So my kids were watching Tom and Jerry this morning when my daughter Brontë finally stood up to announce:
“Well, the mouse won AGAIN. Like ALWAYS.”
And stomped off in disgust.
“But if the cat won, that would be the end of the show,” I tell her.
“Yeah, so the mouse is gonna SAVE THE DAY because he’s always the BIG WINNER,” she said with impressive sarcasm for a five-year-old.
I’m not sure whether she’s more upset by already knowing how a show will turn out, watching what’s clearly an anti-cat propaganda cartoon when she’s a fan of kitties, or her Nietzschean disgust for mindlessly favoring the underdog.
But I’m favoring the latter, because she IS my kid…
And I can remember also being disgusted by how the Roadrunner always won. I mean, here you have Wile E. Coyote, who is undeniably brilliant, inventing elaborate schemes to catch the roadrunner that involve sending away for specialized technical equipment and setting it up.
He’s an outside-the-box thinker who problem-solves from multiple angles. You have to admit that he’s VERY advanced, for a coyote.
Then… there’s the Roadrunner.
Who runs straight into landscapes that are obviously painted-on signs. He eats “birdseed” that’s blatantly rigged up to dynamite.
And he gets away with it. Every. Time.
Not because he outwits the Coyote or had worked up an ounce of forethought or defensive strategy.
No, he just confidently blunders forth, smugly aware that the very rules of Space and Time will bend to accommodate his idiocy.
It always seemed so colossally unfair.
Just once, I wanted to see the Wile E. get that roadrunner. Poor guy must’ve been starving to death.
In case you hadn’t already put this together, I’m a huge fan of movies and television. Give me some good dialogue, a well-crafted plot, and I’m on board… whether it’s Breaking Bad or Gravity Falls.
But after watching all of these make-believe little universes, I’ve noticed certain quirky conventions common across all genres. We’re so used to seeing them, we don’t even think about how unrealistic they are.
I’m not talking about corpses reanimating into dangerous zombies or aliens taking over the Earth, either. Those are part of a wild premise you’re supposed to accept from the start.
No, I’m talking about everyday, run-of-the-mill oddities that are hard to un-see once someone points them out:
1 No one ever pays for anything
You might see someone order food or drinks or get into a cab sometimes, but you’ll never see money changing hands unless it’s specifically part of a plot device.
By this, I mean you could see someone ordering a round for everyone in the building while holding fistfuls of cash and tipping wildly to show how rich he is, or someone’s card being declined to show how his life is slowly unraveling to the rock-bottom point.
You might even see a group of people divvying up the check at a restaurant to give us insight into which characters are stingy and which are inclined to mooch off their friends.
What you never see, however, is the routine settling of bills that’s part of everyone else’s daily life experience. Usually, movie people just hop out of the cab or leave the restaurant like it’s an acceptable thing to do.
2. No one finishes their drinks
While we’re on the subject of leaving restaurants, have you ever noticed how often a couple of TV characters order drinks and then don’t drink them?
Usually, a server walks by their table to set down the beer/wine/vodka that our characters ordered, then something dramatic happens, prompting one or both to leave the table…
With their untouched drinks just sitting there.
Just once, I’d love for the restaurant manager to come running after them, yelling, “WHAT!? You just order some drinks and then take off? Who’s gonna pay for that?”
3. No one says “Goodbye” before hanging up
If you pay attention, you’ll notice that most movie characters never sign off before ending conversations on the phone.
That would make sense if they were having an argument, but it seems to happen all the time.
I don’t know about you, but if I were on the other side of the line, that would seem pretty abrupt. I would wonder what I did or said to make someone slam the phone down on me, or even whether something bad might’ve just happened to them.
But not so in the bizarre world of film or television, where characters just stop the conversation as soon as they’re done. No one ever seems to mind. No one ever calls back, wondering why the hell the phone line just went dead.
Actually though, I do have a real-life example of someone who did this: my grandfather.
I don’t know if it’s because he grew up in a household where they didn’t have phones and then never familiarized himself with normal social rules for phone transactions, or if he just lived by the beat of his own drum, but he would hang up the phone without warning after any random exchange.
A typical phone call with him sounded something like this:
I call him… [Ring! Ring!]
Me: Hi grandpa! It’s Erin. Is grandma there?
After a minute, I call him back… [Ring! Ring!]
Me: Hi grandpa, it’s me again. Do you know when grandma is going to be back?
Grandpa: Well, she went to the grocery store, so ’bout an hour.
I would’ve thought he was furious at me if I didn’t know any better, but that was just how grandpa talked on the phone. He seemed to confuse it for a telegram.
And the strangeness of this encounter kind of illustrates what it would really be like if people used phones the way film and TV characters do.
At any rate, these weird behaviors, taken together, show us what an oddly centered universe we find in the world of fictional entertainment. No one truly exists except the characters we are watching at the time… No one needs to be paid, or told you don’t plan on drinking the full pints you left at your table, or given explanations for your abrupt departure on the phone.
Now the next time someone orders drinks on your favorite show, watch to see if they actually finish them. I bet they won’t, unless it’s the whole point of the episode.