Thursday, September 26, 2013

50 Shades of Green, a Social Experiment, and My Dwindling Sanity

I'd like to write about something that not a lot of people will know about. A conspiracy, if you will. In the grand scheme of things it's not terribly important, but I think it's a doozy little trick.

Doozy. I don't even know what doozy means, but I felt like saying it.

There's this online reviewer of film, TV, books and other media, I've been following her since she first emerged back in 2008, and could be considered a rather large fan. She's highly- intelligent, humourous, witty, analytical and insightful and I may or may not want to find her, marry her, and bear her children.


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Anyway, her name is Lindsay Ellis, otherwise known as The Nostalgia Chick. Back in February she decided to embark on a project of some interest to me - she decided to write a book that parodied one of our most recent, prolific, and downright annoying literary phenomenons - that of teenage Paranormal Romance. You know the one, Mary Sue meets boy, boy turns out to be a vampire/werewolf/mummy/tapeworm, they flounder about bouncing off some cardboard extras designed purely to provide some mild conflict and opposition for a bit and then finally settle down. I've written and talked about this literary plague at length before.

Lindsay intended to write a book that both explored, and - not to put too fine a point on it - ripped the absolute rat shit bat shit piss out of the Twilight generation. All while pretending to be a real book. She titled her brainchild '50 Shades of Green' and you can see the webseries chronicling the project here -

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TL:DW, she sits around with her friend drinking wine and discussing the building blocks of the novel for 15 mins each time, releasing the video to the public and taking and taking input in the form of comments and suggestions (mai hero). Each video covers something like 'what will the Mary Sue be like?' 'What creature will the boy be?' 'What's the storyline?' and then then moves on to 'We need cover art, please send us some' and finally 'whoo here is the launch party for our book'. I've been watching each video as they are released each month with great interest, wanting to know the direction that this parody was going to take.

After many suggestions from the fans and some deliberation, Nostalgia Chick finally settled on Cthulhu as the love interest. I think it had something to do with mocking the Twilight generation further, most of whom will assume that HP Lovecraft is some kind of vibrator and that The Necronomicon is a book that tells you how to turn people into toads. An ancient monstrous infamously untameable force of the universe indifferent to the fate of humans, created a hundred years ago by one of the most intelligent writers of our time, falling in love with an ordinary teenage girl? Of course! The Twilight generation would lap this shit up and then ask for seconds.

For the three people out there in the world who don't know what Cthulhu looks like, here is a picture.

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Mmm, tentacles.

So with the characters and plot finally cemented, the book was written. It was a story about a Bella Sue who has a fling with an ancient tentacled god. The blurb?

'In his house at R’lyeh, great Cthulhu lies dreaming... of her.  
What would you do if you discovered you were the only one in the world with the hidden power to keep it from utter annihilation?  
What if you had no idea what that power might even be?  
Andromeda Slate, the self-proclaimed most ordinary girl in America, can’t figure out why the gorgeous but mysterious new boy at high school seems to hate her so much. It couldn't have anything to do with the strange dream she had the night before he first showed up in class, could it? The dream where the very same boy rescued her from a giant, green, tentacled sea monster?  
And it couldn’t have anything to do with that time she read aloud from that ancient tome of eldritch magic, the Necronomicon... could it?  
Andi Slate never imagined she’d find herself in a situation where somehow she was the key to saving the world.  
Her life is about to get a whole lot less ordinary.'

Har. Awesome.

It was sent off to many publishers, and declined many times. Finally, a publisher accepted it. The joke was bound, and printed under a pseudonym. And on 19th August, just 6 months after the idea was created, it was released. shot right to number 2 in the YA fiction charts on

Da naaaa.

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I shit you not. The book designed to mock, degrade, and generally illustrate the vapid sheep mentality of the dumbass people who love cheap paranormal romance went straight up there with the bestsellers. The bait had been dropped and the fish snapped it right up within a matter of days. And the reviews are mainly positive. I couldn't believe it. Mission accomplished.

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Proverbial lol.

But the strangeness of this whole project was only just beginning.

