Verisimilitude

The following motion picture is based on first hand accounts of actual events.

In the opening scene to Zero Dark Thirty, the quote listed above fades, and recordings of actual 911 calls from September 11th play to a black screen. It’s unsettling—some might say unethical—and it sets the stage to say: this is how history went down.

When I saw the movie a few years ago, I left the theater uneasy about the blending of fact with fiction in what would ostensibly come to be viewed as the “true story” about the hunt for Bin Laden.  Of course, as we know, it’s not how it went down.

But that opening scene encapsulates a feature that seems to be appearing with more frequency—at least in the handful of shows and movies I’ve watched recently: verisimilitude.

Now this verisimilitude is distinct from special effects, jargon, or other means to replicate reality in a fictional setting, as one would see in Saving Private Ryan.  It’s also distinct from “truthiness,” which is something that may be plausible or feel true, though ultimately is false.  This verisimilitude is the injection of reality into fiction, with the aim of making a fictional product appear true.

Beyond Zero Dark Thirty, you see this with a number of TV news anchors, such as Wolf Blitzer, Chris Matthews and whoever those MSNBC people are, providing news plot updates and color commentary in political dramas such The Ides of March and House of Cards (as well as in more innocuous offerings like The Brink and Skyfall).

But then you also see this with political appointees, politicians and powerbrokers (read: Valerie Jarrett, Chuck Schumer and Donna Brazile) making cameo appearances on television shows (read: The Good Wife).  It’s all a bit bizarre.  Maybe they don’t have more pressing matters to tend?  Though with celebrities gaining currency as politicians, maybe it’s no surprise that politicos would want to moonlight as celebrities?

Maybe all this ain’t really a thing.  But with the broader adoption of branded content and native advertising—and not just by companies—I imagine it’s going to get harder to suss out fact from fiction; to determine where reality ends and storytime begins.

The content is the commercial.

Further Reading:

David Bromwich and the Vanishing Art of Independent Thinking | August 2014

“H = MC. Humanities Equals More Cash” | January 2014

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