Multiple Releases

What do Suzanne Collins, Stephenie Meyer, and J.K. Rowling all have in common?  In addition to being authors who have been financially successful in selling books to a young adult audience, these women have also taken a leaf from Dickens’ book and have released their stories in multiple parts.  While each of the novels were released one by one, when Collins, Meyer, and Rowling have sold the rights to their books for movies, the last movies  in each series have been released in two parts.  For example The Hunger Games most recent movie Mockingjay Part II came out this past year, while Breaking Dawn Part II and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II came out a few years ago.  There are many different advantages to having a blockbuster work split in two.  The first is that you would have two movies, which means that people purchase twice the amount of tickets they normally would for one story.  Another advantage is that screenwriters can fit in twice the amount of material that the would normally be able to because of the time limits.  The audience can get four hours of a story without sitting through four entire hours of a movie.  While this means that twice the amount of money would probably have to be spent for production purposes , every time that a part of a movie comes out, the audience gets extremely excited and goes out to purchase things like Halloween costumes, posters, toys, and all sorts of other items.

Having releases in multiple parts keeps the reader on the hook.  Nothing keeps them wanting more than a good cliffhanger.  However, even though most of the audience has probably read the entire series beforehand, these people are probably most likely to go out and purchase things as fanatics of the series.

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Football and Queso

I am in the Spirit of Gold marching band, so I am at every home football game.  I think it was my sophomore year when marketing encouraged the crowd to go to Moe’s and obtain free queso every time our football team scored a certain amount of points.  Of course, since I am in marching band and I have no ticket to show the workers after games, I do not get queso.   But that’s another issue for another time.  By getting people excited for free queso after a successful home game, Moe’s wins in two different ways.  First, Moe’s motivates the football team to score more points.  Secondly, Moe’s gets the excited, victorious fans to go to their restaurant, especially when we win.  The free queso that is given to fans with tickets from the game also motivates people to purchase other things from their menu.  While you’re going to Moe’s to get your queso, you can also order a drink, get a burrito, and find other ways to spend your money.

The other businesses around Moe’s also win from this marketing ploy.  Let’s say that Moe’s is located between a Starbucks and a bookstore.   Some fans might decide to go to Starbucks for coffee after a long day outside, while others might want to go to Bread & Co for a slice of a pastry.  Some people might want to go to the bookstore and get more Commodore gear because of the amount of spirit they feel after we conquer and prevail at a game.  It’s really a win for everyone.  What this shows me is that pretty much anything can be thrown together and become a marketing strategy, even tex-mex and football.  People with tickets from basketball games can also go to Moe’s and get free queso after we score at least 65 points when they show their basketball ticket to a Moe’s employee.  One thing is for sure, the band will always yell “queso” whenever the Commodores score at sporting events.

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A Work Left Unfinished

As a society, we are steeped in instant, or nearly instant, gratification. You want a pizza? You can press buttons on your phone, and without leaving your house, pizza appears. What fascinates me, then, is that we still watch serial shows. In Dickens’ time, serial was the great way to go, since many people could not afford to buy books. But for many modern families, cable or an online subscription to Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, or HBO is considered one step up from a necessity. Movies are much more in line with what our society is conditioned to want — an ending in the same sitting as something began. And yet we are still drawn to serial television. Dickens got us hooked. Is it something in the guesswork of “what will happen next” that keeps us riveted? Regardless, we are indeed riveted.

I recently started watching a show on AmazonPrime called The Hour. Set at a BBC new show during the Cold War, the characters are well-developed and quirky, there’s a strong female lead, and the plot is, at least to me, enthralling. What are these reckless characters going to do next? I kept asking myself. And I never had to wait to find out, because I could just click the button to watch the next episode. I got through two seasons, only to find out that a third was never made. It was intended, however, and that is the problem! The story is not wrapped up! A season ends with the biggest cliffhanger of the series! I will never know what happens to my favorite character, on whom the last shot of the show focuses as he is in grave peril! I did my research, and the show was cancelled because view count was not high enough. While Dickens had a valid reason for not finishing Edwin Drood (he was a little preoccupied with being dead), “The Hour” was cancelled because not enough people cared. The problem with this, and the problem I had with Edwin Drood, is that now I care. The trajectory of the characters’ lives has been cut short in both cases, after I became invested, and now I will never know.

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Drug Use in Victorian England

I thought it was interesting that Dickens was compelled to address the problem of drug abuse in his final novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It got me thinking that drug abuse during the time had to be extremely prevalent, and so I searched around a little bit on the web and woof it sounds like the entire period needed an intervention. If you don’t remember, Dickens provides a very vivid depiction of the physical and mental effects of opium abuse in the opening of Edwin Drood, I’ll quote it in its entirety because its not that long: “Shaking from head to foot, the man whose scattered consciousness has thus fantastically pieced itself together, at length rises, supports his trembling frame upon his arms, and looks around. He is in the meanest and closest of small rooms. Through the ragged window-curtain, the light of early day steals in from a miserable court. He lies, dressed, across a large unseemly bed, upon a bedstead that has indeed given way under the weight upon it. Lying, also dressed and also across the bed, not longwise, are a Chinaman, a Lascar, and a haggard woman. The two first are in a sleep or stupor; the last is blowing at a kind of pipe, to kindle it. [1]

