Does Visual Media Kill Print for You?

Bill and Sookie from the True Blood series

I’ve read a fair bit of paranormal romance in my time, including those that feature vampire heroes. Some of them I’ve found truly sexy. In a sense, male vampires represent the ultimate bad boys: barely in control, driven by dark impulses, exotic, outsiders from society. On the printed page, amazingly enough, the fact they drank blood never seemed repulsive to me.

Then I watched the first season of True Blood.

I haven’t read the Sookie Stackhouse series, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of the books’ interpretations, but the writers and producers of the TV series went for a different vibe than what I’ve been used to, even in the edgier of my fiction. With their cinematic choices and my ex-physician’s eye, a vampire’s pallor presents as…sickly. The act of drinking blood is no longer an erotic exchange of body fluids during climax, but animalistic. Almost cruel.

I’m not sure I’m interested enough in what the series has to say to go in for the second season, but I’ve noticed something that’s disturbing: Their creative vision has altered my interpretation of the fiction on my bookshelf. I have different images in my head now, even when I read old favorites. I see horror instead of romance.

I’ve had similar things happen before after seeing a film adaptation of a specific novel to that novel, but I’ve never had it happen to an entire subgenre of fiction. Have you?

I don’t know if you’ve observed another trend, but there’s acute nostalgia at present for the 1930’s and 40’s. It can be seen in fashion, in the present well-buzzed batch of historical novels, even in the nominations for last night’s Oscars. 

I’m not sure why that is — whether there’s a sense as a culture that we’re in for global conflict, belt-tightening, a need to rely more on our communities and country than we have of late, in our individualistic society. I don’t know if that’s made us seek reassurance that we’ve done it before and can, presumably, do it again. I’m uncertain of causality, but I detect its presence. Thus far, in my opinion, that era’s being romanticized. 

Contrast that with the photos below. In this case, I prefer their stark and true beauty to the fictionalized renditions:

    [Children aiming sticks as guns, lined up against a brick building, Washington, D.C.?] (LOC)

Rural school children, San Augustine County, Texas (LOC)

Aren’t these amazing? These are from the Library of Congress and are part of their series taken in the 1930’s. If you want to see more, and in a much larger print size, so you get their full effect, go to this link in the Denver Post.  (Thanks to romance writer Viva Anna for pointing these out.) Children gathering potatoes on a large farm, vicinity of Caribou, Aroostook County, Me. Schools do not open until the potatoes are harvested (LOC)

Jack Whinery and his family, homesteaders, Pie Town, New Mexico (LOC)

So, a few questions: Do you feel visual media inhibits or enhances your enjoyment of fiction, on the whole?

If you’ve seen beyond season one of True Blood, do you think it improves?

Lastly, what do you think of those photos?

25 thoughts on “Does Visual Media Kill Print for You?

  1. It is an interesting issue/ problem. I don’t read a lot of vampire/ paranormal literature but I do read the Sookie Stackhouse series and have read them since they first started. I enjoy the humor and mystery of the books more than the woo-woo stuff – which I get to visualize for myself to whatever extent I choose. When it’s on TV someone else has chosen their interpretation and that’s what’s hard to deal with. They get to choose how far to push the envelope and it seem they know that if we watch TV new and get used to seeing wars during dinner time then they have to go further to shock us during the prime time and evening hours.

    As for my ick factor during True Blood I actually have a problem with the opening title credits. The juxtaposition and flashes of pictures get their messages across to me just a bit too well. As for further seasons of True Blood, I can’t remember if there’s an escalation or not, but there are more vampires getting ‘killed’ so that ick factor does increase. No one likes to see that!

    1. You know, I don’t care for that opening sequence, either. It’s a good representation of the TV series, though. I have the first Sookie Stackhouse in my TBR pile, and I’ve wondered if the themes of racism and religious fanatacism were in there as well. The KKK images in the leader are interesting, but they certainly aren’t subtle.

