COLUMN: Stop Being Such A Tease
Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 24, 2013 12:10
While scouring entertainment websites for possible stories this week, my eyes happened on a strange little headline on MTV News: “One Direction Release Teaser Of Next Single! Listen Now!” I am not a frequent reader of One Direction articles, of course, but the word “teaser” stuck out to me. What, exactly, was the news value of a tiny song fragment, mere days before it will be released in its entirety? Clicking on to the article itself only made me more bemused. “Fans are calling the 16-second snippet of ‘Story of My Life’ ‘perfect’ and ‘beautiful,’” read the sub-headline, while the article was accompanied by the feverish, all-caps tweets of One Direction fangirls.
A reminder: we are talking about a 16-second snippet of a One Direction song here. I guess it’s a slow news week.
Looking further down the site for more substantial stories, I found one that was possibly even less so. This one promised a video from the first day of filming for Batman vs. Superman. Hoping to catch a glimpse of Ben Affleck in a Batsuit, I was instead greeted with a shaky cell phone video of a football game. Apparently—spoiler alert!—at some point in the 2015 blockbuster, Gotham City University will face off against Metropolis University in a football game. And apparently this is big enough news for major entertainment outlets to link some random extra’s cell phone footage.
Pondering these two utterly inconsequential stories side by side, it occurred to me that they are both symptoms of a larger trend. Call it the teaser effect. One Direction and that guy on the sidelines of the Batman movie are only pawns in its game, and we’re all subject to its whims.
The basic problem with the teaser effect is this: things aren’t allowed to simply be released anymore. Instead, they’re teased to death in a long and slow process—weeks, months, even years in advance. We live in a world where blockbusters build buzz for the release of their own trailers by offering a preview of the trailer a few days before the full thing premieres. It’s a world where the powers behind Gravity—a movie that’s 91 minutes long, with a plot that is effectively summarized in its poster—feel compelled to release a six-minute extended trailer. It’s a world where Justin Bieber sees the need to release a new song every single week, for 10 weeks, leading up to his second 3D concert film. (Yes, there are now two Justin Bieber concert films, but that’s an entirely different travesty.)
It sometimes seems to me that we’ve reached a point where our pop culture values the actual product less than its advertising. I like watching movie trailers as much as anyone, but excessive teasing often robs works of their full impact. More than once, I’ve walked out of a movie feeling that I had already seen the whole thing in the trailers. What’s more, some movies are adopting a teaser mentality in their own construction. With The Avengers franchise, Marvel has perfected the art of making each film reinforce and drum up buzz for the next one. In many ways, the coming Thor and Captain America sequels are just movie-length trailers for 2015’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron. And since such movies are so heavily spoiled pre-release, with set photos and videos leaking everywhere, it’s easy to get the sensation that there are no surprises left when they finally hit the big screen.
But there is another way! Two of the most effective marketing campaigns this summer were defined by what they withheld rather than revealed. One was Kanye West’s album Yeezus. West didn’t even make the album available for pre-order, building up an aura of mystery with its non-existent cover art and lack of radio singles. When it leaked a few days in advance of its release, the sheer enigma of the thing made it a huge event.
The second campaign was for the final season of Breaking Bad. After a yearlong hiatus, AMC released virtually no new footage prior to the final eight episodes. The most they gave fans was an ominous promo showing the show’s familiar Albuquerque locations mysteriously empty and accompanied by a sinister voiceover, as Bryan Cranston read the Percy Shelley poem “Ozymandias.” The final, portentous shot of Heisenberg’s pork pie hat lying on the desert ground as “the lone and level sands stretch far away” was the perfect way to build up excitement without spoiling anything.
Such promotional strategies may not satisfy fans’ immediate cravings for spoilers, but maybe that’s a good thing. In a world where 16-second snippets of boy band songs are deemed newsworthy, maybe we need to take a step back from the culture of teasers, and let the work speak for itself.