Sunday, December 14, 2008

Are You A Product of Your Time?

There was an interesting question raised by one of Jessica Faust's readers, and she added to it and opened it up for discussion on her blog on Wednesday. Here all the questions, in a nutshell:

Reader: What effect, if any, do you think the election will have on the publishing industry? Specifically, I was wondering if some of the 'boundaries' might be expanded with the advent of a more liberal administration. Jessica: What effect, if any, do you think the election will have on you as a reader?


The discussion following is an interesting read. What wasn't often mentioned is that we are all products of our times. I'll take that aspect of the question.

Maybe I'm biased, because when I studied music history, it was always done in the context of the political, military, social, and cultural period. I'm thinking art history is treated the same way. My German literature classes were also taught in this way, but I didn't take any English lit classes, aside from Shakespeare.

image The fact that Beethoven dedicated the Eroica Symphony to Napoleon and later scratched his name out is a definite reflection of his times.

Would this thriller have been written without a Bush presidency? Would this book have been written without abolitionism?

Not every book is going to reflect the life and times in a big political way. Entertainment often plays off each other. Just think of Bridget Jones' Diary, Sex and City, and the chick lit phenomenon. Would Stephanie Plum have taken off without the foundation? Sookie Stackhouse?

Pop culture is culture, too.

image My point is that we are all partly products of our times and environment. What we see on TV, what we see at the movie theater, the plays we see, the museums we visit, the politics of the day, the economy of the time.

And yes, sure, the president. (Particularly with the sort of dictatorial presidency Bush ran. Hopefully with the presidency of "change" that Obama has promised.)

image More importantly, even if we hole up in our little worlds as writers are wont to do, our readers are reading the books on the front tables, are going to movies in the theaters, and watching prime time TV.

They are dealing with foreclosures. Someone close to them has likely lost their job. Readers had passionate feelings about

I'm not advocating trying to write "to" a sort of group conscious mind or anything.

image I just think it's okay to be a product of our time, to allow society and pop culture and politics into our mind, to let them settle into our subconscious.

I'm not sure we can even recognize how our history and culture today will influence our writing. Maybe the perspective of centuries will recognize the common themes of the day.

Art is a reflection of its times, part of the history recorded for the ages. Even if it is "just" a fantasy, a romance, or mystery, and not a big literary work aiming to say something "important."

image No, I don't think readers are going to walk into the store and say to themselves, "Because Obama was elected, I'm going to choose this book over this book."

So, yes, I think the change of presidents will change the books people buy and the books people publish. I'll leave it to those who study history to recognize the trends, and those who predict trends to imagine exactly how it will influence the group mind of our day.

What do you think?

Today I am grateful for totally awesome blogging buddies who put up with and supported me during my dental meltdown!

31 bonus scribbles:

Robin 12/14/2008 11:27:00 AM  

This was incredibly cogent, despite your dental pain! (Which I hope is better.) I can't think of much but "I agree". Our societal times always influence what people choose to write about, but not necessarily directly.

As an aside, I ordered a Kindle yesterday after months of indecision, and just found out it won't be here until March. Wah!

Merry Monteleone 12/14/2008 03:59:00 PM  

I glanced at that post at Bookends but didn't have time to read through the comments, I'll have to go back and give them a read.

I love this post. And I think our society and surroundings do play an integral role in our writing, regardless of genre. Even historicals that are popular during their time, tend to speak as much of the time they're written in as the time frame they're about. There are parallels running through, history repeats, and the experiences resonate with current readers.

I loved Art History and all of my Literature classes, precisely because it was a thorough way to better understand the artists and their environment. I found it fascinating. Art history often spoke a lot about various techniques that would likely bore someone who isn't an artist themselves, but the extended conversations about political affiliations, critiques on the true messages of paintings and pieces, always fascinated me. You get the real world history, the biography, and the added bonus of the mental gymnastics of artistic analysis...

I like literary discussions for the same reason. The limit is only as close as you find the need to stop... and I think it adds to the theory that the reader or viewer is just as important a part of the artistic process as the artwork itself.

