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16

They Made a Movie Out of It

The decline of nonfiction in the IP era

(missing author)

3
terms
4
notes

by James Pogue

? (2020). They Made a Movie Out of It. The Baffler, 49, pp. 16-27

19

The paymaster for Rich’s story was a tech giant, as is so often the case now, and it was not at all a coincidence that his epic about climate change unfolded not as a polemic but as a narrative human drama. Nor was it a coincidence that Rich’s essay curiously lacked a critique of capital’s sway over American politics or the power of our entrenched oligarchy and the central role these forces played in our Losing Earth. This is because the book-to-film complex is bolstered by two imperatives that now govern our nonfiction almost without exception: foreground story as an ultimate good, ahead of deep personal insight, literary style, investigative reporting, or almost any other consideration that goes into the shaping of written work; and do not question too closely the aristocracy of tech and capital that looms over us, the same people who subsidize the system that produces America’s writing. It’s impossible to say whether Rich had these considerations at the top of his mind as he shaped the piece, but it doesn’t matter. The power of book-to-film in American writing is in how it sits at the edge of the consciousness of every writer, editor, and podcast producer, a dark energy of the entertainment market that drives wealth and reward. You just have to tell a gripping story and leave the powers-that-be unnamed.

—p.19 missing author 1 year ago

The paymaster for Rich’s story was a tech giant, as is so often the case now, and it was not at all a coincidence that his epic about climate change unfolded not as a polemic but as a narrative human drama. Nor was it a coincidence that Rich’s essay curiously lacked a critique of capital’s sway over American politics or the power of our entrenched oligarchy and the central role these forces played in our Losing Earth. This is because the book-to-film complex is bolstered by two imperatives that now govern our nonfiction almost without exception: foreground story as an ultimate good, ahead of deep personal insight, literary style, investigative reporting, or almost any other consideration that goes into the shaping of written work; and do not question too closely the aristocracy of tech and capital that looms over us, the same people who subsidize the system that produces America’s writing. It’s impossible to say whether Rich had these considerations at the top of his mind as he shaped the piece, but it doesn’t matter. The power of book-to-film in American writing is in how it sits at the edge of the consciousness of every writer, editor, and podcast producer, a dark energy of the entertainment market that drives wealth and reward. You just have to tell a gripping story and leave the powers-that-be unnamed.

—p.19 missing author 1 year ago

(verb) to reduce the mental or moral vigor of / (verb) to lessen the vitality or strength of

19

a dramatic illustration of the enervation of American journalism in the last couple of decades

I always get this one confused

—p.19 missing author
strange
1 year ago

a dramatic illustration of the enervation of American journalism in the last couple of decades

I always get this one confused

—p.19 missing author
strange
1 year ago

(noun) a long, mournful complaint or lamentation; a list of woes

19

My purpose was not to get information for a jeremiad against tech and Hollywood’s baleful impact on American writing. It was to try to get paid.

—p.19 missing author
notable
1 year ago

My purpose was not to get information for a jeremiad against tech and Hollywood’s baleful impact on American writing. It was to try to get paid.

—p.19 missing author
notable
1 year ago
20

[...] Epic is just one more publishing vehicle that can’t make money by actually publishing. The company’s real money comes from presenting itself as a curator of elite content, which it offers to brands like Ford and Google in the form of long-form reporting: “Epic story hunters travel the world in search of true stories that reflect a brand’s spirit and ethos,” their business description read until recently, when Vox Media completed an acquisition of the company for an undisclosed sum. “Epic turns the stories into documentary films, magazines, books, video games, photo essays, live events, and speeches that express a brand’s values.” This is, of course, the logic of this moment—that what you might have once thought of as literary publishing is, when you get down to it, just high-status corporate content generation.

fuck me

—p.20 missing author 1 year ago

[...] Epic is just one more publishing vehicle that can’t make money by actually publishing. The company’s real money comes from presenting itself as a curator of elite content, which it offers to brands like Ford and Google in the form of long-form reporting: “Epic story hunters travel the world in search of true stories that reflect a brand’s spirit and ethos,” their business description read until recently, when Vox Media completed an acquisition of the company for an undisclosed sum. “Epic turns the stories into documentary films, magazines, books, video games, photo essays, live events, and speeches that express a brand’s values.” This is, of course, the logic of this moment—that what you might have once thought of as literary publishing is, when you get down to it, just high-status corporate content generation.

fuck me

—p.20 missing author 1 year ago
21

[...] The desire is always for work that puts narrative ahead of all other considerations, and this is the kind of writing that now dominates our literature: it describes the world without having a worldview. Which is a workable definition of the kind of writing most easily converted into IP.

