David Wallace’s 1990 essay, “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction”, could, or should, be read in conjunction with Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”.
There is no direct connection between the two, although they both overlap on the margins of the same issues: originality, creativity, the audience and the market, and others besides, which this blog won’t attempt to interpret.
Wallace and Benjamin’s interpretation is a political economy on how the writer, the composer, or the video installationist, works in the market; it acknowledges commerce, capital and its affiliated institutions, as well as supply and demand and how audience taste is formed.
As Wallace states “…commercial entertainment(s)…sheer ability to deliver pleasure in large doses changes people’s relationship to art and entertainment.” That is a considerable force and even though TV is losing its appeal, certainly with millennials and others, Wallace’s perspective remains true now with the web and social media, where gratification is multifarious, constant and self-regulated.
In response, fiction is attempting new ways of delivery, on devices and channels, via technologies which still follow the lines Wallace traced in 1990.
Despite differences between TV and software apps, the common denominator is time and how it’s used. In 1990 Americans spent 6 hours watching TV: with social media it can be over 3 hours per day. Over the last couple of years the number and type of dating apps has grown and Tinder users, for instance, spend 90 minutes each day checking their status. Compared to TV and many novels, these apps bring very quick interactive pleasure.
That sheer ability, as Wallace said, to deliver pleasure affects and influences how audiences decide how to use time, if any, to reading novels, and least of all to the books that don’t immediately bring an instant hit. Satisfaction has to be quick or else, it’s TLDNR.
©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.