May 25, 2020

Behind the “based on true events” formula in audiovisual fiction

The formula “based on true events” and similar ones are used in audiovisual fiction, among other things, to short-circuit the critical and interpretative distance with the story being told, to generate a false sense of discursive transparency and to create simulations of factuality in the rhetorical and stereotyped space of an audiovisual discourse that hides its political dimension by appealing to “facts”. These are the conclusions of a study carried out by a researcher from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) that analyses the political dimension of this kind of expression used massively in TV series and fiction films.

“By using the formula ‘based on true events’, the aim is to somehow make the spectator to believe that fiction is faithful to reality and to stop wondering about the logic involved in the story itself”, explains Pilar Carrera, a professor of Communication at the UC3M, who has recently published a book with the same title “Basado en hechos reales: mitologías mediáticas e imaginario digital” (Based on true events: media mythologies and digital imaginary) in Cátedra +Media, a new series from the publishing house made up of short essays on current topics.

This kind of formula allows to introduce the rhetoric and effects of documentary and informative discourses into the territory of fiction. In fact, in the case of documentaries there is, in terms of meaning, one more turn of the screw, presupposing not only that the story being told is based on real events, but that this is directly the reality: “This is obviously a false assumption; in a documentary there is as much mise en scene than in fiction and the rhetorical mechanisms used to generate effects of truth should not be confused with a supposed pre-discursive truth,” indicates Pilar Carrera.

In recent times we see a progressive shift from fiction to the rhetorical space of the documentary, according to Carrera. This goes far beyond the classic use of fragments of documentaries, reports, newsreels or photographs in fiction films to give them a plus of verisimilitude. “The formula ‘based on actual facts’ affects the reception of fiction as a whole and its political and cultural dimension without the need to resort to archival material,” she says in the essay.

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Photo cover: Image from the book cover. Carrera, Pilar (2020). Basado en hechos reales: mitologías mediáticas e imaginario digital, Ediciones Cátedra, Colección +Media, Madrid, Spain. ISBN: 978-84-376-4102-7

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