Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Lizzie Bennet Phenomenon and the YouTube Generation

The interest to adapt original works has always been present. Sometimes it was for profit, because it was hoped that the adaptation would become popular on the merits of the original work: but mostly, it was because those adapting were so enamoured with the original work that simply being its passive recipient was not enough, and there arose the need to expand and comment on the beloved narrative. That is one of the reasons fanficton is so popular today, because it allows the writers to further explore the events and characters they are fond of, and to perhaps give events a different spin, or a happier ending to the heroes than they have in the original text.

Every work is a portrait of its artist, and a successful one is also a clear product of its time but timeless enough to continue to be appealing well after it.

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is certainly one of those immortal works, with universal appeal not only because of the at first reluctant romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, but also because of the tongue-in-cheek approach to the adherence of social rules, family expectations, and the value of money when it comes to getting married. The novel has been adapted countless times across different types of media: film, books, radio, televison, and graphic novels. Elizabeth Bennet has been to Bollywood and Utah, she has fought zombies and even been featured in an episode of Wishbone, and most recently, she has discovered YouTube.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is an ambitious project captained by Bernie Su and HankGreen. In a nutshell, it is Pride and Prejudice done in the form of a video diary or vlog of Elizabeth 'Lizzie' Bennet, a gradschool student in modern-day America. Of course, the vlog is a well known and loved form of expression on the internet, and a lot of cult fictional works have been created in this form – The Guild by Felicia Day and Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog by Joss Whedon perhaps being one of the most famous – but never before has a Victorian novel been adapted for the internet. 

Four episodes have been uploaded to Lizzie's channel so far, outlining most of the main characters and the opening events, and the most recent episode has introduced the elusive, mysterious and attractive Darcy. The challenge, of course, will be twofold: updating the novel for the YouTube generation, which is used to short form and quick delivery of information and fun, and at the same time maintaining the integrity of the characters and following the classic storyline. The main format is as close to the novel as possible: Lizzie (played by Ashley Clements) addresses the audience directly, a staple element of a vlog. In an interview with Tubefilter, Hank Green says that the goal of the Diaries is viewership and level of engagement: the video diaries will not be a sealed off universe, but future videos may respond to the input of the viewers via YouTube comments or Twitter, employing a new kind of storytelling similar to the choose-your-own-adventure style. The Diaries are very dialogue- and character-based, which is at the same time very faithful and incredibly different from the source material: Lizzie is the one who carries the whole story, and imparting everything to the audience rests on her shoulders. She has to be genuine, likeable, and also a character that the audience can believe is the Elizabeth Bennet, except in the twenty-first century, for this project to work.

Installments of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries are scheduled to be released twice a week, running from two to five minutes each, and Lizzie's Tumblr and Twitter have been buzzing with activity from the very start. 

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