A Writing Entry – Fridge Logic vs Chomper Logic

This is a musing on the tenuous and tortured logic often used to justify drama in writing, movies, comic books, or really any medium.  Sometimes these aren’t noticed at the time (see fridge logic) and sometimes these are glaring enough to overcome the viewer/reader’s willing suspension of disbelief (see chomper logic).  This is not to be confused with plotholes, which generally occur to relieve the drama (as in, the writer[s] just realized they painted themselves into corner and see no other way to get out [see also deus ex machina]).

“Fridge logic” refers to a quote by Alfred Hitchcock.  Someone was questioning the plot in his latest movie and whether or not the audience would notice the inconsistency.  His response was something to the effect of, “As long as they don’t think of it until the movie’s over and they’re going to the refrigerator for some cold chicken for a snack.”  Basically, plotholes and bad logic are fine as long as the audience doesn’t catch on to it until the movie’s over and they’ve had a chance to think about it.

“Chomper logic” refers to a scene in the awesome movie Galaxy Quest.  The male and female leads are trying to get through the ship to turn off the self-destruct mechanism but because the construction of the ship was based on television episodes, they find themselves hindered by television conventions.  In this example, one episode featured a hallway full of chompy-smashy hammer things that serve absolutely no purpose to the function of the ship but were clearly only there to provide drama.  The female lead laments having to navigate this dangerous hall by saying something to the effect of, “Why is this here?  This serves no purpose; why is this here; we shouldn’t have to do this!”  When the male lead replies, “It was in the episode,” she shoots back with, “That episode was badly written!”  So, basically, “chomper logic” is when you see or read something that makes you think (and sometimes say), “Hey, this serves no purpose; why is this even here?”  The logic breaks down as you view/read it; you don’t even need to go to fridge to think, “Hey, what the hell?”

Obviously neither of these is desirable, but I can grant writers leeway for fridge logic.  Sometimes writers mess up with their continuity, and fridge logic can result.  This can be especially pronounced with a series media in which writers change all the time (like comic books or TV series).  But chomper logic is just bad writing (possibly in some cases with movies really really bad editing).  If you’ve ever seen any action movie in which a character is crossing a steel beam and it suddenly collapses under their weight, that’s chomper logic.  Any time a character in a medium suddenly acts out of character for the clear purpose of advancing the story, that’s chomper logic.  Any time a problem arises that was solved one way but the same team completely forgets that solution just to do something new and dramatic, that’s chomper logic.

I don’t mean to pick on Marvel, but that is my comic universe of choice and the chomper logic of the story is so frustrating when the dialogue is so sharp.  I sort of wonder how it happens, especially when two books have the same head writer (I’m looking at you, Bendis).  For example, the New Avengers versus Ultimate Spider-man.  Both have the same head writer.  Both are generally very good.  The dialogue is spot on.  The stories are pretty good (the new USM especially so since he doesn’t have to be held to the legacy of 616-Peter Parker).  But the New Avengers has had such glaring examples of chomper logic it makes it hard for me to read the comic.

The start was pretty dubious.  New Avengers team was assembled in the aftermath of a break-out at the Raft, which is a floating prison for supervillains.  The big problem of the break-out was that apparently all of the supervillains’ gear was kept in a vault, on the Raft.  Why in the hell was all that equipment kept at the prison in the first place?  Granted, released prisoners are allowed to take back all their personal affects.  However, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t include their weapons.  Does some guy getting out of Riker’s Island get his .45 back?  Felons aren’t even allowed to get a permit for carrying weapons, not to mention that a weapon in a criminal case may have been stolen in the first place.  I’m fairly sure a large percentage of that tech in the Raft’s vault was probably stolen and therefore would have been confiscated anyway.  However, since so many villains do get their powers through tech enhancements, the break-out would have been far less dramatic if the SHIELD agents could have handled the situation.  I think there surely could have been a better way to write some drama that something so blatantly illogical.

