Saturday, May 03, 2014

Refrigerator Logic

I watch true crime stories to the point of obsession.  My wife thinks I am corrupting my soul by watching such stuff, while she watches "Bones", "CSI", "Castle" and other such fictionalized crime to almost the same degree. I'm not sure which is worse, a writers furtile mind manufacturing how crimes  are committed or watching real dectectives solve the real thing.
I do know that watching the real thing eleminates "refridgerator logic" in the story.  Refridgerator logic is a term I heard a television mystery writer use once.  He described it as a story point which makes the plot work for the audience, but hours later when they go to the refridgerator to get a beer they say, "Wait a minute... how did that guy know (fill in the blank)".  Refidgerator logic is totally acceptable in a good script, as long as it makes some sense during the show.  A writer certainly wouldn't want the audiece to say.. "Wait a minute" during the story.  
One of the greatest examples of refrigerator logic is in the movie "Citizen Kane".  The entire movie plot involves a reporter searching for the meaning of "rosebud", the last words uttered by billionaire John Foster Kane. We watch Kane utter the words at the first of the movie when he dies and drops a snow globe.  This scene is quickly followed by the report of his death in the news that states, "John Foster Kane died alone at his massive estate of Xanadu".  If he died alone at his home... who was it that heard him say these mysterious last words? No one.  That's the ultimate refridgerator logic... the entire movie hangs on a point that doesn't really make sense later when you go to get a beer. Doesn't matter it is a great movie.. a classic.
True crime has no moments like that.  Detectives have to prove what happened with evidence strong enough to convience a jury; any hint of refrigerator logic is "reasonable doubt." I also like these stories because they do not glamorize crime or criminals. In true crime the bad guys are bad actors, not romantic, sexy or clever, most of the time they are common and ignorant. Their motives are petty and their methods crude.  The real detectives have to work harder and longer to solve the real thing.
Recently there was the case of a murderer who was caught almost by chance.  He was stopped for a minor traffic offense.  When he handed the officer his license, a bag of heroin was attached. They took his DNA when they booked him for possession and it matched the crime scene DNA of the murderer.  No television writer would write that in a plot because it is so stupid. You can't portray the antagonist as a complete idiot because that would make the protagonist stupid as well.  
Writers work long and hard to make their heros smart, insiteful, appealing and clever. They work even harder to create villians who are their equal polar-opposite.  What is Sherlock without Moriarty?  The second most important character in a James Bond film... besides the Bond girl,  is the villian.  And in film and television the crimes are spectacular with a complicated motive especially murder.  In real life it is as dumb as a double amputee olympic runner losing his temper and shooting his girlfriend through a bathroom door. The Oscar Pistorius case may be the "trial of the century" but it is hardly a crime worthy of a television detective with good ratings. 
So there you go. My reasons for continuing to watch "Forensic Files" and "The First 48".  If it was earlier in my career I would turn those stories into scripts for refridgerator logic television shows... perhaps in my next life when I come back as Dashiell Hammett.
As you were,

1 comment:

P. Grecian said...

Awfully glad to see you back, Jay. I've missed you.

I always figured that Charles Foster Kane's last word was witnessed by a servant (maybe a nurse) standing beyond the camera range. We do see one come in later in that scene.

We mounted two separate productions of one of my plays before I sat down, looked at the text, and realized that the way the events were set down couldn't happen in the time available. I changed it, but wonder to this day why no one else noticed. Refrigerator logic?