Karina’s Capsule: The Gum Thief

Random House has shown surprising savvy in using online video to promote their recent book releases. First, they sponsored a seven-minute short video collaboration between filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron and Naomi Klein to promote the latter’s latest Random House release, The Shock Doctrine. The clip was played at both the Toronto and Venice film festivals last month and was then posted on YouTube, where it’s been viewed over 300,000 times. The publisher has now taken the experiment a step further, with an online video campaign to promote Douglas Coupland’s new novel, The Gum Thief.

The three sets of videos, one representing each of the novel’s two main characters and another bringing a text within the text to life, were produced by Canadian post house Crush Inc. Each clip is narrated by Coupland, who reads passages straight from his novel, and each set has a unique look and method of production. The Bethany character is a goth girl working at a Staples, and the stop-motion animation videos that introduce her drop her frustrated musings into a monochrome swirl of staples and Post-it notes. Her co-worker Roger is a middle-aged loser whose age and lack of accomplishment essentially render him invisible; his inner monologue is transposed seamlessly onto the office supply store’s signage.

Both character sets are technically impressive, but I think they pale in comparison to the Glove Pond clips, which use mid-century advertising images to illustrate an evening in the life of a middle-aged couple on the brink. My favorite of all the Gum Thief shorts is the clip embedded above, in which Glove Pond’s bitter marrieds momentarily salve their relationship by conspiring to serve moldy cheese to unwelcome houseguests.

Earlier this year, Random House commissioned a short corresponding to Coupland’s novel, JPod; I saw it before a feature at SXSW and thought it was appallingly bad. But watching these Gum shorts, it struck me that, rightly or wrongly, I might have been less harsh on JPod if I had seen it online. Online videos have to meet a much lower threshold of entertainment value than anything projected a theater. They have to do far less to impress, yet because of the ease with which they can be replayed and disseminated, even a less-than-perfect clip can become totally infectious.

The Gum shorts are not stand-alone masterpieces, but they really don’t need to be. Novel but generally unchallenging, almost soothing in their familiar, passive critique of culture, they’re essentially a perfect mirror of Coupland’s writing. Above all, they literalize Coupland’s patented deadpan in a way that actually seems to refresh it. A new Doug Coupland book hasn’t seemed inherently relevant in a long time, and this is just the kind of thing he needs to re-enter the hipster conversation. The Glove Pond clips alone have me contemplating buying my first Coupland book since Girlfriend in a Coma, so I’d say the marketing mission has been accomplished.