Salman Rushdie, as one of the most important novelists and intellectuals of the last thirty or so years, is going to start writing for American TV. Reading the first few lines of an article by Vanessa Thorpe in today’s Guardian UK headed Salman Rushdie says TV drama series have taken the place of novels I thought “here we go again, one of the Intellectuals lashing out at the TV world and saying it’s bad and dumbing entertainment for simpletons with less cerebral activity than an amoeba.” Not so. For once, someone like Rushdie seems to have embraced the TV medium fully and consider it more or less an equal to novel writing. Or at least he says so. He’s known to have used lies before to gain his purpose. Last time it was to save his life though, claiming he had renewed his Muslim faith (later saying it was just pretend, since it didn’t take away the fatwā anyway) so I guess we shouldn’t be too harsh and judgmental.
Believing that script writing for film has “gone down the plughole”, at least in America, his agent suggested to him that he ought to look into writing for television. Now Rushdie is to give us a sci-fi creation to be called The Next People, described by the author to have a plot that “will be based in factual science, but will contain elements of the supernatural or extra-terrestrial.” Regardless of the fact that he lauds screen writers like Mad Men’s Matthew Wiener and West Wing’s Aaron Sorkin, this gives us an entire new dimension to the intellectual novelist of today. Would Ernest Hemingway have written for TV if he’d could? Most likely. So why the raised eyebrows when Rushdie joins the screenwriters guild?
I assume all this goes against the traditional picture of the Intellectual Novelist. The man, generally, sitting on his high horse being judgemental about anyone and anything that can’t be traced back to medieval or renaissance tradition, trying to find the connection to the Arabic tradition of storytelling with a bit of sufism somewhere well hidden in the argument. The Intellectual Novelist is not supposed to watch TV, and certainly not writing for it.
And, yes, TV can be the most dumbing and stupid entertainment there is. Still, it doesn’t have to be. What Rushdie, in my view rightly, says, is that today the TV dramas have become vital for a good writer since it has become one of the most rewarding ways to get your ideas, views, ethical and intellectual principles out to the masses. It is as simple as that. Good TV dramas today are dependent on good script writers, so it is not surprising Rushdie throws himself into the lions den. If he will succeed can only be judged by the viewers sometime in 2012. With a bit of luck Rushdie will bring another dimension to the TV drama. If sci-fi is the right way I’m not sure, but let’s wait and see.