One fanboy too many has leapt to the defence of the indefensible, right in front of the truck of logic. Make a big issue out of the plotholes and the ridiculousness of the action on screen or stage and they inevitably, smugly, sit back and say, “Well, I can suspend my disbelief.” The implication being, of course, that you cannot.

That’s when I get ready to school fools.

Here’s the big thing: You do not suspend your own disbelief. What is the point of art if the audience has to do all the work? What is the point if the audience has to engage in some kind of 1984 double-think to like it? You didn’t suspend your disbelief, you just didn’t care cuz u liked the ‘splosions.

[mocking, squeaky voice] “but ignoring the not-sense-making IS suspending my disbelieving!”

Wrong my ridiculous, imagined adversary. Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the term, but his full idea is conveniently forgotten.

“It was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.”

So suspension of disbelief originally refers to a state of mind procured, or inspired, by the inner truth of the characters. So you care about the characters, you care enough about what happens to these fictions, these lies, that the events affect you emotionally. Not about the ‘splosions, not about the boobies, about the characters, about what happens to them.

I watched District 9 this week, great movie. Huge plot holes though. But the heart of it wasn’t the ‘splosions and gunfights. It was the performance of Sharlto Copley as Wikus van der Merwe. The human caught up in a story where his choices have far reaching implications when his life before was a selfish cocoon of ticked boxes as an oblivious bureaucrat. The plot holes caught up to me after the movie, thinking about the world they’d created in their film. It left some unanswered questions, the ‘why was…’ and the ‘but when…’ that could have been sewn up. But maybe the film makers were as caught up with the characters as I was – these shadows of imagination had more than enough truth to their nature to keep me enthralled through the film.

Going back to my young punk’s lesson in don’t-use-words-you-don’t-undertand”-ology. Coleridge didn’t think of Disbelief and Faith as being the opposite ends of a single spectrum. Disbelief’s opposite man is Belief, and Faith’s is Unbelief. Disbelief and Belief are, in Coleridge’s writings specific to matters of logic and rationality. Faith and Unbelief are for the religious, the felt, the irrational things we may or may not believe. Straying into religious philosophy here. You see, back in the day there was a prevalent idea called Fideism – metaphysical questions cannot be answered by logic, or refuted by logic. Matters of Faith simply were. So Coleridge isn’t out to fool you, he’s not asking you to believe as CNN does, he’s going to make you care about his shadows of imagination even if it does make sense logically, because it’ll make sense to something in your soul. But modern discourse has largely moved away from Fideism, and so has arts education. Young punks get to hear the term “suspension of disbelief” but don’t get told what it means – even Coleridge doesn’t overtly explain it, that requires some research [check out: Tomko, Michael Politics, Performance, and Coleridge’s “Suspension of Disbelief.”  In Victorian Studies Vol. 49 Issue 2, p241-249, 9p Winter (2007)].

And so I end up at the corner of a dinner table next to a guy smugly telling me about the pleasure he took in Transformers 2 because he could suspend his disbelief. *Slow Clap. Well fucking done. No. You took pleasure in ‘splosions, Megan Fox, robots fighting and hump jokes – none of which makes you special or demonstrates your insight into the nature of art. But hey, I liked District 9 and that has lots of ‘splosions.