Sunday 25 May 2008

A Review of the Viral Story

Splotchy’s second viral story, started several weeks ago on the blog I, Splotchy, shows no sign of abating. The sheer length of column inches dedicated to the general phenomenon is growing, and the number of articles on the subject are too numerous to count, let alone discuss here. A few do stand out, however, and interested parties would be well advised to seek out Christopher Hitchens’ Splotchy’s Viral Story: A Game of Consequences for the Blogosphere (The Atlantic, May 2008, p 28-34). Also worth a look are John Searle’s article for the journal Mind, entitled Splotchy’s Viral Story as Evidence of Jungian Collective Unconscious (May 2008, p 3-7, with an opposing article by Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel Dennett in the same issue, p 8-10), and Julie Birchill’s article for the May 18 Observer, No Vaccine Required: A Virus Worth Having. Given the multitude of writers commenting on the viral story as a whole, I thought I’d turn my attention to a particular offshoot, which I have entitled The Russian Story.

As with all versions of the story, we begin with the receipt of a mysterious package, as told by Splotchy himself. The address is smudged, and it appears to have been hand delivered. This is good; there is much scope for advancement of the story. As Christopher Wise writes in Diacritics, the basis for a well-realised viral story is open-endedness. Here, Splotchy has left a variety of readings available for the situation at hand (proof of this is to be found in the myriad of ways in which the story has been taken from these beginnings).

From here on in the story takes a variety of intriguing turns, involving a note from within the package, Russians and a trip to the airport that ends with our loner waking up, drugged, in the back of a cab. The caretakers of each avenue of the viral story – Bubs, Splotchy again, SamuraiFrog and Captain Incredible – have done a marvellous job in following on from where the previous author left off. There is cohesion, yet each voice remains intact, individual. Here lies another benefit of the viral story as an art form: The ability to write in numerous voices is much prized in today’s literary market, and what better way to achieve this than to have numerous writers? Sometimes, the best answer is the most obvious.

But all good things must come to an end, and, while the previous custodians of the story are to be applauded for their additions, they are sadly let down by the next bearer of the viral story torch. The Imaginary Reviewer, a blogger whose sole ability seems to be writing reviews of things that don’t exist, takes the baton from Captain Incredible, and, I regret to say, undoes all the good work done by his predecessors.

The Imaginary Reviewer’s section doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the story’s aesthetic. Problems begin when the unnamed main character finds himself transported to an abandoned warehouse. For someone who seems to pride himself on their imagination, The IR has picked the most obvious and trite location possible! A train station, a suburban house, even a small café specialising in brunches would be more interesting than an abandoned warehouse! But no, The Imaginary Reviewer presumably has used up his imagination reviewing hats.

Next, The Imaginary Reviewer has his character tied to a chair – how original – and after a short wait introduces a new character, presumably the instigator of the whole affair. Things do start to improve here; it appears that the bad guy of the piece is a well-known children’s character called Desmond the Dinosaur (in actual fact a guy called Gerald in a large, fuzzy, green suit). Our hero knows nothing about Desmond, and has no idea why the TV ‘star’ has captured him. He asks about the package and the money, and it seems Desmond has no idea what our hero is talking about. Our character’s receipt of the package and his kidnapping would appear to be coincidental.

And so, with that, The Imaginary Reviewer allows the story to be carried on by someone else. I pity the poor soul who has been left with this detritus after such promising beginnings. (For his sins, Splotchy has been tagged again, but how he’ll manage to salvage anything from the Imaginary Reviewer’s mess is beyond me). I mean, the whole story has been ruined by the IR. The dinosaur character, while presumably added for levity, just looks like the writer is trying to claw back some interest from a story that he has spoiled beyond recognition. The coincidental element of the package arriving the same day a stranger plans a kidnapping is harder to swallow than a razorblade sandwich. All in all, I think the Imaginary Reviewer should be ashamed of himself for the injustice he has done to Splotchy’s story, and viral stories in general.

I would add a concluding comment here, but I’m just too damn upset.


Captain Incredible said...

My first (albeit shared) review - thank you kindly, sir!

The supporting articles, while difficult to access, provided a greater, if imaginary, insight into the philosophical and metaphysical elements of the viral story, and, although I'd take issue with some of Searles's arguments, his points regarding Jung's collection were well made.

Oh, and atmospheric though it might have been, I'm going to have nightmares about Desmond the Dinosaur...


Splotchy said...

This will take some deep bends of thought to continue, but it's okay, I been exercisin'.

Splotchy said...


The Imaginary Reviewer said...

Your Captaincy, you are very welcome. Like I said in the review, there are so many articles and journals dedicated to the topic that I was unable to do it any semblance of justice. I believe the BBC and Canal+ in conjunction with the History Channel are commissioning a twelve-part documentary that may go some way to truly capturing the essence of the viral story.

Splotchy: I had faith in you and you delivered! A fitting end.