Lost in a Transmedia Storytelling Franchise: Rethinking Transmedia

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  • Lost in a Transmedia Storytelling Franchise: Rethinking Transmedia Engagement

    By

    Michael Graves

    Submitted to the graduate degree program in Film and Media Studies and the Graduate Faculty of the University of Kansas

    in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

    ________________________________ Chairperson Dr. Tamara Falicov

    ________________________________ Dr. Nancy Baym

    ________________________________ Dr. Chuck Berg

    ________________________________ Dr. John Tibbetts

    ________________________________ Dr. Catherine Preston

    Date Defended: December 1, 2011

  • ii

    The Dissertation Committee for Michael Graves

    certifies that this is the approved version of the following dissertation:

    Lost in a Transmedia Storytelling Franchise: Rethinking Transmedia Engagement

    ________________________________ Chairperson Dr. Tamara Falicov

    Date approved: December 13, 2011

  • iii

    Abstract

    In the age of media convergence, transmedia storytelling the distribution of

    story elements across multiple media platforms in the service of crafting an overarching

    narrative is increasingly prevalent. This dissertation examines transmedia engagement

    through a focus on Losts transmedia storytelling franchise and a confluence of

    technological, industrial, and cultural shifts, including the advent of podcast technologies,

    the rise of alternate reality game storytelling, and increasing producer-audience

    communication. Taken together, these transformations create new terrain on which

    normative understandings of producer-text-audience relationships are continually

    challenged, reconfigured, and even reinforced. This dissertation views these

    relationships through the concept of viewsing (Harries, 2002) a hybrid form of

    engagement encouraged by transmedia storytelling franchises in which the qualities of

    viewing and computer use merge. Although viewsing provides an important

    conceptual framework, previous scholarship stops short of applying to concept to the

    producer-audience and audience-audience relationships. Using a thematic analysis

    methodology, this study examines the fan cultures surrounding two podcasts dedicated to

    Lost The Official Lost Podcast and The Transmission and expands the concept of

    viewsing to include text-audience interactivity, producer-audience participatory

    storytelling, and audience-audience collaboration and antagonism. It concludes that

    transmedia storytelling franchises encourage viewsing interactive, participatory, and

    communicative multi-platform engagement.

  • iv

    Acknowledgments

    I received an incredible outpouring of support throughout my doctoral studies.

    First, my sincere gratitude goes to my advisor, Dr. Tamara Falicov, for granting me the

    opportunity to work with her. It was a privilege to draw on her intellectual guidance, and

    I am immensely thankful for her advice and encouragement. In addition, I thank my

    committee members Dr. Nancy Baym, Dr. Chuck Berg, Dr. Catherine Preston, and Dr.

    John Tibbetts for their input and enthusiasm. It was also my great pleasure and good

    fortune to work with the insightful and adept dissertation-writing tutors Dr. Rebecca

    Barrett-Fox, Dr. Ron Wilson, and Dr. Elizabeth Yeager.

    I was also fortunate to have wonderful friends and colleagues who provided me

    with encouragement during the writing process. I am grateful for the emotional support

    and intellectual assistance of Jared Cartier, Dr. Bruce Frey, Dr. Bonnie Johnson,

    Henderson Jones, Dr. Novotny Lawrence, Vinny Scevola, Greg Schaeffer, Mike Turner,

    Dr. Mark von Schlemmer, Corey Williger, Mary Beth Woodson, and many others.

    This project would not have been possible without the love and support of my

    family. I thank my brother J.D. Graves, my mother Elizabeth Graves, and my

    grandmother Florence Graves for their unyielding belief in me. The unspoken support of

    my companion animal, Ripley, was also a significant factor as our long walks together

    provided much-needed stress relief. I owe a special debt of gratitude to my wife, Dr.

    JaeYoon Park, for putting up with me as I completed my dissertation. She was a tireless

    advocate, motivator, and partner. Simply put, this dissertation would not exist without

    her love and understanding. Finally, I thank my father, James L. Graves, for being my

    greatest teacher. I dedicate this work to him.

