The Cultural Gutter

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The Unnameable Future, Part II

Gutter Guest
Posted June 1, 2011

This month, Gutter Guest Stars John Crye and Todd Sharp continue their discussion of transmedia entertainment and The Unnameable Future.  Part I is here.

Brooke Thompson, “experience designer” and blogger at, recently posted a follow-up to her article, “Transmedia Will Kill Hollywood Is Killing Transmedia,” which we referenced in last month’s guest spot here at the Gutter. Her article was a diatribe about how “Hollywood” has co-opted the term “transmedia,” as well as many of that form’s aspects, without giving transmedia or its pioneers proper respect. The follow-up article, entitled, “Rebooting Transmedia,” prompted a slew of confused and angry responses from other people who seem to care a whole, whole lot.

In it, she explained her ire:

I am angry and frustrated. I’m worried by how so many working in transmedia feel marginalized. I’m bothered by the fact that people who have done amazing work, seminal work, are abandoning the term. Now, I don’t care what people call their work or how they promote themselves, that’s a personal decision, but I do care that good work and innovative work may be overlooked or overshadowed because of it. I’m saddened by the fact that much of this is because of the way you defined transmedia for the [Producer’s Guild of America] credit. I’ve talked about this before, but there is something wrong when a professional organization systematically denies a significant portion of the people working in the field.

This makes sense, if it is truly the cause of the upset: she doesn’t like the fact that the Producer’s Guild awards the title “Transmedia Producer” to people whose work is arguably not transmedia while ignoring others – particularly those that she sees having originated the term and the methods. This is not an industry issue or even, necessarily, a reality issue, it is an issue with the PGA. We encourage her to take it up with them. Maybe she can get herself appointed the final arbiter of who gets credit for transmedia. That seems to be her concern, not the vitality of the field she so loves.

We do think there is a grain of truth in the bitching, but not the bit about anything “killing” anything else. The grain of truth is that the industry at large knows just enough about this trend to want to rush in and make money from it. And, true enough, very frequently the results are bad. By “bad” we mean poorly thought out or poorly constructed and not making good use of the technology or meme. Thompson, however, appears to mean “bad” in the Geek sense, meaning not up-to-the-minute in terms of complexity or ground-breaking in application. This kind of thing may be off-putting to an early adopter, but the bleeding-edge of any technology or artform is frankly not what most people need or would enjoy anyway. The fact that most transmedia being touted by “Hollywood” is really just slightly better brand management doesn’t kill anything, it just pisses off people like Thompson, who want their special word to mean the same thing to everyone else that it does to them. That is never going to happen because the world at large could give a shit. They just want someone to tell them a story. And unfortunately, they don’t really care if it hits all of the definitive points to be called Transmedia or Alternate Reality Experience or any other term a hardcore fan or creator throws out to the world.

At the end of the journey, all that you hold precious has to be let go. We are reminded of that every time we create something for others to enjoy. We are storytellers. That’s what we do. What we have learned along the way is that we love to tell stories that are not necessarily linear and that may require active participation from those that choose to imbibe these stories, and that may incorporate puzzles or different formats to give a full picture. But because of that, we are not the norm. We do it because we love it; for others to experience and enjoy and interpret. And yes, because our stories require audience participation and interpretation, that also means that the audience has the opportunity to define what it is that we do. They have the opportunity and the right to give it a name. So goes the evolution of storytelling.

The real truth is that EVERYTHING is being “killed” and regenerated simultaneously all the time. The guys that are decrying transmedia are the Geeks who are angry that the cool kids co-opted their shit, or they are traditionalists that hate change. Either way, they are both wrong to hate because neither knows what they’re hating. The traditionalists are still weeping over the fact that kids consume story on tiny screens. Hell, some of them are still pissed about digital vs. analog. And the “cool Transmedia” that the Geeks defend will no more resemble the future of the form than Zork resembles Halo, or CB radios resemble smart phones – or whatever else may be invented in the future. The fact is, whether one calls it “transmedia” or “content created using transmedia methods,” all entertainment in the future will involve certain elements of this storytelling form. In fact, it will become so ubiquitous that such terms will become pointless anyway.

It’s easy to point out the end of things, history will always make it easy for us to do that, but this is actually just the beginning. It is the future, and here in the present, it cannot be named.




3 Responses to “The Unnameable Future, Part II”

    June 3rd, 2011 @ 11:32 pm


  2. carol
    June 6th, 2011 @ 6:03 am

    thanks for the articles, guys. i’ve been thinking about something since your first piece that i can unfortunately only awkwardly put into words.

    the thing that strikes me about thompson’s position is that it is kind of tragic, not just because her art will be commodified and suits will use her word to describe what cross-promotion and more tie-ins. it’s that her complaint is essentially one of artistic control.

    she has a medium she wants to work in and control the final result. i sympathize. but as someone who has done art on much, much smaller scale with much less access to resources or audience, i recognize there is a trade-off in art. being obscure and unable to support themselves with their work is what artists like poets or non-figurative painters, individual artists who have a lot of control over their work, pay for their artistic freedom. not even including funding and such, film making is a collaborative art. working with other people is the price film makers pay to work in their medium. and, ideally, it shouldn’t really be a “price,” but something that leads people to do and make things they’d never think of on their own. but it does mean that one person doesn’t really get to control the work in its entirety from start to finish and in its final presentation.

    similarly, thompson’s chosen art form is not one that lends itself to the control of a single artist. in fact, because it involves multiple media–not just tv/film/online but also music, visual art, writing, web design, even baking in the “Why So Serious?” project–the problem of control and vision becomes even more complex. to create her work, she needs/wants access to resources and a big audience that require the participation of others–including other creators. i understand her desire to control her art and maintain her vision, but she’s chosen the wrong medium for that. i fear the sad truth of art is, you can’t have complete control of your work, any resources you would like to make it, a mass audience and make a living off it.

  3. The Unnameable Future : The Cultural Gutter
    May 14th, 2013 @ 8:14 pm

    […] month, John Crye & Todd Sharp return with “The Unnameable Future, Part II”, in which Thompson’s follow-up to “Transmedia is Killing Hollywood will Kill […]

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