A Remediated, Premediated, and Transmediated Conversation with Richard Grusin (Part One)

This week, I am sharing an extended conversation with Richard Grusin, co-author of Remediation and author of Premediation:Affect and Mediality After 9/11

about the relationship between our work.

If this sparks your interest in learning more about Transmedia Entertainment, check out Transmedia Hollywood II conference coming up at UCLA on April 8. Tickets are still available.

Getting Started

HJ: Richard, you wrote to me a few weeks ago responding to the interview I did with Frank Rose about his new book, The Art of Immersion. That interview tried to clarify the relationship between Rose’s concept of “deep media” and my concept of “transmedia entertainment.” You raised the interesting question of how these two concepts might relate to the work that you and Jay David Bolter did in Remediation, another book which sought to develop a vocabulary for thinking about the relations between media, and your more recent book, Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11. Since both books are widely taught, it seemed to me useful for us to try to tease out together the points of contact and divergence between these two models.

At the time you wrote Remediation, many of us were very excited about the kind of multimedia expression which was possible within cd-roms, a short lived technology, which never-the-less became the focus of a good deal of scholarly interest. So, we might start by thinking about the relationship between the multimedia (envisioned within the cd-rom) and the transmedia (now being realized via digital networks). For me, the difference can be summed up as inside the box – outside the box. That is, multimedia sought to organize a series of different kinds of media experiences inside a curated and bounded text. There might be movies and audio files and illustrations and texts, but they were all inside the cd-rom itself.

By contrast, the elements of a transmedia experience are dispersed — they are spread across multiple media channels — with the expectation that the consumers will tap into digital and social networks to track down the elements. Part of the pleasure is what I would call “hunting and gathering” and what Rose calls “foraging.” Alternate Reality Games make tracking down, exchanging, deciphering, and mapping the dispersed media elements the central play mechanic. And insofar as we are doing this activity within fan communities or as “collective detectives” to use an old term from the ARG world, these mechanisms support social interactions with other readers. Part of what allows this to become a viable form of publicity for media franchises is our tendency to want to brag about our discoveries and share them with others with whom we have common goals and interests.

The rise of the iPad seems to suggest a return to a multimedia model — witness the promotional video for Sports Illustrated on the iPad which sparked so much excitement in the publishing world at the time the platform was introduced. Here, we again see all of the media elements brought together into a single ordered, curated experience. This design will make these kinds of experiences more accessible to casual readers who want to simply click through an experience, but they may take away from the social mechanics that have grown up around “foraging” or “hunting and gathering.”

It occurs to me that the Sports Illustrated video might be a good starting point for us to compare notes. What do you see going on here when you read it through your core concepts?

RG:

Thanks, Henry, for suggesting this. I think it’s a great idea, and after reading your initial paragraphs I think there is plenty of room both for clarification and divergence. I will confess that at first I was a bit puzzled by your identification of remediation with the multimedia cd-rom–especially insofar our account of the double logic of remediation at the end of the 20th century takes up so many other media artifacts including muds and moos, the world wide web, and hypermediated space. But in light of your concept of transmedia storytelling I can see why the contrast with an apparently self-contained multimedia artifact like the cd-rom would be important for you.

For me, however, remediation argues precisely against the idea that any medium (multimedia or not) could be self-contained. In defining a medium as that which remediates we set out from the position that all media were hybrid or mixed, that all media refashion other media. The contradictory but coherent logics of transparent immediacy and hypermediacy which operated at the end of the twentieth century still persist (although in different forms) today.

In other words, because remediation invariably involves the relationship between at least two media, all media from our perspective could in some non-trivial sense be seen as transmedia. Transmedia storytelling as I understand it would seem from the perspective of Grusin and Bolter to be one of the forms in which remediation manifests itself in the 21st century, particularly in what have come to be called the “infotainment” industries. In my own post-remediation work I have developed a similar idea, most relevantly in the concept of distributed media that I trace out under the rubric of a “cinema of interactions.”

As to describing the Sports Illustrated promotional video through the key concepts of remediation, I suppose I would begin by highlighting the double logic of remediation informing the iPad promo. The use of interactive video in the magazine’s new interactive format simultaneously provides a perceptual immediacy and operates as an element of the journal’s hypermediacy. But I also see this video as an example of what I have more recently called “premediation,” especially as it markets both iPad and Sports Illustrated by premediating digital media formats that do not yet exist but which we can anticipate in the near future. I would be interested in your sense of how transmedia might relate to this reading of the video.

HJ:

I certainly did not mean to restrict your book’s argument to a focus on multimedia – it has enormous historical scope and media diversity. I only associate the time of the book’s publication with a particular enthusiasm about cd-roms which was sweeping digital studies, and thus I came to understand some of your principles initially in relation to that particular form of remediation.

RG:

Right. I remember in fact when Jay and I presented remediation at a conference you organized at MIT that you were working on a cd-rom film “textbook” with embedded video clips. And when we started our MS in Information Design and Technology at Georgia Tech in the early 1990s, our goal was to train multimedia cd-rom designers. By the time we wrote Remediation, however, our enthusiasm had begun to broaden to networked and distributed forms of mediation, though not yet to your useful concept of transmedia.

From Remediation to Premediation

HJ:

I would agree with you that both multimedia and transmedia represent strategies of remediation, which are particularly vivid in their foregrounding of the relations between media. The Sports Illustrated example, for the most part, stays within the box — though the segment about playing a game on the ipad while watching the game on television points to ways that even this basic app straddles between platforms rather than operating entirely within them. What interested me here was the way that the video as an act of “premediation,” (I like that concept), invites us to re-imagine the medium of the print magazine through expanding its affordances, blurring the line between still and moving images, say, adding sound effects and gestural interfaces that change what it means to read and so forth. Insofar as we read the magazine in relation to the television and live versions of sports, it may well constitute a form of transmedia — that is, we as consumers bring the pieces together to make sense of a phenomenon which unfolds across platforms. Yet, there’s also a sense that the iPad is promising to organize all of those varied media experiences for us in ways that decreases our need to search out new content. This becomes a matter of preprogrammed interactivity rather than open ended participation.

RG:

Yes, I see that this question of participation, what you refer to above as “foraging” or “hunting and gathering,” is one that is crucial to you, particularly in regard to your extensive body of work on and continued interest in fan culture. In some sense, of course, this, too, is a product of the media formation of the 1990s, which has in the socially networked 21st century become such a part of our media everyday that it could be seen as no longer unusual. Yet your worry about preprogrammed interactivity supplanting open-ended participation is one that is shared by many. Because I have always had some reservations about the degree to which participatory media could be open-ended or liberatory, I am less troubled by the preprogrammed nature of many of our current forms of interactivity. I have been more concerned, both in Remediation and in my subsequent work, to underscore the preprogrammed or premediated nature of all of our media interactions. So the Sports Illustrated or iPad is less troubling for me.

Richard Grusin is Director of the Center for 21st Century Studies and Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He received his Ph.D. in 1983 from the University of California-Berkeley. He is the author of numerous articles and chapters and four books, including (with Jay David Bolter) Remediation: Understanding New Media (MIT, 1999) and most recently Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11 (Palgrave, 2010).

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