Fun topic, spy, thanks for sharing.

spyscribbler 12/14/2008 04:08:00 PM  

That's a relief, Robin! I actually found the pain was a great for writing. Wednesday or Thursday night, I woke up at 4am and wrote for three hours. It makes me quite alert!

YES! OHMIGAWD! You have to tell me ALL about it when you get it!!!! I can't wait! I'll have a Kindling friend!

spyscribbler 12/14/2008 04:26:00 PM  

Merry, I love your comment! That's exactly what I loved most about music history! And German lit and such. It's the context, too.

You're so right about historicals, too. Just analyzing what an author feels a need to "explain" about a past culture, (for example, how they treat women, or something like that) is a clue to their thoughts on that history.

Like the Wizard of Oz and the Yellow Brick Road... I had no idea! It may be a fun, childhood read, but the political context is just fascinating.

It makes this stuff just so much fun, you know?

Rick 12/14/2008 04:42:00 PM  

As a person deeply involved in politics and one who hopes that everyone else is as well, I believe with this new president more people will read, including both children and adults. The topics of published books will be more meaningful and we will become more inspired.

lainey bancroft 12/14/2008 07:04:00 PM  

Spy! So glad you're feeling a little better and found a way to 'work' through the pain/discomfort. Great post...and I have nothing intelligent to contribute. :(

I 'won' you as a partner on 'other' Robin's book exchange, Spy. On my way to email you.

Can I just say,

Robin, at least you can order Kindle, even if you have to wait. I must follow up on why I can't have one here in Canada. <:(

Edie 12/14/2008 07:19:00 PM  

My husband's family was over today, and my sil was talking about movies. She doesn't want to see shows that are serious and depressing. Real life is too depressing now and she wants to be entertained. I feel the same way, and I'm sure other people do too. That's good news for people who write books with HEA.

Aimless Writer 12/15/2008 08:40:00 AM  

Well said.
Of course we are a product of our times. But also of our ...um...demographic area? I worked in a biz that put me in touch with the whole country. I once had a school principal in a very southern state tell me, "If you don't hit them, how are they supposed to learn?"
(Subject came up when one of my exchange students was "paddled")
In Jersey the teacher would have been fired and probably brought up on charges. Down there it was accepted as the norm.
I wonder about demographics vs times.
I don't think the prez elect will influence my book buying. But I'm pretty liberal anyway.
Glad your feeling better.
:)

Erica Orloff 12/15/2008 08:49:00 AM  

I love what Rick said.

Well . . . you know, Freudian Slip comes out May 26th. As I wrote it, I was filled with a sense of . . . "This book will alienate more people than any book I've ever done." I was positive the religious right would loathe it--vocally. God is a WOMAN? Reincarnation? Tongue-in-cheek sarcasm about God throughout? But releasing it during this NEW presidency has me less worried about its fate. I think the voices of hatred and intolerance are becoming more shrill and will eventually fall silent and I think other voices of tolerance are rising.
E

StarvingWriteNow 12/15/2008 10:11:00 AM  

better a dental meltdown than a mental meltdown. and hey--i finally have three columns on my blog that actually work! Stop by to ooh and ahh (I'm sure you can't wait!)

Virginia Lady 12/15/2008 11:01:00 AM  

We are definitely effected by our environments. I grew up saying "Almost only counts with horseshoes, hand grenades and thermonuclear warfare" but when I said it to a man forty years my senior (and this was around the fall of the Berlin wall) he was horrified. He very seriously said, "That's not funny." I shrugged, I grew up outside of Washington DC, always had the threat of nuclear annihilation present. We did air raid drills weekly for it. If you can't laugh about it, you won't survive sane.
Totally different perspectives.

Our children have an even bigger jump from our generation with invention of the internet and all that has come from that.

