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Transmedia Cultures

A Companion

by Simon Bacon (Volume editor)
Edited Collection X, 290 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Part I Precedents and Contexts
  • ‘Wu Song Fights the Tiger’ (Anonymous, n.y.) – Oral Storytelling, Drama and Novel
  • The Second Shepherds’ Play (The Wakefield Master, c. 1500) – Medieval Theatre as Transmedia Performance
  • A Cuckoo in the Nest (Walls, 1933) – From Theatre to Film
  • The Star Wars Universe (Lucas et al., 1976–Present) – Worldbuilding
  • The Walking Dead: Our World (Next Games, 2018) – The Screen and Beyond
  • Part II Global Franchises and Ownership
  • Snagglepuss (Hanna-Barbera, 1959–Present) – The Entertainment Supersystem and Retrobranding
  • Madam Irma Pince, Hogwart’s Librarian (Rowling, 1997– Present) – Authorial Control
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Whedon, 1997–Present) – The World Beyond the Franchise
  • Knights of the Old Republic (BioWare, 2003–2011) – Inter-authorial Conflict
  • Magic: The Gathering (Wizards of the Coast, 1993–Present) – Author and User in Evolving Worlds
  • Being The Elite (Jackson & Jackson, 2016–Present) – Transmedia Fandom
  • Part III Linking Virtual and Public Spaces
  • The Simple Art of Murder (Misak, 2020) – Transmedia Teaching
  • The Fury (Baez, 2020) – Art and Transmedial Space
  • Sense8 (Straczsynski, Wachowski and Wachowski, 2015–2018) – Audio Description as Transmedia
  • Life Is Strange (Square Enix, 2015–Present) – Playable Transmedia Experiences
  • Janelle Monáe (Artist, b. 1985) – Transmedia and the Civic Imagination
  • Part IV Ethical and Ideological Concerns
  • The Newsroom (Sorkin, 2012–2014) – Revenge Porn
  • COVID-19 (2020–Present) – Digicrimination
  • Human Rights on the Internet (United Nations, 2012) – Online Freedom of Expression
  • Morocco’s Arab Spring Protests (2011–2012) – Transmediality as ‘Doing-Publicness’
  • Black Lives Matter (Garza, Cullors and Tometi, 2013–Present) – Digital Activism
  • Part V Cultures and Identities
  • Bangtan Universe (BTS, 2017–Present) – South Korean Transmedia Universe
  • I Am Jazz (Jennings, 2013–Present) – Transmedia Autobiography and Transitioning
  • Witch ‘Zines’ – Transmedia and Communities of Practice
  • Queerskins (Szilak and Tsiboulski, 2017–Present) – A Transmedial Feminist Phenomenology
  • The World After (Blandy, 2019) – Posthumanist Transmedia
  • Bibliography
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

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Acknowledgements

First and foremost, I should thank Shawn Edrei for the initial ideas during a long messenger chat back in 2018 when I was stuck in an airport in Poznań for six hours waiting on a delayed plane. Many thanks to Laurel Plapp and the team at Peter Lang for all their help and assistance during the many processes of this collection, the always helpful suggestions of friends and colleagues along the way and particularly all those of my FB family that came to the rescue at various points in the project. And last, but never least, the never-ending patience of the always Mrs. Mine without whom nothing would ever get done or be worth doing, Seba and Majki our two little monsters, and the constant support (and sernik Magdi) of Mam i Tata Bronk.

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Simon Bacon

Introduction

This Transmedia Cultures Companion aims to show that its subject is not just limited to the Star Wars or Harry Potter franchises nor narratives that are exclusive to platforms and devices under the umbrella of new media, though both these areas are important and will be included in the discussion on franchises (Part II). Indeed, as will be shown here, transmedia embraces a multiplicity of media platforms (old and new, online and offline), content expansion (both in terms of resonance and dissonance) and evolving forms of audience engagement. What it will also show is that Transmedia Cultures, and indeed transmedia storytelling (which is at the heart of the topic), are fundamental to the human experience of being in the world and passing information on to those we share it with.

