The most obvious way to think about realism is also the least productive. Our initial instinct might be to compare reality with its portrayal in media, but when we do so, we always arrive at the same conclusion: the media “distort” reality. In representing reality, media makers must select which things to include, which to condense, and which to leave out. There is no way that any medium could compare favorably to the breadth, depth, and complexity of the real world. Media portrayals always lose in that simple comparison.

It is more productive to think about realism as an effect that occurs when our assumptions about what is “realistic” intersect with the techniques that media makers use to portray their world. Our individual experiences give each of us specific knowledges about how the world works, but because we live in the world together and we share media, we have developed …

This essay may be found on page 166 of the printed volume.

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