Television and Literature
Television and Literature
The spectacular growth of television in the latter half of the twentieth century has had a profound effect on the ways in which many people view "literature." Small screen adaptations of literary works ranging from the classics to contemporary genre fiction now appear alongside the standard television fare of sitcoms, soap operas, and hour-long dramas. Nevertheless, a tense détente still exists between proponents of television and those of literature, with purists from the latter camp often decrying the travesties inflicted upon the classics by TV producers hoping to package literary works for mass consumption in the electronic age. At the extreme, such critics see television as an "idiot box," a means to anesthetize the minds of the viewing audience by pandering to sensationalism, cheap melodrama, and vacuous humor. They view the industry as a corrupting influence, and produce compelling evidence that television has eroded literacy. Such commentators lament the processes of simplification and abridgment required by the temporal and financial considerations of adapting lengthy works of literature for television as processes that might compromise the work itself or the imaginative spirit of its author.
At the other end of the spectrum are those who see television as simply the chief medium of popular entertainment in the present era—akin to the stage in Shakespeare's England or the novel in the Victorian era. Such commentators tend to focus on the malleability of television as a medium, and consider its substantial possibilities for literary expression. They note that, in addition to offering its own genres (the sitcom and soap opera being the most easily recognizable), television has also proved a serviceable means to introduce younger generations to the literature of the past, from works of the popular detective/mystery, horror, and romance genres to the dramas of Shakespeare. It has also been successfully used as means of education for young people, a fact demonstrated by the broad selection of programming designed to both teach and entertain children. More recent critical works have surfaced that point to a broadened acceptance of television programming as a serious topic of literary inquiry, as scholars begin to apply the tools of literary critical interpretation to contemporary video "texts."
Pride and Prejudice (television adaptation) 1995
G. K. Chesterton
Sanctuary of Fear (television adaptation) 1979
The Moonstone (television adaptation) 1973
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Hound of the Baskervilles (television adaptation) 1972
The Dain Curse (television adaptation) 1978
The Woodlanders (television adaptation) 1970
Jude the Obscure (television adaptation) 1971
The Mayor of Casterbridge (television adaptation) 1975
C. S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia (television adaptation) 1989
A Midsummer Night's Dream (television adaptation) 1947
King Lear (television adaptation) 1948
Henry V (television adaptation) 1951
William Makepeace Thackeray
Vanity Fair (television adaptation) 1988
The Warden (television adaptation) 1951
Brideshead Revisited (television adaptation) 1981
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Television And Literacy
SOURCE: "Television and the Crisis in the Humanities," in Journal of Popular Film and Television, Vol. 19, No. 3, Fall, 1991, pp. 98-105.
[In the following essay, Burns defends television against criticism that it is responsible for a decline in American cultural literacy and champions media studies as a legitimate subject of academic inquiry. ]
Comes now TV Guide complaining that "54 percent of Americans know that Judge [Joseph] Wapner runs The People's Court but only 9 percent know that Justice William Rehnquist heads the Supreme Court." Lest readers miss the point of this supposedly shocking allegation (drawn from an unidentified survey), TV Guide solemnly concludes: "That's a sad commentary on the public's legal savvy."1
Of course, one could look at it another way and say that it is a sad commentary on the Supreme Court. The "legal savvy" of Americans has probably increased as a result of The People's Court—more people probably know that small claims court exists and is available to anyone who wants to use it. On the other hand, the Supreme Court is remote, arcane, and (as a cynic might conclude) primarily concerned with disputes among people and groups rich enough to hire lawyers to pursue the matter that far.
This is not to say that The People's Court is a masterpiece of public...
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Reading Vs. Watching
Robert C. Allen
SOURCE: "Reader-Oriented Criticism and Television," in Discourse: Contemporary Criticism, University of North Carolina Press, 1987, pp. 74-112.
[In the following essay, Allen applies the phenomenological theory of reader-oriented criticism to the viewing of television. ]
"Reader-response criticism," "reception theory," and "reader-oriented criticism" are all names given to the variety of recent works in literary studies that foreground the role of the reader in understanding and deriving pleasure from literary texts. Traditionally, says Wolfgang Iser, a leading force in the German variant of reader-oriented studies, critics have regarded the literary text as something that possesses meaning much in the way that an oriental carpet possesses a pattern. Thus critics saw their task as finding the "figure in the carpet"—the meaning of the work that lay hidden in its structure—and relating that meaning to other readers who had not discovered it for themselves (or who did not possess the interpretative gifts of the critic).
