What are the debates surrounding the function of popular literature in society?What are the debates surrounding the function of popular literature in society?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To expand tangentially on #3, a lot of readers -- I differentiate "readers" from "learners" or "teachers" -- think more highly of their chosen popular fiction than of the "classic" works taught in school. Sci-fi author Orson Scott Card has said -- and I agree -- that many people grow up hating to read because of the terribly-written, old books forced on them in school by an establishment that refuses to change with the times. There is no reason, except for a basic understanding of literary history, to teach some of the wretched, boring drivel that passes for "classic" literature, while passing over the extremely influential "popular" literature that people actually enjoy reading. I, for example, would teach the works of Isaac Asimov over many other authors, as he published an extraordinary body of work in almost every field and genre; he was also a "popular" author, but with greater credentials than so many "literary" authors.

I guess it comes down to the definite worth of reading for pleasure vs. the abstract worth of reading for... self-improvement? for status? I don't want to name names, but I have read some "classic" books and thought, "Who intentionally reads this stuff? It's boring, it says nothing new, it is not significant in any way save the status placed on it by people who do not read!" So many people dismiss popular fiction of any sort simply because it sells well, or because other people like it; there is plenty of bad popular fiction, but there is so much good popular fiction that I can't imagine subjecting myself to the awful on purpose. The arrogant condescension levied against popular fiction simply because of its popularity (instead of, say, the writing quality, the stories, the intended audience, the stories, the original ideas, THE STORIES) is extraordinary; worse, those critics never read the far better books they deride, because they feel it "beneath" them.

Anyway, that's my rant. Take from it what you will.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some major debates concerning the purpose and effect of popular literature and whether it should be funded and promoted by educational and government institutions. Another debate is over censorship.

Among the genres of popular fiction are westerns, romance, fantasy, and pornography. Much of the recent teen oriented vampire fiction is violent and quasi-erotic or even pornographic. Many people ask whether reading or watching this material is good for teenagers. Thus one debate would be over censorship by schools or libraries.

Another question is funding. Should publicly funded libraries stock popular works likely to be read only as long as a short term "buzz" continues and then forgotten, or should public money be devoted only to works of enduring value?

Should subsidy of popular works be done as part of promotion of national cultures in smaller countries such as Canada in danger of being overwhelmed by US culture or should only more serious literary works be supported?

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In any of the Fine Arts, learning the history of art, music, literature is absolutely essential to the understanding of contemporary works.  When students are allowed to read popular literature without understanding the backgrounds of this literature, their appreciation can be only shallow at best.  For example, reading the novels of Toni Morrison can be much more insightful and fulfilling if one understands that this writer has been influenced by such greats as William Faulkner and Gariel Marquez, for the Southern Gothic and Magic Realism genres play strongly in her particular works.

And, how does one truly understand drama without having read the Greek plays and Shakespeare?  Clearly, students who are permitted to read only "works that might interest them" instead of the classics of Europe and America are getting short-changed in their educations. For, just as one learns of his/her culture, there must be education in the cultures of the Beaux Arts. 

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that the previous posters bring up very good points. One needs to examine the differences between reading in education and reading for pleasure. Those who read for pleasure tend to pick up a book which looks interesting. Those who read for education are doing so because it is part of an assignment.

Censorship seems to be the most concerning debate, for me, regarding literature. While I hate the fact that censorship exists, I can understand that some parents may not like the things found in some of the books taught in school.

Recently with the changes to the national curriculum, the texts which are focused upon are those of a non-fiction nature. The fiction texts seem to be slowly weeded out. Therefore, the "canon" texts are probably only going to be seen in college (eventually). Popular literature, on the other hand, does not seem to have a place in the new curriculum. This, for me, certainly poses an issue (great works are simply being ignored).

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have to disagree with #4 that "classics" are chosen by people who do not read.  I truly think the greatness of most classics lies in the fact that they were written when people had very little other entertainment than reading.

I think another debate over popular literature (perhaps wrongly titled "literature" and pop-fiction is a better fit) come in the form of curriculum development, and where is the line to be drawn for what is required reading from 6th -12th grades?  I do agree that many classics are boring, outdated, and hard to understand (especially for today's non-reading youth), but I also appreciate that there are those left to defend what is now a dying art.

Just because a book is "popular" does not make it literature.

enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with #4 -- I would read Asimov anytime, anywhere.  I've been collecting his books for years (and have used him as a reference in answering a number of not only enotes science questions, but Shakespeare as well!)

The fact that there is still a debate about which works of  literature kids should read implies that kids are reading. Any of the novels dealing with current cultural fads, like vampires, at least are attracting new readers.  Reading works produced in one's own culture will, with a little luck, inspire them to read one's own cultural classics, and works outside their culture.

The problem with teaching "new literature" is that it hasn't stood the test of time.  That's why the "old literature" continues to be taught.


lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another issue under the topic of popular fiction is the growing number of ways a person can be published. It used to be that budding writers wrote a book and then sent it off to all of the big publishing houses. Today, a writer can pay to have his or her book published; there is no selection process involved! The Internet is also making the process of calling oneself "published" a bit looser. This isn't to say that some of what is being published isn't great, but it is flooding the market with more books than ever. It is debatable whether that is a good thing or bad.

vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One debate involves the extent to which popular literature should be taught in college, especially if teaching such literature means less emphasis on the traditional "canon" of "serious" literature.  Many would argue that people have been and will be exposed to popular literature for most of their lives but that college provides an opportunity to introduce them to a wider, different range of texts than they already used to. However, teaching "popular" literature is often seen as a sure-fire way to make classes popular as well.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another point worth making is whether popular literature is any good. From a sociological point of view, most American are gluttons for novelty. The newest things are seen as the best things. For this reason, we might be embracing new works of literature, just because they are new. For example, there is a fad out there in dealing with things like vampires. No wonder, the Twilight series is doing well. At the same time, we are neglecting the classics. This is a deplorable situation in my opinion.