Agree or disagree: Writers are bad at being original because they grew up watching TV

Title says it all. It’s something my mother, who grew up during ww2 and was a writer would always say was that writers today are not as original as writers of the past because they grow up watching TV. Do you agree or disagree and why?

No, writers who aren’t original are bad at being original. It doesn’t matter if they grew up watching TV, listening to radio, or forced to read the complete works of Shakespeare until they memorized them.

And let’s face it, a lot of writing at any time is bad. We just don’t realize it because the good stuff tends to be remembered and reread, while the bad is justly forgotten.

Take confidence from the fact that we all realize how bad TV was in the days when (many of us) were growing up.

Thsoe were the days when every single sit-com, from the Addams Family to Father Knows Best, repeated the hoary cliché of hitting someone on the head to induce amnesia…and then hitting them again (holy God!) to restore their memory!

We knew it even then: this is dreck. (Excusable, of course, because of the extreme time-pressure of the TV production cycle.)

It may well be that writers, today, are more creative, because they’ve been exposed to decades of examples of what not to do.

I disagree that writers as a monolithic group are bad at being original. I read things that strike me as original all the time. I also watch TV and movies that are original all the time, especially TV.

I disagree that unoriginal writers are unoriginal because they grew up watching TV.

I also question whether originality is the gold standard for which writers should strive. Something can be original and still bad.

There hasn’t been an original idea since Gilgamesh. If you think something is original, it’s because you haven’t seen it before.

You’re right, in general terms. “There is nothing new under the sun,” and that is a very old statement in itself! However…

The Odyssey begins “in media res,” in the middle of the story. That was a new idea in storytelling, appearing post Gilgamesh.

Aristotle tells us that Aeschylus added the second actor to the stage, and that Sophocles introduced the third.

Obviously, I’m just being nitpickery; but there have been a few clever ideas since Babylon and Assyria!

(And hats – and shirts! – off to the first person who put some stripping and nudity into the act!)

When I read your title I immediately thought of Harlan Ellison who thinks the same way.

However, in reading Ellison, you never get the sense that he’s aware that he’s comparing a 20 year old medium to a 400 year old medium, so it is a bit jarring to see this disconnect.

But yeah if I spent my thirties and forties watching Mayberry RFD and Gomer Pyle I’d think TV is stupid too.

The writers (and everyone else) who predated TV probably spent some time (depending on their point in history) in listening to radio, watching films at cinemas, listening to the old village storyteller etc.

Infinite Jest is a pretty unique novel. It was written by an author who watched plenty of TV. The novel itself was heavily influenced by Television.

If anything, TV might have made writers less meaningful, because instead of a generation who grew up with war and poverty, you have a generation who grew up watching Mash.

Instead of more stories like “The Grapes of Wrath” or “Slaughterhouse Five” you have more stories about pop culture like “Ready Player One”.

As a writer, I disagree. But then I would, wouldn’t I? I write non-fiction and there is stacks new because new knowledge comes along.

I find TV documentaries really valuable for background to my research. I write about indigenous knowledge systems and archaeology - I simply couldn’t have seen so many sites and so many aspects of indigenous lives without TV. Obviously, anything I want to use means going to the academic and other respected sources, but I find TV can be really stimulating as a starting point and triggering new ideas.

There’s plenty of highly original writers everywhere, you just never hear of them because they are usually unsuccessful. Because audiences are made of humans, and humans have this tendency to identify more easily with recognizable ideas.

I think this is best suited for Cafe Society. Thread relocated from IMHO.

I must agree. The uses for creative writing have changed. Stories on television, movies, books used to be for expansion of experience. People read to be exposed to new ideas. Now these same media are used more for comfort, relaxation. So people tend to read or watch what is familiar. and avoid what is taxing to the imagination. Yes ,I know that is terribly pessimistic. But it is what I see in the media every day!

Were they? Were people watching I love Lucy or Flipper to expand their horizons? More than people watching Breaking Bad or The Wire?

I don’t know about pessimism, but you may be suffering from rose-tinted nostalgia.

Yes you might attack old shows but consider the fact that a high percentage of today movies and shows are remakes of old shows. Also Lucy managed to be funny without ever needing to resort to potty humor and shock jokes the way that modern shows use them as a crutch.

Can’t think of anything funny? Have data swear and you’re halfway there.

I disagree.
And TV in the REAL old days wasn’t necessarily bad – it was a mix of mediocre stuff (mostly radio shows transferred to TV) and of some really superb drama (the legendary Playhouse 90, Studio One, etc.). By the time I came around and most Baby Boomers came of age in the 1960s, though, the great Darwinian plane of experience had taken off the high points and spackled in the low points to give us a pretty uniform level of Blah (with occasional bright spots like The Dick van Dyke show and The Twilight Zone).
I do think that the movies and TV have affected the way a lot of people write, however. Some writers seem to have written with an eye to the movie adaptation of their work. But, heck, John Steinbeck wrote Of Mice and Men that way, and Shaw rewrote Pygmalion that way, so it’s not necessarily the Kiss of Death.

Has everybody forgotten that radio preceded television? Try to listen to old-time radio programs. They are weak, formulaic, melodramatic, repetitive, hokey, and lame. They made have made imaginations soar but that’s because they were unbearable straight. (Compare the brilliant Remember WENN, a program about an 1940s radio station, with the programs that show inserted as examples of old-time radio. Yes, they really were that awful.) The people who grew up listening to radio were the people who wrote television, and every other medium.

Critics are calling television today the Golden Age, the best that it’s ever been. As someone who can remember back to I Love Lucy - I hated I Love Lucy - I have to agree.

Old people have always said, always, always, always, that the stuff of their youth was better than today’s stuff. Feel free to nod quietly and then go back to watching whatever you like.

Disagree. TV, movies, all the media available makes things different. Originality has always been limited at the top level, something totally new, never seen or conceived of before is rare. Most originality is a new way twist on something that existed before. And as a matter of business greatly divergent originality isn’t desired, people like concepts they’re familiar with.

And most movies back in the golden age of cinema were book adaptations or adaptations of stage plays. So? There’s a very limited number of stories being repeated ad nauseam since prehistory. Does the fact that Battlestar Galactica (2004) used an old show from the late 70’s as a basis for its plot make it for some reason less ground breaking?

And this whole “nowadays shows are all about sex and swearing” is exactly what your grandpa said of I Love Lucy back then. Even the idea that modern media has gone to hell and is inferior and immoral for whatever reason is the oldest rehashed idea ever.

Hell, I remember reading an old ancient greek play in high school where the main character complained about the hair and the music of his son’s generation.

Professional writers have trouble being original because their writing has to meet a market in very prescribed ways.

Amateur writers have trouble being original because they are told to look up to professional writers.