On Unexpected Audiences

I have spent a great deal of my time as a reader reading things that were not intended for me as an audience. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is an interesting thing. There are all kinds of reasons why it is that one would read what is not intended for you. There are some writings that we happen to have that were not intended for anyone else to read, like your Anne Frank’s Diaries or your Meditations of Marcus Antonius. At other times, authors have a definite target audience in mind for a given work but may often find that a work is read outside of that target audience, without any concession to those unexpected audiences having been made. This is less than ideal, for if it is difficult to encourage an intended audience to read something charitably, it is more difficult to have such expectations when people who are not necessarily sympathetic to us and not being communicated with nonetheless come upon some awkwardly honest material.

It is not as if it is always better to aim something at a broad audience. I remember reading a review of a Faith Hill album form 15-20 years ago or so where the reviewer took fault with Hill’s attempts at balancing out a wide variety of audiences that she was aiming her album at deliberately, including country audiences who had certain expectations of her and her sound as well as pop fans that were interested in her ballads like “Breathe” and “There You’ll Be.” In this particular case, Hill knew she had an audience that wanted different things, and there are only so many ways of going about that. She could have tried to pull a Shania and create one album focused on country and another on pop, as was done in “Up!” but that is difficult to do and requires recording a lot of music. The more obvious thing to do is to apportion different space in album to different aspects of her recording that would appeal to different audiences, and sometimes the end result of that can harm the cohesion of an album. And this is not an uncommon problem. When we know we have an audience that we want to appeal to, it can dilute our appeal in general by leading our efforts to be unfocused.

Communication is tricky business, and it is important to note what it is that an unexpected audience provides us as authors and other creators. In many ways, this is a tradeoff. Since we are not seeking to be understood by an audience we do not expect for a given work, we undertake none of the effort that we make for those audiences we do plan for and hope for and wish. When this is combined with the unsympathetic interpretations that often come from audiences that feel ignored and disregarded, the result means that ignoring audiences can tend to make them feel insulted and less likely to be friendly. Or they may be unfriendly audiences anyway, regardless of how they are addressed, simply looking for evidence to think worse of you, no matter what you may say. It can be a benefit to an audience to read a work without being an intended audience, because one knows one is not being pandered to and one can see a more honest picture of what someone thinks or believes. And while that can often be disappointing, it is also enlightening at the same time, for what it’s worth.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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