Blurring Entertainment Boundaries

posted in: Writing | 2
© 2010 American Broadcasting Companies, inc.

While browsing ABC’s website, checking to see when the next episode of Castle airs, I noticed that they had an ad for the release of “Heat Wave“, the book written by the fictional author Richard Castle (the character played by Firefly alumnus Nathan Fillion on the eponymous aforementioned show “Castle” on ABC).

Occasionally, the entertainment industry will blur the lines a bit between the fantasy worlds in entertainment and real life: Dr. Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory has a twitter feed (and as far as I know, it’s actually updated by Jim Parsons, the actor that plays him), the late 1990s movie The Blair Witch Project attributed the bulk of its initial success to its grassroots viral marketing campaign, wherein the general public was led to believe that the movie was an amateur documentary, assembled posthumously. The Blair Witch Project‘s marketing team actually created a number of websites about the fictional “Blair Witch” mythology, intending to act as honeypots for would-be fact checkers, curious to see if the movie really was based in reality.

But how much is too much? Is there a line to be crossed and where are we, as a society, with regard to that line?

Back to Castle

There’s a little more to the Castle book I mentioned earlier: you can actually purchase it through Amazon, download sample chapters, and read more about it online. It’s published by Hyperion Books, though the major national booksellers all seem to have it.

Obviously, Richard Castle is not a real person, and the books were presumably written by a ghost writer, rather than by Nathan Fillion himself. (I say this not because I have doubts about Mr. Fillion’s writing ability, but rather because it would just make more sense to pay someone to ghost write the books that does not have to also act in the television show, make public appearances, and keep Dr. Horrible in check.)

But check out some of those links above, it’s a bit creepy. Richard Castle has a Facebook and Twitter feed (which I would expect, and not to be confused with the actor’s personal Twitter feed), he has a bio that simultaneously discusses his previous (fictional and as of now non-published) Derrick Storm book series and fails to mention at all that “oh yeah, he’s fictional.” It even goes so far to mention that he currently lives in Manhattan with his mother and daughter. The only nod to its ephemeral nature is that it says he won an award from the “Nom DePlume Society”.

Even Amazon has drunk the Kool-Aid, publishing the same information on their website’s author page for Richard Castle.

This all begs the question: if someone was wholly unfamiliar with the hit ABC series, would there be any way for them to discern that this author is as fictional as his stories?

One individual that reviewed the book (and was flagged “most helpful critical review”), had this to say:

This book would have a hard time standing on it’s own without the show, and that’s where I think ABC dropped the ball. I think ABC could have given us a lot more credit for being able to read a full sized novel with strong characters based on Beckett and Castle and not confuse them with the characters on screen.

As expected, it’s largely a marketing ploy intended to generate more interest (or at least additively resonate with existing interest), although in a very creative way. For what it’s worth, both books (Naked Heat and the followup Heat Wave) have pretty favorable reviews, by and large – the former carrying 4.5/5 with 30 reviews and the latter 4/5 with 246 reviews.

I absolutely adore the show, as I’ve mentioned before. The writing is very witty, and it’s a nice spin on the otherwise hackneyed cop-drama that’s been popular in recent years. Please don’t mistake any of this post’s criticism as disapproval of the show — it’s more a reflection on societal changes regarding the impact of advertising.

What concerns me more is if other television shows, movies, and other aspects of the entertainment industry follow suit, investing even more heavily in crossing that boundary between fantasy and reality. At what point do public appearances stop being introduced as “Nathan Fillion, who plays Richard Castle” and start being “Richard Castle, best-selling author”.

If we allow ourselves to slide a little more down that slope, imagine for a moment that Richard Castle won a prestigious REAL award (maybe he writes a screenplay and wins an Oscar, ON THE SHOW) – if he was a guest on Letterman, would they be discussing that as if it actually happened? Is the public’s only means of discerning fantasy from reality becoming acquainted enough with the fantasy world that they can distinguish it from what’s real? This whole phenomenon is like a complete inversion of reality TV, except with better acting.

Another thing to consider – is Hyperion Books even a real publisher? Are the other books discussed on that site actually real books? I give them the benefit of the doubt since the site looks legit, but the author page for Richard Castle has the fictional twitter feed embedded, a fictional bio, and two books ghost-written by a fictional author — how can I be sure that the other books listed, or the other author bios, are legitimate and not simply aspects of the Zeitgeist I have not yet been exposed to?

The world of Hollywood has always been like Cubic Zirconia, and often it’s easy to forget that the people popping up in the tabloids and on the cover of magazines are actually real individuals and not simply different characters played by the same actors / actresses. When the celebrities making cover pages are actually fictional, the Cubic Zirconia is revealed to be mere costume jewelery.

2 Responses

  1. Ben Poole

    Very cool take, Aaron. I think the more likely next step is for ABC to do some “reverse-reality” where they actual take something that happens in the “real world” like someone retweeting Castle’s tweets, or otherwise interacting with him, and writing it back into the show. That would create some very interesting discussion, no doubt. BTW – did you find out when it’s on next? My wife loves that show. Thanks for another great post.

    • Aaron

      Thanks, Ben!

      Given the use of social media in network news, integrating fan interaction into a show seems like the natural next step. IIRC, there’s already been some show to do that… I want to say Big Bang Theory, but it may have been a different one. Or I might just be imagining. I don’t remember which.

      I’ve been wondering when it’s going to air — I’m guessing NEXT monday? I heard Laura Prepon is on it.

      If this sort of thing becomes common place, it would be entirely possible for a super-reality to overlay on everything else we know; fictional awards, people, even families, could all be incorporated into everyday life, and vice versa. Technology allows for this sort of cross-pollination, which is both exciting and really creepy.