David Duchovny and The Marketing/Editorial Divide

There are innocuous objects which later become emblematic of systemic frustrations, an accidental center of so many Venn diagrams. Simon Spotlight’s movie tie-in God Hates Us All is one such object.

I noticed it on the fiction table at the newly opened Greenlight Bookstore. At first I thought a guerilla marketing team had placed the book. This wasn’t a novelization of a film or TV property in the traditional sense. The book in question is the fake literary phenomenon by Hank Moody, protagonist of Showtime’s “Californication.” I’ve seen the show, which posits David Duchovny as a Chuck Pahlaniuk/Bret Easton Ellis hybrid following his libido into wacky/zany adventures. The show is a pretty transparent “Entourage” knockoff as a male fantasy of wish fulfillment: an edgy New Yorker in Los Angeles, newly minted off of the movie rights from his edgy novel, adapted into an execrable romcom with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Moody’s talent is never questioned in the show. In fact, his agent and wife both complain about his stalled followup book. The show isn’t concerned, however, as Moody’s enfant terrible stature is merely a handy excuse for a parade of easy and topless women. This makes a lot more sense when you realize it’s also produced by Duchovny, who recently admitted an addiction to sex.

Back to God Hates Us All. What’s so particularly vexing is how this departs from novelizations. Showtime and Simon & Schuster have packaged the fabricated, ghostwritten novel itself as marketing: it’s not an adaptation, but a real novel fashioned out of the world of the TV show.

As an analogy, imagine if a movie studio built a real version of the Xanadu estate from Citizen Kane. Yes, Hearst Castle, its original inspiration, still exists. But its tangential relationship to the film (no one needs to see Xanadu to understand Orson Welles’ film, or vice versa) is similar to God Hates Us All. What is the point of the entire exercise? It’s not just marketing, but something worse: marketing which devalues its medium.

Think about this book in the context of where I first witnessed it: next to Olive Kitteredge, Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World, and a new edition of Pride and Prejudice. Is there an ethical consideration here? If you were a debut novelist with a manuscript on submission at Simon & Schuster, would God Hates Us All give you pause?

I’m genuinely curious. I may just be overreacting, putting literary fiction on too high a pedestal. This may just be a minor casualty of what Henry Jenkins calls convergence culture – you can’t have Girl Talk albums and shot-for-shot Psycho remakes without a few trainwrecks. What’s more, I’ll proselytize for hours on the benefits of ideas operating across media landscapes. I suppose what bothers me most here is the purposeful blurring of the editorial/commercial lines. (Especially as a fan of Less Than Zero.)

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4 responses to “David Duchovny and The Marketing/Editorial Divide

  1. Also: the manuscript from Lost, published by Hyperion, along with fictitious attack ads in real newspapers.

    I’d think it cool (a bit weird, but cool) if these books were held to the same standards, accepted or not for publication on the same criteria as any other.

  2. I agree and I think the main problem lies in the fact that by selling this as an actual book, Simon and Schuster and Showtime are diminishing the value, or what they think the value of an actual piece of fiction is worth. I would like to see when this was acquired. Was it crashed through? The show is only on it’s 3rd season as of now so I doubt that this books was even a thought in an editor’s mind until a year ago. If I was a first-time author I would seriously have to think twice before selling my book to Simon and Schuster. They obviously value the years of work that I put into my novel less than an ancillary piece of faux-fiction that was printed, not because it could be a good piece of literature, but to make money and promote a show.

  3. There’s another TV-novel-made-real, supposedly from the title character of the show “Castle.” Hyperion has published it and ABC.com is serializing it.

    I would think this “blurring of the lines” was cool, except for the fact that the products are competing with books written by actual authors, not ghostwriters. (I say this with all due respect to ghostwriters.) I’d be very interested to learn how many copies of these oddities sell.

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