Television’s greatest appeal is that it is engaging without being at all demanding. One can rest while undergoing stimulation. Receive without giving. It’s the same in all low art that has as goal continued attention and patronage: it’s appealing precisely because it’s at once fun and easy. And the entrenchment of a culture built on Appeal helps explain a dark and curious thing: at a time when there are more decent and good and very good serious fiction writers at work in America than ever before, an American public enjoying unprecedented literacy and disposable income spends the vast bulk of its reading time and book dollar on fiction that is, by any fair standard, trash. Trash fiction is, by design and appeal, most like televised narrative: engaging without being demanding. But trash, in terms of both quality and popularity, is a much more sinister phenomenon. For while television has from its beginnings been openly motivated by — has been about—considerations of mass appeal and L.C.D. and profit, our own history is chock-full of evidence that readers and societies may properly expect important, lasting contributions from a narrative art that understands itself as being about considerations more important than popularity and balance sheets. Entertainers can divert and engage and maybe even console; only artists can transfigure. Today’s trash writers are entertainers working artists’ turf. This in itself is nothing new. But television aesthetics, and television-like economics, have clearly made their unprecedented popularity and reward possible. And there seems to me to be a real danger that not only the forms but the norms of televised art will begin to supplant the standards of all narrative art. This would be a disaster.
[...] Even the snottiest young artiste, of course, probably isn’t going to bear personal ill will toward writers of trash; just as, while everybody agrees that prostitution is a bad thing for everyone involved, few are apt to blame prostitutes themselves, or wish them harm. If this seems like a non sequitur, I’m going to claim the analogy is all too apt. A prostitute is someone who, in exchange for money, affords someone else the form and sensation of sexual intimacy without any of the complex emotions or responsibilities that make intimacy between two people a valuable or meaningful human enterprise. The prostitute “gives,” but — demanding nothing of comparable value in return — perverts the giving, helps render what is supposed to be a revelation a transaction. The writer of trash fiction, often with admirable craft, affords his customer a narrative structure and movement, and content that engages the reader — titillates, repulses, excites, transports him — without demanding of him any of the intellectual or spiritual or artistic responses that render verbal intercourse between writer and reader an important or even real activity."
- from "Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young