So, here’s something I’ve been musing on. Take the totality of all fiction ever published/created. Every novel every published. Every movie released. Every TV show, etc. All of these together make up the combined fictional universe.
And then there’s the real world. Every human being who’s ever lived up to and including now.
Let’s compare them. There are some things that are far more common in the first than the second. For instance, everything supernatural/fantastical. There have been zillions of ghosts and poltergeists and magicians and dragons in all of fiction, and none in real life. Plenty of spaceships that can travel faster than life have been in fiction, none in real life. Other things are more common in fiction than in real life, but do exist. For instance, the total number of fictional presidents of the USA is almost certainly greater than the number of actual presidents of the USA. (For purposes of this question, there’s a fictional president of the USA if the fictional president is a named character in the fictional story. But if the fictional story is set in a fictional version of the USA but the president is never mentioned one way or the other, we don’t count a fictional president just because we assume that a president existed in that universe.)
Plenty of things, of course, are more common in real life than in fiction. Farmers. Peasants. Soldiers. Cars. Buildings. Almost every “normal” thing.
So my question is… can we think of something where that have been in real life and fiction the same number of times?
Here are a few possibilities:
(1) Some fairly minor governmental posts. How many fictional lieutenant governors of Nevada have there been? How many fictional secretaries of energy? Presumably as we march down the chain of command, we’ll eventually hit a level where the number of fictional and real balance each other out.
(2) Real people who have had one and only one fictionalized version of their life written. For instance, Thomas Wolfe is the thinly-disguised subject of the Herman Wouk novel Youngblood Hawke. So there’s exactly one real Thomas Wolfe and, unless there’s another fictionalized life of Thomas Wolfe out there, exactly one fictional Thomas Wolfe.
(3) Some types of criminals. “Normal” criminals are of course far more common in real life than in fiction. But my instinct is that the number of full-on “serial killers” as beloved by hollywood, who have “signatures” and leave little calling cards for the detectives chasing them, is VASTLY greater in fiction than in real life. Somewhere in the middle is probably a level of criminality where the two sides balance out.
(4) There might well be some real star system which has been the setting of only a single SciFi work/series.
As a WAG, I say the balance is around the level of governors and senators.
Maybe cowboys. The actual period of the cattle drives was relatively brief and it was never as big a part of the western economy as fiction would depict. (Farming was the big industry in the old west and I’ve read that there were more miners than cowboys.) But cowboys are a popular icon in fiction.
Football players other than high school quarterbacks may be rarer in fiction than in reality, despite there not being that many football players in the first place. Unless the movie is about a football team, the one footballer whose position gets given has a 97% probability of being or having been the high school quarterback. The other 3% corresponds to a possible defensive player who acts as the previous guy’s backdrop and doesn’t get any lines (all he does is loom).
I think we’d have to go for something landscapey such as geographical features or architectural elements, to have a decent match.
Many people claim to have seen ghosts. I don’t know if they are lying, been fooled by their senses or had an extra-dimensional experience. But they are sure their memories are valid. One would think that if ghosts really exist places like Auschwitz Burkenau would be teeming with them.
That’s true. “People who honestly believe they have seen ghosts, whether or not they have” certain exist in both real life, whether or not they actual saw a ghost. Hard to say where they’re more common, however.
Funerals are much less common in fiction than in real life. In real life, everyone eventually gets a funeral, but in fiction, most never do.
PastTense, there may have been a thousand times more people than books, but most books have many people in them. Are we only counting book-people if they’re named? That probably gives real people an edge, but not all that big of one.
And as for the topic of this thread, I’m going to go with lesbians. Extremely common in some forms of media, proportionally less so in the real world, but I think they might reach some kind of equilibrium in the middle.
Yeah, I didn’t spell it out in detail in the OP, but what I had in mind is that you only count things that are experienced or viewed with some detail in the actual text/story. So if a character flies in a plane over Kansas and looks down and muses that there are a million farmers in Kansas, that doesn’t actually count as a million farmers for purposes of this question. If the character meets Farmer Bob and interacts with him and calls him by name, that does count. If he eats dinner with Farmer Bob and Bob’s three sons, that probably counts, but if Bob just mentions in passing that 30 people work for him, that doesn’t count.
Are we counting total numbers, or proportion of the population? It sounds from your examples like you’re talking about total numbers, but that seems a rather odd criterion, since if art were exactly like life, but there were fewer fictional people total than real people, then there’d be fewer fictional everything.
How about private detectives? It’s a very popular profession in fiction. But I just googled and saw that there are about sixty thousand actual private detectives in America. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are sixty thousand private detectives in fiction.
I think that’s the point. For almost everything, there’s going to be vastly fewer fictional depictions of it than real life examples of it.
But for some things, there are a lot more fictional examples than real life examples, faster than light travel, human contact with aliens, wizarding schools are examples of an n:0 ratio, with n being some number of fictional depictions and 0 being the real life example.
But then take something like the President of the United States. There have been 45 of them in real life, but there are lots more than 45 fictional presidents.
And then we take something like “lesbians” where there are 10 million real life lesbians, but far fewer than 10 million fictional lesbians.
And so we’re looking for that sweet spot where the numbers somehow through happenstance come out about the same, at least as near as can be estimated by some kind of Fermi analysis.
For US government officials, I’m going to guess US Senators might be the right office. There aren’t that many of them in real life history, and named fictional US senators aren’t that common, but aren’t that rare either. “Senator So-and-so wants to cancel the Humongous Mecha project if we don’t show results soon!” So maybe thousands of named fictional US senators, and thousands of real life US senators, and it seems in the ballpark.
As Lemur866 responded, my initial question was about total numbers, as opposed to ratio. Ratio is also an interesting question (there must be SOME job where the ratio of people in fiction vs real life who have that job is about the same) but that’s a different thread.