At my day job, I encounter many people who spend their free time following dozens of TV shows, watching movies, playing video games, or trying to decide which of these is the best consumer of their time. Not that people shouldn’t be able to do that, but the more contact I have with that sort of lifestyle, the less interested I become in just about all of it. In the past five years, my television viewing has gone from following one regular show to none (rest in peace 24), unless you count the occasional football game (and baseball when they put it on over-the-air channels). Movies still find their way into my schedule, but my home theater with Bluray has essentially replaced the ten-dollars-a-view and your-soul-for-food movie theater experience. Video games? I’m a young guy… so two or three hours with friends once or twice a month is enough for me.
I like to read and write! There’s simply no format for telling a story that is as qualitative as a book or literature in general. Film may offer amazing CG imagery, but a good author can describe not merely the visual world with fantastic detail, but the emotional world, the psychological world, the sociological world, the economic world, and on and on and on… Making an enormously-scaled CG movie can also become extremely expensive because of how many people are involved, whereas the increase in expense for an epic book will not happen with nearly the same logarithmic proportion (unless you really mean for it to).
The real appeal to literature, in my mind, is the depth one gets out of the story. In film, in music, in games, the viewer/listener is almost always a passive observer, rarely engaging the imaginative part of his brain, especially since the explosion of CG, and in large part, these industries have turned to gimmicks in order to offer something unique. Film sacrifices depth for instant visual gratification, at very low effort-cost to the consumer.
On the other hand, books are the perfect format for a writer to engage a reader, to offer him things to consider that may have never been laid before him. As well, it isn’t necessary for the writer to engage in cheap tricks, although he may choose to do so. Writing is a method of sculpting exactly what you want to present and then offering it for each reader to take in their own personal way. It leaves out what is better left out and it adds in everything best to add in.
Now, surely film and the other media are not simple modifications of the literary form into an alternative medium. Music is much harder to analogize to literature, and I think, does a good job of separating itself, making itself a method to evoke specific emotions, which is why I only mention it fleetingly.
However, if we were to set aside the purely visual aspects of modern film, it would be near to impossible to find a single example of a story that couldn’t have been better expressed through the written word. I certainly can’t name one, and few have ever tried when I ask the question. One response was Memento, to which I’ll give a half-hearted smile, since I never read the short story that gave it life.
As a means of telling a story, film, video games, and music all must fall by the wayside when compared to the power, depth, and scope available through the medium of literature. There’s a reason why people still buy Charles Dickens books for pleasure and the films of 1939, wonderful though they may be, have become little more than nostalgia and study pieces. Okay, okay, that’s probably a bit more harsh than it should be. Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz have thus far survived as cultural icons, and so film is justified in having its own impact and its own medium, but remember The Wizard of Oz in 1900 was just the first book, followed by thirteen others penned by L. Frank Baum and later stretched by Ruth Plumly Thompson and other authors out to forty books. Gone With the Wind was first published in 1936 by Margaret Mitchell and won the Pulitzer prize.
I maintain, stories are best told through the written word, for two reasons: they engage much more of the reader’s mind than any other format (and so can have imaginative scale far beyond anything film has ever conceived) and they afford exactly the right amount of space to tell exactly the story the author wants to tell. Peter Jackson managed to push the limits farther than anyone before with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and yet LOTR book purists know that the films simply can’t come close to what Tolkien published.
Maybe I denigrate non-literary forms too much, and I don’t intend to. What I’m trying to do here is compare the literary form of story-telling to the other formats which are available and show how a form which was created uncounted centuries ago still survives as the richest method. After all our technological advances and cultural revolutions, it is still the book which provides the greatest entertainment and intellectual exercise. That’s really an astounding concept to consider, given the overwhelming scale of the alternative industries, which during more pessimistic moods, I adopt the term escapist media to describe them.
Had I truly wanted to berate mindlessness, the video game industry would have been my primary target, and the truth is, I do enjoy a bit of mindlessness at times. There’s a time and a place for all these forms of entertainment. I just think its important for people to realize what they are doing if that mindlessness takes them over and becomes the dominant aspect of their entertainment experience. That which you do not exercise, you slowly lose, intellectual prowess being no different.
Anyhow, celebrate literature! Whoever has made it this far will certainly understand that already. Maybe, just maybe, one or two people who are new readers will glance at through this post and see a few things in this whole piece that they hadn’t thought about before.