Fan production and transmedia audienceships?

I typically don’t post such not-remotely-developed thoughts, but questions of the “transmedia audience” and how it is related to fan production have been prodding at me and part of me thinks that it may be worthwhile to at least verbalizing the question, if not offering any actual answers.

The comments in my last post on transmedia and the multiplicity principle made me realize that though I posed the question of why some types of stories — namely genre fiction — seemed to lend themselves to transmedia development, one of the implicit hypotheses was that they don’t. Or, rather, it’s not only that genre stories lend themselves to transmedia, but that genre audiences are highly receptive to it.

The multiplicity principle isn’t merely dependent on an archive of shared meaning between multiple texts — it’s relies on a sophisticated audience who has developed a strong knowledge of these multiple texts. In short, multiplicity is dependent on fannish behavior.

Transmedia creators seem to understand this instinctively. Take, for example, the Purefold project which not only develops content based on audience input through the FriendFeed group, but also licenses all the content under Creative Commons for participants to further develop and remix the work. Based off themes from Bladerunner, Purefold aims to let brands and fans alike have an equal go at asserting their ideas into the stories. It should prove to be an interesting test case on transmedia audience relations, but also brings a key question to the fore: what is the relationship between fan production and transmedia?

Or, perhaps more to the point, might we consider fan production a form of transmedia?

Fans production such as fan fiction or fanvids have long been developing stories across multiple platforms, forms, and genres. Projects like Purefold seem to be a way to acknowledge what fans have always known: that stories don’t have to be part of an official canon to influence how we encounter them, especially now that the new media landscape is making the boundaries between audience and producer increasingly fuzzy. Transmedia is about decentering stories, destabilizing the authorial power of any single text or narrative tributary. Fans have been collaborating and building out their favorite story worlds in this way for decades, through fiction, vidding, meta, role playing and cosplay.

So much of how we talk about transmedia centers around production, but so much of what makes transmedia what it is happens through new practices of reception and participation. Given that, I guess my question is: what does a transmedia audienceship look like? How is transmedia shaping how audiences form and interact, how they identify themselves and their cultural stakes? And conversely, how are the increasingly visible and explicit narrative interventions on the part of audiences shaping how we think about the way stories are told as they move across platforms, cultural spaces, borders of all manner?

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  1. Scott Walker says:

    Please stop posting intriguing questions; my productivity is suffering. Seriously.

    First, I posed just this question to Henry Jenkins yesterday: how has transmedia affected us, as consumers, over time? So much of what is written is focused on the creator, but we have little to say about the consumers of transmedia vis a vis deciphering how much of what is going on is a result of fans pulling creators along versus creators pushing fans along. Fan participation over the years has had an effect on monomedia content production, but I haven’t seen much in the way of specifically analyzing it with regard to transmedia content.

    Second, let’s take your question about fan-produced content and see how we could bend the definition of transmedia to include it. I’m not proposing to redefine transmedia, mind you, I’m just temporarily making the frame larger to incorporate content that was not produced by the property owner and seeing where it takes us. I have no answers to your questions, but they prompted me to offer up this twist.

    Step up to the concept of consumer-produced material being transmedia and then take one more step beyond to include all of the meta-content produced by consumers.

    In this case, the collection of transmedia would include blog posts about a movie, advertisements for a TV show, watercooler conversations regarding the latest comic, etc. The transmedia portfolio becomes the entire collection of what

    To go even further, consider a group of friends watching a sports game on TV. There is far more social activity occurring than there is passive consumption of the individual plays of the game. Some of the activities that might be happening – sometimes simultaneously – include betting (where it’s legal), fantasy league updates, checking online game updates (most likely about other games), critiques of the recent play, conjecture about the next play/game outcome/trade, etc.

    If, then, you include consumer-produced content in the transmedia portfolio (even if it were not considered canonical), could you also not include the consumer-produced metacontent? And what would that say about the shift from singular authorship to audience authorship? Who, then, truly “owns” the narrative/world?

    Granted, I’m stretching this particular case far past the point of torture, but the implications are interesting.

    Now, please take a break from posting for at least a few days, I have a deadline to meet. : )


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