Friday, July 20, 2007

Subtlety can’t be drawn in crayon.

Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy is soon to kick off its celluloid debut. The adaptation of the first book will be released worldwide under the title “The Golden Compass”; the name the novel carried in North America, as opposed to its original branding, “The Northern Lights”.
This, unusually, doesn’t irk me too much. I cringe more at the fact that it’s a slap in the face for the author. Titles of literary works are carefully chosen by those that pen them and money-grabbing marketing types changing them on the grounds that someone somewhere may not know what said title indicates strikes me as, well; dumb.
As I said, though; this particular case doesn’t get the bile flowing. Both titles are relevant to the story, though only one carries a sense of cold mystery. The other has all the subtlety of a bludgeon painted bright yellow with 8 shrieking ferrets bound to it.
It does, however, give me licence to scream, bitch and point accusingly at a case from the past:
The first Harry Potter book.
Its title on fair Blighty was “The Philosopher’s Stone”, but on release in the US it was renamed “The Sorcerer’s Stone” because the American publishers didn’t think the readers would know what a philosopher was.
I find that move somewhat alarming as the publishers in question are called “Scholastic”.
What kind of company going under THAT moniker takes away an opportunity to pose a question? An opportunity to get a child to look something up? To learn?
Or, easier still; give them a reason to read the bloody book! The answer’s inside!!
Now, I’ve spoken with them, joked with them and engaged them in highly intelligent conversation, so I can say with authority that the Americans aren’t thick, as the rest of the world oft suggests. Wider, on the occasion, but not thick.
Their media organisations and distributers, however, seem convinced that the general population of the US is made up of barely conscious Neanderthals and so, treat them as such.
That an upcoming film is being released WORLDWIDE as “The Golden Compass” is a sign that this train of thought is spreading: the opinion that the public are dumb. Give them something bright and shiny to look at and they’ll be happy.
But I’m not. And if I’m not I’ll wager that others aren’t either.
We LIKE subtlety. We LIKE to work things out over the course of the book/film/TV Series/game. We LIKE it when things don’t become clear until the very end.
All of that can be undermined by a change in a name.
Some may think that it’s an overreaction to get into a twist over a title change, but it’s not the CHANGE that’s the ultimate problem. The problem is the talentless, unimaginative, exploitative people that are RESPONSIBLE for the change, and that they have the power to do so at the drop of a hat.
I’m worried what will become of the creative endeavour if they’re allowed to continue dumbing things down. If you give a person reason use their brain, they become smarter. But if you treat someone like a moron they eventually think they are one.
And what will become of us then?


Tatter said...

It's one of several "narratives" the media struggles to create and impose, in the hope that they will come true once everyone belives in them. Others include "Equality of opportunity cannot exist without equality of result," "Strength is evil and weakness is a virtue," and the perennial favorite, "Communism would work if there was no capitalism to compete with it."

It will all end in either a successful revolt against the media, or in Room 101 for all of us.

nydiastonecat said...

Very good point. I was never sure why they changed it from "Philosopher's" to "Sorcerer's" either... or why Rowling permitted it. Alchemy legend tells of the philosopher's stone, NOT any sorcerer.

Apt sketch, I'd say. :)

rali said...

I'm an American and let me tell you something Jack... you are absolutely right. When I first heard of the philosopher/sorcerer title change I was disgusted. And I find the fact that the trend is continuing to be rather disturbing.

I think more people need to acknowledge the fact before more creative freedoms are lost to the publisher and others.

John said...

First off, in general, Americans (my fellow countrymen) in general are morons. But then I hold England slightly responsible for inundating us with insidiously banal television programs like 'Survivor,' 'Weakest Link,' and many others that manage to kill more braincells in 15 minutes of viewing than LSD could ever hoep to slay.
All that aside, I haven't read this 'Compass/North Lights' book, but I am an ardent fan of Harry Potter, and though I am well aware of what a philosopher is, I do not think the title 'Philosopher's Stone' was an apt title for the book. Philosophers deal with the futile study of finding the one absolute truth to life... sorcerers deal specifically in magic. While a philosopher might talk long and verbously about the application of the stone depicted in the novel, only a sorcerer (or mad scienist) could create it. Ergo, I argue, 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' would make no sense.

