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Simone, Murray. The Adaptation Industry: The Cultural Economy of Contemporary Literary Adaptation. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print

Summary and Method

The Adaptation Industry explores the current landscape of the cultural adaptation process. Adaptation studies is inherently a cross-media field, dealing with a connection from one cultural product to another. Murray positions her book in the area of literary adaptations, focusing on the industrial components that facilitate adaptations specifically from the page to other media. Murray dedicates a chapter to six major industrial components: the author, the agent, media fairs and festivals, literary prizes, screenwriters, and the reader. Relying strongly on Pierre Bourdieu’s cultural analyses, Murray is interested in the way that “adaptation information” moves through these industrial components.

The text calls attention to “new wave” adaptation studies and situates itself as a response to the two common patterns of “fairly scanty examinations” that consider industrial aspects of cultural adaptation (5). The first “posits commercial contexts as irredeemable corrupting influences on art and culture”; the second “sets up a false dichotomy”  between old and new in which classic texts have a prepackaged audience, whereas contemporary texts escape “market logic” because they are  non-canonical and unfamiliar to audiences (6-7).

These approaches are problematic for Murray because they presume either a separation of or a partiality between art and industry. The Adaptation Industry asserts that both institutions of culture and industry—especially in the contemporary market—are intrinsically linked, that the circuits through which information travels are not only cross-media but cross-institutional. The impetus behind Murray’s project is to “reconfigure the discipline of adaption studies by rethinking adaptation sociologically—by asking how the traffic of content particularly between print and screen formats is facilitated, inhibited and everywhere subtly shaped by the institutional structures of the media environment, and what the significance of these processes might be” (103). Her work here realigns the conversation of adaptation studies with a trajectory toward the adaptation process not as a barrier between artistry and commerce but rather the process as an area rich with possibility to make meaningful connections between artistry and commerce.

Components of the Adaptation Industry

1 "What Are You Working On? The Expanding Role of the Author in an Era of Cross Media Adaptation"Edit

Chapter one is in dialogue with the poststructuralist concept of “the death of the author.” In a theoretical sense the author has seemingly vanished among the rise of intertextuality theories and the frequent anthologizing of Foucault and Barthes’ writings—the “dethroning of the Author-genius” (29). In an industrial sense the author is now the recipient of a “newly powerful cultural vantage point” (30). Through intensive negotiation and pre-negotiation practices of intellectual property (IP) rights—prequels, sequels, merchandise, cross-media products—the author is now increasingly enjoying the literal ownership of her work and her fair share of the revenue from potential adaptations.

2 "World Rights: Literary Agents as Brokers in the Contemporary Mediasphere"Edit

Chapter two turns to the literary agent, who acts as an important intermediary between author and publishing houses, talent agencies, and film production companies. “Authors have come to rely upon literary agents in direct proportion to the growing complexity of the creative industries and the increasingly arcane terminology employed in publishing contracts” (53). With an increasing stake in the institution of adaptation, the agents have not only secured their own place within the process by virtue of their legal savvy, but they have also helped secure a place for the author. Murray challenges the “death of the author” with regard to the cultural capital the industry bestows on the author. The more notable an author and/or her achievements, the more cachet she and her work acquire. If a product can ultimately be marketed with “from Pulitzer Prize winning author,” or “the inspiration for the five-time Academy award winning film,” then the cultural capital of the author is increased, which thereafter will likely expedite the speed with which an author’s work is adapted. I.e.: her work, with respect to the cultural economy of the industry, is now branded “adaptation ready.”

3 "Making Words Go Further: Book Fairs, Screen Festivals, and Writers' Weeks as Engine Rooms of Adaptations"Edit

Chapter three and four examine the culture of media fairs and literary prizes, both of which are prudently linked to one another. Book fairs and film festivals were traditionally conceived of as single media events. However, both implement a cross-media approach by which there are stationed areas for all the industry players—screenplay purchasers, agents, authors, talent agencies. These have now become cross-media platforms: “adaptation incubating events” (92).

4 "The Novel Beyond the Book: Literary Prize-Winners on Screen"Edit

Many of these events have created prizes that cater to cross-media production, which label a text adaptation ready. These prizes, however, are aside from the major literary prizes that have their own distinct advantage. Murray focuses specifically on the politics of the Booker Prize (an award that seeks and recognizes the profuse cultural capital in the colonial and postcolonial history of the United Kingdom). The significance, though, of a prize is that the awarded work can now brandish a recognizable cultural achievement, which translates to cultural capital, which in turn accelerates its movement through the adaptation process.

5 "Best Adapted Screenwriter?: The Intermedial Figure of the Screenwriter in the Contemporary Adaptation Industry"

Chapter five and six discuss two components often overlooked by academic study. The first is the screenwriter, an always already in-between figure. Because the screenwriter is astride media, she is often relegated to “footnote status” in either literary or film studies, across which both fields Murray encourages more interdisciplinary communication.

6 "Cultivating the Reader: Producer and Distributor Strategies for Converting Readers into Audiences

The reader, too, is frequently marginalized in the traditional study of adaptation, but in light of Murray’s industrial approach the reader becomes a critical component: the consumer. The reader creates the demand for the adaptation supply. These final chapters are not as fully developed as the previous chapters, but they provide a useful platform from which industrious research could be conducted; screenwriters are no less important factors in the adaptation process, nor are the readers. Murray may be forgiven the near impossible task of taking on with complete thoroughness every aspect of such an expansive and nuanced process, but she provides fertile starting ground for these latter components.

Areas for Further Study

Murray is writing against scholarship that contains echoes of Adorno and Horkheimer’s invective against cultural production, against the rhetoric in adaptation studies that subsumes the adapted product under the original product. These traditional perceptions sever industrial processes from artistic processes. The Adaptation Industry posits that art is not created in a vacuum of romantic genius and that industry must be accounted for in any cultural production. Murray’s text leaves little room for an argument to be made otherwise. However, she is hardly the first person to call attention to this phenomenon. Where Murray’s book is unique is that it resists the impulse to lament any shortcomings of postmodern culture. Her text is as calculated as the content it studies. It wastes no time with nostalgia for bygone artistry. It’s a well-organized map of the industrial thoroughfares that speed up the adaptation process, and it doesn’t stray from this approach.

The Adaptation Industry focuses specifically on the 21st century with some nods of the head to the preceding scholarship having paved the way for her project. Among these sources are assets to the adaptation studies field such as Robert Stam’s Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation (2004); Thomas Leitch’s Film Adaptation and Its Discontents: From Gone with the Wind to The Passion of the Christ (2009); Linda Hutcheon’ A Theory of Adaptation (2012). Working from texts such as these and from Murray’s unique commercial perspective, an extended project to consider from The Adaptation Industry’s undertaking is to implement this industrial insight in a backward reaching study, to reexamine the industrial and commercial forces that have conventionally been considered as art’s antithesis. The implication being that, since its inception, commerce has been a pervasive influence on the history of artistic production.


Review by Zachary Meyer