Audio In Dorian Gray
November 19, 2019 § 4 Comments
“Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, vivid and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of a viol or a lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?” (Wilde, 75).
Reading The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde was like being thrust under a constant waterfall of media. Wilde takes the reader through vivid descriptions of everything from Basil Hallward’s exquisite paintings, to Sybil Vane’s mesmerizing theater, to Lord Henry’s captivating speech which Dorian reacts to in the quote above. Art has a special power to captivate and enthrall in Picture, regardless of what shape or form it takes. Music, painting, speech, theater, and even physical beauty all are represented as vital components of the artistic world. While The Picture of Dorian Gray usually brings to mind Basil’s painting and the portrait as the central artistic movement, I wanted to explore these other formats of art and how they relate to modern media. Specifically, as an avid consumer of media (a common trait in our generation), the age of the internet has changed the ways that we interact with art, and the forms it takes.
I chose the above quote because it made me first consider this idea of changing forms of modern media specifically related to the spoken word. Audiobooks first came into the public conscious as early as 1932 on vinyl mostly to assist the blind, but it wasn’t until 1994 that the term “audiobook” was firmly established in the public mind (1). Today with the ubiquitous nature of cell phones, millions of people have access to massive libraries at the touch of a button. In 2016, more audiobooks were sold than hardcover books. In a similar rise to fame, the podcast went from a relatively niche pastime to a global rise to fame in the past two decades (I mean, who hasn’t listened to Serial at this point?). An article from BBC points again to rising cell phone use and their more informal style to explain the podcast’s modern popularity (2).
Audio formats have made consuming media easier than ever before, and in them I understand the sentiment that Dorian becomes so excited about: “Was there anything so real as words?” When I see critiques from older generations over cell phone usage – the classic, ‘why don’t you just read a book?’ comes to mind – I feel an urge to mention how much our consumption of words has changed in recent history. Just as a single speech changes Dorian’s entire worldview, the media we consume today has the power to do the same, regardless of format. Audio storytelling has existed since the beginning of human history from oral traditions to radio dramas, thus the electronic transformation of the format is a well-needed step in a natural direction.
The first time I read The Picture of Dorian Gray, I was entirely focused on the power of visual art. It was all about the painting – was it truly supernatural? Can a portrait capture the essence of an individual? But the second time around, I truly became aware of how much persuasive speech played a role in both the plot and development of characters in the novel. Speech is truly “clear, vivid, and cruel,” even more direct than words on a page, interwoven with another layer of personality that comes with the speaker’s tone and inflections. I feel this idea recaptured in modern forms when a crime thriller has me on the edge of my seat, unable to focus on anything else than the voice inside my headphones, or when a candid interview reminds me that there are actual people behind the stories that I’m hearing. So to anyone who has ever thought that podcasts or audiobooks are inferior to the ‘real thing’ on hard paper, I can assure you that the “subtle magic” of speech has not disappeared with the advent of technology, only changed and grown as we explore and grow continually more comfortable with audio formats.