  2. Jan, the pictures are incredible. So evocative, and yet so non-glamorized.

    Got nuthin’ on vampires, para-normal, or their ilk in visual media. But I’ll tell you one mini-series which I thought hit the mark perfectly, and relates to the photos. “Band of Brothers” on HBO, although not based on fiction, really captured the spirit of the book, and took it to a new level. The war wasn’t glamorized, but the humble contribution of the American every-man was well rendered.

  3. I have read several of the Sookie Stackhouse books and I liked them (at the beginning… recent efforts have not been the best) for their sense of community, the building and evolving relationships, and the mystical elements that were taken as simple fact on the face of it but then manipulated for group or personal gain, much like in politics where race and class structure exists and is used for manipulation. That being said, the stories were sweet and funny — as they are told from the viewpoint of a sweet and funny girl — and the overall ick factor didn’t come across.

    On my TV, it’s more brutal, more visually stomach-turning, and the idea that Sookie would genuinely enjoy the exchange rather than just providing something her lover needs during a sexual encounter was more disturbing. Frankly, I very much liked seaon one of True Blood, did NOT like season two very much, and still haven’t made it through season three. I’d like to watch season four if only because in book four Eric played such a different type of character and I’d be interested to see if they are going to follow that storyline at all. Plus, Eric in True Blood is HOTTTT.

    I haven’t noticed the reading/viewing of this series to have colored my views on others of the same ilk, however, and that may be just that as a writer/creator of stories myself, I come to each world and take it as it presents itself. So while the vampires in True Blood are grosser than i’d like, the vampires in Twilight are different, as are the vampires in Anne Rice, etc.

    1. Sounds like you’ve been able to compartmentalize the TV production from the subgenre, more. I wonder if that would be true for me if I’d read the original series, or if I had a different image in my head of Sookie before I began.

      And Eric is very attractive. 😉 I can’t help wondering how much better he’d look without the makeup.

  4. Sometimes for me, it’s not necessarily the grossness that pulls me out, it’s a wrongness. Like the fangs in the True Blood series. I haven’t gotten past watching the first two episodes so far, and in part it’s because the fangs are in the wrong place! Fangs are canines, end of story. Any time I see the fangs in the wrong place, whatever I’m watching becomes more comical instead of whatever it’s supposed to be. You can get this sense of wrongness with other stuff too; for example, if the character is one race/hair colour in the books, then something completely different on screen, it pulls you out of the moment as your brain screams, “HEY!!! That’s not RIGHT!”.

    I think, Jan, you have been pulled out of your moment and unfortunately now have a sense of wrongness about the whole genre.

    1. It’s a bad sign when a person’s laughing instead of being turned on or frightened. 🙂 I agree. And you know, now that I think of it, every time those teeth come out on camera, it’s too much. Leave some space for the viewer. (BTW, on Writer Unboxed, their Saturday post by Tracy Hahn-Burkett talks about this in the writing world.)

  5. Very thought-provoking, Jan. I read the first Sookie Stackhouse book years ago, and I loved the “new twist” on the vampire lore, along with Sookie’s humor, and the small-town Louisiana setting. I’ve watched the first season of True Blood, but it feels like someone else’s story, and it doesn’t really appeal to me because I don’t care for gore or horror. (I DO love Lafayette though, in a big big way, and I don’t even remember him as a character in the books. LOL)

    Something similar happens with music videos. I can listen to a song a million different times and have it mean whatever I want, but as soon as I see a music video — that’s the only visuals I have. My brain latches onto that and refuses to be imaginative again. LOL

    1. I love Lafayette! He’s the only character in the whole show — with the exception of the lucious Eric, at times — who seems to have a sense of humor. Sookie, in the TV series, is rather self-righteous.
      Whispers: I don’t really like her.

  6. Wow, interesting blog entry! It even pulled me away from my current obsession.

    I haven’t read the Sookie Stackhouse books, although they are on my TBR list. I watched the first two seasons of True Blood on TV/DVD. Season one was great, although I thought it had too much sex distracting from the story, IMHO. Season two started getting getting kind of icky. When they reached the dogfighting part in season three, I turned it off in the middle of a very disturbing episode and was done with it. I gave my DVDs to my son.

