After a few months of deliberation, today I scraped the word “transmedia” from my company’s website. I didn’t do it to make some point or start a protest, and this post isn’t a manifesto, a call to action, a damnation, or an act of praise (it’s not likely to receive wide readership, anyway, much less change anyone’s opinion).
This post is a reminder to myself about why I started Brain Candy, LLC.
Transmedia has never been the focal point of my personal or professional interest. Brain Candy, LLC never was, nor was ever supposed to be, a transmedia company. Instead, its purpose is exploring new legal frameworks and narrative structures in commercial entertainment to allow fans to participate meaningfully, canonically, and monetarily in the creation of entertainment properties.
Still, transmedia storytelling is a natural fit for collaborative commercial entertainment, and I eagerly tried to get my arms around it last summer after reading Dr. Henry Jenkins’ “Convergence Culture.” I admit to being a very late-comer to this particular party, but I was enthusiastic about learning what all the fuss was about.
I’ve had the good fortune of auditing Dr. Jenkins’ “Transmedia Storytelling” course at USC, attending the Futures of Entertainment 4 conference at MIT last November, and most recently, attending the “Transmedia, Hollywood: S/Telling” conference at USC on Mach 16th (disclosure: my company co-sponsored this conference).
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting (even if only briefly) many of the recognized thought-leaders in the transmedia space.
I’ve listened in on the advertisers, academics, and artists as they interact with the concept of transmedia and, by turns, make their own observations, experiment with it, reject it, draw their own distinctions, and offer their own contributions to the conversation.
It’s been an eye-opening journey, in a good way.
The growing concern I’ve had regarding transmedia started a few months ago, when I became troubled by how inconsistently the term was being used.
I’ve seen Jenkin’s definition offered up in a presentation or article, then watched in dumbfounded disbelief as the presenter/author proceeded to apply the term to things that either do not fit in or go far beyond Jenkins’ definition.
I’ve listened as the term has been stretched to the point of non-existence or stuffed with personal agendas and meanings, with an apparent disregard for past uses of the term.
And a few execs in the entertainment industry, like Diane Nelson (President of DC Comics), have stated outright that they eschew transmedia project pitches (they raise a “red flag” for Diane).
Many of the creatives I’ve talked with say they actively dislike the entire nomenclature debate. They prefer to just create and not worry about giving it a name.
Some souls – with perhaps a wiser, broader vision than I – have reminded me that it’s far too early for any real analysis of this to take place. I’ve been told that we haven’t even come close to the necessary critical mass of examples from which to draw any significant conclusions.
But that doesn’t match other voices in the community who adamantly state that we HAVE arrived, and there ARE great cases of transmedia being produced on an annual basis.
And then there are the terms. Oh, the taxonomic turf wars. Christy Dena has curated a great collection of terms that refer to this thing called transmedia.
None of this surprises me.
New technologies and mediums need time for experimentation. It takes us a while to figure out how they can be used. They rarely surface fully developed, fully realized, fully understood. Transmedia, while certainly not new by any stretch of the imagination, is still in its infancy of development, realization, and understanding. We’re still trying to figure out what to make of it and determine its full potential.
As Jay Bushman likes to say, transmedia storytelling is much where film was at its inception; we’re still waiting for the transmedial equivalent of “The Jazz Singer” to help us understand where transmedia storytelling is headed.
What gives me pause, though, isn’t any of the items mentioned above. It’s that transmedia, as defined by Dr. Jenkins in “Convergence Culture,” doesn’t inherently change the rules that I happen to care about regarding entertainment.
And given that Brain Candy, LLC is not a transmedia shop, the dangers of using the term to describe, even partially, what we do far outweigh the upsides.
So, I’m no longer actively using the term professionally. It’s not nearly the whole picture of what Brain Candy is about, and it’s only a small part of Brain Candy’s goal of finding new models for rethinking the relationships between intellectual property, copyright, digital content, fandom, and canon.
I am personally still very excited about the prospects for transmedia entertainment. I’ll be hard-pressed not to read anything labeled transmedia, and I won’t be abdicating the Los Angeles Transmedia Meetup group. I’ll still be weighing in on transmedia conversations online.
But professionally, it’s just not a label I’m comfortable wearing any longer. I’m leaving the transmedia field in the hands of those far more capable than I to help us understand what it means and where it’s taking us.
If you want to find me, I’ll be a few battlefields over, taking swings at copyright implementation and trying to build a bridge between user-generated-content and industry entertainment.