P.S. why do we get idiotic British shows televised broadly while great ones like 'Father Ted' are damned near impossible to find?

Kyle Miller said...

"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

- H. L. Mencken

Angry A said...

It is a means of control. Our Government does it all the time.

It is really our own fault for letting it happen. You know there is an intelligent person in that meeting where the decision is being made, but they won't stand up and do what is right.

Also, religious nuts are scared enough of witches. Now you want to introduce philosophy and free thought? NEVER!

D said...

I'm gonna have to agree with my American commenters here; Americans ARE dumb.

We've a terrible public education system, and a massive media machine. Between these two influences, it's a wonder anyone around here has an original thought.

And if you've ever taken a look at American prime-time television, you'll realize that we actually don't.

Tony said...

Interesting. Some people claim it's the American's fault, some claim it's the media's, some claim it's Rowling's, some claim it's the government. I guess all played a role in the whole thing, like a unanimous decision.

It's not that Americans don't have an original answer, it's just that Prime time television only allows about 8 or so choices and then narrowing them down further. People are going to say the same answer. There aren't around a billion choices, you know. The media always wants attention. It's about money. But they're not right. Americans aren't dumb. Saying that would be wrong. In fact, we have the greatest mind of all time living with us. All of the best geniuses have been here. Einstein, Hawking, etc. There's no reason to consider America dumb, despite its own unhealthy economy (Well, hey! Europe has a smoking problem and Africa has starving children! Some of us are fat! No economy's perfect!)

It's amazing how people can just jump to conclusions about America. And I thank you for understanding, Phillip. That means a lot to me.

Zook said...

I really must agree with you on the point that much of America assumes that much of America are inbred, ignorant, ill-ducated frumps. It's sad, really, that we crap on ourselves in this way. It's a self-deprecating prophesy that I've grown quite tired of over the years.

Keep writing and drawing, Phil. I love your stuff.

Major Sheep said...

I think you hit the nail on the head. Most Americans who one would consider dumb, I simply treat as a product of pop culture.

It's these victims of media super-saturation who condone and reinforce the decisions which further simplify and reduce the intellectual content of our entertainment.

The media claim they are appealing to the American majority, but they don't realize they're part of a downward spiral that only helps to fulfill their low expectations of the public.

What can we do but utterly destroy the media machine and all its henchmen?

Andy said...

It could've been worse. They could have gone with "Harry Potter and the Magic Stone".

Awesome sketch btw!

Rachael said...

It's all part of marketing, and their goal is to appeal to the majority. As I'm sure it is anywhere, there are far more poor individuals here than there are those with a higher income. And here in America, a large portion of the poor populace indulges in a culture that is not conducive to learning. It's not cool to be smart.

Intelligent individuals, and those who speak and act such, are generally ridiculed in public schools, to the point that some will deliberately avoid learning so they're not ostracized. When you decide you're not going to do well because you want to fit in, you stop learning, your knowledge base decreases. It's harder later to learn the things you should have in the beginning.

The media doesn't want to make anything so intelligent that it's going to go over their poor little heads, cutting out such a large target group. They want to make as much money as possible. So make it appeal to the largest possible audience.

For this reason, we wind up with best-selling authors such as L. Ron Hubbard and Dean Koontz, who learned in third grade that a paragraph was three sentences long, and by gawd they're gonna stick with it! Our newspapers are printed at a --fourth grade reading level--. It's really pretty disgusting all around.

It's not really anybody's fault, per se. It's just how things have worked out. To change it, we'd need to start with changing the 'Smart's Not Cool' culture. And I think we're working on it, but it's a long, slow process.

Having said that, thanks for your support of the American mind, and keep up with the comics! Good stuff. ^_^

EOCostello said...

This is hardly new, however. Both P.G. Wodehouse ("Joy in the Morning/"Jeeves in the Morning") and Agatha Christie had title changes in the UK versus US editions of their books going back into the 1930s and 1940s. And there are any number of films from that era that had different titles as well.

That said, the title change was due to the fact that few folks would instantly recognize (so Scholastic thought) the reference to alchemy. Granted, this is the outfit that makes most of its bucks from "Clifford, the Big Red Dog," so one must take anything they say cum grano salis.

Zack Newkumet said...

I love the expression on her face, well done.