Page and Screen: The Symbiotic Relationship

Watching TV gives you square eyes.  This is a common “truth”, supported by strict parents and any cynics whose childhood was already a distant memory by the late-50s, to sway impressionable children and grandchildren from the lure of the screen.

TV and film, by absorbing an average of four hours of each citizen’s day, are accused of the crime of tearing the nation away from old-fashioned books, thus breeding a generation of illiterate children, causing reduced concentration spans, the inability to absorb large quantities of text and even weight issues.  I don’t disagree, but I don’t think it’s all bad news.  Can these forms not reopen doors for the discovery of literature?

The television and film industry of today practically gorges on the publishing industry of the last few centuries.  We all know that Bridget Jones’ Diary is based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and that 10 Things I Hate About You mirrors Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.  And there’s about a billion TV dramas based on nineteenth and early twentieth century classics, such as Cranford, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Lark Rise to Candleford, Brideshead Revisited and so on.

These productions may be perceived as indulgences or guilty pleasures, but the idea that the literary connections legitimize their mass consumption is not an unreasonable one.  It is argued that people don’t have the patience or ability to consume these stories in their original form, and instead settle for the easy option.  Conversely, I believe that these adaptations can encourage a rediscovery of the classic texts on which they are based.  They provide the link between never even considering reading a particular book and inquisitively picking it up off a shelf in a bookshop.

Contemporary adaptations make classic literature seem accessible, relevant, and consumable.  By breaking down any previous negative assumptions, the only thing left to conquer is the more time-consuming text.  But the beauty of books is that they release their pleasure more slowly; watchers who were sad to see a story end, can – with their newfound readership – experience it again, but differently, and indulge in it at their own pace.

Yet it is not only adaptations that can pull back the dusty gates of literary avenues.  And now comes my primary motivation for approaching this subject at all: I am completely hooked by Gilmore Girls.  Miles behind the bandwagon, I know, but it’s true and I can justify it.

Anyone who has ever watched an episode will be aware of the bombardment of literary references, both overt and veiled.  Books and films are referred to in every single episode and although I cannot speak for everyone, I know I am not alone in being inspired and intrigued to read and watch things I feel that I probably should have already.  In fact, a quick Google search will demonstrate that there is even such thing as ‘The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge’, and I was quite disappointed to find that I wasn’t the first person to have this idea.

Nevertheless, I have just begun reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar; last week I watched Casablanca; this week I borrowed a copy of Proust’s Swann’s Way from a friend.  And it is thanks to this “American trash” that I renewed my desire to one day read War and Peace.

Gilmore Girls is proving to be great for recommendations; I’ve begun compiling a list, which is turning into a full-blown reading project.  So over the next few weeks and months I am going to be reading and reviewing books and classic films that I have been led to through what some may refer to as the ‘cruder’ media and art forms.

Excessive TV watching might give you square eyes, but it might also encourage you to have a well-rounded cultural knowledge.