Friday, January 28, 2011

Originality Anyone?

I was listening to an interview with William Skidelsky on CBC Radio Q and I thought that he made a number of compelling arguments.  He is an editor of The Observer and wrote an article for The Guardian bemoaning the lack of original material in recent films and novels.  With the amount of movies and books based on or inspired by true stories, Skidelsky argues that there is a lack of creativity amongst the artists that produce them.  

I definitely agree with Skidelsky that there is a lot of laziness amongst television and movie executives.  The recession is to be blamed for some of the unoriginal concepts and needless remakes, and I can understand why studios want to go with proven formulas and built-in audiences.  Mindless entertainment is one of those things that people turn to when times get rough, so one can comprehend why people watch silly reality shows and second-rate versions of classic favourites.  If they weren't inexpensive to produce and nobody tuned in, then studios wouldn't be motivated to produce the material they do, so, like many things, it's society's fault.  

I also think that the evolution of society is also to blame for the lack of originality in books and movies.  Skidelsky points out that there is an insatiable appetite for knowledge of what goes on behind-the-scenes, and publishers and producers are only too happy to oblige us.  If you want celebrity gossip there is True Hollywood Story, many blogs and tell-all books.  Our rising interest in social media is also to blame for our obsession with the private lives of celebrities. Nowadays, one can easily find out what is going on in the personal and professional lives of our political leaders too; even while they are in office. One of the best examples of this from the Canadian standpoint is Prime Minister Harper's political aide, Tom Flanagan's book Harper's Team: Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power.  It seems like the new leader is barely sworn in before the outgoing president is beginning his or her memoir. 

I think that Skidelsky's argument breaks down, however, when he criticizes novels based upon real stories.  In particular, he points to the success of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel as an example of public acceptance of historical fiction.  I do agree with his assertion that it is a safe choice for a novelist like Mantel to mine the story of Henry VIII, because there is always going to be a built-in audience.  But in other ways I disagree.  To some extent, I believe that it is almost more difficult to write an impressive novel about a subject that has been a popular source for literary material.  It is a daunting task to differentiate one's work from the many other books that have already hit the shelves.  Though the book had a better chance of monetary success, Mantel required a higher level of creativity and writing ability garner it the critical acclaim it received.

In summary, I agree with some of Skidelsky's arguments and disagree with his criticism of historical novels.  I have included a link to Skidelsky's article so that you can form your own opinion.  

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