This circumstance didn’t emerge because a handful of tech companies suddenly started competing to buy all the stories that American writers can produce. Anyone with an interest in the history of American letters already knows how in the 1950s the rise of the MFA workshop system produced an imperative toward a show-don’t-tell, narrative-first formula for fiction writing. This was, in large part, because the first prominent director of the first prominent workshop program wanted to cultivate a kind of writing that supported American political orthodoxy—a detail that has important echoes for today. Work that placed story ahead of political or moral considerations had the convenient feature of being unthreatening to power, and it was this kind of writing that the program managed to make into the unquestioned standard for quality in American fiction. More than half of the MFA programs that arose in the wake of Iowa’s rise—funded by donations from the CIA and by America’s mid-century corporate patricians—were founded by graduates of this program. Over time, many readers and critics came to see workshop-style writing as the standard for quality fiction, and many still do—a fact that writers are aware of, ambiently or otherwise. Writing has always involved some level of accommodating power and public taste.

—p.21 missing author 1 year ago

[...] The desire is always for work that puts narrative ahead of all other considerations, and this is the kind of writing that now dominates our literature: it describes the world without having a worldview. Which is a workable definition of the kind of writing most easily converted into IP.

This circumstance didn’t emerge because a handful of tech companies suddenly started competing to buy all the stories that American writers can produce. Anyone with an interest in the history of American letters already knows how in the 1950s the rise of the MFA workshop system produced an imperative toward a show-don’t-tell, narrative-first formula for fiction writing. This was, in large part, because the first prominent director of the first prominent workshop program wanted to cultivate a kind of writing that supported American political orthodoxy—a detail that has important echoes for today. Work that placed story ahead of political or moral considerations had the convenient feature of being unthreatening to power, and it was this kind of writing that the program managed to make into the unquestioned standard for quality in American fiction. More than half of the MFA programs that arose in the wake of Iowa’s rise—funded by donations from the CIA and by America’s mid-century corporate patricians—were founded by graduates of this program. Over time, many readers and critics came to see workshop-style writing as the standard for quality fiction, and many still do—a fact that writers are aware of, ambiently or otherwise. Writing has always involved some level of accommodating power and public taste.

—p.21 missing author 1 year ago

(adjective) marked by lack of definite plan, regularity, or purpose / (adjective) not connected with the main subject / (adjective) disappointing in progress, performance, or quality

21

These editors asking you to rip the yarn never talk about politics beyond a possible desultory nod toward wanting stories from writers of “diverse backgrounds.” They do not talk about voice or literary style.

pretty

—p.21 missing author
notable
1 year ago

These editors asking you to rip the yarn never talk about politics beyond a possible desultory nod toward wanting stories from writers of “diverse backgrounds.” They do not talk about voice or literary style.

pretty

—p.21 missing author
notable
1 year ago
25

And we can name the trash this system encourages for what it is. It isn’t that we lack writers who can write well—just like many trash novels written to fit market demands in the fifties hold up well today. Writers have always had to work with and against a marketplace designed by the rich and powerful. But I personally can’t help feeling alarmed and enraged by the ways writers are now driven by incentives to fill the needs of creative executives working in Amazon’s film studio. It feels wildly dispiriting to see how much my friends and I casually accept the idea that we should craft our work to fit a commercial imperative—the entire system of our writing and reporting now being market-tested and data-driven and robbed by financial forces of much of its lasting value. There is a part of me that wants to grab all the rewards that come from this system, but it’s the part of me good writing is meant to kill.

—p.25 missing author 1 year ago

And we can name the trash this system encourages for what it is. It isn’t that we lack writers who can write well—just like many trash novels written to fit market demands in the fifties hold up well today. Writers have always had to work with and against a marketplace designed by the rich and powerful. But I personally can’t help feeling alarmed and enraged by the ways writers are now driven by incentives to fill the needs of creative executives working in Amazon’s film studio. It feels wildly dispiriting to see how much my friends and I casually accept the idea that we should craft our work to fit a commercial imperative—the entire system of our writing and reporting now being market-tested and data-driven and robbed by financial forces of much of its lasting value. There is a part of me that wants to grab all the rewards that come from this system, but it’s the part of me good writing is meant to kill.

—p.25 missing author 1 year ago