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Saturday, 26 March 2011

Hello, my name is Transmedia - Part One

Re: Transmedia & Little Girls (infinite cruelty of)

Hello, my name is Rebecca. 
Rebecca was the most popular girls' name of 1983.
This meant that as I grew, there were at least two other Rebeccas in any given class at school.
Without exception, they sucked.
Still, there is strength in taxonomy and we waged bitter war against the equally multifarious Rachels, a war that continues to this day.

Being named and self-definition are two psychologically distinct things.
Academics were the ones who named 'Transmedia.'
We should say sorry.
It was a bad call.

In the same way that when all the Rebeccas in my class hit 11years old and became variously Becky, Becki, Bexx, Reb and Becca, Transmedia has hit its adolescence and decided it doesn't want to be 'Transmedia 'any more. However, the trouble with being a complex storytelling methodology means it hasn't got the option of dotting the i in its name with a little heart to excise the problem. 

Not that Transmedia has to worry about an excess of femininity anyway. But that's another post altogether.

Re: Transmedia & Your Mom
Countless blogs have sprung up over the past few weeks alternately rejecting and defending (or at least accepting) 'Transmedia'. This was in part due to Transmedia being the buzzword at South By Southwest this year. By all tweeted accounts, people were defining Transmedia wildly and even eating your lunch became a kind of transmedia. Well, it is the way I do it.

The problem is simple, the term itself: "Transmedia" has no poetry. It has no implications of human experience. It is cold. Consider the etymology of the two media platforms that defined most of the 20th century:


From wikipedia:
The prefix radio- in the sense of wireless transmission, was first recorded in the word radioconductor, a description provided by the French physicist Édouard Branly in 1897. It is based on the verb to radiate (in Latin "radius" means "spoke of a wheel, beam of light, ray"). The noun "broadcasting" itself came from an agricultural term, meaning "scattering seeds widely".

"Beam of light, spoke of a wheel..scattering seeds widely' This is imagery that speaks to the very heart of early human endeavour. We don't have to know this when we speak radio's name but the reverberations of its etymology affect us. "Radio" feels 'right' on a gut level and this gut feeling is partially because time has enshrined it and partially because the very grain of the word is derived from a collective human experience of agriculture, transposed to the industrial. 


The etymology of the word is derived from mixed Latin and Greek origin, meaning "far sight": Greek tele (τῆλε), far, and Latin visio, sight (fromvideo, vis- to see, or to view in the first person.

The lost potential of Far Sight
And now we have TV. 'Far sight' with its implication 'Seeing in the first person' which speaks to the lovely paradox of television where when we are watching we are one but we are also one of many. In the golden age of television in particular, TV allowed for a private 1st person experience while at the same time providing an invisible community bound by the laws of space, time, camera angles and the iron-clad law that Cheers aired on Thursdays at 8pm EST, 7pm CEN. There is but one bar in the world of Cheers, and we were given the same visual experience that sits in the collective imagination, as immovable and resplendent as Ted Danson's toupee. This experience is deeply fractured now technology allows viewers to view their shows out of schedule and on demand, but in its beginnings at least, television offered something vast and bound by time.

Transmedia literally means 'across media.' Just that. No intervention of the eye or the hand, the individual or the collective. There's nothing in the word that hints of the particular exhilaration of the 'jump' between media. 
Isn't that moment of transition and its little shifts in perception the best, most thrilling part? Where is the word for that?

The Professionals
Despite all my breathless prosthetysing, Transmedia as a term is fairly enshrined within the practice. The Transmedia Producer credit as ratified by The Producers Guild Of America just under a year ago and the recent formation of the Transmedia Artist Guild speak to an attempt to legitimise not so much the term but the practice it implies. However, vast swathes of the Transmedia community are still unsure as to what Transmedia does imply. The issue becomes that although there's a figurehead term, there's little sense of a language. This is where academia can help.

 Henry Jenkins has done a lot of good in this area of research, but when he chose transmedia's name, he denied it the important human trace that makes a term feel 'right' in the gut of culture. Christy Dena has done some incredible work in her phd 'Transmedia Practices' on teasing out the particularities of what 'across' actually means. It is no coincidence that Dena is also a Transmedia writer and producer and that her company is called Universe Creation 101. The kost effective analysis will always be by the academic who able to both immerse themselves in a practice and step outside it to break it down. The creation of an storyworld is so fundamental to Transmedia, the language people who make the work are instinctively using is all about locating their stories within  time and crucially space - both geographic and imagined.

I am so close to hauling out Foucault right now
But  that's my job, or at least part of it. It's incumbent for academics, to bring out the theory, to evaluate the conversation. There is much virtue in the 'gettin' out and just making stuff' school of creativity but there is equal virtue in stepping out and working with the grain of language. The better Transmedia understands itself,the stronger the critical and evaluation discourse and yes, the better the work that evolves.

The important thing is not to step back too much. To keep it human. 
I am all for cutting the trans fat out of the conversation.


B. J. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bernardo bueno said...

'across media' has its charm - an idea of between media, a media of media.

Or something like that.

alice emma said...

I just got round to reading this. Is 'transmedia' like 'wireless' - a little too descriptive to be exciting? Like, once the novelty of the wirelessness ran out we started to use 'radio'with the daydreamy visual implications that you talk about above?
I am so out of my depth already with the etymology of technology but lets keep going anyway.
'Internet' vs 'World Wide Web' (there is prob a difference but i dont know what it is. interestingly, internet is a bit like transmedia in its use of a bridging prefix).
But the most shockign thing was what you said about Danson's toupee. Really? Why can I never fucking tell when men are wearing a syrup? Seriously, I cant even tell with Forsythe. I've got Wig-blindness. I thought that was what your blog was going to help me with. Nevermind.

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