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Stop Misusing Alan Moore's Quote About Imaginary Stories, Dammit! by James Whitbrook


Stop Misusing Alan Moore's Quote About Imaginary Stories, Dammit
Whenever someone questions the logic of a film, book or TV show, it's almost inevitable someone will trot out Alan Moore's 'This is an Imaginary Story' quote from Superman #423 in response. But they're using it wrong - and in the process, completely missing the point of what Moore was saying.
First off, it's ridiculous to pass off a critique of a piece of fiction with the comeback of 'it's not real, so it doesn't matter'. There's a place in science fiction for stepping away from 'competency porn' and breaking into fantastical scenarios that might fall apart the moment you pick away at the surface (but offer something compelling upon a first viewing), but it doesn't make something not making sense any less valid, just because it's a piece of fiction. That's not how things work - otherwise, what would be the point of any logic in storytelling? You could just have something made of complete nonsense and that would be fine - because hey, it's imaginary, why should we care if we consume something that makes sense. It's not even an argument or a counter to criticism when used this way, wielded like a blunt implement being swung around brutishly - it lacks the finesse of a counterpoint. It's a way of shutting down discussions immediately, rather than actually engaging with them. That's a pretty stupid way of trying to prove a point, honestly.
And being used this way, it completely disregards what Moore was actually saying in his introduction to Superman #423. Many interpretations of the full quote place it as Moore almost rallying against the de-canonisation of past Superman stories ahead of John Byrne's reboot of the character post Infinite Crisis, but he's doing so much more than that - he's championing the power and scope of imagination, of imaginary stories. It's not necessarily a quibble about canon, but the fact that fantastical worlds like the comic book one inhabited by Superman can bind all of these stories together. That the canon and the non-canon can sit alongside each other because that's not what's actually powerful about these stories, it's the fact that they are products of imagination. His intro to Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? brands all of Superman's tales as imaginary - but not to say that they don't matter, but to imbue them with an almost mythological sense of power that Moore so clearly saw in fiction. So while many people use it to argue that something shouldn't matter, Moore is in fact saying very much the opposite: fiction is a construct of imagination, and that imagination has power. It all matters.
So if you come across someone bemoaning a plot hole, or calling for common sense in a piece of fiction, don't misuse poor Alan Moore to try and shut them down. He doesn't want you to completely disregard something, he wants you to embrace it. That's the power of imaginary stories, after all.

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