“The willing suspension of disbelief”


“The willing suspension of disbelief”.  It’s how we enjoy a movie about a superman, or a batman, or some sappy love story.  We play along, and hope to find it entertaining.  Sometimes the movie or television show is done so well that no matter what happens we go along for the ride, whether it’s with the crazy man in the blue box, the people at the hotel in Budapest, or chasing ghosts in an old Cadillac ambulance.  We don’t care at all how “out there” it might get, we just enjoy the story. Sometimes, however, things just jump out at you, and make you groan.  For me, it’s California license plates.

Hollywood is the heart of television and movies in the United States.  Many stories are told in a California setting, and if they involve vehicles, you’ll likely see a California license plate.  Sometimes studios get it right, and the plates don’t jump out at me in their productions.  Usually, though, the prop master, or whoever provides the vehicles needed for the shot, hasn’t a clue about license plates.  I don’t know if they have a stack of plates they slap on a vehicle, picking whatever state matches the location in the shoot, or just how that all works.  What I do notice is when they get it wrong.

California has a multitude of license plate types.  From regular passenger car plates to commercial plates, trailer and motorcycle plates, HAM and CB radio plates, vanity plates, and government vehicle plates, the list seems endless.  It’s a challenge teaching new dispatchers how to differentiate between them all, and how to query the DMV database when a deputy or officer makes a traffic stop.  The point is, each plate type goes with a particular type of vehicle, most of the time.  The movies or television shows pull me right out of my suspension of disbelief when they get it wrong.

In the image above, a screen shot from the LGBT comedy (you knew I couldn’t write another blog without working that in somehow, right?) “Geography Club”, the pickup pulls into the scene, it’s California license plate clearly visible.  Oops.  Wrong plate for a pickup truck.

A pickup truck has a commercial plate.  That’s a passenger car plate.  Pickups can only have a passenger plate if they have a camper permanently attached.  No camper or shell on that truck.  Scene disrupted for me.  It’ll take a moment to get back into the story.

It happens fairly frequently.  I’ve seen a few shows where the plate is supposed to be California, even down to the colors and fonts, but the number/letter sequence is totally random.  That’s worse than the wrong plate on the wrong vehicle.

I try to tell that part of my brain to shush, just watch the show, but it keeps pestering me.  “But it’s wrong!” it keeps fussing at me. “Oh,” I tell it, “and phasers and warp speed and transporters are no biggy, but you obsess over license plates??”

“That’s different!” I’ll hear.  “Shush! Watch the show, I just missed an important plot point because you’re fussing over the license plate!”

Off that part of the brain goes, muttering what sounds like “I don’t care, it’s still wrong.”

I’ll work my way back into the story, but I continue to scan other vehicles, to see if they have the wrong plates.  It can get quite distracting.

One other thing.  Does nobody in the movies understand how a two-way radio works?  You have to let go of the button on the microphone in order to hear what the other person is saying to you.  And keying up and interrupting them doesn’t work, either.  Until they finish talking, and let go of *their* mic button, they won’t hear your demand that they do whatever it is you need them to do to save the world.  Unless you are working full duplex, but almost no radios work that way.  Especially the ones you cobbled together from the junk laying around on the weird scientist’s workbench.

Oops. “That” part of my brain must have grabbed the keyboard while I was trying to suspend my disbelief.  Sorry.


Image: screen cap, Geography Club.

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