To Iser, the presumptions of traditional literary criticism render the entire critical enterprise little more than intellectual strip mining: the critic plows through the text looking for signs of hidden meaning. When all the bits of meaning have been extracted from the textual site, the critic displays them before a suitably...
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Altman, Mark. Twin Peaks: Behind the Scenes, Las Vegas: Pioneer Books, 1990.
Borges, Jorge Luis. Labyrinths. New York: New Directions, 1962.
Corliss, Richard. "Czar of Bizarre." Time 1 Oct. 1990: 84-88.
Irwin, John T. "Mysteries We Reread, Mysteries of Rereading: Poe, Borges, and the Analytic Detective Story; Also Lacan, Derrida, and Johnson." Modern Language Notes 101 (5) 1986: 1168-1215.
Iser, Wolfgang. The Art of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1978.
Knickelbine, Scott. Welcome to Twin Peaks: A Complete Guide to Who's Who and What's What. Lincoln, IL: Publications International, 1990.
Meehan, Eileen. "Why We Don't Count. The Commodity Audience." Logics of Television: Essays in Cultural Criticism. Ed. Patricia Mellencamp. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990.
Peña, Richard. "Borges and the New Latin American Cinema." Borges and His Successors: The Borgesian Impact on Literature and the Arts. Ed. Edna Aizenberg. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1990. 229-43.
David Foster Wallace
SOURCE: "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction," in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 13, No. 2, Summer, 1993, pp. 151-94.
[In the following essay, Wallace offers extended...
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J. Roger Osterholm
SOURCE: "Michener's Space, the Novel and Miniseries," in Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 23, No. 3, Winter, 1989, pp. 51-64.
[In the following essay, Osterholm considers alterations of characterization, thematic emphasis, and plot incidents in the television miniseries adaptation of James Michener's novel Space (1982).]
James Michener's 1982 novel Space and its adaptation as a thirteen-hour television miniseries provide excellent material for a case study on the styles and trappings of major productions for the popular American culture. The miniseries cost $32 million and was broadcast on the CBS television network April 14 to 18, 1985, with a nine-hour abridgement broadcast in July 1987, Significant alterations in characterization, plot, and themes for the miniseries reflect popular interests and obsessions, at least as well as the experienced producer, writers, and directors for television could both identify and further popularize them. Michener's novel, although popular itself, is clearly more refined and advanced, more demanding of its audience, than the broadcast version—as the novelist has himself suggested in a letter to this writer.
The miniseries was produced by Dick Berg (who produced the earlier miniseries Wallenberg: A Hero's Story), written by Stirling Silliphant and Dick Berg, and directed by Joseph...
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Blake, William. "And Did Those Feet" and "With Happiness Stretch'd Across the Hills." Complete Writings, Ed. Geoffrey Keynes. Rev. London: Oxford UP, 1971. 480-81, 816-18.
"Booster Rockets Prevent 'Space' from Fizzling Out." Atlanta Journal April 12, 1985. Newsbank: Film and TV 1984-85, 11:116 B1-2.
Boxer, Tim. "Tube Launches Space Program." New York Post April 10, 1985. Newsbank: Film and TV 1984-85, 11:105 F11.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Biographia Literaria. Selected Poetry and Prose. Ed. Donald A. Stauffer. New York: Modern, 1951. 109-428.
Day, A. Grove. James Michener. 2nd ed. Boston: Twayne, 1977.
Dougan, Michael. "Space." San Francisco Examiner April 14, 1985. Newsbank: Film and TV 1984-85, 11:116 A4-6.
Durden, Douglas. "Dern Carves Out 'Space' on TV." Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch April 12, 1985. Newsbank: Film and TV 1984-85, 11:105 F13-14.
Edelstein, Andrew J. "Can 'Space' Bring Minis Back to Earth?" Daytona Beach, Fla., Sunday News-Journal TV Log April 14, 1985: 4.
Marcus, Stanley. "News and Previews." TV Guide April 13, 1985: A4,
Meisler, Andy. "Will This Colossus Fly?" TV Guide April 13, 1985: 8-11.
