Pet Peeve: When the fact and fiction meet

I have a pet peeve.

This pet peeve has always been there. I’ve never known how to put it into words.

Until now.

This is a pet peeve specific to films and fiction. If you were expecting something significant or life-changing, you’ll leave disappointed.

My pet peeve is when a work of fiction brings in events or people from “real” life.

Now it can be done well; however, more often than not, it’s not.

Here’s a few examples of the top of my head. One of the Ocean’s films had Julia Roberts character be mistaken for Julia Roberts.

Check out this piss-take of the sorry affair:

There was also the portrayal of William Murdoch in Titanic.

There’s loads of examples.

I want to to focus in on three examples of it annoying me and one example of it being done well.

Pet Peeve: 3 examples

pet Peeve

Pet Peeve 1: Spiderman Far From Home

In the latest Spiderman film, Peter Parker is trying to impress his lady love who happens to be an edgy girl.

Peter gets her a Black Dhalia necklace because she’s totes so random lmao. She’s into the Black Dhalia murder, an actual real-life woman was practically sawn in two. Edge lords gonna edge am I right?

Something about this seemed off.

Black Dahlia-lemna

Now, I’m not saying that you can’t have edgy jokes in your work. For me to say so would be an example of hypocrisy. What I’m saying is do you want to call to mind images of psycho-sexual homicide in your film about a boy who can crawls walls and shoots web out an orephus.

The Black Dahlia murder happened early 20th century. Is invoking it appropriate? If in a couple of years a hero buys the love interest an Andreas Brevik leather-bound manifesto, would that be OK? What about a Holly and Jessica locket, or a stethoscope belonging to Harold Shipman?

Again, not saying don’t bring the real world in. I go to a film to get a brief respite from this torturous highwire act we call reality.

Pet Peeve 2: The Boys

Now I like this show, it was terrific and recommend you give it a watch at some point.

The shows worst bit occurs halfway through it’s best episode (4).

The leader of the gang gives his team a pep talk invoking the Spice Girls. Wait? The Spice Girls exist in this world. Weren’t superheroes a metaphor for celebrities? They’ve starred in films and do live performances, can none of them sing?

The show establishes that the world is dominated by superheroes. Be it in law enforcement, in culture and anywhere can fit. To then have regular celebrities exist alongside feels like you’re mixing metaphors. It’s not bringing the Spice Girls in being the problem it’s mentioning them takes me out. Not that the Spice Girls couldn’t exist, would it be the same line up would they have the same discography? This is what I ask and I stop paying attention.

Again, mentioning the Spice Girls isn’t the problem, my brain going into overdrive is.

In short, it spoils the immersion.

Pet Peeve 3: Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

Yes, I’m harping on about this again. I’ll probably do it again and again and again. The film invokes the spirit of the Sharon Tate murder. Does historical revisionism so that the young actress and her friends live. The guilty are murdered, and they all live happily ever after.

A real Hollywood fairy story.

Again because the film deals with real people, the filmmakers have to walk the line. Telling the story they want while showing respect for the victims. The result is something that while not offensive in itself leaves a bad taste in the mouth later.

Writer/director Quentin Tarantino plays it safe. Margot Robbie, as Sharon Tate has minimal lines and minimal action. She comes across as more an embodiment of the Summer of Love that ended with her murder. Since it is based on real-life, on more intimate events, he can’t go overboard.

Tarantino played historical revisionist with Inglorious Basterds to better effect. I don’t know why it works better in Inglorious maybe because it is more morally simplistic. Hitler was evil and shooting him in the face until his skull is mush would feel good.

The Manson family, on the other hand, were vulnerable girls brought into a cult. Lived off what they could find in dumpsters, LSD. Pimped out by Charles Manson, who psychologically manipulated women into the killing. Do not misunderstand me, I’m not diminishing their responsibility in their crimes. There’s something grey about the whole affair.

With Inglorious Basterds killing the Nazi high command ends the war, that’s good.

Three dead hippies don’t change a thing.

By the films close Charles Manson is still at large with influence. Would the death of family members dissuade him or embolden Charlie? It felt like saving Sharaorn Tate was a good thing, you can’t argue against it. What it felt like was they pushed the problem further down the road. Do you know if the LaBianca’s would still be alive?

The only reason I know the names LaBianca is because Once Upon A Time left me so dissatisfied. I searched out more information on the Manson Murders. I’m grateful to the film for that at least.

Done Well: Bitter Wheat

Recently I attended a performance of Bitter Wheat. In essence, it’s David Mamet’s take on the downfall of Harvey Weinstein. Let me tell you, it was funny. It had me laughing a lot then it switched gears and became dark quickly.

Kieran do you not feel the least bit bad about laughing at such a sordid part of recent history?


You want to know why?

It wasn’t Harvey Weinstein. John Malkovich plays Barry Fein, a man who never existed nor will he ever exist in this capacity. These are fictional characters who we can come to no actual harm.

It’s all pretend.

When you deal with fictional characters, you don’t have to have any respect for any of the characters. They are yours to do with as you please. Does that sound liberating?

It resembles real life, but it isn’t. With Bitter Wheat, Mamet gives dimensions to people who we sometimes don’t deserve it.

If Mamet had produced a show called Harvey Weinstein was a misunderstood Bloke, he’d get run out of town.

Inventing the characters and the scenario, he gives us all a get out of jail free card. He can say whatever he wants about the subject. We can laugh at the circumstances. Knowing full well that no animals were harmed during production.

You’re limiting yourself

Real-life is stranger than fiction.

It’s also written more lazily. Massive coincidences, deus ex machinas and no real thematic throughline.

When you’re writing based on real events you can afford to be less disciplined, “But it really happened like that”. I’m sure it did, but that doesn’t mean it’s entertaining.

Writing about real things that happened is more of a tight rope. If it’s actual life events, you have to limit yourself. In slasher films, the young co-eds smoke pot and have group sex. When the escaped mental patient gets in and carves them up, you sit in your seat nod your head and say “as it should be”. When that happens in real life, it’s horrific, and you get depressed. These kids didn’t deserve it, we all make mistakes.

You can’t moralise about real life in the same way you can in fiction.

You want to know why that is?

Life has no moral.

Do you bring the real world into it?

Again, this is not me saying that you must not do this. Under no circumstances is anything you read here to be considered dogma.

There are many “based on a true story” films, shows etc. that are good. American Animals being a good example. Even then, it has characters in the fiction asking their real-life counterparts if this is how it happened.

When you bring the real into the realm of your fiction, you risk ruining the immersion. If you pull it off, you might be one of the greatest writers of all time.

It’s a gamble.

Do you want to take that bet?

Pet Peeve Conclusion

When the real and the fictitious collide, it can get messy.

It can be done.

If anything, I would love you to prove me wrong. I’m not a fan of arming the competition. Here would be my pointers if you’re going to have real events intrude on your storytelling.

  • You will have to do a lot of research.
  • Show a certain degree of respect to your subject.
  • If you feel that you are having to mind read the subject then maybe real-life figure are not right
  • Be prepared for legal action.

With all that being said, best of luck and hope that you prove me wrong.

Have a fantastic day,


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