But why does it matter that some outdated idea of “quality” has all but disappeared from our literature? (If it is not your reply, it is certainly the one I have most often heard.) The idea of quality is a creation of elites, isn’t it? The wealthy can afford higher quality automobiles. They can afford houses made of higher quality materials. They can afford “quality” texts and the education and the leisure to appreciate them.
But since the world has become more democratic the common man can also buy fully functional versions of a car, a house. Or, better said, since the advent of the assembly line and its wondrous technological enhancements, the common man can have nearly all in these products that properly falls under the category of “quality”. Yes, the wealthy have the money to buy better products still but they are not so much quality goods as “luxury” goods — status symbols.
Isn’t this the same thing that is happening to texts? Information is a product like any other, after all. (Again, please forgive me if this isn’t your reply, but, from my experience, it is representative of the most common replies in these conversations.) There are more variations of the product than ever from which the consumer can choose, now. The written word has never been doing better.
No one has the time anymore to read long wordy descriptions. Grammar Nazis belong to an elitist time that we have left behind. The common man is fully able to write and to read all that he or she needs or wishes to write or read without much concern for grammar.
Ditto for vocabulary Nazis. Throughout history language has changed. The way words are used has changed. Their definitions have changed. At last we are breaking away from the chains of elitist language thought enforcement. We are the new agents of history. There is no way to stop us.
By far, most people are not belligerents in the battle for freedom from grammar. This patter belongs to the poetry open-mic and online Interlit chat room. Most of the people in my life have just said to me that they love to read. They find it relaxing. “But not the kind of stuff that you do.” The “stuff” they read, as the rule, is online social media posts by friends, perhaps a news article that catches their eye, the occasional popular novel and self-help book.
They are correct. Other than the news articles, I don’t read the kind of stuff they do. (I do not consider social media posts to fall under the category of “reading” any more than I do greeting cards.) But I read far more news from generally far different news sources. At least until the new move to erect paywalls and subscription fees for the better venues prevents me from doing so any longer. I seek out as much high-quality non-partisan news as I can get. If I am not often disappointed on one level or another with the results of my search it is a sign that I am being too easy on myself and my sources.
The articles they tend to read are posted on news sites that match their political and religious beliefs and most comfortable reading level. They want the news selected and packaged by purveyors who feel like them and who don’t use words that send them to the dictionary. It’s not anti-intellectualism, per se, but who wants to spend time on a product that regularly includes difficult and/or unpleasant features?
The people to whom I refer are loving and lovable. They are also educated to second year college on average. I could not imagine being dismissive of their choices. At least not now with a goodly number of years of experience under my belt. I’m too old for the battle. They are too decent to want to do battle with.
The world in which they live deeply disappoints most of them regardless of political persuasion. In all, that is to say, except their favorite television shows and movies. There can be little doubt that the best offered by those media are more entertaining than ever before. I know of no one who does not watch for many hours every week, often scanning their social media feeds on their iPhones during commercials. It is astonishing how many hundreds of dollars they spend monthly on these products. Even those who are struggling to make ends meet.
While these media are also production line affairs they clearly have learned to thrive nonetheless. There is no particular difficulty creating dramatic plotlines. The world in these media is filled with drama and it keeps the audience at a heightened emotional pitch that once would have been considered unhealthy. One or more characters are designed to create a strong bond with each audience character type (each "target audience") that the product is designed to gratify. The technologies are ever more immersive for those viewers willing and able to upgrade the quality of their screens on a regular basis.
For all the worlds depicted are considerably more sophisticated than in past products they still are more simplistic than the real world. This tends strongly to inculcate the idea that interpersonal complexity is the result of manipulation by others — generally, the types represented by less attractive characters. The popularity of these products has created a vast public that believes that the resolutions of the most complex problems are far simpler than they seem, and that, in a better world, they would be solved within the amount of real-time it takes to watch several television series episodes.
It is this with which general audience books must compete. News articles and commentary compete with the flood of low overhead Internet venues that the television viewer must be able to read during the commercials in a manner of speaking. What little competitive success they manage can only depend heavily on the same production line mentality.