Michener, James A. The Bridges at Toko-ri. 1953. New York: Fawcett Crest, n.d....
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Literary Genres And Television
SOURCE: "Same Old Others: The Western, Lonesome Dove, and the Lingering Difficulty of Difference," in The Velvet Light Trap, Vol. 27, Spring, 1991, pp. 49-62.
[In the following essay, Fore examines the ways in which the television adaptation of Larry McMurtry's novel Lonesome Dove perpetuates racist and sexist stereotypes and endorses the myth of manifest destiny.]
The Red Indians who have been fortunate enough to secure permanent engagements with the several Western film companies are paid a salary that keeps them well provided with tobacco and their worshipped "firewater". . . . They put their heart and soul in the work, especially in battles with the whites, and it is necessary to have armed guards watch over their movements for the least sign of treachery. They naturally object to acting in pictures where they are defeated, and it requires a good deal of coaxing to induce them to take on such objectionable parts. . . . With all the precautions that are taken, the Redskins occasionally manage to smuggle real bullets into action; but happily they have always been detected in the nick of time. . . .
It is as if you accept the heroes and stories of Western society, not voluntarily, but because of the social and political forces you are caught up in. In fact, as kids, we tried...
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Armes, Roy. Third World Film Making and the West. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.
Bakhtin, M. M. "Discourse in the Novel." The Dialogic Imagination. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981. 259-422.
Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.
Campbell, Richard. "Lonesome Dove and the Re-Invention of the Western Hero." Speech Communication Association Convention. November, 1989.
Carter, Bill. "A Big Playoff for Lonesome Dove." New York Times 6 Mar. 1989: Dl, D8.
Castro, Janice. "Hitsville Goes Hollywood." Time 30 Jan. 1989:51.
Dench, Ernest A. "The Dangers of Employing Redskins as Movie Actors" in Making Movies. New York: Macmillan, 1915.
Dyer, Richard. "White." Screen 29.4 (Autumn 1988): 44-64.
Engelhardt, Tom. "Ambush at Kamikaze Pass." Counter-point Perspectives on Asian America. Ed. Emma Gee. Los Angeles: University of California Asian American Study Center, 1976. 269-79.
Fiske, John. "British Cultural Studies and Television." Channels of Discourse. Ed. Robert C. Allen. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987. 254-89.
Gelman, Morrie. "Dove's High Scores Fly in the Face of Conventional Wisdom. Variety 15-21 Feb. 1989: 85.
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Barzun, J., and Saunders, J. R. Art in Basic Education. Washington: Council for Basic Education, 1979.
Bentham, J. J. "Dalekmania." Fantasy Empire (Special Summer Issue 1983): 38-44.
Bettleheim, B. "The Art of the Moving Picture." Harper's (October 1981): 80-83.
Bretnor, R., ed. "Science Fiction in the Age of Space." Science Fiction, Today and Tomorrow. Cambridge: MIT P, 1974. 150-78.
Briggs, P. "Three Styles of Arthur C. Clarke: The Projector, the Wit and the Mystic." Arthur C. Clarke. Eds. J. C. Olander and M. H. Greenberg. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1977.
Butor, M. "Science Fiction: The Crisis of its Growth." SF the Other Side of Realism: Essays on Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction. Ed. T. D. Clareson. Bowling Green: Popular Press, 1977. 157-65.
Butrym, A. J. "For Suffering Humanity: The Ethics of Science in Science Fiction." The Transcendent Adventure: Studies of Religion in Science Fiction Fantasy. Ed. R. Reilly. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1985. 55-70.
Cawelti, J. G. "With the Benefit to Hindsight: Popular Culture Criticism." Critical Studies in Mass Communication 2. 4 (1985): 363-77.
Clareson, T. O. Some Kind of Paradise: The Emergence of American Science Fiction. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1985.
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Television Genres And Literature
Pearl G. Aldrich
SOURCE: "Daniel Defoe: The Father of the Soap Opera," in Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. VIII, No. 4, Spring, 1975, pp. 767-74.
[In the following essay, Aldrich identifies similarities of plot, character, theme, and language between the modern television serial drama and the novels of Daniel Defoe.]