  • v

    TABLE OF CONTENTS

    CHAPTER 1 1

    Introduction 1

    Methodology 15

    Literature Review 38

    Chapter Breakdown 70

    CHAPTER 2 BREAKING INTO THE REAL WORLD: THE TRANSMEDIA TEXT-AUDIENCE RELATIONSHIP 73

    Promotional Texts 84

    Interactive, Immersive Media 94

    The Contradictory Logics of Transmedia Storytelling 107

    Conclusion 120

    CHAPTER 3 VIEWSING ENGAGEMENT STRATEGIES: THE TRANSMEDIA PRODUCER-AUDIENCE RELATIONSHIP 124

    Podcasts as an Engagement Strategy 136

    Online Video as an Engagement Strategy 150

    Viewsing and the Struggle for Losts Transmedia Canon 159

    Conclusion 175

    CHAPTER 4 SHIPPERS, MYTHOLOGISTS, AND VIEWSERS, OH MY!: THE TRANSMEDIA AUDIENCE-AUDIENCE RELATIONSHIP 179

    External Struggle: The Mainstream/Viewser Divide 190

    Internal Struggle: The Shipper/Mythologist Divide 198

    The Collective Intelligence of Losts Mythologists 210

    Shipping the Oceanic Six 220

    Conclusion 229

    DISSERTATION SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION 234

    The End 235

  • vi

    Losts Lessons & The Future of Transmedia Storytelling 253

    Dissertation Conclusion 257

    BIBLIOGRAPHY 264

  • 1

    Chapter 1

    Introduction We wanted to tell stories in a nontraditional way, and there were certain stories that Damon [Lindelof] and I were interested in telling that dont exactly fit into the television show.1 - Carlton Cuse, executive producer, Lost When we were creating the Lost-verse we really started to expand it out and build the world. People will swallow a tremendous amount of story, if you feed it to them the right way.2 - Damon Lindelof, executive producer, Lost Now I think this is kind of hard for people who just watch the show on the television because this is outside of that world.3 - Ryan Ozawa, co-host, The Transmission Lost Podcast The combination of above comments from Losts executive producers highlights

    the vast scope of Losts transmedia storytelling franchise one employing an array of

    texts scattered across numerous media platforms in order to advance an overarching

    narrative. In addition, Ryan Ozawa, a Lost fan and co-host of the popular Lost podcast

    The Transmission, illuminates the complexity inherent in comprehending a story not

    confined to a single media platform. Taken together, these responses point to both the

    unique narrative potentials as well as the qualities of engagement fostered by the

    emergence of a transmedia approach to storytelling. As Cuse and Lindelof highlight,

    transmedia storytelling franchises tell stories in a nontraditional way, encouraging

    1 Lia Miller, To Counter the Doldrums During Summer Reruns, Lost Fans Can Get Lost in a Game Online, New York Times, April 24, 2006, accessed July 20, 2011, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C00E3DF123FF937A15757C0A9609C8B63. 2 Ryan Ozawa and Jen Ozawa, Comic-Con Report Visionaries Panel, podcast audio, Lost Podcast: The Transmission, July 26, 2008, accessed July 29, 2008. 3 Ryan Ozawa and Jen Ozawa, The Shape of Things to Come, podcast audio, Lost Podcast: The Transmission, April 26, 2008, accessed April 29, 2008.

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    viewers to swallow a tremendous amount a story. Lindelof links the scope of such a

    storytelling approach with the notion of world-building. Transmedia franchises create an

    immersive and interactive world differing significantly from that created by a single text,

    as is evident by Lindelofs use of -verse (or universe) to describe Losts expansive

    qualities. Ozawas comment points to the difficulty of fully comprehending a transmedia

    world constituted by an amalgam of texts outside of a television series. By dispersing

    character and story information across multiple platforms in the service of creating a

    single narrative text, transmedia franchises promote producer-audience communication

    and foster collaboration (and even antagonism) among audiences as they struggle to

    master these worlds. Fostered by transmedia storytelling, theoretical speculations on the

    spectator shift beyond notions of the passive and the active models. A new model is

    needed to theorize the relationship between producers, transmedia texts, and the

    audience. In short, the creation of elaborate transmedia storyworlds profoundly affects

    audience engagement by encouraging viewsing a type of interactive, participatory,

    and communicative multi-platform media use.

    Premiering in 2004, the ABC television series Lost focused on a group of plane

    crash survivors stranded on a mysterious island. Over the series six-year run, Losts

    producers innovatively expanded Losts narrative through the use of alternate reality

    games, mobisodes, online videos, a