So this week's topic is the artistic merit, or lack thereof, inherent in e-publisher Clandestine Classics' insertion (sorry) of erotic scenes into poor, unsuspecting works of literary genius.
Actually, that's a bit of a straw man. The actual phraseology of this week's question is "Good idea, or cheap trick?" Since financially, at least, I suspect it's both, I could just say so and be merrily on my way - but that didn't quite seem fair to you, dear Criminal Minds reader. So instead, I thought I'd recast the question to make it a tad more philosophically interesting, and my argumentative wicket somewhat stickier.
Wait; aren't straw men supposed to be dummy targets, easier to tear down than one's actual argumentative opponents? In that case, did I just invent the Reverse Straw Man? I'd Google to find out, but I'm horrified I might discover that term already has... other uses. (Sorry.) But I digress.
This topic, and this e-book project, seem to've struck a chord within the reading and writing community, and as of this writing, it's left one member (sorry) of the Criminal Minds crew veritably throbbing (sorry) with disgust at those who'd perpetrate such grisly fictional crimes.
Here's the thing, though: what Clandestine Classics is doing? I'm full-on for it.
Whoa whoa whoa. Hear me out. First off, before I get to the thrust (sorry) of my argument, let me first say this: Reece's fantastic blog-post-title is dead-on. This project's fifty shades of wrong. Not because of the smut factor (let the record show there've been many a filthy classic), or because they're robbing the authors' estates of either veto power or fair monetary due (the works in question are in the public domain, as well they should be), but because the whole endeavor smacks of a cheap, tacky cash-in with no intention to (and little likelihood of) add(ing) anything of merit - the literary equivalent of low-hanging (sorry) fruit.
But I'll damn sure defend their right to do it. Because the same copyright and fair-use laws that allow for godawful SCARY MOVIE style satires and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND PENI(...nah, too easy) also clear the way for some of the most wonderful, transformative works of art I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. And since artistic merit is a sliding scale both deeply personal and hotly debated, there's no having one without the other.
Sure, smuttified classics are beyond the pale for most. But how about PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES? I'll admit, that one was cute enough, you say, eyebrow arching beneath your rakishly cockeyed beret. But art? Harrumph. I think not. Fine, then. What of WICKED? Of Jasper Fforde's THE EYRE AFFAIR? Steven Moffat's SHERLOCK? What of Andy Warhol's soup cans, or Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain"?
James M. Cain, author of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, once famously said of the many movie adaptations of his work: "People tell me, don't you care what they've done to your book? I tell them, they haven't done anything to my book. It's right there on the shelf." And so it is with all true classics. We rush to defend them as if they require defending. But these works are like the tides. Forces of nature: beautiful, powerful, unrelenting. They need our help even less than they need the help of the hacks at Clandestine Classics.
It's strange to me, a lifelong hip-hop fan, to see the same issues that have plagued turntablists for decades now rearing their ugly heads in my chosen field of letters. And so I'll leave you with an auditory cautionary tale from the land of Be-Careful-What-You-Wish-For. Exhibit A is one of the most execrable so-called "songs" ever put to tape, a cash-in both melodic and lyrical so shameless it'd give the folks at Clandestine Classics a case of the vapors. And it was done with the explicit permission of the artist to whom the original song belonged. I give you Puff Daddy's getting-rich-exploiting-a-dead-friend anthem "I'll Be Missing You":
Exhibit B is one of my all-time favorite instrumental tracks, DJ Shadow's "Midnight in a Perfect World." The song, and the album on which it appears, are notable for being a) stunning, critically acclaimed artistic accomplishments, and b) composed entirely of sampled material, all of it used without permission. Hip-hop fan or not, I'd urge you to let this one play; you may just be surprised: