Suspension of belief is a prerequisite for the consumption of fiction. It is completely understandable in genre fiction such as Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, that the basic tenants of science will be violated in order to create a ripping yarn. However, even in more grounded genres of literature such as mystery and romance one can see small tears in the fabric of reality. Seriously, how were there so many murders in Cabot’s Cove?
In film and television this gets even more hairy, as we have to make the assumption in our mind that what we are watching takes place in a world where the actors portraying these characters never existed. Simply put, The current incarnation of CSI takes place in a world where Ted Danson doesn’t exist, otherwise people would be consistently going up to D.B. Russell asking “didn’t you play Becker?” This is easy for our mind to do. Since the advent of theater, actors have been playing multiple characters.
However one of the more mind-bending suspensions of belief comes up every time a familiar property is transplanted from the time of its original inception to the modern age. I know that seems like a mouthful, but let’s break it down. For simplicity’s sake I’m going calling this “The Voyage Home Paradox” after the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home where I first noticed this idea.
In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the characters of the franchise travel back in time to the year 1984 to save the whales. It’s a simple enough premise for science fiction and a well worn trope, with time travel. As a consumer of fiction we have to accept the fact that in the future, using the technology available, time travel is possible. Be that as it is, the one fact I cannot accept is that in this 1984 that the Enterprise travels to, Star Trek (the TV show) never existed.
When we think about the impact pop culture has on our society, we often think about fleeting trends, bad music, and things they would make fun of on one of VH1’s “I Love The (insert decade here)” shows. In spite of the uselessness of most pop-culture, sometimes literature, television, and movies have such a cultural impact that to separate them from our culture is to alter our culture irreconcilably.
Let’s take Star Trek for example. In order to accept that the crew of the Enterprise could travel back to 1984 and not be recognized, we have to assume that in 1966 there was no Star Trek television show on the air. Because, not once during the interactions with the people in 1984 did one person say, “hey, you look like that guy from that show with all the spaceships, and aliens.”
In that situation, a domino effect occurs in the logical progression of culture. Examining the influence Star Trek has had in the field of engineering alone is mind boggling. Martin Cooper, one of the inventors of the cell phone, stated that watching Captain Kirk using his communicator on the television show Star Trek inspired him to develop the handheld mobile phone. The test vehicle for NASA’s shuttle program was named the Enterprise in honor of the show. Not to mention the effect Star trek has had on the genre on science fiction in general. Following the logic presents, the people of 1984 had none of these influences. Sure society seemed normal in the film, but perhaps it is because 1984 is too close to the deviation point of 1966 to be affected. How much would society as we know it have changed if we looked all the way to 2012?
This isn’t to say that “The Voyage Home Paradox” is an awful thing. In many ways our favorite fiction couldn’t exist without it. For example, the most recent offender of the time space continuum is “Sherlock”.
Probably one of the best shows you’ve never seen, the BBC’s “Sherlock” is an updated take on the classic stories of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes”. The show is an “update” in the sense that it takes place in modern times. Since the show is not an interpretation like “House”, but a direct take on the characters, “Sherlock” asks the audience to believe that this is a world where Arthur Conan Doyle never wrote “Sherlock Holmes”. This wouldn’t be an issue, if we as the audience we asked to… say… believe in a world where Sue Grafton never wrote “Q” Is for Quarry. However a world without Sherlock Holmes is a world without the mystery genre. So much of our television rips off the inductive/deductive reasoning skills of Holmes that the universe we are asked to believe in becomes ridiculous.
As I stated earlier, the deviation period for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is from 1966-1984, the deviation period for “Sherlock” is from 1887-2010. Assuming we take into account the “Voyage Home Paradox”, “Sherlock exists in a parallel universe without 123 years of detective fiction. Though one could argue that the influence of detective fiction could have shifted to Edgar Allan Poe’s, Auguste Dupin and Émile Gaboriau’s Monsieur Lecoq, the genre itself could never have reached the heights it did without the rabid popularity Holmes had in the 1890’s.
Think of the repercussions to our cultural history without Sherlock Holmes. Starting at least from the point of deviation we would lose characters like Marples and Poirot. Moving all the way to modern fiction, we would never have had Columbo, Jessica Walters, Kojack, House, Grissom, Scooby Doo.
That’s just the cultural influences lost. Many people don’t seem to realize the contribution Doyle made to the field of forensics. Doyle made things such as trace evidence, fingerprinting, ballistics, and handwriting analysis trademarks of a good investigator, and as such influenced many to accept them as actual criminal evidence. Without “Sherlock Holmes” would these still be accepted? Well, according to “Sherlock”, yes they are.
Or are they? Yes, “Sherlock” has many of the hallmarks of modern television procedurals, but we only see a small chunk of the London Metropolitan Police Force, and like in Doyle’s fiction, they tend to bumble many of the cases. So, without it just as predicted in “The Voyage Home Paradox” perhaps forensic science never really caught on as predicted. This of course means that the police would need to turn to an individual like Sherlock Holmes to help them solve their case. Thus the cycle is complete and the universe seeks to right itself. Nature does abhor a vacuum.
The concept of “The Voyage Home Paradox” is never going away. In fact, with all the recent reboots and sequels coming into the theaters and television, Hollywood is going to ask you more and more to accept these strange parallel universes. In fact while watching Transformers 3 the other day, I thought to myself, “Why does no one recognize the Transformers? They have been on our televisions since 1984!”
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