Writing is no doubt a vast and complex field. If as I, and many of the people who are likely to read this will have, you’ll know that somewhere along the course of your studies you can end up weaker in one aspect than others. Personally, I know that I came out of University far weaker in Poetry than many of my colleagues. I’ve struggled and had a long road to work out how to write screenplays too. Of course, I never studied poetry beyond first year. I strongly disliked my tutor and felt that the module overlooked a lot of contemporary poetry. This shouldn’t come as a surprise though; before I began studying Creative Writing, I had a contempt for what I saw as academic poetry. The academics it seemed were quick to judge but slow to evolve. There was a huge us and them situation. There I was, a performer who had gone from mewing my poems at open mic nights, to a confident festival and street poet accosting people at festivals with random poems. I knew absolutely when someone hated my work. After enough performances you understand the different between the polite smiles and applause and the ‘oh my god we loved it’ applause. Every poem I wrote, or rewrote I had an immediate reaction to how well it worked. Yet, when put in front of the academics my poetry was looked down on. I remember one particular instance where a poem that had moved people in performance to tears was criticised for how plain, pedestrian and cliche it was. In that instance the critics missed the point. If you create a familiar character then your audience can associate with that character. I remembered the frustration at knowing that poetry is not just the written word. Yet, when I went to University what did I find? Tutors who proclaimed that it couldn’t be quoted or analysed if it wasn’t in a published book (excluding of course vanity and self publishing). What, I began to question, about performance poetry? What of poetry used in advertising? What of Rap? (Whilst not a fan of Rap, it does mean Rhythm and Poetry)
I should state at this point that this is not a rant about the academic structure. Far from it, even if I don’t agree with the structure, I do understand it. What this post is about is illustrating some of the difficulties in today’s media filled world with teaching ‘successful’ forms of writing.
Let’s take Breaking Bad for example. That show was one I absolutely couldn’t stand. It was slow and largely filled with two-dimensional characters (one or two leads notwithstanding). If there were no Netflix, I don’t think anyone would argue that Breaking Bad would never have achieved the popularity it has. You see if you read the anecdotal evidence around you come across tales of people who decided to give the second episode a chance, or those that claim you need to get a few episodes in to really begin to enjoy it. That’s all well and good, but in the days when there was only broadcast TV such a show would never have been successful. If it wasn’t good on the first episode, it got ignored in planning next week’s viewing. Of course, it’s important to note you had to plan your viewing. Either making sure you were at home or that you could record your shows. If you sat down to watch something you’d gone to the effort or setting the VCR for, and it was rubbish, are you going to bother going to the same lengths next week? Netflix, and catch up services have given us more options though. It seems that people are more willing to sit through more mediocre episodes or shows in order to ‘give the show a chance’. Of course the double edge to this sword is that you can end up binge watching entire seasons of shows and losing all track of time. You’ll sit there with nothing else to do, no new shows on TV and a weekend free. So on goes NF and you browse for new stuff. A show you always meant to watch pops up and you watch. The first episode’s not great, but you want to give it a chance besides which, the next one has already started playing. Why not watch just this one more. Before you know it you’ve sat through an entire show that you think is middling to fair quality. Half your weekend has flown past and you figure there’s no point doing anything now. Why not just begin the next season. After all you’re keen to figure out just how that obvious cliff hanger is resolved.
All of this gets me thinking. Is ‘good writing’ as cut and dry as academia portrays. I’m currently working on a piece of writing entitled The Anti-Lecture I’ve been through hugely successful examples of poetry, screen-writing and novels and pointed out where these pieces of writing fail to match up to the example of good writing that is held up for us. The fact is that many of the things we’re told not to do when studying writing many writers actually do.
Perhaps though this is missing the point. Perhaps these shows which owe their popularity to services like Netflix are good and I’m finding faults where there aren’t any? Personally, I doubt it. The really important question is: what do you think?