Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dumbing Down For Mass Appeal?

Reading isn't for everyone.  In fact, in my experience, reading isn't for most people.  Some like to read the newspaper or a specific work related to their job, but not many read purely for pleasure.  Those of us that do get caught up in the worlds of fantasy and adventure that can only exist in our imaginations.  We can spin incredible movies in our minds, tales of such stunning beauty and complexity that they'd put even the hardiest Hollywood director to shame.
(In a book, anyone can go into space)
However, a common complaint amongst those of us snobs who love books is that most forms of mass media entertainment lack the subtlety and special complexity we enjoy in novels.  I watch something like Ender's Game, and regardless of how many friends say they liked it, I come away disappointed.  That's because I remember the struggles Ender had in the story and how he came to grips with the genocide he was manipulated into perpetrating.  I watch the Harry Potter movies and know that the books wove in so many elements we don't see that it feels lacking on the big screen.

Some of this is a constraint of time - you can only include so much in a two and a half hour film.  However, I'm convinced that some of it is due to the public's lack of patience with complexity.  Why delve into the varied themes in Heinlein's Starship Troopers when you can give most folks a cheap thrill with the male/female shower scene.  People watch movies to have things shown to them rather than have to figure them out for themselves.  That's what sets readers apart - we know there are elements we have to dig for, and that's part of the fun.  But movies are visual mediums meant to be shown and forgotten rather than studied.  Sure, there are some exceptions, but those are rare.

This is why we readers will almost always be disappointed when our favorite novel hits the big screen - we've built up such a grand image of what it will be in our minds that the final, and simple, product never matches our vision.  We're going to have to accept that most folks don't want that level of thought in their entertainment.  Yes, it's arrogant to point out, but it's also real, regardless of how it may make us feel.

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