    Several points however on True Blood. The Creator talked about the opening sequence and it WAS designed to evoke that response, especially the connection between sexuality and hyper-religion. The music on the show, especially the theme song, is great. I play the soundtrack to season one ALL the time.

    The old photos are amazing! Going to check them out when I have time….

    1. Glinda, who does that song in the opening soundtrack?

      Do you know, I’m such a goofball; Molly informs me we did watch season 2. (We followed 1 instantly, so they kind of blurred together.) It was 2 I found less appealing. If 3 turned you – a horror lover – off that much, yeesh. Maybe I’ll just find myself preoccupied by other shows.

      1. The theme song is called” Bad Things” and is by Jace Everett. The song itself had a special story. The creator of the show, Alan Ball, heard the song on iTunes (where it was one of those cheap or free specials of the day) and thought it was perfect for the show. It really helped Everett’s career. 🙂

        As for the show, it was the dogfighting that did me in – I find it totally disgusting – and you can kill all the imaginary people you want, but I am really sensitive about animals, even imaginary ones, LOL!

  7. Not a Sookie reader or True Blood viewer.

    I worried that watching a Harry Potter movie would put those images into my brain. But really, I’m just not a visual reader. I see letters more than people (so Harry looks like a big “H,” maybe with a lightning bolt; Hermione looks like “Her” with a suggestion of bushy brown hair), and I pretty much never envision faces. So I think I’m safe from visual media.

  8. Love those old pictures. I don’t generally like to see a movie or TV show before reading a book, at all. And I tried to read the first Sookie Stackhouse novel but couldn’t. The voice really bugged me (but then it takes a hell of a story for me to get past first person present tense). The TV show, though, TO ME fits far better with my image of vampires… goes much better with how I would make them sort of sexy than… say sparkles and always pretty people. I loved me some Buffy, but that was pretty dark, too, in its sort of comedic, campy way. And any vampire BOOK that doesn’t sort of show that awfulness of it was never going to get my interest or endorsement (then again, I am not one to read a book that the main point is romance very often, either). I haven’t yet seen the later seasons of True Blood, but I really liked the first.

    1. Sounds like we entered the series with a different set of expectations, Hart. I’d be very curious how you’d feel about the True Blood TV series if you’d read some of the dark PN romance or UF I have. (I trend towards dark or campy in them, too. Not sparkly.)

  9. Very interesting post. I admit, I have no love for SS. Read the first book and thought it was boring, and never watched the show. So I’m gonna answer based on my love of Harry Potter.

    And… I guess my answer is that it doesn’t bother me too much, maybe because I’d read several of the books before seeing the movie. I’m not the most visual reader. I only create enough detail that I can follow the story, so I actually liked seeing someone else’s vision of Harry’s world. It fleshed it out for me.

  10. Late, but…
    I do watch True Blood, but mostly for the WTF factor. It occasionally makes me uncomfortable, not in the OMG Art! way – more in the same way that my four year old does something annoyingly disgusting when he decides mommy’s attention isn’t quite as much on him as he’d like. I’ve heard the books are different, but it hasn’t made me want to run out and read them – Sookie really isn’t my kind of heroine.

    Those other photos are gorgeous though – I have far more of a story that starts winding through my head looking at them than I do of the EW cover.

    1. Hey, I’m the same! I feel manipulated by the show’s producers, though I suspect the books have more heart, because they are so loved. And I’m glad you like the photos. You’d probably LOVE the ones taken in Russia 100 years ago. Click through to that link and scroll to the very bottom to see what I mean.

  11. I’ve actually seen those! (The Russia ones) It’s been awhile though, and they’re still amazing. So much of it looks like what I remember (minus people being more modernly dressed), which is amazing, considering that 80 years had elapsed between.

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