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New Media

Transmedia again. Sorry

There’s always a danger in blogs becoming parasitic – simply regurgitating content written by others and commenting on it, but in some instances it’s useful to sit back and let it be so.

Case in point: Henry Jenkins’ rebuttal/debate with David Bordwell (an aside – Jenkins was born in June 1958, which makes him 11 years (almost exactly) older than I am. Which also means he was writing about Twin Peaks in 1995, when he was 37 (in “Do You Enjoy Making the Rest of Us Feel Stupid?” – link here). which makes me feel better about not having written a book yet, so thanks Henry).

Jenkins isn’t as acerbic towards Bordwell as I might have been – there’s a legacy of the student/tutor relationship there I suspect, and he’s unwilling to point out some of Bordwell’s omissions with regard to argument and grounding – but it’s a cogent and timely reply to a critique of transmedia story.

His final point is one I’d like to examine though;

More often, transmedia is about back story which shifts our identifications and investments in characters and thus helps us to rewatch the scenes again with different emotional resonance. More often, it is about picking up on a detail seeded in the original film and using it as a point of entry into a different story or a portal into exploring another aspect of the world.And yes, to do this well is creativity of an extraordinarily high order, which is why most transmedia extensions disappoint; they fail to achieve their full potential. Transmedia is appealing to artists of a certain ambition who nevertheless want to work on popular genre entertainment rather than developing avant garde movies or art films. It appeals to intellectually engaged viewers who are more at home with popular culture than with gallery installations.

Because I’m not completely convinced by that being the only reasons to make transmedia work. On the one had, it is a useful shorthand to describe what goes on within a transmedia environment – we’re taking aspects of an original (or hypo) text and exploring them in more detail – adding things that weren’t there before, and taking you in a new direction.

That’s fine. In fact, it’s more than fine – it’s great. But it’s surely only half of the story, and that’s hinted at by Jenkin’s use of a term in his summing up: Avant Garde – the advance guard – is a movement that creates new work – pushes boundaries and opens up possible futures – and that isn’t served by just expanding on existing licences (and see previous post for my issues with film being the superior reading) and being satisfied with achieving that. Avant Garde ought to be an opportunity for transmedia developers, or else the whole platform (or multitude of platforms) simply becomes, as this post might, parasitic on the existence of a higher authority. It ought to be about exploiting what happens when convergent media mature, and trying to develop the rules and conventions for making new work in a new framework. I think Jenkins is right. He’s absolutely grounded in his response, but he’s also, at least in terms of these replies to Bordwell, guilty of holding back the potential of what it is he’s championing.


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