Towards a Crossing of the Divide between Fiction and Non-Fiction in European Television Series and Movies: The Examples of the Italian Romanzo Criminate and the Danish Klovn
Non-fiction and fiction have generally been understood to be two distinct entities. Narratives were supposed to belong either to a factual representation of reality or to an invented representation. The only problem was to settle on an agreed definition for the categorial distinction of fictional and factual narratives—an endeavour which, to date, has yielded mainly an ongoing debate about determining acceptable criteria for fiction.
Currently we find ourselves in the nascent phase of various forms of New Media which are struggling to define themselves and their relationship with existing genres in Old Media. This process is not only establishing new ways for how a (real or an invented) story can be told, but it is also influencing the old ones. Seen from this perspective, playing with the postulated divide of fiction and non-fiction seems a logical consequence: techniques and strategies that were long regarded as typical for one or the other now travel back and forth. The result is a growing number of new hybrid forms in which the receiver is frequently faced with the difficulty of deciding whether a narrative, in whole or part, is fictional or factual. Does this mean that the divide between fiction and non-fiction has finally become obsolete? On the one hand, Gerard Genette once claimed that “pure” fictional or factual narratives are mere thought experiments, only found in the “poe- tician’s test tube” (1990, 772). On the other hand, we still have a strong intuition that differentiating narratives according to “real” and “invented” content does matter.
After an intense debate during the second half of the twentieth century that failed to achieve generally agreed positions, Richard Walsh (2007) proposed, in the tradition of the Chicago School, to redefine fictionality not as an ontological category but as a rhetorical mode.
In our paper, we will test drive this suggestion by looking at two recent and iconic examples in European storytelling which mix supposedly irreconcilable elements of fictional and factual origin: Romanzo Criminale, an Italian movie (2005) and a television series (2008-10) based on a novel of the same name; and Klovn, a Danish television series (2005-09) and the subsequent film Klovn—The
Movie (2010). All representations refer to real persons while at the same time employing storytelling patterns typically associated with fictional narratives.
To begin, we give a short overview of the most relevant approaches to fiction theory.