Montage Culture

[youtube=] This evening, I was cooking beefaroni while the ManBeast ironed shirts. I mention the beefaroni, because it came onto our household menu after a Raj comment on The Big Bang Theory (and it will shortly become apparent how much television made it into this blog, very little of it good). I mention the ironing because ManBeast would probably enjoy the image enhancement. Anyhoo, while I cooked, The Block finale was on, and it was shamelessly cross-promoting Australia's Got Talent, or the X-factor (I'm not sure which is which). And perhaps because of my lack of distinguishing same-same-but-different shows, I was put in mind of So You Think You Can Dance, The Voice, Idol, MasterChef and (oh dear god) Big Brother.

And then (perhaps for antidote) my brain remembered Buffy.

See, it really struck me how so many of the free-to-air shows these days are what I'll call "Montage Culture". These shows (particularly the talent ones) scrape the proverbial cream off a bunch of lives and put it up on screen. To me, they don't tell stories. They don't show the years of gut-twisting, sacrificial effort each person represents. If we're lucky, and they have a sufficiently sympathetic story, we get a recap of said motivation, then tears (before and after, perhaps). But ultimately, we move on to the next contestant, the next competition round. Even if they're not really talent shows (looking at you, BB), it's still a compilation of highlights. These are not narrative explorations. It gives me a deep sense of how much activity our cumulative lives represent, but not much else.

I'm not here to say there's anything wrong with this in itself. The thing is, I'm wondering if it doesn't encourage a skewed view of the road to just about any accomplishment. Including in writing. As Buffy says (Season 5, Episode 4): I thought it was gonna be like in the movies—you know, inspirational music, a montage: me sharpening my pencil, me reading, writing, falling asleep on a big pile of books with my glasses all crooked, 'cause in my montage, I have glasses. But real life is slow, and it's starting to hurt my occipital lobe.

Yeah, real life is slow. Every dancer on SYTYCD, every singer on The Voice, every writer who ever made it part of the way down the road knows how slowly the days of practice can go by. Once the spark of inspiration has faded, once the bright TV lights are shining somewhere else, something else has to take over. There's different words for it: dedication, drive, determination, persistence. Part method, part madness, and all about recognising the slow days must be done. It's a long apprenticeship, which is why every serious writer finds this so hilarious.

This week, I'm handing in my next novel manuscript (number 6 overall, number 2 to be published). I love that it represents hundreds of hours of invested time, that some of those hours were hard, very hard. I love that there are many more hours and words to come, of satisfying slog. When I see the book on a shelf, that's like the moment on the talent show. It's lovely that people might enjoy that part, but it's over in a flash. I'm happy to be over here in the semi-dark, working the slow time towards the next one.

I hope that for whatever you want to achieve, if it's a long slow burn like writing (and most things are), you'll find that same satisfaction in the doing. :)

P.S. The beefaroni ...