←1 | 2→

Humans are social animals, and we create familial and communal bonds through the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. As relayed by theorists such as Mary Douglas (Purity and Danger, 1966) and Julia Kristeva (Powers of Horror, 1980), this involves stories of who is included in ‘us’ and who qualifies as ‘other’, what is ‘pure’ and what is ‘abject’. These stories become more believable or engaging as they move across and are retold, adapted to, other media; word of mouth is written down, is socially performed in the arts, in social interactions, even written in law – social theorists see these stories reenact through governmental institutions (Foucault),1 the ways we are forced to navigate cities and spaces (de Certeau)2 or even experience our own desires (Bataille/Merleau-Ponty).3 Transmedia Cultures can have many layers of meaning, like concentric circles: primarily they are situated within the cultures in which we live (e.g. Western culture) but they also create further groups or subcultures within that broader culture. Transmedia Cultures and the narrative worlds they create do not just include fictional texts but are very much about real-world narratives. In fact, they become entangled in such a way that both can be seen to inform the other: the transmedia world that is the culture that we live in then informs how we are able to engage with the transmedia world created within a fictional world.

←2 | 3→

Fictional worlds are those created through the act of storytelling, one of the most fundamental instincts of humanity beyond survival – one can interpret the first cave paintings as storytelling, describing the real world in a way where one has control over it as well as binding their own community together, but specifically as a way to tell this story to others. The oral tradition then continues seeing the narrative change and adapts between storytellers and communities with embellishments and omissions, resonances and dissonances enriching the overall story world created within a tale – something of this can be seen in the various versions of Little Red Riding Hood, particularly if the audience is aware of versions earlier than the ‘safe for work’ tales written and printed by the Grimm brothers in the seventeenth century – the tale dates back to the tenth century. As such, oral becomes written, written becomes performed, performance can take place on stage, on film, in virtual space and beyond. Indeed, anything that creates a believable, imaginary space can be included under that heading, even if it directly maps onto an actual terrain in the real world. As such this companion will take, what we might call, a holistic approach greatly broadening out the areas of everyday life that are implicated and entangled within the idea of transmedia worldbuilding and the levels of engagement/immersion that they, purposely or otherwise, create. As has been inferred, this extends beyond the parameters of the leisure and entertainment industries; transmedia worlds extend into virtually every aspect of life from work and leisure to diet and exercise, shopping and vacations; all construct narrative worlds or ‘games’ that increase our engagement with them ultimately governing the ways we interact with and experience the world around us. Of equal importance within this framework are those who are not allowed to play, or only allowed to engage/participate in certain ways, highlighting ongoing concerns around discrimination due to gender, ethnicity, disability, authorship, censorship and activism, not just in terms of the technology itself and the difficulties of physical or economical access, but the overarching consumerist/neoliberal ideological intent of many of the biggest players involved at this point in the twenty-first century. This also highlights the importance of the idea of authorship within Transmedia Cultures, of who created the story, who is in control of where it is going and how it evolves and whether we, as readers, players and consumers, are able to influence or take control of that narrative or create our own within it. This volume then will not so much complicate the topic of transmedia but reveal the ever-increasing levels of entanglement between what we would consider our real lives and those we choose to live in to escape it.

Transmedia, Worldbuilding and Immersion

←3 | 4→

In a very general sense transmedia are often thought of as a recent phenomenon intimately linked to the development of certain technologies such as smart phones, intelligent devices, virtual headsets and interactive environments. And indeed, when combined with increased globalisation and the collapsing of real space into virtual simultaneity – as seen in the enforced movement to online employment, conferencing, ‘social’ gatherings and entertainment due to the global pandemic – life itself has become transmedial in the early twenty-first century. In many ways this is true in terms of increased amounts of leisure time available to many and easier accessibility to technology such as smart phones, tablets and other such devices at least in highly industrialised parts of the world. Indeed, the global ubiquity of certain brands/franchises can often be seen to purposely blur the boundaries between all areas of contemporary life, entertainment, work, health, diet, shopping and lifestyle. However, as argued here, and mentioned above, Transmedia Cultures are a much more fundamentally human endeavour beyond smart devices and the giant consumerist franchises that dominate contemporary consciousness. In fact, storytelling in its most basic forms are transmedia events creating imaginary, yet believable worlds populated with characters that fully engaged with its audience. This identifies the most important aspects, beyond the commercial, of transmedia which are audience engagement (submersion) and worldbuilding. Henry Jenkins, one of the most celebrated theorists of transmedia, proposes these three aspects ‘media convergence, participatory culture, and collective intelligence’ (2008: 2) as being central to, what he calls, ‘Convergence Culture’. These three bring technology and the audience together where the former facilitates collaborative, communal, storytelling in the latter. He later cites worldbuilding as being central in creating narratives and characters that encourage such audience participation (fandom); and indeed in today’s consumerist culture, the size of the immersed audience is directly related to the size of the financial returns available to those that design and control that narrative space. Jenkins himself cites The Matrix franchise as an important development, though more specifically in the way it instigated and utilised internet involvement to form groups and ‘users’ of the various games, teasers and forums to create an ever-expanding world – the franchise began with the film The Matrix (1999) by the Wachowskis and was followed by two live-action sequels (The Matrix Reloaded: 2003, and The Matrix Revolutions: 2003), a documentary film (The Matrix Revisited, Oreck: 2001) and an animated film (The Animatrix, various: 2003), and has grown into various iterations in games, books, online comics, merchandise, and online groups and forums. More importantly, due to the purposeful levels of entanglement between the various parts of the ‘universe’ the entirety could not be fully experienced by a single ‘user’, but engaged people on various levels creating increased levels of communal interaction and promotion. This necessarily throws up issues of authorship and authorial control and how much the narrative world allows for audience/player/user intervention in the pursuit of continued or increased ‘stickiness’ – the amount of engagement and loyalty a world produces in its ‘inhabitants’.

