A short dialogue with the Transmedia Manifest

A few days ago I noticed the nine-author Transmedia Manifest (2011) was going around in social media. It was Carlos Scolari – very much a pioneer in transmedia studies in Spanish language – who, I believe, fished it out again after twenty months since its original presentation and publication at the Frankfurt book fair. I remember going over it shortly after it was presented along with Jenkins’ and others’ ideas on transmedia storytelling. Today, my dear friend Susana González Aktories, with whom I’ve had very very long conversations about storytelling in media convergence reminded me of it. I re-read it nodding along the many many overlaps my characterization of interstory has with the transmedia storytelling model proposed by Jenkins, Miekle and Young, The Manifest, and others. Despite these overlaps, those reading my thesis (which I hope to make openly available as soon as it has been approved) will realize that I decided not to base my characterization of narrative in media convergence just on the transmedia model but to expand it to better suit the inner textual (though not just text-based) networkings of narrative. The reasons are subtle but, as I, of course believe, are worth exploring.

Transmedia Manifest
Image borrowed from original site.

1) The first is right in their logo, the authors’ use of the trope of ‘the future of…’, as they “propose eleven theses on the future of storytelling” (emphasis mine). All of the debates surrounding, books, literature, narrative, publishing, and media in general are way too concerned with what the future will look like. The problem is, these phenomena are already – and for a while have already been – happening in a most unstable and spontaneous manner. The futurist trope has always seemed to me damaging to the discussion and conductive of extreme positions leading to all kinds of stale binary debates (you chose which). Most importantly perhaps is that it is current narratives that are ‘test driving’ new models – at least new for now – which because of their very unstable and fluid characteristics can hardly be sketched as the path narrative is bound to follow. In his short study of the newspaper industry Clay Shirky, states: “old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place…. Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments, each of which will seem as minor at launch as… Wikipedia did, as octavo volumes did” (28-9). I see a similar landscape in narrative, where many different models are being tried out and some of them, or some of their characteristics will become successful and some others won’t. The transmedia model has been gaining a lot of momentum, but that does not ensure its permanence.

If we take media convergence as the reigning principle of our current media ecology, why would we lean in favour of one particular narrative model, be it the transmedia model or any other? The media landscape seems rich enough to me to allow for the emergence and the permanence of other kinds of models. It, again, should not be thought to mean the supersession of narrative models existing previously, but establishing a continuum with all of them.

2) The issue of transmediality. Those of you following this blog for at least a year will have witnessed my struggle with the concept of medium. Any discussion of transmedia storytelling has to come with a definition of medium as clear as possible. In the manifest this is not present and I’m left wondering if they mean semiotic, channel of communication, cultural practice, other kind, all of them?

I believe that a narrative model in media convergence has to include all of them. A particular kind of channel of communication might likely involve certain semiotic material(s) proper to it or shared with others, and thus require distinct practices. This is the main reason why, though my concept of interstory is closely related to transmedia storytelling, it also diverges from it inasmuch as a shift in devices, semiotic material or cultural practices necessarily entails a transformation of all the others. Media convergence is not just transmedia, it is also intermedial.

Because of the very rhetoric characteristics of a manifesto, The Transmedia Manifest is both descriptive and suggestive, and does a great job at being provocative and non-authoritative. It invites dialogue and further development into the ideas proposed there and as any product and insight of our times is fluid, mashable, unstable. I would’ve love to see the manifest allow for more interaction with its readers other than just the possibility of signing it.

The presentation of the manifest is available in video in German.

Reference:

Shirky, Clay. “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.” Risk Management 56.3 (2009): 24–29. Print.

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