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What We Read When We Don’t Read the Internet PRESENTS! HARD WORK and HARD WORK and RIPOFFS

[Yes, it is that time again. Theme Post Party Time, that is! This week, we address Tiger Beatdown’s REALLY STUNNING TOTAL LACK of lit coverage with an extended series of posts on the Ladies and Lit Thing. Today, a visit from Garland Grey! Oh, yes, there will be some yelling.]

In a world where every franchise is just one or two bad movies away from being the thing you HATE MOST IN THE WORLD (Right, GEORGE LUCAS???) it was an idea that was long overdue: take an author’s work in the public domain, insert an element of popular culture (NINJAS! CHUCK NORRIS! YO’ MAMMA JOKES!) that people love, and hang your new prose on the author’s prefabricated style and structure. For instance, under this artistic model I could take clips of The Godfather and splice in footage of cakes falling over and me crying and call it The Godfather and Birthday Parties I have Successfully Ruined. I have done next to no work, I have a wonderful narrative structure to work with, and I can make money! Yay!

This trend started with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and for a while there, it was the funniest thing any of us had ever heard of. Then Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters – every time we heard it, it got funnier.

Then I started thinking to myself:


Isn’t it ironic (no, ironic is never the word) or maybe just shitty (THAT’S the one) that Jane Austen fought against a rigid male social structure to write books that are clever and well-written and about FEMALE CHARACTERS, just to have her work co-opted by not only every two-bit writer who wants a bestseller (I’m calling my first novel The Jane Austen Annual Bake Sale Massacre) but also, in this specific instance, by a DUDE. A dude named Seth Grahame-Smith, a dude who is well-meaning enough to be certain, but a dude nonetheless, a dude who successfully rips her book off and then has the stones to go on NPR’s Fresh Air and tell Terry that writing his own book was harder than re-writing Austen.

NO SHIT, SHERLOCK. I can imagine that writing a book from scratch and doing what amounts to tracing the whole thing have varying levels of difficulty! I bet Ms. Austen had to work very hard to hammer out a structure and a flow and a rhythm to the story, and you pull up next to that process in your giant SUV of male privilege and start plugging your electricity and water into it, taking all the work that Austen did to get the thing published, all of the work that made her writing world famous, and you make YOURSELF world famous. And then you talk about how easy it was on NPR, a necessary addendum to the telling of the story of this book. Austen would probably prefer the story of this book to be about HER in some way. But let’s just talk about you and your rip-off.

Then I started thinking about doing this same thing with a man’s book, a modern one, one that a lot of men enjoy and care about:

  • The Naked and the Dead and a Hastily Assembled Collage of Christopher Walken Candids
  • Catch 22 and 1/2: Jersey Shore
  • A Hitchhiker’s Guide to That Tiny Sliver of the Earth the Assholes from Sex and the City Inhabit
  • Dune: The William Shatner EXPERIENCE
  • I Can Haz Catcher in the Rye?


These books aren’t just empty shells for you to pump your clever ideas into – these stories and characters MEAN THINGS to people. Some people read these books in hard or confusing parts of their lives, and these words evoke the memory of their own resilience and their ability to transcend the painful or fucked up parts of their own lives. This may be the only part of their reading life that is any way hopeful or joyous, the section of their mental and emotional field that is planted with sweet pea and thyme and baby’s breath instead of the thistle that has been creeping across the gardens since they developed breasts and discovered that this could be the crowning accomplishment of their lives, that nothing they ever did would be more important than that in the minds of some men and that these men would make decisions about their lives that they COULD DO NOTHING ABOUT. These books might allow them to explore their dreams of the possibility of an enduring love in a safe space, because they know that when they finally go steady it will be a more complicated process than the love narratives put forth in Valentine’s Day or Twilight or How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (YOU ARE GOLDIE HAWN’S DAUGHTER GAWWWWD), that their relationships will involve a lot of neurotic conversations and idiotic fights and OH GOD WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME???

