Transmedia Storytelling: Questioning Canon in 21st-century Popular Culture Narratives (NeMLA 2017 Panel)
How does transmedia storytelling inform and influence contemporary understandings of the relationship between medium, auteur, canon, and fandom? Although clearly successful in connecting with audiences hungry for more stories set in these universes, transmedia continuations of films, television shows, and comic books illustrate how the marketing of auteurism obscures as much as clarifies complexities in authorship, collaborative production, different reading styles demanded of audiences across different media, and the relative importance of dynamics between intention vs. reception and narrative continuity vs. formal dissimilarity. For example, the continuation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in comic book format yielded mixed reactions, as some fans eagerly devour each issue as the next stage of Buffy’s story, while other fans discount the comics as outside of the Buffyverse canon. Participatory audiences, though they can destabilize canonical rigidity and auteur status in favor of playfully productive cultural work, in some ways still depend upon the textual organizing principle called an auteur, in order for them to be a community.
Yet if an auteur is not the only factor defining canon, but also tone, aesthetics, modes of interaction, and usefulness for participatory cultures, then the radically different modes of interaction and aesthetics on screen and on the page must be acknowledged. Much is different: production strategies, patterns of representation, theories of auteurism, reception, aesthetic techniques, storytelling tools, and the audience size for the comics as opposed to the film franchise and television series. Even if scholars and audiences decide to treat these texts as part of a single canon, that decision should be made in cultural conversations among audiences and scholars, not by the fiat of one entity, even if it is the author. Authors, audiences, and critics all contribute intellectual labor to canonicity debates, so all have the right to define the borders of important texts. When both fans and creators are “creating” meaning out of these transmedia texts, what counts as canon – as the “real” character or story? By what criteria and to what critical end is such a judgment made, and to whom do we grant the right to make such judgments?
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