Metafiction is a type of narrative that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction, exposing the fictional illusion. It is a an art form that self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in posing questions about the relationship between fiction and reality, usually using irony and self-reflection. This doesn’t mean strictly literature. It can be movies, stage shows, music…but the metafiction technique never lets you forget that you are immersed in or looking at a fictional work. There’s a distance that is often created in metafiction through irony or taste-bashing because we know the originating source of the metafiction….which gives us a certain “cool” or sophistication.
With the explosion of inexpensive media software (Photoshop, iMovie) and inexpensive distribution (the smart phone), metafiction is on the rise. Metafiction is an ever-growing postmodern phenomenon, in part, born out of “free” distribution and the new “maker culture”. Everyone is an artist now (taking pictures, making videos, and writing poetry in tweets and texts) , and I am sure that drives the business modelers and entertainment executives crazy who still want to make a living by selling art. But we are largely metafiction artists building off of famous or classic fictions and changing them. Metafiction has a certain “coolness” because the artist readjusting is, again, aware of the source. In part the classic or popular source allows the derivative piece to have power — and travel fast everywhere in the world. People know it. As much as entertainment pundits like to talk about “immersive” transmedia experiences — fan culture will quickly turn the immersion into metafiction. We have our immersion, then we eat our young.
The latest metafiction phenom is the brilliant send-up the song of “I Dreamed A Dream”.
“For Your Consideration,” is an Academy Awards parody for Anne Hathaway’s performance in Les Misérables. It went viral last week after it was posted online. The three-and-a-half-minute video shows Hathaway as Fantine (played flawlessly by college student, Emma Fitzpatrick) belting out “I Dreamed a Dream” with new lyrics. The topical lyrics describe how completely Hathaway wants an Oscar. It is a metafiction send-up of old-school star ambition.
This metafiction has epic antecedents as it is a send-up of the 2012 film which is based on the 1988 musical which is based on the 1866 Victor Hugo novel which is inspired by the events of the French Revolution. Is the cherry on the top of Victor Hugo’s enduring in today’s world this metafiction? Is this where this narrative ends?
Once a metafiction piece has revealed the irony or exposed the “joke” , can one ever truly go back and enjoy the originating fiction? Can we ever return to an unexpected surprise as in the case of Susan Boyle when she sang “I Dreamed a Dream”? Can we ourselves be moved in the same way — because fanlove has lovingly debased it and made us aware rather than part of?
Whether you liked Les Miserables or not ( largely the critics have been merciless about what they consider raw, almost simplistic emotion) , it has produced the intended results: emotion…and significant worldwide box office. David Denby, writing in The New Yorker, after declaring that the movie is not “just bad,” but “dreadful,” goes on to report himself “deeply embarrassed because all around me … people were sitting rapt, awed, absolutely silent, only to burst into applause after some of the numbers.”
What embarrasses Denby is the decline in “the taste of my countrymen” in the face of something that is to him so obviously “overbearing, pretentious, madly repetitive”; and he seconds the judgment of Anthony Lane, also a New Yorker reviewer, who dismisses the film as “inflationary bombast.”
Stanley Fish’s Op Ed in the New York Times takes a close look at the outrage over emotion that Les Miserables seems to be producing. The director of the film of Les Miz is very clear about his plan and technique. “We live in a postmodern age where a certain amount of irony is expected. ” Say Hooper. “This film is made without irony.”
Is it possible that emotion in the modern culture is seen as sentimental piety, that tears are naïve? The old school taste makers seem to suggest it. Have we entered a new primacy where all art needs to be loved, eaten and masticated?