Monday, September 19, 2011
What Makes a Best-Seller: The Masses or the Media?
Suddenly a book or movie catapults to life, seemingly out of nowhere, an instant success. What fueled this sudden rise to prominence? The media posting good reviews, the author or its stars appearing on talk shows touting its excellence? Or is the success independent of its reviews? Are the people flocking to it first or are they only flocking to it because the media told them to? Which came first: the masses or the media? From Jacqueline Mitchard’s Deep End of the Ocean, getting a huge boost from Oprah’s endorsement or more recently, the critics heaping praise on Like Water for Elephants and The Help, these books became tremendously successful at both the box office and the bookstore because of a positive media spin.
While I’m not sure, all I can say is that they all came to my attention because of what I’d read in the news media first. My first thought is ‘well it must be good, it’s getting good reviews. I have to read it or I have to see it.” Sometimes the praise is justified, some not. And conversely, some books and movies that are a huge hit with audiences are a flop with critics. National Treasure and The DaVinci Code are two examples that come to mind.
Like with any good or bad review, ‘caveat emptor,’ the buyer needs to be beware. In the case of Deep End of the Ocean, I didn’t think the praise was warranted, but that’s just me. I don’t care for those type of stories and I didn’t think it was terribly original, kind of a paper tiger at the end. Too much inner angst. Not my thing, just like Jodi Picault or Joyce Carol Oates. Too maudlin and too sad. But that’s my opinion. Other people love it. I don’t like vampire stories either. Other people eat them up, pardon the pun. Then again, I loved The Help and thought Like Water for Elephants was good, but not great. So reviews must be in the eye of the beholder. Everybody sees things differently. And that’s OK. But does the media have too much power in making or breaking an artist’s work? Are we slaves to what they like and don’t like? Or can we rise above it and make our own choices, come what may? I think we can and do, whether it comes to the arts or choosing a political candidate. Public opinion can be a very powerful force. But who shapes it: the masses or the media?
Next week: Elizabeth Means is my Guest