The Book Was Better
"The book was better."
A simple phrase, in and of itself, the root of which lies somewhere betwixt pretension and honest discovery. It is an unfortunate circumstance that we live in a time where the former is so often mistaken for the latter in terms of intelligence and the respect that may come from having a bit of it. Yet, here we sit, riding the wave of an age ripe with brightly lit screens filled to the brim with the basest of human instinct, and we deign to call it the evolution of story.
Rinse and Repeat
We live in an unoriginal age. Any story, or character that inhabits such a realm, can be tied to a similar concept that came before. Those who have come to terms with this inevitability have learned that it was never a character or story that was original, but the mind (or minds) who spawned such glories. When these minds of higher-than-average intelligence release their work, money is made. When money is made, more is desired. This vicious cycle makes for a rather limited amount of "good" material, hence the desire to bank on stories that have already seen success.
And why not? When staring down the barrel of investors anxiously waiting to spew loads of money on the hope of massive returns, what creative mind does not look to those who have done it better? What sane and rational person of the 21st century does not bend the knee to the power of money? We call it nostalgia. We loved the story so very much in our youth, how could we ever say no to the opportunity bestowed upon us? How could we ever say no to bringing our favorite characters to screens larger-than-life? We want three dimensions! We want action! We want blood! We want sex! We want to live vicariously through these characters, but refuse to take the time to truly understand them.
For far too long, the phrase, "the book was better," has been used to assert some semblance of intelligence over the screen-dwellers. And now, some interpretations of written word are being lauded as "better than the book." We have shifted from pompous ignorance to plain stupidity. I call for a return to roots. A return to the time when proclaiming, "the book was better," represented a badge of honor. Uttering the phrase meant understanding that there is no amount of CG or fanciful post-production that could enhance your intimate relationship with the story and its characters.
The book will always be better. The book will always be better than the movie. The book will always be better than the TV show. The book will always be better than life itself. The book will always be better for two reasons:
Interiority deals with the inner workings of any given subject. As it pertains to stories, interiority is represented by character thoughts and motivations, giving us an intense glimpse at the reality of a character based on personal truth, not just action. Interiority leads directly to our sympathetic response to a character. Love the character or not, interiority is the main road to this response, just as it is in real life. We only confess to truly "knowing" someone after we have been given a glimpse at their true motivations, their true self.
This sense of interiority is dying, both in story and in life, as one always precedes the other. Our society's move toward screen-based story telling illuminates the degradation of both our intellect and our evolving human nature. It brings forth the realization that we are moving further from truth and progress, and closer to placid destruction.
With increasing frequency, a vast majority of our society craves two things: characterization and the acceptance of the herd. In pursuit of both, instead of being true to who we are, we choose to craft a mask that allows us to function within the confines of both subjective ideals. This crafting has become so prolific that mere surface conversations are battles in deflection. The back and forth that once represented an increasing knowledge of one another, is now only a play of puppets. We dangle our masks in front of any true motivation so as not to seem an individual, or be exiled from the imaginary caste that rules our self-importance. Any semblance of individuality is treated with shame initially, and humility henceforth. No one embraces their own truth.
Our on-screen story telling follows the same path. Rarely do we see interiority, or any semblance of character development, played across the glamorous canvas. Instead, we revel in the hollow nature of our base desires, immune to all that makes us unique in the animal world. We take great characters and dress them up to appeal to the masses. We forget that they have already done this. There is no alteration needed.
Some may argue that the nature of film leaves little room for interiority. That the attention span of a modern audience does not allow for an intimate relationship between crew and viewer. What is the point then? Why tell a story if you are not going to involve some risk for the viewer? I want to weep when a character dies! I want to rage at the villain who murdered the hero! I want to understand why!
When I read, I understand why. When I read, I see the picture of humanity that the author is attempting to paint. I see his/her ideal version of a character and I watch as that character's development runs parallel to the author's discovery of themselves, and humanity, as a whole. When I read, I learn what it is to love fully, to hate without regard for personal safety, and the gamut of human experience that lies between.
The second reason a book will always be better deals with personal landscape and, more specifically, individuality. There are not many of sound mind that fail to recognize we are in the midst of individuality's death throes. Some of the largest social movements of modern times actually deal with destroying individuality through a sole reliance upon popular aesthetic appeal (the "hipster" movement comes to mind). This destruction spawns from the inability to create personal landscapes devoid of outside influence. Reading teaches this ability along with abstract thought, which is the basis of human intelligence.
When we go to see a movie, or turn on the television, we are given all the visual information and very little is left to the imagination. As it is with any learned response, partake in this action enough and said action becomes instinct. We are dogs to the proverbial food bowl, show us the image and the tremendous machine that is our brain goes into hibernation.
The death of imagination is the death of individuality. How can we imagine ourselves any different than those around us when both subjects draw from the same inspirational well?
When a book is read, there is only our personal interpretation of character and world. This personal interpretation is unique to you, a representation of our own individuality and desire for separation from the norm. There is nothing contrived about this interpretation. The deeper we delve into the story, the greater our interpretation of the world becomes. This personal interpretation becomes a badge of our individuality as we discover how others have done the same, respectively. The more we read, the greater this sense grows, our personal landscapes blossoming into an intelligent being capable of free thought and individuality amongst the mediocrity of the modern mob.
Such a simple exercise in individuality, reading is. So simple, yet we willingly abandon it for the hollow nature of on-screen gloss. There is more to story than plot. There are more to characters than aesthetic appeal. There is only intelligence and individuality to be gained, and nothing to be lost. The screen can not give us what we need most...a sense of self.