Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

On Adaptations…

July 9th, 2014 · No Comments

During our presentation yesterday on adaptations, Teresa brought up the idea that the “original” text may not always depend on chronology; rather, it may simply refer to the text that an individual experiences first, and forms an attachment to. There is an example of this in the reading, when Bortolotti and Hutcheon discuss the adaptations of the narrative of Romeo and Juliet. When people compare film adaptations of Romeo and Juliet to the “original text”, they almost always compare it to Shakespeare’s play, which as we know is not the “original” text but an adaptation in itself. Shakespeare’s version, because of its popularity and its status, is what most people consider to be the source text of this narrative; it is therefore what people (even those who perhaps have not read the play but are still aware of it through collective cultural knowledge) have an attachment to. People measure their subsequent experiences of this narrative against their experience of the play, engaging in a fidelity discourse that is not in fact directed towards the “original” text.

I would like to once again explore this phenomenon in the experience of music. As I mentioned in class, music lends itself to this type of reverse fidelity discourse because of the expansive nature of genre and sub-genre within the medium. Covers are a common form of adaptation in music, and because covers often cross-genres in radical and profound ways, new audiences are often exposed to songs from genres that they may never have been interested in before. This sometimes leads listeners to hear cover songs before their “original” counterparts, and also increases their chances of attachment towards the adapted piece, as it falls into a genre that they most likely (having sought it out) prefer and relate to. Hearing the “original” piece, after forming this attachment, may not satisfy the listener; they may find themselves sensitive to the perceived shortcomings of the “original” as compared against the covered version. The listener therefore engages in the same type of critique as those engaged in fidelity discourse over texts such as Romeo and Juliet, but in a reversed order.

The two above examples illustrate some of the limits to the usefulness of fidelity discourse; because it revolves around the concept of “proximity to the original” it leaves itself vulnerable to individual or even collective interpretation of what the “original” text is; if someone hears “Hurt” as covered by Johnny Cash before they hear “Hurt” as originally performed by Nine Inch Nails, they will carry a personal attachment to Cash’s version of the song, whether technically “original” or not. In a similar way, it seems to be the pervasive belief that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is the “original”, rendering the other source texts negligible to the larger cultural perception. When I consider this limitation, I feel more inclined to follow the suggested critical strategies of Bortolotti and Hutcheon concerning adaptation.

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