David, Noah Bailey, the proud editor in chief of his high school’s gazette, is extremely disappointed to learn that the school’s principal, Timothy J. Cox (To Be Alone, Here Lies Joe (Short)), wants to turn the printed journal into an online blog because printing has become too expensive for a gazette that isn’t that popular.
To prove the school wrong, David tries to make the journal more popular by writing up on anonymous pranks he pulls off himself.
While clickbait and false articles are mostly associated with the fast and frantic internet reporting – where quick popularity is necessary to stay relevant – here, Zachary Lapierre (Vinyl (Short), the director of Dirty Books, chooses to transfer these unethical methods to printed newspapers, slowly dying out and therefore needing to co-opt the internet’s solution to stay alive.
While David doesn’t exactly write fake reports because he actually pulls off the events himself before reporting them, it is still highly unethical; and as the short film goes on, the protagonist actually reveals himself to be very unlikable, not only because of his unethical choice but also his constant dismissal of the other reporters of the gazette.
To David’s dismay, the great majority of them are unfazed by the transition or glad it is happening, but even when Charlotte, Ansley Berg, in charge of the sports section, tells him she has a lead on something big, she is ignored by David who doesn’t think covering sports is a serious job.
He wants to save the gazette not only because he likes it, but also because he wants to be remembered as the one who did so.
This unlikable behavior makes us wants to see him caught and face the consequences of his actions, but there is a part of us that is just having fun alongside him and waiting for his next prank, like all of his classmates are.
When the movie makes us follow the unlikable prankster instead of the honest journalist, we can’t help but understand it: we’d rather be entertained by someone making up events to report on than see a probably boring real and truthful investigation.
In the end, the short film is almost asking us if David’s behavior really was that bad: after all, he did make his high school livelier and more invested in the gazette than ever before, even if it meant tweaking the truth to achieve it.
Dirty Books is a very fun short film, with a very dynamic directing and editing complemented by catchy songs and great cinematography. All of this creates a film that is never boring and feels like a bright, feel-good teen comedy – only shorter than usual.