Simon Kelner: Nothing much can remain a secret in this viral age

Kelner's View


If you haven't seen The Artist yet, does the fact that it has won five Oscars make you more, or less, likely to go and see it? Seduced by its success, or put off by the hype?

I ask this question from the standpoint of someone who was rather underwhelmed by the film, but it's just that, for anyone who hasn't thus far been drawn to this quaint homage to the era of silent movies, how can the reality match the expectation? And given that much of the film's appeal rests on its point of difference, can it have any of its power to surprise left? We've seen the clips, we've read the reviews, and we know all about Uggie and how his flawless performance has turned Jack Russells into the most popular breed of dog.

What's more, we've also seen a handful of the acceptance speeches. I can't imagine anyone seeing the film for the first time, and not knowing exactly what they're in for. "Blimey, nobody told me there was no dialogue," is what they wouldn't say. "I don't know what all the fuss is about," is a much more likely response.

The truth is that nothing much stays a secret these days. We yearn to discover something that allows us to indulge in cultural one-upmanship. Have you seen the new BBC4 series set in an Estonian police station? Have you read that book translated from Sanskrit about a man and his son living in the woods? Have you heard that 40-piece rap group from Azerbaijan?

Yet no sooner have we unearthed these gems – or at least felt that we have – than everyone in the pub is talking about the coppers from Tallinn, and everyone on the beach is reading that very book, and the once-obscure band are appearing on the Jonathan Ross show. You can't even spot a seemingly innocuous bit of film of a man shouting after his dog in Richmond Park without finding that, at that precise moment, it's being watched by millions of other people all around the world.

It's what is called going viral, and the power of the internet is such that it takes very little to turn something you imagine that you've incubated in your own home into a worldwide contagion. The modern equivalent of word of mouth can become a phenomenon before you know it, and for reasons you barely understand.

The one certain thing is that the old-style tools of marketing are nowhere near as effective as they once were. Personal recommendation – in the shape of the number of YouTube hits – is the hidden persuader of the 21st Century.

Which brings me back to The Artist, and those who have so far missed out. I'm afraid it may be too late to have an original opinion: they've all been well rehearsed. You know the plot – such as it is – and even the twist at the end has been all but given away. So what to do? My advice would be to wait until it comes to a telly or a plane journey near you. By then, the fuss will have died down, there will be another movie à la mode, and you can watch it without feeling tyrannised by prevailing opinion.


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