“The BOOK was better!”

When I was growing up there were books that I read where the characters did things that were too socially taboo to be shown in the movie versions. Often, this was adult intimate interaction, or SEX, for short.  Sometimes, more rarely, it was graphic violence. I concluded that this was why so many people often lamented, “The BOOK was better!”

I have always appreciated both written and visual storytelling, and thought I understood the “unwritten rules” that encapsulate both.  But I get the sense that something has changed.

It started for me I watched Big Little Lies, and then read the book. The visual series was a cinematically beautiful story, full of beautiful people doing ugly things and often sexually graphic and violent things. That is an observation, not a complaint. I enjoyed the art of all those moments, and though I could not find a single character I liked in the tale, that doesn’t stop me from enjoying a well told story.

I wound up reading the book because a friend of mine went on and on about how good it was, and then after I discussed some of the scenes with her from the television series, she started to say more and more frequently with a puzzled look, “That wasn’t in the book.” Curiosity won out, and I purchased the book.

Much to my surprise, there were no graphic adult interaction scenes present in the book, at least not like there were in the TV series, and in fact, the book seemed tame to me in comparison. I understand that when adaptations are done from book to screenplay not everything that works in a story works in a visual medium, and that you have to change some things to deliver the same impact for the viewer that the reader received from something like internal dialogue, or an omniscient third person point of view. But essentially, as far as I could tell, the visual story exceeded the societal taboos of sex and violence far in excess of the book, and that was a new experience for me.

When did we become more open to SEEING something portrayed than READING about it?

I grew up in the age of politicians ranting about explicit lyrics and wanting to label words, while retailers shunned selling those albums labeled as such.

I now live in an age where words are more censored than films.

It came up again today in a message board that I am part of where an author was asking for help in determining what could be included in a YA novel that wouldn’t get it booted from an independent publishing outlet, or limit its acceptance by a publishing house. The answers floored me. Teenagers are not allowed to drink unless there is one character stating that drinking is bad and demonstrating a lack of interest. No F-bombs. No sex for the underage. No drug use.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t advocate those behaviors, but I am real person, who has lived a semi-real life, and those things happen. You have to deal with them growing up. Pretending they don’t is utterly ridiculous to me. Almost as much as letting our words be censored by ANYONE.

Yet, now for the cost of a cable subscription or a movie ticket, teenagers can SEE those things happen. They just can’t READ about them.

I think that there is a reader for every story that can ever be told. I think those stories have the potential to make them feel like they are not alone, and that they can survive whatever they are facing because the character in a story they read showed them how it was done.

I don’t have issues with the freedom that visual storytelling has gained in my lifetime. I am concerned that we are allowing our written stories to be throttled and cleansed of the truth that is life, and in doing so we are telling readers of all ages that they need to fit into a certain box and stay there for the rest of their lives.

I don’t think we have to give up one freedom to have another.