Apparently, at the time Dickens was writing restrictions for purchasing opiates and even cocaine were virtually nonexistent. With the hardships stemming from Industrial Revolution, many working class citizens attempt to escape their monotonous lives by resorting to drugs. I also learned that drug abuse in Victorian writing was a very common topic, and even many writers used drugs. Something I had never thought of until I read this article was that Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865) could itself be considered one big reference to opiates, as the article makes a pretty strong argument that I will include in this post as well, “the substances Alice consumes in Wonderland are never called drugs specifically, but her encounters with mysterious bottles filled with strange substances, cakes imprinted with injunctions to consume them, hookah-smoking caterpillars, and magical mushrooms — all of which appear to Alice in a dreamspace, and which distort her sense of her body, space, time and logic — have become associated in the popular imagination (today’s at least) with drug consumption. [1]

So if you are curious about this topic, I encourage you to read the article, I think you’ll find it very interesting. Drug Use in Victorian England

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Edwin Drood-esque Ending: The Sopranos

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m pretty disappointed that Dickens died before he could finish The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This got me thinking about other times I have been disappointed by an ending to a book, film, or TV Series. One time was the ending to Inception with that stupid top spinning in the last scene. Was it going to fall or no? Was poor Oscar-less Leo still dreaming or was he awake?  But at least the movie was only 2 and a half hours long, so I wasn’t that invested. However, I just remembered the ending to the HBO series The Sopranos, and that had to be the worst of them all. It is very Drood-esque actually, with the scene just cutting to black and boom, it was over. I had watched all six seasons of the show, I binged on HBO Go until my eyes bled sometimes, and I was left with that? All I can say is that at least Dickens had an excuse for Drood, but come on David Chase, how was this the ending you decided on?…Sopranos Ending

-Brian Gibson


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Shock Advertising in ‘Oliver Twist’

By 19th century standards, Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist contains one of the most shocking, violent scenes in all of Victorian literature. Of course, I am speaking of the moment when Nancy is brutally murdered by her lover, Bill Sikes. In the long run, Dickens capitalized off of this scene greatly. Towards the end of his life, he took to performing the scene live as a dramatic reading, an event that turned out to be immensely popular.

It is interesting to think about the concept of “shock advertising” in relation to Dickens’ works. According to Wikipedia, shock advertising “deliberately, rather than inadvertently, startles and offends its audience by violating norms for social values and personal ideals.” Anti-smoking ad campaigns that employ disturbing metaphors for the act of smoking are a common example of this form of advertising. Shock advertising has traditionally been very effective in getting the point of the advertising across. However, as the global population has perhaps gotten desensitized to the “shock factor,” some posit that these ads are not as effective as they once were.

Given this definition, it seems that the aforementioned scene in Oliver Twist could be viewed as Charles Dickens’ using “shock advertising” in order to advertise for himself. After all, Nancy’s murder scene is probably the most memorable moment in Oliver Twist, and by some accounts helped Dickens garner massive fame. This scene checks off many parts of the definition of shock advertising. It’s obviously deliberate, it is clearly startling to the audience, and it sharply deviates from most normal social values and personal ideals. 19th century audiences were likely not used to reading (or seeing) these violent scenes, and they would have been able to take in the shock at its full value. And, as time shows, it was clearly effective in transforming Charles Dickens’ into the preeminent Victorian novelist.

But, if Dickens wrote Nancy’s death scene in Oliver Twist (either intentionally or unintentionally) as a form of shock advertising, how would he have felt about the practice itself. It’s impossible to know for sure, but it seems that if Dickens’ felt comfortable sharing this gruesome scene with the general public, he would have been okay with the use of the “shock factor” in advertisements. If shock advertising in Dickens’ day were an effective way to get people interested in a product or idea, it seems that Dickens would have approved.

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Ad Retargeting

In the age of the Internet, many advertisers have chosen to take a modern approach in the way they influence people to buy their products. I’m speaking of “ad retargeting,” or the way ads advertising for the products of retailers whose sites you’ve visited seem to follow you around on the internet. By doing this, retailers are able to constantly “retarget” consumers with ads for products that they have already expressed interest in by visiting the retailer’s website.

By many accounts, this phenomenon seems like a sneaky, annoying, and sort of creepy way to tailor ads directly to the interests of consumers. Under the right circumstances, however, this method works very well for converting casual shoppers into purchasers. This is because regardless of how annoying or stalker-ish the retargeting ads may seem, they keep products at the forefront of a consumer’s attention, as if the person is constantly “window shopping.” The practice is also relatively low cost, so it is a win-win for the retailer and advertiser.

