When the trailer for Surrender The Secret, a reality show about women who are doing bible studies based on the book of the same name, which presents abortion as a traumatic and sinful experience, came out, most of the mainstream attention given to it pointed out the kinds of misinformation and shaming the show seems likely to promote:
I don’t disagree with any of those sentiments. But this trailer, though it doesn’t follow the conventions of reality television so much as it advertises what sounds like a lecture, actually made me think something different: though Surrender The Secret will be inexplicable to mainstream audiences, I’d guess that it’ll be a relative success.
It actually makes an enormous amount of sense to me that conservative artists would be the ones to figure out how to make new models of distribution work for them. I may not think much of the artistic quality of either the anti-abortion film October Baby or the conspiracy-minded 2016: Obama’s America. But the former made $5,355,847 on a budget of $1 million, and the latter made $33,349,941 in theaters and $5,990,541 in DVD sales. These weren’t movies that came out through major studios, though Lionsgate and Fox handled video distribution for both films. But they found their audiences, through strong word of mouth, through church trips, and through established email lists. Existing affinity groups decided that these projects were something they should support. Neither movie made what would be considered serious box office. But they definitely reached the thresholds of success they’d defined for themselves.
Other projects need to build their own bases of support. The Whedonverse may turn out, in greater and lesser numbers, for projects involving anyone who’s ever worked on a Joss Whedon show or movie, but they’re an exception rather than a rule. Artists like Issa Rae, who have started out with web series and are now moving into network television, have to build their audiences through much, much slower word of mouth that can eventually snowball into media hits, and to an audience that grows somewhat faster. It’s hard to imagine, say, the Human Rights Campaign emailing their entire list and telling anyone who’s ever donated or had contact with the organization to go see the gay adoption period drama Any Day Now.