←4 |
 5→

Whilst the universe of The Matrix has become something of a lost world – though they are apparently filming The Matrix 4 at the time of writing – others such as Star Wars have continued to grow and expand to include ever new generations of fans. Being one of the first cinematic narrative worlds to create strong connections in the real-world through merchandising it not only increased the possible levels of immersion but also softened the boundaries between fictional and real universes4 – merchandising such as figures, costumes and other paraphernalia is particularly interesting not just because of the ‘collectibles community’ and the ways in which identification with characters and the wider universe are enhanced, but also through the ability to role-play and take control of narrative direction to create individual or communal subcultures within the umbrella of the franchise urtext.5 Indeed, following this role model any self-respecting game, children’s toy or comic series will automatically replicate itself across all the other main media, expanding itself via merchandising products, entertainment and social platforms. And given the nature of technological innovation, interconnection and the developed world’s growing dependence on smart devices, the boundaries between the various real and created worlds will inevitably become increasing permeable and blurred. However, one does not need a virtual reality headset, a gaming console or smart device to engage in narratives that create worlds which can seem amazingly real and the experience of which can be meaningfully shared with others.

←5 | 6→

Oral storytelling and the ongoing oral tradition is a good example of this, being one of the first ways to retell our experience of being in the world and to make sense of it. Such narrations are as much performances as they are retellings of known tales that can be seen to create meaningful, imaginary places, which are populated with convincing characters and with which the audience is able to affectively engage with on many levels. Early forms of theatre and re-enactment, both secular and religious, see the migration of well-known stories from the oral, to written, to be acted performances and which, for the audience, seemed to make the characters very real and spoke of a world beyond their own that they fully believed in and could interact with in almost all levels of their daily lives – arguably through such cross-media storytelling early Christianity, through biblical stories, sermons, rituals, ceremonies and mystery plays, created one of the most extensive franchises of its time. Within this there can be seen a curious tension between the text and its audience in the amount of engagement that is produced, and the levels of interaction allowed. With oral storytelling the audience is largely receptive although the speaker’s performance is often predicated on the reaction of their crowd, and there are often required responses at certain points on the narrative. Once the text is written down, it becomes a much more solitary experience and more dependent upon the imagination of the reader. This can allow for more varied responses within each reader but they will have very little effect on the urtext – the seminal text from which the narrative world grows – at least until the ‘readers’ can communicate on a scale that can then influence the original creator/author, or a new author adapts or creates from that originary text. Mystery plays are an interesting evolution of this where a written story becomes performance, but not one confined to the imaginary walls of a stage. Mystery plays proceed throughout the town projecting biblical space onto real space – in an odd way not unlike VR headsets or even the augmented reality game Pokémon Go – allowing for the unfolding narrative to be interacted with in real time, hugely affecting the performers and audiences experience of the text. In many ways then this is an externalising of the text that breaks down the borders between the real and the imaginary in a way that theatre performances, for instance, often do not. Arguably, the movement of theatre into purpose-built buildings has served to contain its levels of engagement, certainly in relation to the space around the performance. Alongside this audience involvement has similarly decreased, and whilst pre-twentieth-century theatregoers might have enjoyed a more active engagement with the performers – cheering, shouting and throwing objects – recent history tends towards more controlled levels of spectatorship. The movement to cinema made this even more so where the spectator, for that is what they are, sits in darkness looking at a screen; they are cut off from the other members of the crowd and unable to interact with the actors on the screen; in many senses it becomes a less imaginative version of reading a book, at least as a stand-alone experience. If the film is one that is part of a larger narrative universe that includes theatre and/or novels then it can be seen to add to a wider worldbuilding experience – in this sense, the creation of the ‘film star’ and related promotional materials, magazines, etc., become a way to entangle these narrative worlds out into the real world – Theda ←6 | 7→ Bara (1885–1955) being an interesting early example of this being portrayed as a ‘vamp’ in promotional materials and so inherently vampiric on screen purposely blurring the boundaries between them. Interestingly as the level of technology involved in creating and engaging with such ‘worlds’ has developed, even from the early days of radio and television, so has the economic requirements needed to gain access to them: cinema, smart televisions, smart phones, subscription streaming services for programs, etc., gaming consoles, headphones, headsets, to name but a few in an ever-expanding list.