Clearly, this is a fairly ingenious marketing campaign–tailoring ads directly to the consumer is a huge advantage over the general sort of advertising you might see in a newspaper or magazine. Of course, advertisers try to guess at what ads might be relevant for the consumers of newspapers, magazines, and television, but it is not quite so personally relevant as it would be under the ad retargeting method. Considering Charles Dickens’ interests in advertising, I think it’s safe to say that he would find ad retargeting to be a brilliant advertising method. Dickens clearly thought about the usefulness and relevance of his ads often, as the products advertised in his periodicals were often related to the subject that he was writing about. If he were a modern day publisher with an online periodical, he very well may have allowed for ad retargeting to be used on his site to make his advertising methods even more effective–and rake in more money.

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Ads Mimicking Art

Advertising, however intelligent Google is, can be confusing. I was reading an article this morning from the website of The New Yorker. It is an article written by award-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, in Italian, and translated into English, about her journey into the Italian language. Now, I’m scrolling through the article, completely immersed, ignoring all the advertisements on the right side of the page, when I am uprooted from my interest in her story by a graphic. It’s a black and white cartoonish drawing, with a quote in block print underneath. Typically, when an image has a quote under it, that signals that it is sampled from the article or story to grab your attention, right? Well this one did grab my attention, but I couldn’t seem to make any kind of connection between the quote and the story. Then I noticed that below the quote is a hyperlink that reads: “buy the print.” The image was an ad!

I, as a consumer, am used to in-your-face advertising, feel-good-story advertising, i-won’t-go-away-until-you-click-me advertising. What I am not used to, however, is advertising that mimics the form of content so seamlessly. This ad grabbed my attention because I thought of it as a standard part of the content, which I had reached and should thus pay attention to. This seems to me to be what Dickens did. He blended the advertising and the art so well that, while it may be clear looking back what was an ad, it had the reader fooled. The descriptions of food in A Christmas Carol are a great example of this: Dickens is selling Christmas, not just writing about it. And while Jhumpa Lahiri was not the person who chose to place that ad, engineered in that manner, in that specific location, it nonetheless is mimicking the form of online journalism so well that it is, at first, indistinguishable from the article, in the same way as Dickens and his food.

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Dickens – More Relevant than Ever?

BBC is producing a new 20 part drama for this holiday season, which is titled, Dickensian. It sounds pretty intriguing, as it will feature various famous Dickensian characters all interacting with each other. Here is a link to the DailyMail article, which has a promotional poster with all of the characters. The ones we’ll all recognize are from A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist.

Obviously, Dickens remains relevant since the BBC has produced a series based on his characters, which means they think the lure of Dickensian characters will be appealing to people. What I found even more interesting is this article, which features quotes from Dickens’s biographer, Claire Tomalin. In the article, Tomalin claims, “Dickens is very relevant at the moment in England. Because we are producing Dickensian conditions again…The need for food banks, the ending of children’s support from the state, the attack on the health services and the BBC, the universities being commercialised – so many of the things that Dickens fought for and stood for are being attacked. I think he was never so relevant. We miss him.”

In Riley’s blog post, she wondered what social problems Dickens would find relevant today. Tomalin gives her best guess at an answer here. Although her response is more focused on Britain’s problem as a nation, I think a lot of what she says about the current dire conditions of poverty is applicable to us in the United States. As a whole, we tend to dismiss social conditions of historical times as being inherently worse than current times. We like to think we become more progressive as time passes. However, I think Tomalin’s statements have a lot of truth to them. As a current society, we do prioritize some social issues, especially those related to race, gender, and sexuality, that Dickens didn’t emphasize in his novels. However, can we really say conditions and opinions of poverty are much different than they were in Dickens’s time? I think about how people still hold the “poor people are just lazy” sentiment or how there are still so many socioeconomic disparities in healthcare. Tomalin is right in this regard; I would attribute some of Dickens’s continued popularity to the fact that many of these social issues still haven’t been fixed or gone away, even in present day.

To quote A Christmas Carol, “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” Dickens’s warning remains as true as ever. We must remain alert to the social injustices of our time and especially ones that aren’t immediately visible, usually concerning those who often don’t get a voice in mainstream media.

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Commercialization of Christmas and ‘A Christmas Carol’

It’s no secret that Christmas is a hugely commercialized holiday–more and more, the buzz surrounding Christmas focuses on the economical, with advertising to convince people what items they should buy for their loved ones. But where exactly does this come from, and how has the capitalist nature of Christmas developed over time? Well, Charles Dickens, sometimes called “the man who invented Christmas,” could be partially to blame.

As we well know, Dickens’ serialized publications were accompanied by a slew of advertising for different products, and his Christmas stories were no exception to this rule. This is remarkably similar, and is perhaps a precursor, to modern Christmas advertising that caters to people who are “in the Christmas spirit” or seeking ideas for Christmas presents.

However, perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is that Dickens’ most famous Christmas story, A Christmas Carol, has become one of the most commercialized things in our modern Holiday. Dozens of television, film, stage, and musical adaptations of the story have been made, and terms like “Scrooge” are a part of our modern day canon. This is especially interesting considering how little Ebenezer Scrooge (up until the end of the novel) cares about Christmas and would have therefore disliked its commercialization. But would Dickens’ appreciate the commercialization of Christmas in relation to his own work? It’s hard to know for sure, but seems likely that he would find this–and the commercialization of Christmas in general–to be desirable (and very smart financially), considering how much he commercialized his own works.


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