If I were to tell you that James Bond is real, you might well look at me as though I were mad. After all, he’s a character who was first written in a book, then brought to life on film through acting, directing and a whole bunch of visual effects and make-up. Clearly, Bond isn’t real, yet we look at him as though he were so, to such a point that we even become attracted to him. Clearly, some part of ourselves is not capable of distinguishing between reality and fiction.
At some point, our brains become confused between what is real and what isn’t. Never was this truer than with 1938’s War of the World’s radio broadcast scare, when millions of people took a fictional adaptation of The War of the Worlds to be real and actually believed that aliens were invading Earth. This became the most famous moment in radio history and changed our understanding of fact and fiction.
If fictional aliens can be taken as reality then fictional human beings certainly can and are, and with good reason. In almost every way, James Bond is real. He has a body and a voice. He is seen making decisions and taking action. To all intents and purposes, Bond appears real. And yet we know he isn’t.
If we can believe in James Bond, what else can we believe in?
The point here, of course, isn’t to prove James Bond real. Rather, it is to illustrate how inadequate our brains are at determining fact from fiction. We take what we see as reality. This is as true for fictional characters ad for real people.
If someone you didn’t know walked up to you right now and presented a dishonest representation of themselves (in other words, if they pretended to be that which they are not), would you realise? My guess is probably not. In a world where fictional radio aliens have been taken for reality, and characters like James Bond are worshipped, adored and desired as though they were the finest human beings in the world, there can be little doubt that we have little clue as to what is real and what isn’t.
And this leaves us with a most intriguing question: Is what we see in front of our faces real, or just a wonderful piece of fiction we have fallen into believing?