Tuesday 1 December 2020

Between the Lines: The Decline of the Audience

I may ruffle a few feathers with this post, but I’m going to be brave and go ahead and say it: I think, in modern times, we are seeing a decline in the audience. What do I mean by this? Well, it’s all in terms of behaviour.

Let’s start with readers. As an author I am constantly asked to, effectively, dumb down my prose. I’m told that readers won’t understand a semicolon, or that they can’t cope with long sentences. Aside from my feelings as a writer, this offends me as a reader. Unfortunately, the more people make these statements, the more true it’s likely to be. If we stop writing longer, more complex sentences, readers won’t be used to seeing them, and then may not be able to cope with them. In an age when speed of transmission is king, we’re already at a point where people expect to be able to digest information quickly. Everything needs to be instantaneous. Gone are the days of lingering over a passage, teasing out its meaning.

Attention span is part of that, which brings me to my next gripe: film and theatre audiences. I am getting sick of paying to see a film or show, only to have to endure chatter and other noise from those seated nearby. Why do people have to crinkle food wrappers? And why can’t they save their comments until the end? Others seem unable to live without their phones for two hours. Unless they are on-call for work, why the need to check the screen every ten seconds? If they want to play on social media rather than watch the movie, why did they spend their money on a ticket?

Perhaps this all sounds like me whinging, and, to a certain extent, it is. However, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect people attending a public event to show consideration for others. That’s what seems to be disappearing. We’re living in a world where self-entitlement rules. Now, I can be as selfish as the next person, in the right (or should that be ‘wrong’?) circumstances, but I would like to think we could all be courteous to one another most of the time, if only we paused to think how our actions are affecting those around us.

What do you think? How to do you feel about the dumbing down of prose, or the endless chatter and phone-use in cinemas and theatres? Tell me some of your audience-related gripes.

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