A black president will be an ordinary idea to the kids today. Just as it should be.

spyscribbler 12/15/2008 11:34:00 AM  

Rick, LOL, I confess I'm not quite sure whether you're being serious or funny. :-)

Either way, LOL, I hope you're right!

spyscribbler 12/15/2008 11:39:00 AM  

Lainey, that is so cool! I'm so excited! I have to confess, I have no idea what you like to read or what you have read. I'm going to have to check out your archives!

spyscribbler 12/15/2008 11:41:00 AM  

Edie, I think you're right. They say fantasy does great when things are bad. I'm in the mood for HEA myself! :-)

Rick 12/15/2008 11:41:00 AM  

I'm going to go with both, Spy. I always hope for the best because who would want to hope for the worst? Besides, you seem so hopeful and I'd like to know you're happy.

spyscribbler 12/15/2008 11:51:00 AM  

Aimless, I'm pretty liberal, too. Wow! That is a big difference! Glenn was raised in the South, and I was raised in the North, and wow... there's a big difference!

spyscribbler 12/15/2008 11:54:00 AM  

Erica, I pray with all my heart you are right. I've noticed, in the past five or six years, the proportion of Conservative Rightism on the front tables of Borders to other books has grown like crazy. So many books saying we should turn the government into a Conservative Christian one! It scares me, but Obama won. So we can only hope.

I can't wait until your book comes out. Are you having a launch signing? We go to DC every year at that time.

spyscribbler 12/15/2008 11:55:00 AM  

WriteNow, I LOVE it! It looks great! :-)

spyscribbler 12/15/2008 12:02:00 PM  

Virginia, that is a wonderful, wonderful thought. Wow. You're right, it should be ordinary.

Wow, thank you for saying that!

I hope it's a small step towards making a better world for them.

spyscribbler 12/15/2008 12:07:00 PM  

Awww, Rick, you're so sweet. :-)

Melanie Avila 12/15/2008 12:09:00 PM  

I read that BookEnds post but didn't read the comments. I think your thoughts here explain it very well. At first glance, I didn't really see how it would make a difference, but your breakdown has given me a better perspective.

I'm glad you're able to write despite the pain!

spyscribbler 12/15/2008 12:42:00 PM  

Melanie, actually, the pain keeps me alert. It's kind of nice, in a way. It's its own drug!

I had the same reaction as you to the post, but then as I thought about it, I convinced myself otherwise. :-)

Zoe Winters 12/15/2008 05:29:00 PM  

hahaha awwww, Spy! *hugs*

NAVAL LANGA 12/16/2008 12:15:00 AM  

I have come here from Mr. Travis Ervin's blog. I have read some of your posts. I would revisit for reading more literature from you.

If you like short stories and paintings, then a short visit to my blogs wold be an entertaining one.

Naval Langa

Erica Orloff 12/16/2008 09:54:00 AM  

Hi Spy:
I will have a launch signing in Richmond, VA, probably . . . I'm still working on all my Magickeepers promo ideas.
E

LaDonna 12/16/2008 02:35:00 PM  

Just wanted to say, hubby and I are like you and Glenn except in reverse. LOL. I was born in the South, and Ran is a Yankee! Thought you'd love that.

And it'll be interesting to see what history has to say. We're all observers, and that's how many views we'll get. I think the politicians will have the worst chapter in our history if the truth is told. And ya know how that goes. Corruption and greed had a party...at our expense.

spyscribbler 12/16/2008 07:00:00 PM  

Zoe, thanks for the hug, LOL!

spyscribbler 12/16/2008 07:01:00 PM  

I love Travis's blog, Naval! I can't wait to check yours out. Thanks for popping by!

spyscribbler 12/16/2008 07:01:00 PM  

Erica, I can't wait for both of them!

spyscribbler 12/16/2008 07:04:00 PM  

LaDonna, okay. This has been a point of contention between Glenn and me, and please forgive the personal nature of this question, but curiosity has gotten the better of me. Do Southern women fart? Burp?

colbymarshall 12/17/2008 06:11:00 AM  

I'm almost one hundred percent that if Sex and the City hadn't become such a phenomenon (that I don't understand!) half of what's on the shelves wouldn't have been picked up. That said, I don't know how much the presidency will change books. How bad is that to say, lol?