December 17, 2013

The Next Big Thing

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

This past Saturday, as I approached the TV room to eat lunch (yes, I usually eat in front of the TV; I'm all about multitasking), I heard a woman singing "O Come All Ye Faithful" on the set. There must be a Christmas concert on, I thought.  When I arrived, it turned out to be Carol Brady singing in her church, circa 1969.

It was the Brady Bunch's first Christmas as a blended family. All the kids were there, smiling proudly from the pews as their mother sang Oh come, let us adore him, Christ our Lord.  Little Cindy gave her new stepdad a grateful smile when he put his arm around her. Alice might have even been present, comically tearing up as she often did during any tender moment.

While I watched, I could only think how unlikely it would be for such a scene to appear on a modern-day sitcom. Even on TV Land, where this vintage show was airing, the newer comedies feature anything but a wholesome family unit.  If alien lifeforms tuned into today's TV they would assume that everyone on Earth is permanently divorced and cranky.

Entertainment gets less innocent and more cynical as each year passes.  We see it in books, films, music, art, everywhere we look. In a world where Hannah Montanas become Miley Cyruses, it's a fair question to ask, "Huh?"

Part of the answer is, we are wired to always be looking for the next big thing.  And, by its nature, the next big thing can't be like the old thing.  There has to be something extra, and the trend has always been to make it more extreme.

Take young adult fiction. It wasn't that long ago when Harry Potter stirred up a cauldron of controversy. A short time later, the tide turned toward vampires.  Riding the bloody waves of Twilight, there was even a book and a movie called Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.  I expect any day now to see Benjamin Franklin, Zombie Slayer.

The Hardy Boys have given way to The Hunger Games.  Nancy Drew is now Divergent.  Brilliant and imaginative, these new series replace G-rated mysteries about missing maps with dark, dystopian content.  Critics fear they encourage rebellion while fans praise them for the theme of overcoming suppression.  Either way, they're flying off the shelves.

On TV and in movies, portrayals of sex, drugs, rock & roll and violence are off the charts, alongside language that used to be considered not ready for prime time.  Edgy sells.  Controversy means publicity.

Without even debating the rightness or wrongness of any of the above, one does have to wonder where it will end.  How much further can we go before all sense and sensibility, values and virtues live only in nostalgia?

I applaud the many Southern writers we are privileged to work with who strive for something better. These are the ones who realize it's possible to grab a reader's attention without offending half their audience.  They weave a masterful tale and leave the reader feeling like they've traveled a high road and not spent the weekend in Babylon.

Wherever you are in your own journey as a writer or a reader, I invite you to buck what some call progress and follow the road less traveled. If more authors and audiences demanded it, maybe the next big thing could be a return to something that's easy to feel is gone forever.

Together we could make Alice cry more happy tears.

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