There’s something that keeps cropping up in my Babylon 5 rewatches, both in the ways I find myself writing the posts and the ways in which people discuss them. It’s actually making it quite difficult for me to talk about the show—the more so because some of the people doing it are folks I’m quite fond of*. I want to bring it onto the front page, rather than tackling it in those threads, because not everyone with views on this topic will be following the series.
It’s the assumption that intelligent people always guess the surprises at the ends of stories. And implicit in that is the reverse case, that the people who don’t figure out whodunnit on page 3 of the mystery, Morden’s significance in Signs and Portents, and the identity of the Chairmaker upon reading the premise of Use of Weapons are…stupid.
And here’s the thing. I am not stupid. At the very least, I’ve been doing a credible imitation of being not-stupid for nearly 41 years. But I don’t guess these things on a reliable basis, because it’s not how I approach entertainment. What I really enjoy is sinking into the narrative and letting it carry me along to its end at its own pace and in its own way. I value how getting absorbed into a story makes me feel.
Then I walk around with it for a while and analyze it in retrospect. I flatter myself that I have, from time to time, come up with interesting insights by so doing.
So it bugs me rather a lot when my enjoyment of the suspension of disbelief becomes a negative trait. A willingness to break the fourth wall of the story to figure out the end ahead of time is not, in my view, strongly linked to intellectual ability.
I don’t want to be a curmudgeon about this. I know that there are more reasons to discuss how quickly one penetrates an author’s deceptions than simply to demonstrate one’s intelligence and perceptiveness. And I know there are some endings that are so clumsily hidden that it’s the critic’s duty to explain how easily they’re found. But underneath it all there’s this drumbeat of I’m smart. I’m smarter than the author. I’m smarter than anyone who didn’t guess this as quickly as I did.
It’s rather like the use of the term easily amused as an insult. Embedded in that is the assumption that anyone worth respecting is difficult to entertain, and spends their days in a miasma of ennui. The whole phenomenon puts me in mind of Patrick’s comment on political cynicism.
* I reallyo, trulyo am not getting at anyone in particular here. This is about a tendency, a commonplace, not about any individual expression of it.