The perils of publishing pop culture (or, one reason Glee is so good)

By September 13th, 2010 1 Comment

The trouble with publishing books is, of course, that books are static, whereas the subject of books–the real world–keeps insisting on changing. When it comes to pop culture, and particularly when it comes to television, this presents a certain set of challenges. In particular: How do you create a book that feels as current and up-to-date as possible when the plot advances every week?

One answer is you wait for the inevitable hiatus to nail down the content, and hope not too much has changed by the time the book comes out a few months later. We timed our books on The Vampire Diaries and Glee so that the final essays wouldn’t be due until after the season finales and gave them pub dates of October and November, respectively.

But making that happen still means starting back in January. It means finding writers, and discussing topics (so that the book’s content doesn’t end up feeling repetitive), with–in some cases–half a season to go. And then, unfortunately, it means scrambling last minute anyway when shows throw you curve balls.

There’s a term used in fandom (originally, I assume, among Joss Whedon fanfic writers) that I particularly like: “jossed.” To be jossed, roughly, is to have one’s theories invalidated by new developments. And that’s definitely a risk we run with our Smart Pop television titles all the time.

But there’s another fandom term I love, the occurrence of which I fear even more than getting Jossed: “kripked.” Named after Supernatural creator Eric Kripke, it means (again, roughly) to have one’s theories validated by new developments.

How can that be bad, right? I mean, the author was correct! But often, with our essays, having a theory confirmed ruins some of what was so great about the topic: the surprise. Especially if the theory is confirmed before the essay is published. You lose that feeling of reading something that is exactly right, but that you’d never thought about before.

One of my favorite non-television examples: A few weeks before Harry Potter book 6 came out, Lawrence Watt-Evans turned in a great essay explaining why Dumbledore was going to have to die before the end of the series so that Harry could fully grow up. And then, well, you know. (We ended up just changing the tense: from “has to die” to “had to die.” Luckily, the “why” was interesting enough to carry the essay on its own.)

This happens from time to time, and it’s just part of the process. In the case of our Glee anthology, though, it was practically endemic. A surprising number of the cool, surprising insights our authors pitched, the show took, in the second half of the season, from subtext to text. Which led to some significant last minute rewrites (the end result of which I was pleased with–but you’ll have to let us know what you think in a few months!).

But more than what this says about publishing books on pop culture, I’m interested in what this says about Glee. In particular: instances of Glee knowing itself well enough to realize–and then exploit, in its signature over-the-top fashion–it’s own narrative patterns and caricatures and clich©s.

One of our authors pitched an essay on Sue’s need for love being the key to her TV Villain behavior. Confirmed. Another writer proposed writing about why Will was not quite the nice guy Glee wanted us to believe he was, particularly when it came to romance . . . and it seemed like all the second half of the season did was tarnish Will’s sterling rep, both by reframing past actions and throwing him into brand new bad behavior (maliciously seducing Sue Sylvester? really, Will?).

It was a little like Glee took the hiatus as an opportunity to look back on the first half of the season and ask, What do we know about this show? What’s unexplained, and how can we explain it? What have we established that we can now go through and break down, or show in a different way? In short, it seemed like the show asked a lot of the same questions we like our essays to ask. Though, for a show that thrives as much on playing its stereotypes for humor as it does on deconstructing them, that kind of multilayered, meta self-awareness probably shouldn’t come as a surprise.

It’s a little annoying for putting together a book. But it’s a great thing to see on-screen.

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1 Comment On "The perils of publishing pop culture (or, one reason Glee is so good)"

  1. Maria Lima

    I, for one, am truly glad to have NOT been jossed on my Supernatural essay, but I did get kripked. ::g::


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