I've read it. It's pretty good. The main character Andromeda is as vacuous and bland and relatable as they always are in paranormal romance, and the book is of course very self aware, with amusing little meta moments such as the lead not understanding the point of the book she's reading (in this case The Phantom of the Opera). It starts and end as they always do and it parodies the source material very well. Even made me laugh out loud a few times.

The project was complete. The parody is out there in paper form circulating the world and fooling everyone and rather making a face that looks like this.

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Here comes the weird part. An awful lot of effort has gone into this pseudonym. Lindsay has done a magnificent job of designing a fictitious author whose name sits on the front of her book - Serra Elinsen. A little too magnificent, in fact. She has a biography (she's a 'part time author and full time mom of five rambunctious kids and loves chocolate'). She has a picture.

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She not only has her own website, but she also has a twitter, a facebook page, a goodreads page, a tvtropes entry, and many more. You can find them in the following links. (notice that her website has an animation of a worm on a hook with fish swimming past it. Bait, fish, lolgeddit?) 

Serra Elinsen is prolific and replies to her fans and comments on her success. Her website details her process of writing her book. Her goodreads page contains comments saying what she thinks of other books, with a few obvious jokes about her true identity. She's the subject of more blog entries than I can count. Youtube reviews of her book have just begun. People are discussing and reviewing and praising and sharing this novel. This novel. That is intended to troll and mock the mentality of the kind of people who like this garbage is now being circulated as a must read. In fact if you google Serra Elinsen you'll get something like this -

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Not bad for a woman who doesn't exist. You'll notice that out of the first 50 hits, only ONE of the links is a reference to the joke. Lindsay has done such a marvellous job of creating this false persona that not even google will tell you any different.

Now here's the point that I've been building towards and the thing that's making me lose my sanity an eensy bit. I'm starting to think that Serra is a real person. I can't tell what's true and what's not. Regarding this novel and social experiment, I mean.

While looking at reviews and publicity for this book and the comments on Serra's website, I'm completely unable to tell who is in on the joke and who is not. I find the odd reviewer or commenter who knows who is behind this book and says as much, but 95% of the reviews I have seen have comprised of people worshipping this fictitious author and praising her on a job well done. And I'm these people actually know what's going on, and are they merely playing along with the magnitude of the joke and the deception and just pretending to be a vapid fan who's been fooled? Because that would be cool. Or..are they in fact a genuine vapid fan who has been duped, lapping up the shit like we knew they would? There is no visible difference between the words of a reader who is playing along with the joke, and one who is not.

I just can't tell the difference! There is no difference between a review of the book written by someone who is playing along, and someone who's been duped. Hell, even Nostalgia Chick has admitted that she can't tell the difference.

People who are probly in on it -

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People who are probly not -

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People who are pissed off.

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Wait. Wat?

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And just to compound my confusion even further, the predictable but fortunately small amount of backlash aimed towards this 'author' has resulted in some very strange things. Have a look at this -

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My brain. It hurts.

So many people think that this person is real. People are not only praising her, but they're also addressing her like they would a personal friend and even jumping in to defend her honour against any criticism she recieves. So this brings me to my next point.

[philosophy] When enough people think that something or someone is real, do they then become real? Wasn't it Einstein who said 'Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one'? Isn't it also true that most of what we percieve to be real and important is intangible and exists in the mind only? Am I in on the joke or am I part of the joke? What if -

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I've been following this 50 Shades of Green project ever since it began last February. I've seen the entire thing being fabricated from vague idea all the way to YA bestseller and talked about book. I know that Serra isn't real and that this was all done in the name of parody. But all between the fan reaction, the websites, and the fact that the novel has absolutely nothing on it - both on the physical paper and nearly nothing on google too - to link it to the Nostalgia Chick, I'm starting to think I've lost it and that the 50 Shades Project was all in my mind. And that Serra is in fact real and it out there, running around with her five rambunctious kids and eating chocolate.

This experiment has messed with the minds of so many readers, and I don't even know who knows it and who doesn't. It's messing with my mind as a result.

Serra, if you're out there, I want to poke you in the nose. Just to see whether I can or not.

Oh god, please let me poke you in the nose.