Monday, April 10, 2017

Core Post 5: TV + Industry: Fan Culture in Transmedia

This week’s readings look at how the TV industry is changing or change. Specifically, these readings are way less dated than our classes’ previous readings mainly because they consider TV’s connection and resilience to the emerging new digital media.
            Henry Jenkin’s “The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence”, to me, is the most interesting piece as he poses relevant question about the fate of TV convergence and new digital media on culture, Cultural Studies, and fandom.
            Near the end of this essay, Jenkins lists nine important sites of negotiations between producers and consumers in lieu of this change. Number 5, “Rethinking Media Aesthetics” is the most fascinating in terms of media specificity and new digital media. He writes, “In the old system, a work that was successful in one medium might be adapted into other media or used to brand a series of related but more or less redundant commodities. More recent media franchises, such as The Blair Witch Project, Pokemon or The Matrix, have experimented with a more integrated structure whereby each media manifestation makes a distinct but interrelated contribution to the unfolding of a narrative universe. While each individual work must be sufficiently self-contained to satisfy the interests of a first time consumer, the interplay between many such works can create an unprecedented degree of complexity and generate a depth of engagement that will satisfy the most committed viewer. Will transmedia storytelling enrich popular culture or make it more formulaic?”
            In other words, narratives are crossing media, and it’s up to the fans to keep the story going, even after the series is done airing. This is best seen in animation geek culture. For example, Nickelodeon’s hit, Avatar: The Last Airbender ended in 2008, and its sequel, The Legend of Korra, ended in 2014. Though both stories ended quite a few years ago, the stories literally continue into the comic books.

            Avatar: The Last Airbender is interesting because the series starts with a giant war and ends with peace. Though the story literally ends with world peace (how do you have a story after world peace?), the comics disrupt the peaceful ending and keeps the story going; while the original story had filler episodes, the comics allow even more filler episodes and/or clout due to the fact that it's now existing longer, thus posing an interesting study on Jenkin's question. What’s more, most of the time, the comic books are considered canon—meaning they are considered as legit story-lines just as the TV series themselves. This show, and a myriad of others, is essentially the trans-media Jenkins mentions in the last sentence of this paragraph. This trans-media keeps rabid, crazy fans like myself invested in the story for another 9 years. Thus, both as a scholar, and as a media creator, and as a nerdy obsessive fan, Jenkin’s insistence on Cultural Studies need to deeply analyze the creative industries’ growing power or else feel obsolete is spot on.


  1. I like your question a lot regarding whether transmedia story-telling can enrich culture or make it more formulaic. My instincts say that it can enrich culture because it creates more opportunity for niche creative choices through the emergence of new platforms. For instance, I am a loyal fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but when I say that I mean specifically the TV show, and not the comics. Both are considered "canon" but it is easy to reject one platform over the other or to embrace both as an active participator. I would also say that the tv show is more formulaic because it has to adhere to traditional media channels (network television) while the comics have the freedom to make bolder, less commercially appealing choices as a platform that not all fans have (or want to have) access to. I think trans-media platforms validate more kinds of story-telling and broaden the universe of a particular world/characters. I guess the question is then whether more culture equals richer culture and what does that do to fans understanding of what makes something canon?

    1. Hey Caitlin, I'm interested in your counter example of Buffy, because I think it illustrates a change in the kind of fans/fandom and media consumption over time. Definitely fans can still decide whether they want to follow all media streams within any given property or primarily just the television incarnation of a show. But I also think that Buffy's origination in 1997 places it in a mediascape that is dramatically different from Avatar TLA in 2005 or Avatar LOK in 2012. I might argue that by 2005, fans (at least a certain group of fans) were more used to following multiple media/content streams for the same show and content creators were making these other content streams more important to the shows as well. These two examples actually explain just how fast television content and form changed between the late 90s and now.