Melanie Bourdaa on Fringe and Transmedia Storytelling

 Bourdaa, Melanie. “‘Following the Pattern’:The Creation of an Encyclopaedic Universe with Transmedia Storytelling.” Adaptation 6.2 (2013): 202-14. Print.

In this article, Bourdaa focuses on Fringe (TV show) to think about the ways in which transmedia storytelling encourage a depth of user interaction and knowledge. She notes that transmedia storytelling is closely connected to the phenomenon of complex narrative.

She begins with a definition of transmedia put forth by Henry Jenkins:

A transmedia story unfolds across multiple media platforms, with each new text making a distinctive and valuable contribution to the whole. In the ideal of transmedia storytelling, each new medium does what it does best—so that a story might be introduced in a film, expanded through TV, novels, comics…each franchise entry needs to be self-contained so you don’t need to have seen the film to enjoy the game and vice versa. (203)

Aside: transmedia is more than (but might include) adaptation of a story from one medium to another. Instead, it’s the spreading of, or broadening and deepening of, a story into/onto other media.

Bourdaa argues that there is a tension between episodic and narrative arc in serial forms such as the television show. And transmedia shows a shifting understanding/use of seriality. “At its most basic level,” she argues, “narrative complexity is a redefinition of episodic forms under the influence of serial narration—not necessarily a complete merger of episodic and serial form but a shifting balance” (203). Supernatural is a good example of this because it began as a sort of “monster of the week” show due to network desires, but tried to sneak in enough to make a doozy of a narrative arc in the first 4-5 seasons. Which it did really well. Since then, seasons have had some trouble striking a balance between narrative arc and episodic. In fact, some seasons try to include a complete narrative arc (rather than the spread out bits and pieces of one in the first five-ish seasons, to their ultimate detriment).

            Things like the fact that there is not plot closure in each episode, there’s a “previously on” feature, and the success of the narrative/show really pivots on the pilot and finale are, for Bourdaa, indicative of the working of continuity in both episodic and narrative-heavy shows: “the concept of continuity in the stories is what matters the most, what will bring TV viewers in front of their screen every week” (204).

Bourdaa does a bit of a redefinition of transmedia storytelling here, arguing that “transmedia storytelling consists in the diffusion of a dense message across different media. It deals with the development of a rich narrative universe with the help of multiple stories, experienced by several characters and told on different platforms.”

The Lizzie Bennett Diaries is an excellent example of this.

ASIDE: how do spinoffs fit here? How does this change/work/alter/etc. McLuhan’s the medium is the message concept?

            For Bourdaa, in this conception of transmedia storytelling “fans are expert viewers who dive completely into the mythology of a show, especially if the narrative is complex enough and requires a background knowledge and the possibility to dig into pop culture references” (204).

ASIDE: at some point, fans might become co-contributors or authors, not just in terms of fanfiction, but actually influencing the creators of the original, pushing for closure or changes of certain types, or even agitating for the continued existence of the show. Think Firefly, Veronica Mars, Supernatural

Bourdaa argues that “transmedia narratives ‘construct a furnished world’ in order to be able to create multiple storylines to attract hard-core fans and average TV viewers. This coherent universe will enrich current and canon storylines by bringing parallel stories on both main and supporting characters, relationships or secondary plots. ‘Insert in the curve of the story strategic gaps’ that can be filed with other narratives on diverse media platforms. This will have a double purpose: trigger fans’ engagement into forensic fandom and create new stories” (206).

ASIDE: the insertion of strategic gaps is used in The Vampire Diaries/ The Originals and The Lizzie Bennett Diaries.

Bourdaa ultimately argues that “transmedia extensions are…seen as a hyperbolic version of the show, in which elements of the complex narration are dispersed across media and which fans have to collect in order to recreate an encyclopaedic knowledge of the show” (206). She ends by explaining how her analysis makes use of Jenkins’s seven core aesthetic principles of transmedia storytelling:

  1. Spreadability vs. drillability (go wider and go deeper)
  2. Continuity vs. multiplicity (both are necessary in a coherent universe)
  3. Immersion vs. extractions (the relationship between the story and reality as experienced by viewers)
  4. Subjectivity
  5. Performance
  6. World building
  7. Seriality

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