Pride and Prejudice joins Twitter: Transmedia Adaptation on a Narrative Continuum
This paper explores The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a transmedia retelling of Pride and Prejudice set as a vlog in modern day California. Across platforms including YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest, this Emmy-award winning web series spent a year reworking the 200-year-old novel in “real-time.” While the creators simply update certain aspects for the 21st century—Mr. Bingley is now Bing Lee—other concerns are completely reinterpreted—the Bennet’s entailed estate is now a faulty mortgage; Collins “proposal” is for a job, not a marriage. Enabling and encouraging audience members to interact with the story through multiple modalities, this transmedia adaptation provokes questions about its relationship to the source material. While it can be read vertically as palimpsest, a retelling layered on top of the original, might we also consider the transmedia web series as part of storytelling’s historical continuum? Do the novel and web series share more than a familiar narrative arc and a handful of characters?
In the historical moment of their emergence, both of the novel and the transmedia adaptation have been discounted for reasons such as the demographics of those participating, its reproducibility, their creators being perceived as amateurs, etc. In her landmark Theory of Adaptation, Linda Hutcheon discusses the constructed strata of high and low culture revealing the economic arguments attached when she says, “we tend to reserve our negatively judgmental rhetoric for popular culture, as if it is more tainted with capitalism than high art” (31). As an example, she notes academia’s tendency to deride the commercial-driven choices of a blockbuster, often ignoring that Shakespeare made similarly calculated artistic moves based on economic principals. In a similar vein, some scholars may overlook a web series adaptation because it seems “tainted” by the enthusiasm of teenage girls, the advertising that funds it, the commonality of its chosen platforms, or a myriad of other “low culture” tags.
However, my paper suggests that exploring these social conditions highlights The Lizzie Bennet Diaries as not only an adaptation of plot, character, and setting, but of the historical emergence of a narrative form. Just as Austen’s novel was not only arguing for proto-feminism and against classism but also for the very form of the novel, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is not merely making claims about female friendships or stereotyping but that adaptation through transmedia is a valid form, participating in what John Fiske refers to as “culture making” and Robert Stam calls an “ongoing dialogical process.” By placing the interactive web series on a continuum, we recover the emerging status the novel held in the past and are also able to look forward at part of the burgeoning future of narrative form thanks to new media.
I'm in the throes of research and have had some setbacks, but I am really excited to tackle the LBD from the angles of high/low-culture arguments, adaptation of form, and the question of interpreting it vertically/horizontally... I don't have many conclusions yet, but a lot of intriguing questions!
And now... back to the work in front of me. :)