I work in the creative arts (-ISH). I understand collaboration. I understand recombination and recontextualiztion. But it seems that when a woman works with a man’s material, they are given a more restrictive license to do so; their work is always assumed to be “less than” than a man’s work. And HEAVEN FORFEND that a BLACK WOMAN recombine the work of a white woman such as Margaret Mitchell, like Alice Randall did in The Wind Done Gone. Remember what a pointless shitstorm all that was? When a minority recombines the work of the majority it is a commentary on the tension between the privileges and abuses of the majority. Like the way Tony Kushner co-opts the life of Roy Cohn in Angels in America, to show deep and ugly levels of culpability for the AIDS crisis, including the purveyors of a moral panic which consumed the lives and deaths of those affected (FUCK YOU RONALD REAGAN). But when the majority lifts elements from a minority work, it is a way of colonizing and subduing it to their own ends.

If we let this shit be co-opted without comment, then the majority will think nothing of doing this same thing to other writers, other artists, until we are being spoon fed the work of minorities reimagined in the context of straight white male privilege — work that allows those straight white males to think that they can be as creative as the people whose work they’re building on, without going through a lifetime of pain and tension over their own right to exist, or experiencing all of the nausea that comes with living on borrowed time in someone else’s house. Fuck that.


  1. Sara wrote:

    Aww, I loved P&P&Z! Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors and I love the zombie genre of movies, so it was like a perfect fit for me. One of the things I liked best in the book was how much more bloodthirsty Elizabeth was. I too, wanted to take Mr. Darcy’s head in the original. I actually even wrote a review of it once on my website because I liked it so much.

    I don’t usually read articles of authors, so don’t really know the motivations of the author when he wrote it, but I liked that he kept in so much Austen. If indeed it was because he found her unreadable, well, I find that incomprehensible, because I find her so readable.

    Saturday, June 5, 2010 at 10:27 am | Permalink
  2. Lasciel wrote:

    I don’t get the hating on fanfic either.

    P&P&Z is not like most fanfic, or even like “Wicked”. Fanfic and Wicked pretty much NEVER include the original author’s actual writing. As I understand, PPZ is the original novel with insertions of zombie-fighting scenes. That would be like publishing and selling Romeo & Juliet, only with a sex scene. Just writing the sex scene is fanfic.

    If all the original novel was chopped out of PPZ, would it be enough for a novel? Would it make most people pick it up and pay full cover price?

    Probably not. Which is what I find immoral about it.

    “They’re a good way to go if you don’t have the time or inclination to construct original characters, an original plot, and a compelling reality for your readers”

    Other than using the characters though, I don’t see why a sequal couldn’t have an original plot and compelling reality. Those are symptoms of a bad writer, not necessarily of a spin-off or sequal.

    Saturday, June 5, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Permalink
  3. Avendya wrote:

    @Sady: it makes me raise my eyebrows a bit (read: a lot) when a feminist writer, on a feminist blog, describes a type of writing mostly practiced by women (derivative fiction) as hack work. While I think most published Austen fanfic is cringeworthy, I do not think that you can or should dismiss all adaptations. (I would highly suggest looking at this list of transformative works.

    I could rebut each of your points (easy to write? tell me that when I am not in the middle of in depth research on the social mores of male homosexuality in the early Byzantine empire – and yes, that’s for fanfiction), but honestly, I find the statement:

    “It’s another chapter in the story of Girl Stuff Sucks and Should Be Made Into Boy Stuff Or Else Ignored.”

    ironic in the middle of comment that dismisses a decidedly female-dominated type of writing for another type, with less women.

    Sunday, June 6, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Permalink
  4. margaret wrote:

    I think the points Graland and Sady have made here are excellent. This is definitely another chapter in the story of “Girl Stuff Sucks and Should Be Made Into Boy Stuff Or Else Ignored,” as Sady put it.

    That said, I think to play fair with your argument, you can’t compare Pride and Prejudice to MODERN male books. You need to imagine the reaction to contemporary male authors’ works being treated like this, and honestly, I don’t think there would be that much outcry at, say, David Copperfield and Chupacabras. Or Robot Heart of Darkness. But, to some degree, I think the costume dramatization of 19th century novels has tarred them all with a girly brush. You know, they are wordy and sentimental and moralistic and often about True Love unironically and stuff– even when they’re written by dudes.

    That said, despite my hypothetical assertion, you’re both quite right to note that none of those books have been tampered with yet. So, while I don’t think the Catcher in the Rye is an appropriate parallel, necessarily, your argument is still irrefutable.

    Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink