Jeff’s God ComplexPosted: May 10, 2017
The God Complex vs. Non-Literary Sources of Entertainment
by Jeff Bowles
The written word is dying. You know it, I know it, and so does anyone else who’s taken a serious look at book sales in the last twenty-five years. Academics and the literary elite have been decrying this death for some time. Growing up in the 90s, I was told again and again my generation represented a kind of last ditch effort to save literacy before it was too late.
Does it have to be this way? Popular opinion would have you believe so. Then again, any form of creative expression that becomes less and less popular with each successive generation is doomed to fail at some point, right? Kids today. They’ve got myriad distractions. Movies, video games, the internet, comic books, television. The ones who grow up readers will probably stick with it. But young people without an inherent need to devour that latest giant book release tend to shy away from recreational reading their whole lives.
See, prose is a beautiful textual form, but it also requires the kind of attention span that went out of fashion with fax machines and cassette tapes. It requires imagination, particularly in regards to participation, and make no mistake, if you’re reading your favorite author, you’re a participant as much as a consumer.
I’ve often heard it said all great art forms thrive on limitations. Music, for instance, is built on sound, rhythm, aural evocation, but there is no visual component, and often when we listen to music, the absence of something interesting to look at often heightens the experience. Film, too. We have the visual, we have sound, but we cannot readily discern the thoughts, feeling, and motivations of the people onscreen; in other words, we can’t be inside their heads. Which is why world-class actors make all the difference. There’s an entire hidden world bubbling to the surface in great films, and our imaginations help complete the picture.
The written word is a lot like that, except that in a good piece of fiction, we may know the inner workings of our favorite characters. We just can’t see or hear them. A good book is a wonderful tool for sharpening the mind. As much as I like video games, movies, and comic books—and I do—they just aren’t as fulfilling on that level.
If you’re a fan of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, you should know your go-to genres have been coopted by video game developers and movie producers all over the world. They’ve taken the hallmarks and defining tropes you love and turned them into heightened visceral experiences that in the short term at least can blow even the best novels out of the water. I love reading about space pirates and interstellar imperial armadas. But somehow, when a PlayStation game puts a blaster rifle in my hand and lets me save the galaxy, it’s just too fulfilling a spectacle to ignore.
I’m 32 years old, which makes me a quote, unquote “older” Millennial. My generation takes a lot of guff out there, but no one can deny how skilled we are in the ways of media diversification. I have no problem switching between novels and games and comics and TV shows, because I know each unique format can render enjoyable stories. And that’s the thing, really. Stories are the key. We still love and crave them, spend a lot of time—too much time—in a kind of mad rush to consume them.
It’s just we’re less likely to turn to a good book to find them than Baby Boomers or even many Gen-Xers. The as-yet-unnamed generation coming up behind us is even less likely, and in fact, their concepts of good stories are even stranger, owing to the fact that many kids today worship YouTube and the limitless hysteria and disjointed infotainment it provides.
Oh sure, there may be a place for good books for years and years to come, but if you as a writer are in any way worried about their ultimate viability, might I recommend you study these other forms of entertainment and discover what makes them tick?
Are video games truly mindless? Or do they simply manage to capture the heat of battle like no other storytelling medium before? Are serialized “shared-universe” movie properties a waste of time, or are they the next step in branded and concise science-fictive intellectual properties?
I think we can make our prose more electric, our ideas bigger and harder to ignore. I think our fiction can be faster, more dangerous, put together like any good hybrid. Otherwise, I fear, we’re going to get out-shouted, the carnival barkers of a million different industries drowning out our unique voices one-by-one
I’ve dedicated by publishing history to this very principle, but I certainly understand the hesitancy I sense each time I tell fellow writers most of us aren’t ready for that kind of transition. Rather than allowing our favorite literary forms to die, we should encourage them to evolve. Ultimately, how many new fans a fresh-faced writer can hope to gain depends on the lengths he or she is willing to go to in an effort to stand out in the crowd.
By the way, the crowd in question? It’s full of billion-dollar storytelling giants, and the almighty dollar just ain’t what it once was. Hollywood still loves to adapt a book, though. Take my advice, folks. Write that which is entertaining enough to create and convert new book fans. The pool of international readers grows shallower every year. Let’s encourage more people to come take a swim, huh? Those who know more about Mario and Master Chief than Tolstoy or Shakespeare. It starts with you, dear writer. Just how damn entertaining can you be?
Interested in my writing? Check out my latest short story collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces — https://www.amazon.com/Fear-Loathing-Las-Cruces-Stories-ebook/dp/B06XH2774F
YouTube’s Jeff Bowles Central: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6uMxedp3VxxUCS4zn3ulgQ