checking the pulse of the author in the time of social media
Whatever you think of it, the Internet has really done a lot with the fourth wall.
I know my recent posts have focused on how the Internet has opened up conversations about media and writing, but there is a flip side to the issue: can the Internet offer too much accessibility? I think, sometimes, yes. One of the more recent developments of having celebrity presence on social media websites and trying to reach the audience, or a greater share of the audience, at any given time is that we’ve resurrected the author.
In Barthes’ Death of the Author, the argument is in favor of analyzing text without involving the intentions of its creator. And in speaking of modern media, there’s nothing more contentious than this notion of what this greater accessibility has done in terms of conversations between creators and consumers, whether it be tv, film, or books.
Despite my best intentions, usually these conversations for me involve television and film, and creators who are reacting to audience response or complaints with discussions of how they believe their own works ought to be interpreted, or what the intention was in filming a scene a certain way or regarding the progression of a particular character arc. This has led to shows unto itself, things like The Talking Dead, which is a show following episodes of The Walking Dead featuring celebrities discussing the show and the aired episode with a moderating host. As much as I celebrate what the Internet has done to open discussions about art among audiences, sometimes I think it has the opposite effect when it comes to the relationship between creator and consumer.
I believe in the fourth wall. Strongly. As a consumer of media, I think it’s important to reinforce the notion of the death of the author, especially now that the doors to having these dialogues has been opened. One of the more striking examples that occurs to me is the NBC sitcom, Community, whose showrunner Dan Harmon was very responsive and communicative with the internet, and often responded to viewer critiques of narrative. Can this be productive? Sometimes. But I think the process of creating something collaborative and creative, like a film or a tv show, necessarily requires that sometimes the greater voices of millions get filtered. Not totally ignored, but screened so as to weigh the merits of certain points against others. And condescending to one’s audience is usually not a great way to get them to be more responsive to the narrative choices that you’re making. There are some showrunners, of course, who are great at exploiting the opportunities provided in opening up fan response without alienating other sections of it – usually genre writers who are familiar with the customs and attitudes of fan communities to begin with (JJ Abrams being a particularly visible example) – but overall, being able to have the conversation with millions doesn’t mean that those conversations will all yield productive responses.
Having the technology to hear all the shouting voices doesn’t mean all the shouting voices should be listened to.