Reading Rights

Magdalena Waz

potential pitfalls of the topic – reading – I have chosen for this weekly column. The more I think about it, the harder it is for me to approach the same idea from different angles. Did I answer any of the questions that I had originally posed? No. They’re hard.
What sort of reading do we do? Well, I can only speak for myself, and I do all kinds. Others, I’ve noticed, read what they need to for class and seem to enjoy that but look for other ways to relax. Oh, here. Maybe I’ve hit on something. Do we read to relax? Like retired bankers on the beach might read? I would advise against that type of reading, for it devalues the process of writing itself.
Consider the same phrase used in reference to movies. Or better yet, the ubiquitous “it’s just an escape.” Movies are sometimes construed as narratives that help us forget that we have other concerns, more pressing lives. If someone were to say, “I am an entertainer,” I would immediately think of comedy, of laughter. When someone writes a “page-turner” they are accused of being light – even engrossing, fun – but perhaps a sellout.
I can’t figure out how this value system works. We claim that it is inherently bad to be all of these things, or participate in some sort of entertainment machine that churns out product after product that barely resembles art. We talk about classics. But we don’t have time for classics because they’re cumbersome. It is, in short, nice that they exist for somebody else to study and admire.
What is not cumbersome is “Avatar” or the new “Sex and the City” movie – which I will be seeing Memorial Day weekend. They are easy to watch even after two hours. I give things like this my money because it is easy. And admitting that makes me feel guilty because I know my refusal to be challenged by my entertainment doesn’t make sense.
Sometimes what we are thought to think doesn’t match up with what we do. This often happens with food. Ideally it would be possible to view or read something that claims to be pure entertainment in the same way one views or reads something considered to be above that.
In order for that to happen, money, advertising, markets and any other facet of consumption have to be removed from the equation. If nothing had to “sell,” there wouldn’t be a problem. I could probably walk into a theater in Appleton and see “Mystery Team.” I could probably walk into a bookstore, take a leisurely look around and pick up a few tomes of the newest experimental fiction.
What I am writing about is crazy. But I think that the phrase “entertainment value” – the shorthand for what I’ve been writing about – is infinitely problematic because it implies an economy determined by taste, which is determined by exposure, which is determined by ease of consumption. And I don’t mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but who exactly is deciding what is easy for you to consume?