Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Books vs. Movies, Part 1: Why the Oscars are Televised

Well folks, I’m knee-deep in my big book-to-movie adaptation, so rather than try to let the blog distract me into thinking about something else, let’s start a series that allows me to discuss some of the issues I’m wrestling with...

Reading is an individual experience with individual meaning. Moviegoing is a collective experience with collective meaning. Obviously, this is partially due to the fact that we read books while we’re alone, and we view movies (for the most part) while we’re gathered together, but it goes further than that.

You may read a book and then insist that your friend read it too, but you probably won’t be that offended if they don’t like it. That usually just leads to a friendly debate in which you describe why you liked it. If, on the other hand, you see a movie with someone, and you’re sitting there loving it, and you walk out only to discover that your friend was sitting there hating it the whole time, you feel oddly betrayed. There is an assumption that everybody should react to movies in the same way.

This is why the Oscars are televised and the Pulitzers will never be. The Oscars are the validation of our collective consciousness, a moment for America to come together and say “we all see the same value in the same movies!” Even when you totally disagree and hate the Oscar choice, they’re still fun to watch, because you get to yell at the screen: “How dare they get it so wrong?? Don’t they realize that Brokeback Mountain was obviously better??” A bad Oscar choice only re-enforces our conviction that we should all share the same taste in movies. By contrast, we may respect the work of the Pulitzer committee, but we don’t actually expect it to affirm our own individual taste in books.

Why do we expect our movies to have so much shared meaning? Is it merely a result of the collective viewing experience, or is does it have something to do with how they’re made? We’ll pick up there tomorrow...

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