May 01, 2004

One of the greatest temptations of any author, or director, or creator of any kind, is to try to share everything. And since time or space of any particular sharing is limited and there is never any guarantee that a second time or space will ever be opened (and since the continued ability to earn a living from the craft frequently depends on what is readily displayed in that first offering), there is additionally a strong drive for that original sharing to share everything, in detail, all at once.

Yet what is not worked for is not valued. Things too easily given go unnoticed in their very ease of availability, and vanish into a background of things.

Yet for something not directly seen to be effective, the audience must have sufficient imagination, sufficient empathy, to be swept into the position of the narrator, however briefly. We must be there with the character whose perspective is to become the vehicle through which we can discover the new world: seeing what they see, hearing what they hear, caring about those whom the narrated event touches -- and being able to imagine to fill in the gaps of what is strictly spoken, strictly shown.

Increasingly I find that imagination, generally, is lacking -- and so the television and film companies increasingly compensate: showing us what is on the other side of that door, taking us to the other side of that portal rather than leaving it open to suggestion. Part of the power of the Star Wars original trilogy was that of the suggested but not seen -- the door slamming on the interrogation, the audio-only voice transmission of the pilots -- but the Star Wars prequels try much harder to show us everything. To pull the Mr. Bean series vs. film as another example, in the television show the camera cuts into darkness a split second before Mr. Bean is about to explode the air sickness bag -- but the film must show us the results.

Of course this becomes something of a vicious cycle: the more everything is shown, the less we exercise our "imagination muscle" -- and the more it atrophies, and the more we must be shown.

In a way we can direct a part of this atrophy to the medium itself. Stories told by a storyteller require the audience to actively, voluntarily, and even eagerly participate in their telling, not least since no two tellings will ever be completely identical: what is said once will remain unique, and what is not heard at the time of original telling will forever be lost. Stories told over the radio lose the demand of interactive listening, the more so as recording media improve to increasingly make any sharing non-unique, but still leave our unfulfilled heavy visual orientation open to visual imaging and imagining: a sound creates the questions around that sound, and so can be much more suggestive than the visual image, which can tend to bluntly answer those questions.

(I step aside a little, here, from stories told through print, which require their own unique forms of metasensory processing and re-create narrative structure around an atemporal symbolism. Among other considerations, audible tone is not abandoned in the print medium, but replaced and re-constructed into the symbolic tone of "style".)

However, television/film saturates our (primary) visual and audio senses, so that it takes only the least bit of laziness not to look beyond what is given.

Perhaps this might be one reason why, in a DVD universe, so many look back nostalgically to that closest approximation of direct and unique storytelling most of us can even remember, the old radio dramas ...


Smile of the day:

"It's just hard not to listen to TV: it's spent so much more time raising us than you have."
- Bart Simpson

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