Innovation: uncanny immersion

25 Nov

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries press release describes the show as both innovative and immersive, touting the “modern era” adaptation “in a world of cell phones, video cameras, and social media.” The release (rightfully) boasts that the project combines “web video and social media in a way never before seen for a literary adaptation,” but skims over how important this last aspect is—the literary adaptation. A combination of web videos and social media activity has been seen for years in the viral marketing campaigns for films like Cloverfield and The Dark Knight, not to mention in the real lives of popular YouTube personalities. The vlog style that The Lizzie Bennet Diaries aims to imitate depends on a sense of (albeit creative) nonfiction (not reality), and this is why I think the series feels so uncanny to me.

Whether a vlogger has a noticeable affectation or goes so far as to write scripts for the episodes, what attracts viewers is the bait that the video is relatively raw, underproduced, and not necessarily meant for millions of viewers. That German guy talking about poop is an example that comes to mind. Interest, or at least virality, tends to fade once the illusion of nonfiction is shattered. The Diaries abandon that pursuit immediately, but not wholeheartedly. The actors are wearing makeup that is at best meant for newspeople and at worst meant for the stage, the vlog is on a super nice DSLR, and a camera operator is for some reason necessary. At the same time, we get the vlog style editing, fake YouTube description, and network of social media accounts to follow the characters. The production value of the episodes leads me to assume that they are produced before the release of the preceding episode, and so the mention of audience reactions to the “last video” is eerily stilted, like one of those roller coaster lines where you watch Area 51 footage of scientists sending get-the-hell-out-before-the-alien-attacks-you-at-the-end-of-the-ride transmissions. Not to mention the premise of being a Pride and Prejudice adaptation with a following of those who are already cozy with the novel, judging from the YouTube and Facebook comments.

This is not to say that the series doesn’t know what it’s doing. They mention scripts and acknowledge the tacky appeal of the DIY look, giving us both a handshake and some winks. However, it still feels more like a compromise between different media than an adaptation, like Twitterature, CBS’s adaptation of the Twitter feed Shit My Dad Says, or Miley Cyrus’ LOL. 

The extent to which the project is able to formally update the narrative is impressive, but the ubiquitous qualities of a vlog (especially one that Goes Viral)—the status of the piece as either nonfiction or a well concealed lie, and the latent question of identity, exposure, and anonymity—are missing. I’d like to hear your thoughts on whether or not these stylistic features are important to the future of Internet TV.

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