the circular runner

the problem…my problem, your problem, and that guy next to you in the cafe, his problem, too…

In media, observations, Uncategorized, writers & books, writing on May 19, 2012 at 8:06 am

OK, here you go.  A way into the problem, my problem for sure, but it might be yours, too.  I’m writing this post as I listen to A Tribe Called Quest in a poorly lit cafe.  I’m surrounded by other Apple users who are working on God knows what, but I’m sure whatever IT is, IT is something that makes it possible for them to own three thousand dollar computers and not have to work in an office during a weekday.  Many of them are pasty and wearing anorexic jeans, but they are happy.  I imagine this is because they have avoided the bullet of office work. Then again, they might not know any better.  But I digress, which I probably wouldn’t be doing if I weren’t listening to Tribe and checking my email at random moments because of the amazing new app I downloaded yesterday that allows me to see who is emailing, Facebooking and Twittering me without opening a window.  Little text boxes are opening in the corner as I write these words.

On a recent post, I know I mentioned I was changing, my brain, actually, was doing the changing.  Specifically, I’m concerned with the part of my brain that comes up with stories.  I am wondering if this need for apps and the obsession I spoke about in the last post with websites themes is connected to the fact that my taste in imaginative narrative as a producer and as a consumer is changing.  Let me start this by saying that digital culture is a more visual one, by its nature.  And, as I’m going to explain in a second, I think that this connection between the digital and the visual has some deep implications for people because it has deep implications for how we tell our stories.

So here’s the problem because I kind of always believe there has to be one.

I increasingly tell stories in visual media, which is fine.  Fine except I wonder if that means that I’m giving up on staying with characters, lingering with them, finding out what they are about in the slower, more internal way that the page allows and the screen does not.  This is writerly insecurity, I’ll admit. But it’s deeper, I suspect than just a matter of aesthetics.  Different media stress different things about stories.  Or, maybe it’s better to say, different media have different weaknesses.  Some might argue with me, but generally speaking, a visual medium like film or television or even a graphic novel though to a lesser degree, cannot get you in the mind and heart of a character.  Internal conflicts have to be simplified in film because unless you have a ton of voice overs or lame-o exposition through dialogue, you have to express emotion through what one can see.  And no matter how good the script or the actor, you can’t get at the crazy twists of the human mind.  You can always use visual metaphors to help get at that craziness, but even those are up for interpretation, which mean, you might lose the viewer or confuse him.  The page is just better suited to the mazes of internal conflict.  I say this, but for the life of me, I am struggling telling stories like that.  In fact, I will admit this, I get bored with a lot of so-called literary fiction.  (By the way, I realize as I write this that I am equating literary fiction with fiction on the page, which is not cool, but let that one go for now.  I don’t know enough “genre” fiction to speak to it.)

I guess, put simply, I’m wondering if visual culture is a less human one?  Less human in the sense that its stories do not deal with what makes us most human: intention, the stuff that cannot be seen.  The stuff that one has to slow down to understand, slow down in a way that I and my apps and my compatriots here at Cafe Hipster might not have patience for.  Is that a bad thing?  Is narrative changing? I love books, but I have to say it, I’m reading a lot less fiction than ever.  As a consumer and as a producer of imaginative narrative, I’m going more and more with visual media.  And I don’t think I’m alone.

I’d be curious to have some writers/lovers of fiction discuss here.  Maybe I need some absolution for a guilty conscience over my lapsed New Yorker subscription and my new MacWorld one.  I don’t know.  Is there an absolution app?  I think someone needs to invent that. Quick.

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  1. This post made me think of “The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo.” My comments will be solely based on the English translation and the American film version, but I found my experience of them to be exactly as you describe the difference between visual media and printed page. I gained a much deeper understanding of Salander from the book as the author was able to explore her inner workings. She is a deeply complex character compared with the film version where her character just comes off as odd and sort of robotic. I enjoyed the film and the book both, but was more emotionally invested in Salander from meeting her through the books.

    • I know what you mean, though there have been some times when the movie actually beat out the book. Fight Club comes to mind. The movie, somehow, got at the emotions of the story at a deeper level. I don’t know if that’s an indictment of the book or if it’s just a matter of knowing how to convey narrative in your chosen medium. Hard to tell.

      • I have got to see Fight Club. I hear it’s a pretty good flick. I try not to compare books to movies but, of course, that is ultimately impossible.

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