Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts

Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts - Jonathan Gray

This is the kind of book that I get suckered into all the time. Academic presses and writers have gotten better and better at dressing up weighty dissertations with attention-grabbing titles and imagery that, just for example, makes a person pick up an analysis of "paratexts", those aspects of a media product, such as Star Wars' toy line, or the typography and content of subway advertisements, that aren't officially part of the product but effect our opinion anyway. Gray spends most of his time with promotional materials such as trailers and posters and how critical it is that these materials offer the right signals and contexts to potential consumers in order to succeed.

Well, duh, you (and I) may say, but the thorough explanation behind the principle of advertising was fascinating once I got past all the preliminaries.

Because, yeah, 'Show Sold Separately' did take awhile to get to the real content, the necessity of precision in academic writing easily leads to tedious paragraphs that exist only to define concepts already known to most readers, but academic writing even attempting a crossover audience must take very few chances. Still, if you have ever cynically noted a trailer for a drama film front-loaded with all of the funny bits to get comedy ticket sales, this book is probably up your alley.

Something my professors spent a lot of time on while I was preparing to write my thesis was the development of a 'hook' to the paper - not merely its justification, the why of the writing about obscure subject x, or even how your analysis of historical figure y's life is different from the over 9,000 scholars before you - but a hook: the angle that would make reasonably normal people outside of academia think about reading it. That may be a silly thing to focus on, I thought so at first, but after the work was nearing completion I began to have second thoughts, because one hopes that someone other than the beleaguered faculty committee is reading the culmination of a year's (often more) research. A shiny letter grade and a fancily calligraphied piece of parchment doesn't seem like enough anymore.

So hooks are important, if only for the sanity of their authors. The hook here is what got me to keep the book in my hands after the snappy cover got me to pick it up at work. I love pop culture analysis, even when its of the heavily academic variety instead of, say, a more shallow but breezier essay. Gray likely didn't do much more revision than was absolutely necessary for a more general audience (such as moving footnotes to the back and offering more explanatory terms), so the writing could become repetitive and over-emphasized the importance of the subject, which, however interesting, is still only about commercials and happy meal toys after all.