At Bleeding Cool, Cap Blackard writes about the contested homeworld of Howard the Duck. “If you’ve seen the much maligned Howard the Duck film or read any Howard the Duck stories published since 1979, you’re probably familiar with the concept of Duckworld. You know, an alternate Earth where everyone is ducks and everything is duck-themed: Ducktor Strange, Bloomingducks, etc, etc. Sounds like a recipe for a finite barrel of bad jokes, right? It is, and it’s also not Howard’s real point of origin. During his landmark initial run, Howard’s creator Steve Gerber had the down-and-out duck hailing from a world of talking animals, but all that changed when Gerber was kicked off the book and Disney flashed a lawsuit. Now, after decades of backstory fumbling, Mark Waid has reinstated Howard’s point of origin in a one-shot issue of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (Thanks, Mark!)
Posted May 5, 2011
Recently on her site GiantMice.com, “experience designer” Brooke Thompson posted an article entitled, “Transmedia Is Killing Hollywood Will Kill Transmedia.” In it, Thompson decries the fact that the new storytelling form known as “transmedia” (previously called “cross-platform storytelling,” and before that called some-other-damn-thing) is being bastardized by Hollywood.
Where transmedia was once about experiential storytelling (by “once,” we mean approximately three years ago), it is now little more than a catch-all phrase for the various non-movie extensions of a franchise. Please do keep in mind that Thompson and several of her cohorts are the folks who actually gave Hollywood that label to run with. More on that shortly. To Thompson—and several others currently working deeply in the bowels (you know who you are) of this Alternate Reality Entertainment—transmedia’s values have been squandered and marginalized by studio-types looking to cash in by building their same-old crap with shiny new transmedia packaging. In her view, these studio types are “killing transmedia” by running away with the label, calling any story told with a movie and comicbook and / or videogame, a “transmedia property.”
Thompson knows a thing or two about transmedia, having been the architect of the amazing “Why So Serious?” marketing campaign for The Dark Knight. Wait, did we call that a marketing campaign? Apologies. We meant, “transmedia experience.” She is a real talent, and one of the few people who could, and does, call themselves an expert in this yet-to-evolve field without being a self-aggrandizing prick. But her experience with the experiential has not only yielded expertise, it has also engendered the same kind of myopia of which she accuses “Hollywood.” Again, she is not alone with this.
“The one thing businessmen love as much as money is a buzzword,” Thompson writes. “Especially a buzzword that they can use to describe exactly what they have always done but make it sound fresh and oh so hip. They don’t have to grow or adapt, all they have to do is change a word. Enter Transmedia.”
She’s right. Any big organization or system—or non-system, as we have frequently declared “Hollywood” to be—is resistant to change. As crappy as America’s economy is, and as crappy as many people will tell you movies have been lately, the film industry is still inarguably successful and sees no reason to change. Beyond that, the industry may very well be incapable of self-initiating the kind of change required to treat transmedia the way Thompson sees fit, i.e. transforming from a film into a transmedia industry. We are sure that she is smart enough to know this, and as such, that she has the plan to change an entire profitable industry into something more closely resembling the business she would like it to be. Particularly, one where the industry continues to hire her, spending large amounts of money to do so—as it should. In the meantime, Hollywood has merely jumped on the cool kids’ bandwagon, using certain elements of transmedia to market the same stuff. We have no argument with Thompson there, by the way. She’s right again. Hollywood is doing what it has always done.
But so what? How exactly does Hollywood co-opting certain elements of transmedia—even the word itself–kill transmedia? These properties will still exist and be consumed by those who enjoy the form and transmedia and “fake transmedia,” will coexist. And both, for the foreseeable future, will be used mostly to market films to people who otherwise don’t know an ARG from a QR tag. So, how exactly is anyone or anything being “killed?”
Thompson and others like her, who have eaten and breathed transmedia since before it had a name, are so close to the form that they cannot see anything else, and are just as resistant to its evolution as Hollywood is to its own. The difference being, perhaps, that Thompson and friends seem to see it as only for those who toiled away in semi-obscurity making little-to-no money on projects using these types of storytelling methods just for the sheer love of it. There is something to be said for what Steve Peters et al, did with The Matrix—something purely for the sheer love of it. But when those same persons were paid significant amounts of money, to use those same methods for Warner Brothers’ The Dark Knight, Trent Reznor’s Year Zero or Microsoft’s Halo 2, they were no longer doing it just for love. Maybe that is where the problem lies.
We get the reality of what Thompson is trying to say, but it sounds more and more like the kids who liked the really cool indie band before anyone else did—and then once the band goes mainstream, it’s just not the same anymore. They need something else that is on the fringe that no one else really likes. Yet. Early adopters / Geeks typically don’t like it when the masses discover the things that used to be esoteric. (See John Crye’s rant on this very site called “What’s the Matter with Runescape?” in which he denounces the Norms playing videogame versions of RPGs that used to get the Geeks beaten up back when “WoW” was spelled “D&D”). The only thing that makes any Geek better than the Norms—and other Geeks—is the esoteric shit they know about. Esoterica is the source of a Geek’s power and cred.
In no uncertain terms, they’ve done it themselves—THEY being the fine, creative folks who coined the term for doing what storytellers have done for centuries—tell stories using whatever means they have had available to them at the time. THEY had an opportunity to make some money doing what they love. THEY subsequently attracted more attention not only to the stories they were trying to tell, but also to the products they were helping to sell. The problem now is, the big corporations introduced to this way of storytelling / marketing are doing what they always do—co-opting it to suit their own needs. Finding a cheaper way of doing it. In doing this, these originators are not the only ones being hired to do this any longer. So, in effect, even with the love, these projects became something more akin to businesses they were trying to create, which became something that they could no longer control and / or be the only game—or Experience Creators, if you are thrown by the pun— in town.
JOHN CRYE & TODD SHARP ARE GEEKS AND WHORES WHO WILL TELL THEIR STORIES ON ANY AND ALL MEDIA THEY CAN EXPLOIT, PARTICULARLY THOSE THAT PAY WELL.
Next 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 Transmedia” is responded to and the Truth is revealed!