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.)