From the moment we are born, literature enfolds us. From the fairy tales and nursery rhymes we hear as children, to the classics we read at school, the stories we are surrounded by shape how we think, act, and feel. In today’s world, this bond between literature and our society, between text and audience, is as strong as ever. But, at the same time, it is changing. Increasingly, we are seeing literature’s influence extend beyond the page and onto the screen. The stories we read have become movies, and TV shows are becoming books. And it is not just the big titles that are being adapted for the small screen; even the smallest villages are producing their very own TV shows.
Although cinema and TV are considered, traditionally, to be modern inventions, it is worth remembering that they both have deep roots. Cinématographe, the French word for cinema, was first used in the late 1800s, and the first movies were produced in the early 1900s. The first, and arguably greatest, book to movie adaptation was Victor Hugo’s 1845 novel, ‘Les Miserables’. The most recent film adaptation is still showing in cinemas across the world, more than 135 years later.
And it is not just cinema. The first TV show, The X Factor, was first aired in Great Britain in 1957 and became an instant hit. Since then, TV shows have evolved from being mere entertainment to being a form in their own right, one that can influence public opinion and change the way people think. In the late 20th century, these mediums became so influential that, in some cases, they even replaced traditional, more ‘traditional’ forms of literature.
This blend of film and television is having a profound effect on our reading habits. According to Oxford Dictionaries, a ‘book-tv’ is now a common type of hybrid, with literary classics being turned into TV shows, and vice versa.
While books may be seen as a ‘classic’ form, and films and TV shows as ‘current’ forms, it would be a mistake to define contemporary literature and media as being separate from each other. They are, in fact, so closely related that the line between them is increasingly blurred. Literature and media are influencing and being influenced by one another, creating something new, which we can term ‘literary media’.
The Classic Versus The Contemporary
The way we consume media has changed the way we value literature. It is no longer enough to consume the great works of classical literature and call it a day. Nowadays, we have a greater appreciation for the work that went into creating these stories. And it is not just literature. As we have seen, classic TV shows like Miserables and Downton Abbey have been adapted for film, and Hollywood blockbusters like Game of Thrones and The Dark Tower have been inspired by books.
This trend, of course, is not new. For many years, fans of literary greats like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers have patiently waited for their stories to be turned into films. It is only more recently that the modern-day moviegoers have gotten the opportunity to see these timeless yarns brought to life on the big screen. In fact, it is only in the last decade that we have seen an influx of classic literature being adapted for film.
It is interesting to note that this trend follows a similar path to that of online gaming. Just as many gamers grew up with NES classics like Mario and Zelda, classic literature has long been a part of our lives. And just as many millennials grew up with smartphones, connecting them to the world of social media and the internet, so too can today’s readers connect with and be influenced by classic literature through online mediums like blogs and forums.
Today, when we look back on literature as it was in the 20th century, we can see that it was, in fact, a ‘classic’ form that was well established in its times. The great novels of the period, including works by Virginia Woolf, Arthur Koestler, and William Faulkner, have stood the test of time, and continue to influence literature and culture today.
Blogs, Fora, And Wikis As New Literary Platforms
Over the past decade, the internet has provided new platforms for literature’s audience. Although blogs were around since the early days of the internet, it was not until the mid 2010s that they started to gain in popularity. Many noted British bloggers, such as Joseph O’Neill and Toby Young, attained a mainstream audience and became known for their humorous, acerbic approach to writing. Their frankness established them as role models for an online generation of digital natives.
The rise of ‘crowdcasting’, where an author or creator lets their audience help to shape their content, also played a role in the growth of blogging. For example, the New York Times bestselling author of the Baby Boomer series, Debbie Macomber, lets her readers contribute to her blog. If she posts a comment that receives the most votes from her readers, she will, typically, write an episode of the popular series. This is one way in which the blogosphere has revitalized literature, bringing new audiences into the fold and allowing older generations to remain active participants in cultural life.
More recently, forums like Reddit and Quora have risen as platforms for cultural talk, allowing amateur writers and social commentators to reach audiences that would, otherwise, not have heard their voice. Think-tank blogs, like the New York Times’ ‘Room for Debate’, regularly cover these platforms, using them as a way to explore, in depth, the complexities of a particular cultural issue.
The Digital Native’s Reading Habits
According to a 2016 study by the American Institute of Stress, 61% of American adults regularly experience stress about paying bills, and 41% report regularly feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities at work. These are not problems that ancient literature has been mysteriously immune to. The Odyssey, the Great Gatsby, and Pride and Prejudice are just some of the classic titles that are associated with financial stress. If we compare this to the situation in 1900, we can see that our modern-day reading habits have shaped into a more digitized form. A staggering 81% of Americans report regularly feeling anxious about bills, and 69% are frustrated about employment responsibilities. These figures, taken together, suggest that although we may value literature from a particular era, the stories that are most relevant to us today may not be the ones that were most popular in the past.
The way we read, and the books we read, are changing, and it is not just because of the digital natives moving into the workforce. With our entire lives being online, it is no surprise that the way we consume content is also evolving. Instead of relying on one or two forms of media, the way we process information has shifted, creating a new generation of readers.
The Importance Of Classics
It is easy to see why the classics remain popular. They are easy to find, they can be enjoyed by anyone, and in many cases, they can be enhanced by a multimedia experience.
When it comes to video, games, and social media, the classics often, but not always, lead the way. Take the case of TikTok, the content-sharing app that was initially designed for millennials but now has 500 million monthly active users. While many of the app’s early breakout hits, like rapper Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ and singer-songwriter Luis Fonsi’s ‘Despacito’, were megahits that appealed to a wider audience, it was the influencer-slash-entrepreneur’s exclusive content that endeared them to a younger audience.
The appeal of the classics is that they can be enjoyed by anyone, anywhere, at any time. Although many people may enjoy a good old-fashioned novel, today, we have other ways to enjoy epic stories. If nothing else sounds interesting, we can always turn to YouTube, where we can find movie adaptations, music videos, and even gaming montages.
The appeal of the classics, for audiences of all ages, is undeniable. Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Winston Churchill are just a few of the famous people who remain relevant today, more than 80 and 60 years after their deaths, respectively.