Emperor Zuiker’s New Posterior 2.0

Have you heard about Anthony Zuiker? Does the name at least ring a bell? Try again… that’s right, CSI! Zuiker is the Creator/Executive Producer of CBS’s megahit crime series “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and its two hysterically successful spin-offs – CSI: Miami and CSI: New York. According to stories making the rounds on the Media circuit, Zuiker “has signed a “seven-figure” deal with Penguin Group’s Dutton imprint to write a trilogy of “digital novels” that will encompass Web-based videos and social networking.”

Variety, who broke the story, describes the projectas “a publishing hybrid that broadens traditional book reading into a multiplatform experience that includes filmed components and an interactive social networking site.” Maybe because I’m an old hand at yarn spinning I find it easy to ask the following “seven figure” USD question: why on earth would a reputable, astute publisher pay so much money for a souped-up e-book?!

The story gets weirder. Apparently, no less than eight publishers bid for the right to Zuiker’s e-book. Dutton’s Brian Tart was the happy winner, calling the project — are you ready for this – “storytelling 2.0.” Tart is trying to explain his jaw-dropping investment by alluding to Web 2.0, the emerging/ed Internet order that is based on social engagement and the synergy vested with the power of the many.

So far we have a “digitla novel” that offers “storytelling 2.0.” A novel – according to DePaul University’s Literary Lexicononline is a “long fictional narrative in prose, usually about the experiences of a central character. Examples, Dickens’s David Copperfield, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. ” Zuiker’s version of Andersen’s famous fairytale, however, has the emperor auctioning his (invisible) clothes to eight of his subjects, who vie for the right to wear them. Calling the emperor’s clothes “Armani 2.0” will not make them less invisible, neither will the emperor be less naked.

The Web’s gossip threads report that Zuiker is an avid suppored / netizen of the online virtual world of Second Life. In the past, one of the CSI-NY series characters, a killer, escaped to Second Life and spectators were asked to try tracing him there. It is not difficult to imagine that Zuiker’s ‘digital novels’ will work along the same lines – lots of multimeblah and thin narrative. CIS-type story line is entertaining and engaging, but it cannot – by its very nature – bring to life David Copperfield’s rich narrative or the meandering emotional upheaval of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov – the turtured, murderous protagonist of Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece.

Jonas Carlquist, from the Swedish University of Umeå, looked at the question

“[d]o computer games tell stories or not? … I, myself, do not find it hard to see narrative structures in computer games. Many of the recent games follow a pattern that we are familiar with from movies and popular literature. But one main difference between games and other narrative genres concerns the audience’s role; in computer games the players have to interact with the story, something that challenges the linearity of the narrative structure. The storyline of a computer game is often a branching one, which complicates the game’s ability to tell a compelling story in the way we are used to… It is not about reading a story, it is about playing it.” (p.7)

Write this last sentence down becuase it is likely to become the leitmotif of this so-called literature of the future: You don’t read this story, you play it.

I am not gainsaying Zuiker’s previous work gains, his immense, proven, creative drive or his innovative sense of narrative, I am happy to wish him tons of awards and oodles of cash. What irks me is the cheek behind the marketing spin-machine that sells his as-yet-vapourwork as a new literary genre. Move away James Joyce, turn in your grave, Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, Jean-Paul Sartre – this is the beginning of the end of novels as we know them … blah and blah. Storytelling 2.0 — what hogwash.

The truth is that Tart’s money is going into high-risk land but not because he gallantly supports a pioneering foray into the uncharted waters of a new literary (or rather, a digerate,) form of expression. Tart is opting for the CSI-ification of literature in the hope of spinning some of the phenomenal success of the CSI franchise on to his publishing business.

Fat chance, I say. Whatever Tart may think, when he looks at Emperor Zuiker’s, all he is likely to see is probably a well-crafted and exquisitely presented posterior.

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