Adaptation and Media

[General,Research] (03.02.09, 3:03 pm)

Right now I am working on transcribing Linda Hutcheon‘s A Theory of Adaptation. This book has been great. It looks at adaptation as legitimate, universal, and pervasive. It’s great because so much of what I am doing is entrenched in adaptation, and it’s great to see it legitimized. Indeed, adaptations are often viewed very negatively as leeching off of the original media, corrupting it, and mining or wringing it out for money. Just today I came across an article by Alan Moore on some of his current projects, and he discusses the practice of adaptation in very negative terms. Considering his background and experiences, I am not all that surprised, but having read Hutcheon so soon, I spent a little bit of time thinking about exactly what is at stake here.

Moore views adaptation as a corporate practice whose motivation is the capitalist goal of maximizing capital. He doesn’t explain it in exactly those terms, but his perspective is focused on the adaptation producers. The practice of adaptation (in context of his books) frequently involves large special effects budgets, and is reprehensible in his eyes due to the focus on spectacle as opposed to the mastery of media affordances. Essentially, he writes a narrative in comic form because it is best told through comic form. He writes a novel because the story is best told as a novel. Adaptation is pointless to him because it disregards the bond between narrative and medium. To him, the Hollywood film industry is attempting, though the use of its formulas to turn the narratives of his stories into Hollywood narratives. Because form and content are so intertwined, an adaptation that changes medium will necessarily be a change in content, detracting from its original meaning.

I can clearly understand Moore, but I think that it would be fruitful to consider another perspective, which is that of the reader, or the audience, or the consumer. Moore’s outlook is that of the Author, in the Barthes sense. This view is not uncommon, but neglects the role and engagement of the reader. Readers are anxious to make meanings from works, often meanings that the author may have instilled but not stated, or meanings which the author instilled but was not aware of, or meanings that are entirely personal to the readers themselves. Readers do not see the meaning of a work as tied to its medium, or even necessarily its content. When readers take charge, they appropriate and extend and (to borrow Jenkins’ term) poach texts. When a work is introduced to an audience, adaptation is inevitable. This is not to say that Hollywood adaptation is great, but rather some forms of adaptation are inevitable.

It is interesting to compare how Moore describes his own works, as being carefully crafted and interwoven with particular influences, to specifically create commentary on both the original texts and contemporary events. Moore’s collaboration with Kevin O’Neil on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is itself interesting as an adapted work because it borrows so many established characters from English literature. It is not an adaptation of another text, but it weaves characters and conventions from other texts to assemble a work. Perhaps because the script itself is original, Moore does not consider it to be an adaptation. When compared with something, such as Jane Austen’s novels, which have themselves spawned an entire textual universe of adaptations, some of which borrow from one specific novel, and others which borrow from multiple, the lines definitely begin to blur.

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