflection of their own spiritual messages," these facts are actually pretty crucial. One corrected, the movie suggests:
1) The limit's of man's power over life and death;
[You, who never misses an opportunity to ogle Salma Hayek, are preaching abstinence?--ed. No, but surely some of the religions discussed in the essay do proffer such advice. And there's a big difference between admiration from afar and acting on such admiration, buddy!]
It would be absurd for the Times to issue an apology to anyone for these errors. However, this is an example of how getting the facts wrong about fiction do alter the tenor of a particular argument.posted by Dan on 12.07.03 at 03:19 PM
I can pick you nit.
The line about saving the homeless man can make sense if one reads "saving" as a grammatical parallel to "sets about helping," in the sense that the paranthetical would read "(sets about saving...)." Such a sentence does not necessarily mean that he actually saved the homeless man, but it would be true to say that he did set about saving him.
Second point: he does get Andy MacDowell into bed. And more to the point, wins her heart. I never got the sense from the movie that abstinence was key to anything. Being a gentleman and not a cad certainly was. But gentlemen still get to have sex, even if it takes places tastefully off-screen.posted by: Norman on 12.07.03 at 03:19 PM [permalink]
I like the word 'oogle'.
Does "oogle" mean something different from "ogle?" Or is it an alternate spelling? I've certainly seen it a few times before.posted by: John Thacker on 12.07.03 at 03:19 PM [permalink]
Alas, "oogle" was just a typo. Fixed now.posted by: Dan Drezner on 12.07.03 at 03:19 PM [permalink]
It's been ...ten months since I've seen it, but I did get the impression that Conners did manage to keep the guy alive, at least for that day.
And that's Commander Bond.posted by: Bill Woods on 12.07.03 at 03:19 PM [permalink]
You might also want to challenge Easterbrook on "straight-laced," cf. "strait-laced."posted by: Bucd on 12.07.03 at 03:19 PM [permalink]
Easterbrook's correction on Bond is also flawed on the type of martini. Granted, in the movies it is a Vodka martini (due to Smirnoff product placement forty-some years ago), but in the books, it's half-gin, half-vodka.posted by: Doc on 12.07.03 at 03:19 PM [permalink]
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