An extreme current example would be virtual reality headsets, where the percentage of the population in the developed world, never mind beyond that, who can afford to buy/use them is relatively small. That said, global franchises such as the Star Wars Universe boasts an engaged audience of millions worldwide that are extremely invested in its ongoing development and the many levels of participation offered – from buying merchandise, visiting the studio worlds and cosplay events to writing fan fiction, etc. Star Wars is an important example, as it managed to successfully create large levels of audience engagement and loyalty before the mainstream introduction of the internet and social media platforms that have subsequently revolutionised the levels of available immersion and the scope of the worlds the owners of the franchise are able to build and sustain. Narrative universes such as Star Wars – and Star Trek, Harry Potter and evening Buffy the Vampire Slayer – have largely managed to sustain their relevance through the active engagement of their respective audiences or fans who not only encourage increased participation into the narrative world but also facilitate it’s larger presence out in the real world – that said such franchises are heavily invested in protecting their control over the core texts or ‘canon’ and how much fan engagement can be allowed to take part in the direction of the ongoing narrative. Indeed much of the success of recent narrative universes is their ability to blur the boundaries between the real and the virtual, and not just in the sense of Pokémon Go, where turning one’s smart device off collapses the layering of said worlds, but as a continual ongoing experience.

Summary

What is Transmedia?
The Transmedia Cultures companion demonstrates that transmedia, and indeed transmedia storytelling, are fundamental to the human experience of being in the world and creating the stories of who we are, both as individuals and communities. Transmedia is not just limited to the Star Wars or Harry Potter franchises nor narratives exclusive to new media platforms and devices, though both these areas will necessarily be discussed. Indeed, transmedia embraces a multiplicity of media platforms (old and new, online and offline), content expansion, and evolving forms of audience engagement.
This collection of concise, readable essays takes a holistic approach, expanding the areas of everyday life implicated in transmedia worldbuilding and the levels of immersion that they, purposely or otherwise, create. Beginning with a comprehensive introduction and historical overview, the volume explores contemporary transmedia worlds like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Walking Dead, Life is Strange and BTS Universe as well as urgent topics such as COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, and human rights on the internet. User-created worlds (Magic: A Gathering) and ones that express individual identities (Queerskins) are also of particular interest.
This volume offers a fresh approach to transmedia cultures, revealing the ever-increasing levels of entanglement they have within our real lives and with those we experience in other more imaginative or creative ones, bringing into focus exactly what is at stake in the «worlds» we choose to call our own.

Biographical notes

Simon Bacon (Volume editor)

Simon Bacon is the Series Editor for Genre Fiction and Film Companions with Peter Lang, to which he has also contributed The Gothic (2018), Horror (2019) and Monsters (2020). He is the author of numerous books on vampires in popular culture: Becoming Vampire: Difference and the Vampire in Popular Culture (2016), Dracula as Absolute Other (2019), Eco-Vampires (2020), Vampires From Another World (2021), and he is working on the next, Unhallowed Ground: Emergent Terror and the Specter of the Vampire on Screen. He is also the editor of the forthcoming volumes Transmedia Vampires and Nosferatu in the 21st Century.

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Title: Transmedia Cultures