No, Alternative Media Is Not Creating A “Post-Literate Society” | Electric Editorial

All right. I think we all need to hear this.

After Bill Maher’s idiotic and ignorant comments on comic books, following Stan Lee’s passing (which I won’t be linking to, here, because screw that guy), I observed the much-deserved backlash. But, as expected,  the floodgates seem to have also been opened for countless so-called intellectuals to pop up and once again denounce any form of media that isn’t a book. Comics, TV, Movies, Videogames, you name it. As if it makes them look smarter or something. If it’s not a book, it’s something we’re supposed to “grow out of” in the interest of pursuing “actual literature.” There’s this pervasive idea that it’s the fault of these forms of media that we’re entering a “post-literate society.” By that, they of course mean one where people don’t read and thus literacy rates are declining.

Buuut the funny thing, there, is that this isn’t true. At all. In fact, literacy rates are increasing among youth. (Ironic, seeing as people who read so much should probably know that…) Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that’s because of comics, movies, and whatnot. That’d obviously be absurd. But the fact of that matter is that people are actually reading more.

I think this boils down to two reasons – improved access, over the years, to higher-end technology and educational hurdles being leaped. Put plainly, books are now more accessible than they’ve been in decades and academia is (slowly) making strides to have its literature departments not be such a tedious bore. Older generations often complain that “Oh, those darn millennials never put down their phones/tablets.” But the fact is that a lot of what people are doing on those phones and tablets is reading. And that’s to say nothing of audiobooks and all the awesome people on the internet who can help recommend something for you.

Really, if comics, TV, and so-on were ever a problem for any generation, it was them. Understand, I’m not blaming them for this. But they didn’t have access to the things we currently do. And since these alternative methods were more easily accessible and significantly lighter reading or faster to get through, they were being used as a substitute for actual books. So it becomes a case of older generations projecting their own issues onto younger ones. That isn’t to say all younger people want to read, now, obviously. Books are time-consuming and – especially to Americans, where this is a big deal – don’t always provide the same sense of instant gratification that something like a movie, game, or yes, even comic book might. But the correlation is there.

So we really need to buck this outdated, elitist idea that comics and TV and other alternative forms of media are some kind of problem. Because they aren’t. If anything, it wouldn’t be on the media, itself. It’d be on the people who consume those forms of media to the exclusion of actual books. And while that is definitely an issue, as I personally think people should regularly expose themselves to as many different forms of media as possible, it’s not as big a deal as I think we make it out to be.

What are the main advantages of a book over any other form of media? Most people with a degree will tell you that their being more descriptive requires that they be more creative with word choice and therefore use more words which, in turn, forces you to flex your critical thinking skills and is better for conveying complex ideas such as philosophy and the like. Yeah, fine. Except here’s the thing. If created with that intent in mind, literally any form of media can do that, just through different means. They are exactly as capable of addressing the same philosophical issues and exploring the human psyche and condition as any book, regardless of the volume of words. By the way, there are tons of books out there that do none of these things. And that’s not to say they’re bad, it’s just not their intent to do so.

Now, I will make this abundantly clear. This isn’t me going on some tirade about how “books are actually inferior to visual media.” That’d be ludicrous and hypocritical in the extreme. I might not personally read as much as I watch anime or play videogames. But I enjoy reading quite a lot and would encourage anyone to pick up a book every now and again. Also, this is probably worth its own article, but don’t let anyone gatekeep you. Most of my own reading consists of light novels and books about story structure and techniques, and that’s fine. Not everyone needs or wants to read deep philosophical think pieces that analyze the very nature of what it is to human. It’s fine if you don’t. Simple narratives are perfectly okay. A book is a book is a book and books are awesome. Branch out when you feel comfortable doing so or find something you think is interesting. But books are great. So, by all means, read a few.

The fact is that comics, movies, TV, videogames, and such are all every bit as valid forms of media as books. So we need to stop pretending they’re some sort of issue. If you prefer literature to the other formats, that’s perfectly fine. You’re entitled to that opinion. But, speaking frankly, the idea that any one form is inherently superior to another is a way of thinking that I think we, as a society, should have long since grown out of. How’s that for irony?

That’s all for me. Thanks for reading, as always. Keep up the Awesome. Take Care.


12 thoughts on “No, Alternative Media Is Not Creating A “Post-Literate Society” | Electric Editorial

  1. Karandi

    This was a fantastic read and one I really relate to because for me it is all about stories and I’ll consume a story in more or less any form and have all my life. I love traditional novels and reading the classics and the ‘must reads’, but equally love reading pulp fiction and more recently light novels and the few manga I’ve gotten into. I love movies, 90’s TV shows, and of course anime. Then there’s gaming that just opens up even more worlds and stories. While I believe novels and the written word have a clear place and are important, I also believe that the idea of communication is to share ideas, lessons, values, and open minds. Those things aren’t restricted to novels and the value of other forms of narrative should never be overlooked.

    1. Chris Voyage

      Thanks! Couldn’t have said it better myself, really. It’s just a shame that this is still a thing that needs saying, even after decades of evidence that other forms of media are perfectly viable means of doing basically the same thing.

  2. lynnsheridan

    These are the same people that will then tell you that genre fiction and pulp fiction is also a waste. They’ll look down on science fiction and fantasy.

    I think there will always be literature snobs. It’s the same with different factions of anime fans. Some people feel an obsessive need to stomp on other people’s enjoyment. They obviously aren’t having enough fun themselves.

    1. Chris Voyage

      Yeah, that’s an issue I’ve seen far too much of, honestly. I often wonder if they weren’t hugged enough as children. Letting people enjoy things doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult a concept to grasp. And yet, here we are.

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  4. railgunfan75

    Funny how this type of thing keeps recurring throughout our history. When Rock and Roll came on the scene, it was also seen as the death of civilized culture and now it is ingrained into our culture and has in turn influenced even more types of music. Now we are experiencing the same thing with comics, films, and anime today. I have always loved reading and a good narrative. I read many types of things, comics, manga, online articles, and novels. A good story is a good story regardless of the medium. In fact some anime have inspired to read the manga or light novels myself. We are just at a crossroads in culture yet again where it is not degrading, just changing for the better. Great post!

    1. Chris Voyage

      Ooh, that’s an excellent point about Rock music! I’d wanted to make some sort of musical comparison in this but that completely slipped my mind. And I didn’t want this to be too long. Thanks!

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