Lately they’ve been mixed up with Norman Osborn, which I guess it what you do these days in the comics to prove you’re up against a difficult bad guy.  Frankly, the whole idea that the Avengers were put together with the approval of SHIELD and paid by the government and yet somehow are not a sanctioned law enforcement team is an example of chomper logic in and of itself, but not quite such a glaring one.  At least not immediately, but it does lead to very glaring examples.  Osborn, proving he’s insane, assembles the new Dark Avengers (because the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results) to somehow discredit the Avengers.  Or something.  Anyway, he is a convicted criminal and at this point in the story I’m discussing an escaped convict.  His team makes a mess they can conveniently solve and which point the New Avengers show up and have to deal with this showy good deed they know is anything but.  It should be pointed out that Mockingbird is a full SHIELD agent with all the authority that entails.  In fact, until she got her superpowers, that pretty much was her power and reason for being on the team.  So they confront Osborn whose defense against getting his ass handed to him appears to be, “You have no authority over me.”  My thoughts at this point:
1) I’m a little unclear on the rest of the team, but Osborn is an escaped convict.  Any one of them has the right to call the police to arrest him and probably detain him as a citizen’s arrest.
2) Mockingbird has all the authority of any SHIELD agent and could arrest Osborn outright.  As to the others, she probably could have called SHIELD into take them all in for questioning (if not arrest) since they were working with a known escaped convict.

But alas, no.  Chomper logic it is.  It’s just not dramatic for Mockingbird to use what really is an underrated ability of being a SHIELD agent so she’s flying the plane or something for no good reason (quinjets tend to have autopilot).  And then they let Luke Cage take the lead so he promptly starts a fight.

Or, let’s look at an example that highlights an all too common dramatic situation.  A little while ago the X-men found themselves facing a magical Big Bad that was simply too much for them to handle.  After a cursory call to Dr. Strange so the writers could say, “Hey, look, we covered our bases,” the X-men decide the way to win is resurrect Dracula.  Total chomper logic –
X-man 1: So there’s a monster that’s more powerful than we can fight.  How do we defeat it?
X-man 2: Get something more powerful to fight it!
X-man 1: That’s a good idea.  We can call the Avengers, or the Fantastic Four, or we could give Dr. Strange time to call back…
X-man 2: We don’t have time for that!  Let’s get a powerful monster to fight the Big Bad!  Someone like Dracula!
X-man 1: Wait a minute.  You’re planning to fight a monster that we can’t defeat by making it fight an even bigger monster?  Let’s assume this works and the Big Bad is defeated by Dracula.  Then we’re left with the problem of defeating Dracula!  How is that better?
X-man 2: It’s brilliant!  We’re going to do this thing!

This alone should have had Dr. Strange and any other magic user of note come kick their asses for stupidity. However, I’m sure I could name dozens of comics, movies, or books in which the heroes, for whatever reason, decide the way to take out the Big Bad is with a Bigger Bad.  No one with an ounce of common sense or a modicum of strategic understanding would think this is a good idea.  The ridiculousness of this makes it chomper logic.

Nothing pulls me out of my willing suspension of disbelief like chomper logic.  I can suspend my belief a lot.  I don’t think about the physics of superheroes (although that’s a good book) because I know that’s something I have to take for granted to start to enjoy the genre.  For example, I find Arcade ridiculous but is not an example of chomper logic to me because logic doesn’t apply to people who are insane.  Yes, it would make a lot more sense if Arcade just killed people.  That’s not his thing, and frankly that is one the obvious gaps in logic one usually has to make just to try to enjoy any comic (and many actions movies [“Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”]).  But when a character acts out of character to produce more drama (Cyclops throwing a de-powered Robert Drake out of the X-mansion), or fails to utilize the most obvious solution to a problem (Mockingbird arresting an escaped convict), or elects to choose the most disasterious course of action (resurrect Dracula), I simply can’t keep suspending my disbelief.  I end up thinking: ARRRGGH!!! There is no reason for this!!  This is stupid and pointless!!  “This episode was badly written!”

As I said, I’ll forgive fridge logic, as long as it doesn’t happen often, but please, writers, there are better ways to write drama than something that screams, “This episode was badly written!”


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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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