Saturdays often find me gathering strength for the coming week. They are often as productive as any other day but their charm lies in that they don’t have to be.
So I sit here giving my eyes a rest, nearly blind without my contacts, perusing Vanity Fair. I come across an article discussing a zeitgeist shift of ‘serious writers’ ceasing to shun Television writing. Opting instead to embrace it and taking TV shows they watch ‘very seriously.’
I did not put ‘serious writers’ in snark quotes for any elitist reason. I am huge Michael Crichton fan and have always (when it’s done right) understood both the big and small screen as rich and valid mediums.
I put serious writers in quotes because the term confuses me. I feel that anyone who takes the trouble to write is a serious writer. Perhaps the piece was using the language to highlight the fact that accomplished writers (whose work is expressive of the sort of nuance that one associates with those who appreciate literary art) were no longer shunning an industry pariah.
Which is fine but I can’t help but fiddle the hilt of my sword. I am on guard for the king called disinterest and his prince ‘l’art pour l’art.’ A position that I feel is increasingly rare. When I hear ‘serious this or that pursuit’ these days I am wont to think that ‘serious’ means commercially viable.
I am decidedly steeped in Classicism as I’ve come to understand it. I do not mean by this any restrictive form but rather a mindset. A mindset tracing its roots back to the ancient city states of Greece where merchants were shunned.
The commercialization of science and art is a decades old story. It is a story too broad and important for this uncharacteristically cool Carolina morning. Books will be written about it for decades. The purpose of this wee essay is to serve as reminder that every fertile thing that elevated civilization is now being processed into quick, unnaturally tasty, canned goods.
Classicism is important because even if you choose Spam over a ribeye the makers of Spam should still try to make it taste like a ribeye. (Folks privy to the differences between the pop music of the 60’s and 70’s and the pop music of today will more readily understand this analogy.)
The Vanity Fair article is an excellent springboard for thrusting the Classic outlook back into the collective conscience. It’s a rich little morsel that raises all sorts of questions.
Questions like the namesake of this article: “Is ‘pitch culture’ gonna improve novels?”
If ‘serious writers’ are being funneled from the world of the novel into the world of the sitcom as the authoress suggests then what does this mean for novels?
I do not necessarily think it means anything foul. The pithier more economic approach of television writing is certainly good to have and maintain in one’s literary tool belt. And I do enjoy a good show so the presence of ‘serious writers’ means that I will have a richer life.
But, even if these pros I’ve highlighted existed without their shadow cons then one must still remember the ground bass of classicism. That little voice that says, “Is the greatest number, the greatest good?”
Paradoxically, I think that history attests to the fact that the greatest good, for the greatest number is meted out by that little voice. A voice that is often too modest and too much of a minority.
avoiding the cons of ‘Pitch Culture’ means giving ear to that voice.
What do I mean by pitch culture? To those unfamiliar with marketing a pitch is a proposal. It’s putting forward an idea that’s likely to get people hooked to a guy in the business of making money getting people hooked. And getting the guy to think that the idea will get people hooked. With so many hooks you can see how quickly the process gets crooked.
The obvious problem here is the difficulty of making something as inherently subjective as art as objective as a studios bottom line. This is an art in itself that I don’t necessarily disdain, I just think it like any market requires ethics and oversight.
You don’t want metrics, things that in themselves are fraught with the chaotic problem domain of social statistics, to become the cookie cutter for your artistic treats.
The article argues that today due to the presence of serious writers this cookie cutter approach is rarer. I do see some evidence for this but that evidence is of course shows that I happen to find engaging and is thus suspect.
That being said I feel that many shows are not so much abdicating the cookie cutter but simply using a cookie cutter that tries really hard to not seem like a cookie cutter.
Bill Hick’s classic bit on marketing where he mimics a sales panels thoughts ‘o you see what he did there, he’s going for the anti-marketing dollar, that’s really smart – the anti-marketing dollar is huge.’ (Not an exact quote) This impression is exactly what I’m talking about with the ‘anti cookie cutter cookie cutter’.
Everytime I hear words like ‘groundbreaking, raw, gritty, etc’ I immediately encounter a funny sensation. It’s a dull sort of malaise that settles over my mind as I picture a litany of industry standards like ‘Dr. House accepting his lesbian daughter while taking potshots at corporations and Jesus as he fights off zombies that put him face to face with the surprisingly violent nature of average people in a shitty situation.’ This is the cookie cutter that I call ‘shit just got real.‘
South Park did a really great bit that highlights the overindulgence of shocking realities when the character Butters tires of ‘all the gay weiners’ in Game of Thrones.
A pretty standard line of advice for any profession is that ‘you have to know the rules before you can break them.’
I think that the lack of a strong reading culture makes audiences particularly susceptible to cheap tricks. And if serious writers are going to revolutionize an industry known for cheap tricks they’d better be careful when catering to the whims of that audience and the farmers at Madison Avenue.
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