MIT5: Seriality and Transmedia Storytelling

Yes, MIT5 was like a month ago, but seriously, it’s taken this long to emerge from the spring semester and get my head back on. Moreover, the issues dealt with there are not only still relevant (duh), but several have shifted into different gears since the conference.

Anyway, I’ve decided to stick with my Plan A, and briefly review each panel I attended. Hopefully this may jog some comments and/or links from participants. I’ll link to the full papers at the conference site if they’re available (as well as other relevant sites), but my comments are (largely) going to be about the presentations, or at least my memories of them on a couple of rainy days in Cambridge in late April 2007.

The first panel I attended on Friday dealt with transmedia storytelling, i.e., the exploration of narratives that unfold over multiple media forms. What was most interesting here were two opposing (factors): inconsistency and redundancy. That is, the transmedia world can be both confusing and familiar.

Geoffrey Long presented a two (and maybe three) dimensional model of radial transmedia mapping, that enables potential media users to better understand the differences between different media iterations of particular narratives. His example displayed how a few of the versions of the Hellboy narrative treat the same events, though no two convey exactly the same events (or in the same order). Fascinating stuff, and an example of how temporal and spatial metaphors do help us navigate these texts and intertexts (and meta-texts, for that matter). I could easily imagine such a model getting taken up as a kind of graphical Wiki by fans, and also as a pretty profound textual/historical tool for critics for everything from The Odyssey to Teen Titans.

After that, Martyn Pedler offered an excellent take on trauma in superhero comics (link to full paper PDF), observing that no matter what else may happen in their ostensibly (and increasingly) serialized adventures, superheroes can’t essentially change. Instead, their physical and psychological traumas represent closed narrative possibilities, rather than any narrative momentum. Batman, as he shrewdly pointed out, is never going to get over his parents’ death, because then he wouldn’t be Batman (so much for his cave revelation in a recent installment of 52, then). This is a paper I’m definitely going to reread and use, for its application to not only comics, but other key transmedia characters (e.g., James Bond, Sherlock Holmes).

Finally, Derek Johnson amazingly defied transportation trouble and made it to his own panel in the nick of time, and critiqued how transmedia theory has developed to date. He offered up the term “franchise” as an alternative mode of understanding transmediation, and suggested that we look more at the historical development of such franchises (he cited Michael Kackman’s work on Hopalong Cassidy in this regard), rather than lump them into a technological determinist argument about digital convergence.

Derek’s talk helped shape the discussion, as people weren’t so sure about substituting “franchise” for “transmedia,” though all more or less agreed that the latter was perhaps too broad a concept to be useful, and requires some qualification (a theme that popped up a few times this weekend). Henry Jenkins attended the panel and very much agreed with that point. In the discussion, I also realized (yet again) that I’m about ten years too old to get Transformers references. Oh well.

Next up in the MIT5 retrospective: What Gets Shared on YouTube?

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One Response to “MIT5: Seriality and Transmedia Storytelling”

  1. Geoffrey Long Says:

    Hey, Derek! Thanks for the kind words, and the reminder that I still have to send in the final copy of my paper for archiving! You’re not the only one who’s gotten swamped in the end-of-the-semester mire…


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