Aesthetic expectation

I don’t know about anyone who has written about this in the past, but this is more a running thought that I have often had. Why does no one stutter in a TV programme or a film? Why does no one sneeze, cough, mis-pronounce, or talk in a poorly grammatical way? Okay so, you might want to reply to me and say “oh, but characters do stutter, sneeze, mispronounce words, state incorrect syntax (that is, the order in which words are said), or mutter”. You may state examples and I will agree, but in all of those instances, they are often towards some kind of significance. Someone might be coughing as a plot device to indicate either an illness or some kind of secret communication. Maybe some characters use different lexical choices that others are not familiar with because they represent either someone of ethnic difference (using ebonics, or a non-native speaker for instance), or represent a person more or less intelligent than the ‘reader’.

Okay, so it may not be the case that people speak properly all the time in television serials or cinema, but, we do expect them do, on pain of some lurid plot device. It is to this end that I present the thought: expectations are place in our reception of the media. Sure, we may say that reality television shows when our speech is realistic, when people speak inproperly, often because of the stress of being under the camera in an artificial televised situation and because of being under constant camera surveillance in such programmes; one cannot always be at their best.

I want to make a simple distinction: there are plays, films, television shows, songs, and other such ‘media’ where we have an expectation that is fulfilled, and those where our expectation either is unsatisfied, or we are led to decide how to react to such a work of media. I think that the notion of expectation is a sociological thing. We expect pop songs to be catchy, AOR rock songs to be rocking and although appearing somewhat anti-conformist; are actually part of a cultural norm. We expect protagonists to be heterosexual (although this tide might slowly change), we expect romance to be a primary theme to the text.

In the study of popular music; Adorno put forward an analysis of Jazz music, although it is significant that while his analysan (early Jazz) has changed, but the analysis applies to our modern popular music. Songs are in a similar form to the menuet in classical music: ABA (also known as Binary form [I think]). The emergence of popular music has come about due to a great many factors (consumption patterns, economy, technological innovation, population), and all of these factors should be seriously considered.

I wonder, however, whether our aesthetic expectations aspire towards a normative expectation. We expect that an album has a titular song; songs which are ‘single-worthy’; the titular song is ideally 3m20s; a song or album which might be ‘experimental’ or ‘epic’ and so on. This distinction of expectation also may have a place in comedy. Sometimes jokes are set up to be made in a conversation; other times a joke is not funny if it is not expected; sometimes a joke is funny in a banal sense because it was expected to be made; for instance, mention a certain king of pop and not far away is something related to his criminal allegations.

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