Should one mention Defoe and soap opera in the same breath, theoretically he is dealing with two extremes—literature and non-literature written for the mass media—but actually he is not. In his own day, Defoe wrote for the mass media and his five novels, mined from the enormous paper mountain his great productivity piled up, are now called literature because they show, in retrospect, qualities that became identified as artistic during the novel's development into an art form. Whether soap opera, in retrospect, will show qualities of a yet-to-benamed art form is impossible to predict, but we can make some relationships between past and present with existing material. One will be to show that structures underlying popular and elite art are essentially the same. Another, that in the novels he wrote for mass consumption, Daniel Defoe fathered soap opera. Who was the mother? Why, Moll Flanders, of course.
Twentieth-century soap opera and eighteenth-century prose narratives such as Defoe's all come under the standard definition of fiction;...
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Aldrich, Pearl. "Defoe: The Father of Soap Opera." Journal of Popular Culture 8 (1975): 767-74.
Allen, Robert C. Speaking of Soap Operas. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1985.
Altick, Richard. The English Common Reader: A Social History of the Mass Reading Public, 1800-1900, Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1957.
Boswell, James. Life of Johnson. Edited by R. W. Chapman. 3rd ed., corrected by J. D. Fleeman. New York: Oxford UP, 1970.
Brunsdon, Charlotte. "Crossroads: Notes on Soap Opera." In Regarding Television: Critical Approaches—an Anthology, edited by E. Ann Kaplan. Frederick, Maryland: University Publications of America, 1983: 76-83.
Cantor, Muriel G. "Popular Culture and the Portrayal of Women: Content and Control." In Analyzing Gender: A Handbook of Social Science Research, edited by Beth Hess and Myra Marx Ferree. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1987.
Cantor, Muriel G. and Suzanne Pingree, The Soap Opera. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1983.
Keeler, J. "Soaps: Counterpart to the 18th Century's Quasi-Moral Novel." The New York Times, 16 March 1980.
Laslett, Peter. Family Life and Illicit Love in Earlier Generations: Essays in Historical Sociology. New York: Cambridge UP, 1977.
Laslett, Peter. The World We Have...
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Children's Literature/Children's Television
SOURCE: "Books on the Box: The BBC Chronicles of Narnia," in Critical Survey, Vol. 3, No. 3,1991, pp. 313-23.
[In the following essay, Reynolds centers on the BBC adaptation of C, S. Lewis's Chronicles of Íarnia in a broader examination of issues and assumptions about the translation of children's books into television.]
It is rare to find parents and educators actively promoting a television series (other than the specifically didactic 'schools' broadcasts) and treating it as a cultural event. This reflects a deeply rooted ambivalence about television as entertainment which is directly linked to attitudes surrounding children's reading. Watching television is inevitably regarded as an activity less worthwhile than reading, and for long has been accused of seducing children away from books. Nevertheless, when in 1989 the BBC launched its three-year serialisation of C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, families around the country regularly settled down to an early Sunday evening's viewing, and the whir of institutional video recorders switching themselves on was almost audible. The ongoing adaptation of the Narnia books for television (at the time of writing The Silver Chair is being screened in the six weeks leading up to Christmas 1990) raises a number of key issues about children's literature and television. These have primarily to do with status,...
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Giddings, Robert, Keith Selby, and Chris Wensley. Screening the Novel: The Theory and Practice of Literary Dramatization. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990, 174 P.
In-depth study of the problems and concerns associated with producing screen adaptations of literary classics. The authors focus primarily on two case study examples, Charles Dickens's Great Expectations and William Thackeray's Vanity Fair.
Heath, Stephen, and Gillian Skirrow. "An Interview with Raymond Williams." In Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture, edited by Tania Modleski, pp. 3-17. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.
Interview with the author of Television: Technology and Cultural Form on the relation of television to the concepts of "mass" and "popular culture" and on the significance of the medium to the organization of modern society.
Holderness, Graham, and Christopher McCullough. "Shakespeare on the Screen: A Selective Filmography." Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearean Study and Production 39 (1987): 13-37.
Lists "complete, straightforward versions of Shakespeare's plays in film, television, and video form."
Jameson, Fredric. "Reading without Interpretation: Postmodernism and the Video-Text." In The Linguistics of Writing: Arguments...
(The entire section is 537 words.)