Print vs. Visual Media: Keep the Book Snobbery to Yourself
Friday Night Lights is one of my favorite films ever. The cinematography, the acting, the underdog narrative are all packaged together to create a moving viewing experience every time I fire up that film.
On my book shelf sits a paperback copy of the original Friday Night Lights. Out of all the books I own it is easily one of my favorites because it gives an in-depth look at the boom-and-bust West Texas oil town Odessa, where high school football is the de facto religion. I readily recommend both the film and book to people because I enjoyed them both for different reasons. Friday Night Lights as a film pulls at my emotions while following the narrative of the Permian Panthers trying to overcome the odds and a win a state championship. Friday Night Lights as a book pulls me into a story where football is a secondary character the town of Odessa, TX itself and their failures of integration, the struggles of poverty and how football cannot cure those socioeconomic problems.
I can enjoy both of the film and text versions of Friday Night Lights while at the same time recognizing and appreciating their differences. Books and visual media by design are meant to reach a person in different ways. Books give you a story and leave the reader piecing everything together; your imagination constructs the world you are reading. On the other hand, visual media asks that you leave your imagination and disbelief at the door while immersing you into a world that is already been put constructed and the only requirement is to bring your emotions. Hence, book to film adaptations are usually unable to stay 100% faithful to the source text because of the fundamental differences between each medium. This is why when you watch a visual adaption of text for the first time, you might feel that slight tension between how you imagined the story versus how the director and creators saw the story. It happens. Books and visual presentations of stories are best seen like apples and oranges: they are both fruit and healthy for you, but that is where the similarities kind of stop.
In the past, book fans confronted difference between written stories and visual presentations by voicing their opinions and giving the side eye fans of the filmed version. I grew up alongside the Harry Potter series and I remember when the film series began. Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban was a polarizing film among book and film fans because it began the gradual process of the films ceasing to be direct adaptations. Fans of the written Potter tales felt the film strayed too far from the source material and film goers loving the darker tone and more action packed film. But disagreement was okay since the people who enjoyed the books didn’t actively lash out at film goers and feel like somehow their experience had been soured by a film that didn’t click with their imagination. And for the longest time book fans had to just accept that films and TV shows weren’t going to be a 100% match from their source materials.
Enter Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones grew from an incredibly popular book series to become a wildly successful TV series on HBO. Rod from The Black Guy Who Tips podcast started the #DemThrones hashtag and created an enjoyable online hub for folks to live tweet the show. Unfortunately, there are some fans of the book who are no longer content with enjoying the text and have now moved to actively spoiling the show for viewers and looking down on folks who only watch the show and haven’t touched the books.
And to an extent, I understand why readers do this. This isn’t anything new. It is an outgrowth of the old nerd world view of enjoying things that exist outside of the mainstream and seeking to protect such experiences from the filthy outsiders. As is the case with pre-Ironman superhero films, too often we’ve seen the stories we loved deep fried and dumbed down for mass consumption. 2002 Spider-Man director Sam Raimi said he gave Peter Parker organic web shooters since he didn’t think movie goers would believe that Parker could design his own. That rational insulted the intelligence of Spiderman fans for the sake of mass appeal. And while that is just one example of this, I somewhat understand why book fans of Game of Thrones initially were sensitive to show.
Game of Thrones becoming popular after hitting the small screen probably felt like an invalidation of all the hours it took to finish reading one of Martin’s deep ass stories. To book fans, watching the show probably feels like someone broadcasting a dramatic reading of Game of Thrones cliff notes, where all the minor threads you used to stitch together a quilted imagery of Westeros have been replaced with a mass produced product that you can easily tear to pieces. I get it. I can offer enough quarter to understand why book fans spoil stuff.
But we’re in 2015 now. Anything cut from between the text to TV transition in Game of Thrones isn’t a sign of the writers trying to think less of fans but rather streamlining the story for television. So there is no longer an excuse of running out to ruin everyone else’s fun.
The funny thing about book readers complaining that too many details being cut out of the story is they are being willfully ignorant of how print and visual media require different approaches to captivate their audience. Plenty of folks who watch Game of Thrones instead of reading it find Sansa Stark to be an annoying, clueless child who but for the grace of God hasn’t been brutally murdered yet. The flip side of that are book readers who see Sansa differently since parts of the book are told from her perspective. And both of these viewpoints are valid and also a reflection of the constraints of their respective mediums: to convey Sansa the same on TV as in the books would literally require a fucking inner-dialogue of her thoughts over the whole series. In fact, that would be required for every character and we’d end up with show that didn’t let viewers become excited or intrigued over who was getting stabbed next or who was fucking who. Episodes of that show would be 50 minutes of hand holding through narratives that didn’t require any emotional investment, just the ability to pay attention for almost an hour.
Book elitism is borne out of struggling to find some vindication for having been a long-time fan who wants to see their labor rewarded. I was an English major in college, believe me when I tell you I understand the investment it takes to finish a book as dense as any of the Thrones series. The solution here shouldn’t be to feel that everyone enjoying a slightly altered canon of your beloved series somehow cheapens your experience. Fuck that. If you can accept different canons of your favorite comic book heroes, then you should be able to accept the differences between your favorite book series and its TV show.
Nerd stuff is hot in the streets like never before. Don’t be an elitist jackass and ruin people’s fun because they like a different canon than your own. So go forth and enjoy your books or TV shows or both or neither. Be happy with what you have and don’t be a dick to other people.