Humans have an absolute obsession with stories. They are a tradition that has been carried on throughout our very earliest history, since our first attempts at sophisticated language, and we continue to love stories to this day, both real and fictional. They are our purest form of entertainment. It is something innate in us, so that even young children will flex their imagination to come up with tales of wonder. They are part of how we understand and make sense of our world.
Nowadays, there are many formats that we use to relate stories – anecdotes on social media, reality TV shows with members of the public – but everyone has their favourite medium or media to go to. In this blog post, I’ve ranked every media that I use to absorb fiction (so I haven’t included plays, graphic novels, etc., because I don’t generally watch/read them) by how much I personally enjoy them, and why. I hope you’ll all let me know your preferences, too.
Films are in dead last place. I say this as someone with a qualification in Film Studies. I enjoy only maybe half the films I watch, and that’s with a very careful selection process. They just seem to be the exact wrong length; they are too short to really do anything other than a predictable main plot, and too long to effectively hold my attention. Plot is easily my least favourite part of any story, and I am not particularly interested in action sequences or cinematography, so there isn’t really a lot in films to interest me. There’s no room for any more than the most basic of character development. There’s also an obligation to watch the entire film in one sitting, even though some of them are up to 3 hours. Usually over 2 hours, at least. Who has the time and energy for that?
This is not to say that every story would be better in another format. I think films are well-suited to concept-heavy premises, like The Truman Show or Stranger than Fiction or Groundhog Day. Ideas where you really just want to explore what this strange, impossible thing would be like, wrap things up, and move on.
Unlike films, my placement of novels does not mean that I don’t enjoy them. I love novels. I do like reading. I tend to prefer standalone books as they are less commitment, which means they can suffer from the same problems as films – either too short to do anything, or too long to keep me there – but the fact that writing styles vary so much, and that I am free to read as much or as little in one sitting, help to counteract this.
The variance in writing style is also one of my biggest problems with books, however, in that I can never tell if I’m going to enjoy a book or not. I have no idea what sort of books I like reading, and there seems to be no overlap in style or content between my favourites. This isn’t really a fault with novels themselves, but it does mean that if I had nothing at all on the go – wasn’t watching any TV shows, in the middle of any games, etc. – I would be less likely to make finding a book my top priority, because there would be no guarantee of finding one that I enjoy.
My friend who likes easy was scandalised when I told her videogames came above books for me in terms of story, particularly as we’d spent much of the day discussing our reading habits. But it’s true. I only tend to play story-driven single-player games – something like Fortnite gives me anxiety just thinking about it – and I would favour a good story told through a videogame than the same good story told through a book in most cases. The interactivity of a videogame, either literally becoming the main character or placing yourself into the story through character customisation, means that the stakes feel higher, and you connect with the characters more. My favourite videogame series, the Ace Attorney games, are basically an interactive novel, but they would not have meant as much to me in any other format (although, the various musicals and the film are all pretty great).
Sometimes I feel like the only person in the world to whom music means pretty much nothing. Every teenager I’ve ever seen, both fictional and in real life, seems to hold music as something sacred. Entire sub-cultures build up around what type of music you like. My own taste in actual music is best described as ‘songs I already know and so can sing along to’, and so is largely influenced by the tastes of people in my life. Before I joined secondary school, this did not include Beyoncé. I had never even heard of her, much to the bemusement of my classmates.
But I digress. All this to say, I do not generally listen to ‘proper’ music. I have, however, always loved musicals.
I never listened to normal music because I couldn’t relate to it at all (although, the general nihilism of being in your 20s is a popular topic in indie music, so that has been changing recently). Musicals didn’t have this problem. Musicals give you the context and characters to hang the emotions on, which meant I could understand and feel the songs in a way couldn’t with actual songs through The Power Of Empathy. And I love singing, and singing with emotional inflection, and I have a predisposition to melodrama. So if I could have a story with songs or a story without songs, I’m gonna choose a story with songs every time.
Of course, nothing else could take first place for me. Television is what I have built my life around. Something about the way stories are told in television makes them resonate with me. The fact that we are given so much content about the same characters and world allows them to develop organically and richly, but the self-contained episodic structure means there’s no pressure to consume it in huge chunks at a time (though I do, regularly). Television canon exists alongside our own world, and is designed so that we can drop in and watch passively while things unfold, and then get back to our own lives, usually with new information. It’s a little like having an ant farm that way.
I have to say, places where these media intersect are my ABSOLUTE favourites. I love Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Galavant, because they are TV shows that are also musicals. I love books that are tie-ins to TV shows and films and videogames – I own many, many encyclopaedias and novels about the worlds from Doctor Who, Star Trek, and even Adventure Time and Psych. I have grown up in a post-modern media environment, and along with a love of genre-sliding, it has given me a real appreciation for 360-synergy.
As I said, I would love to hear my readers’ views on this. I’m well aware that my media preferences are quite unusual. Also, apologies for my irregular posts at the moment – you can always find me on Twitter @TallHawkTalks to see what’s going on in the meantime.