03 April 2012

Derivative Bullshit, Emphasis on the Bullshit; Or, Why Horrible Things Can Still Be Art

Image Source: www.collider.com

This is Not a Review… mostly. But in order to make my point I’m going to have to do a little reviewing. If you are a NaRB purist, I will understand if you choose to wait until next Tuesday to find another Not Review. Today’s book is not a good book. It’s barely a decent book. In fact, it perpetuates the single worst trend in the modern era. I’m talking about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith. What it is, however, apart from a shit Popsicle, is an object lesson in the power of derivative works.

For those of you who don’t read things written in the past 50 years, and who could blame you, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is Austen’s Pride and Prejudice except with… zombies. Now, those of you who have followed my work closely already know that I consider zombies the single worst fantasy/sci-fi monster in the entire world. In fact, I’m going to go on record, at hazard of reputation, as saying that never at any time in the past, present, or future has there been or will there be a worse monster than the zombie, or indeed a worse character of any kind. They’re boring, pointless, not scary in any way, and have no legitimate message to convey whatsoever.

However, they are emblematic of all that’s wrong with modern fiction; to wit, idiotic pandering to a demographic which, in a just world, wouldn’t exist in the first place, a demographic which a cursory genealogical study would demonstrate serves only to drag down the human race into a festering cesspool of incest and genetic degredation, a demographic which is so utterly without merit that its survival instinct has been subverted by the perverse desire to be cannibalized by the resurrected corpses of its betters, nature having turned against her own in sheer madness at the consistent failure of evolution which marks their reproduction. Yet the fact remains that in doing so it accomplishes something that very little else has. By juxtaposing the Victorian culture espoused so beautifully (if interminably) by Miss Austen with the far more modern (Don’t link me to zombie texts from the 1800s that wasn’t the same and you fucking know it) concept of zombies and pseudo-Eastern martial arts, and continuing to explore the themes of womanhood and feminism as Austen herself did only taken much further in accordance with modern concepts of them, Grahame-Smith created a true work of art. It demonstrates the shifts in society, both positive and negative, setting the beauty of history alongside the freedom of modernity and standing back with its arms crossed daring anyone to see past its fa├žade of childishness to the artistic core within.

This teaches us two things. The first is that allowing derivative works has a tremendous potential to advance art without undermining the original (after all, I seriously doubt people have quit buying Pride and Prejudice in favor of Seth Grahame-Smith’s fetid tome). This leads us to a copyright debate which I won’t launch into except to say that there is a difference between allowing someone else to create something new from the work of a dead author and allowing anyone to publish the work of whomever because fuck people who want to make money off their work.

The second is that a book doesn’t have to be good to be art. It doesn’t have to be enjoyable or well-written, it merely has to convey a message beyond the obvious, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies does so in stunning(ly shitty) fashion.