The recent passing of the prolific and arguably prophetic Ray Bradbury made me wonder how much of his fiction was truthful. As I've stated in a few blogs, nothing makes for better fiction than reality. One exemplar of said notion is the meaning behind Bradbury's most famous novel Fahrenheit 451, in which he isn't arguing as much about a dystopian society as he is the placement of literature by the television.
Given the publication date of the novel - 1953 (or 1950 in it's shorter form "The Fireman") - it's obvious why Bradbury was worried that television replaced the novel. But if television stripped down the culture of literature to the point storylines with substantial meaning were devoid, then where does literature hide now in vast multi-dimensional universe of telecommunications?
Passing of the Torch
Many scholars worry about the increasing irrelevancy of literature in society, as it was once a more "intellectual" part of popular culture until we became glued to our television sets. They argued (and rightfully so in my mid) that literature, especially in the long form, represented so much culture. It contained not only elements of the imagination but also accurate portrayals of human interaction coinciding with the author's social commentary, which more often than not reflected popular concerns either during the novel's time or in a timeless manner.
When television was in its Golden Age, the only real show to watch was Kraft Television Theater, a show that may very well sum up all television has ever been: product promotion. We buy expensive televisions to have better clarity of more channels begging us to either make impulse buys or keep up with the Jones. As television evolved further, products were isolated in commercials or hidden within the stories in the form of product placement or integration, although these two elements should not be used interchangeably.
In all honesty, though, Bradbury was onto something. Television offered a more favorable form of narrative consumption, but due to many variables such as rating systems and time frames, the stories were thin in terms of culture. Each show had it's punch line or gimmick and relied to heavily on popular culture references and interactions. For a more popular example Friends might have well been in Indiana or outer-space. It didn't matter. Even the friends could've been replaced.
Films were left out of the equation for the most part, because they tended to be longer and had much more depth to most of them than the average TV show. This isn't counting summer blockbusters, of course. Put the words "shit explodes" on a poster and you've summed up about all you're going to see during the summer months.
The interesting part today is that TV is threatened by the Internet. There's so much to consume on the web, and it's also so easy to procure. TV's advantage was the lucrative nature of commercials and product use. Online you can watch shows without or with limited commercial interruptions. The ads can be found anywhere, the content is more accessible, and it pleases all demographics.
Whereas the novel is left in the digital dust to suffer even in the age of eBooks, TV is becoming more innovative . . . or so the big companies think.
TV shows, save reality television, are now longer and have richer content. Take Mad Men, for example. It's not your average television series that shows two people talking on the phone in order to set up back-story or the premise of the episode. Instead, it bypasses the instance and focuses on the more internal battles of the characters. In other words, TV is trying to put all of the elements of a novel into a show. It's now about how characters feel, society's role on situations, setting, verisimilitude, subtext, etc.
So where does this leave literature?
Selling the Author
If the web dissolved the culture of television into content for kids with ADD and, before then, television tore at the depth of literature, where do novels fit in? Let's be honest, do you use your Kindle Fire, Nook, or iPad more for reading books or watching movies, playing games, and surfing the web? How many entertainment apps are there compared to the few for eBooks?
No matter which medium of consumption you prefer, they all have one thing in common: celebrities. Movies and television, despite original intentions, became all about the faces. Even Apple sold consumers on Justin Long and Steve Jobs. Microsoft still uses Bill Gates as their front man. Mark Zuckerberg is a household name. Why not authors too?
What sells a book, it's title or the big words "Stephen King"? Who wrote the Twilight series? J.K. Rowling is famous for . . . ?
Let's compare a few folks: Charlie Sheen is famous for Two and a Half Men or Platoon anymore. He's known for his personality and not his works. In the same way, what is starting to sell books is the author as much as the work itself. Novelists are striving to be celebrities, which almost sounds counter-intuitive at times. Stephen King is the Master of Horror, right? Didn't he also write The Green Mile, "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption", and Dolores Claiborne?
The Remaining Question Is, What's Next?
Tomorrow in The Forbidden Blog:
I have Red Fez editor Lynn Alexander and New York Times Bestselling Author Ellen Hopkins sharing their thoughts on the situation as well as picking on my word choice in the following question:
Do you think popular media today have an affect on the way literature history of future generations will look back on novels?
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Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.