Catching Up on Fan Culture...

Converging Worlds

I have been hearing rumors for a while that Convergence Culture is being picked up and read by some of the Powers That Be (i.e. the producers and writers of cult television shows). This certainly seems to be the case on Heroes, according to this recent interview which Wonderland ran with Jesse Alexander, the Exec Producer of Alias, Lost and Heroes:

So you manage how the Heroes property moves through other mediums?

Yes, it was always seen as a transmedia property from day one. I read Henry Jenkins' Convergence Culture: you should read that if you haven't. To take a brand into the transmedia landscape.. a teevee show through the transmedia landscape, especially a serialized show like Heroes, well, we use a lot of techniques that are very germane to the way that videogames are made.

The writing of Heroes is done by 10-12 people, we come up with the stories together, and we write every episode together. That's an ensemble narrative,. One person can write a story for Peter over multiple episodes, and keep the consistency. What this allows us to do is to keep the whole team totally up to date and vested with the whole show, it harvests the hivemind focus, to deliver a quality narrative. We do rapid prototyping, we iterate on it.. It's that constant iteration and rewriting that gets things done.

The interview as a whole is worth reading. Alexander returns several times to the topic of transmedia entertainment and what it means in the context of a convergence culture:

Everyone knows I talk about convergence.. [...] These big media companies are looking for new ways to exploit their properties. ARGs. Comics. I'm lucky enough to be part of some shows where we worked on these things, and there's convergence with creators of TV and movies.. you have to understand how you can exploit your IP in all those spaces, in a way that's authentic to your IP and won't damage it.

With Heroes, we connect all the things we do with the brand, it's connected to the show. The comic book is part of the canon of the show, it has value. That's why we need the huge team, there has to be enough people to generate that content.

We've done .. It's difficult to call what we do in Heroes an ARG. Is it transmedia television? We're using ARG components.. and that's something that we look to expand in the future. With these large media companies, they desperately want to do this, to exploit this entertainment, and they're still trying to find the structure to actualize that....

Alexander also manages to name check Steven Johnson's work on complexity and Jane McGonigal's work on ARGS and collective intelligence.

Regular readers know that I have been on the Heroes bandwagon since last summer -- having caught an advance peek at the series pilot before it reached the air. Pulling this post together, drew me back to that original piece which read Heroes as closer to an indie comic in its tone and structure than to the mainstream superhero comics that have shaped most other television and big screen stories in the genre. I offered some hints about where I thought the series might be going:

These characters embody forms of longing and desperation that one rarely sees on television - if for no other reason than that the problems they face are unlikely to be solved by a bite from a radioactive spider or a burst of Gamma rays, let alone by mouthwash or toothpaste. And there are moments here which remind me of films like Crash or Grand Canyon, where people from very different backgrounds cross through each others lives and sometimes have unintended consequences. As the series proceeds, I have no doubt that these lives, seeming so separate at the outset, will become more and more intertwined. In the short term, though, viewers can enjoy looking for subtle -- and not so subtle -- hints of connections between them.

Its somewhat bitter aftertaste links the series more closely with Brian Woods' Demo than to most mainstream superhero comics. The characters here seem drawn earthward - more like suicidal jumpers - rather than skyward. None of them yet knows how to leap over tall buildings with a single bound and we are left with the sense that they are going to have to struggle to bring their emerging powers under their control and to make sense of their impact on their self perceptions. As with Demo, these characters aren't going to run right out and buy fancy new superhero duds anytime soon and it is not yet clear that any of them is ready to take on great responsibilities when they are barely able to solve their own inner demons.

Around the edges, there are hints of dark secrets, perhaps a government conspiracy, perhaps bad guys who are going to track down those with powers and force them to make a choice about where they stand, but the first episode allows the protagonists to wallow in their various emotional responses to the discovery that they are not like mortal men. This is a series which will provide lots of fodder for internet speculation and decipherment within the fan communities that it is apt to inspire.

Throughout the year, I have admired the ways that the series has dispersed back story through imaginatively structured episodes and through the use of web comics as a platform of transmedia entertainment. And I was pleased that themes I saw in the characters from the pilot really took root and defined their interactions, including the prolonged focus on what it means to discover your powers and to define your "mission." So, I am personally very pleased to see Alexander describe my book as helping to shape his thinking on these issues.


I am always excited to see other academics who do important work in media or cultural studies get hit with the blogging bug. A case in point: Robert Kozinets. Kozinets is a marketing professor currently at ork University's Schulich School of Business in Toronto. Kozinets has done some of the ground-breaking work on brand communities and their relationship to fan communities. I served on his dissertation committee years ago -- his project centered around consumption and production within Star Trek fan culture. I rediscovered his work while doing research for Convergence Culture and his ideas informed my discussion of American Idol. More recently, Kozinets joined our Convergence Culture Consortium team and I was able to showcase his work on Star Trek fan cinema at the Society for Cinema Studies conference last spring.

If you don't know his work, you should check out his blog. He's hit on several topics of relevance to my readers so far, including several posts which share his insights into the history of Star Trek fandom and Star Trek fan cinema, which he reads through the lens of more recent concepts such as "brand hijacking" (Alex Wipperfürth), Lead Users (Eric Von Hipple) and Wikinomics (Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams). He shares an interesting excerpt from an anthology he has co-edited, Consumer Tribes, one which uses wikipedia to develop an analogy for thinking about fan movie-makers:

Star Trek has gone native or, better, it has gone wiki-it is now "wikimedia." Fans add to Star Trek and correct one another just like Wikipedia encyclopedia contributors add to the famously expansive universe of the online encyclopedia. By the term "wikimedia" I mean to describe a distinct media content form that has, either deliberately or unintentionally, gone open source and begun spawning new content through the efforts of non-profit, do-it-yourself, collaborative media creators acting outside of the structure of corporate, institutional organization or sanction. The existence and notioning of wikimedia has major implications for our understanding of contemporary consumer culture....

Kozinet's use of the concept of Wiki-Media seems relevant given the recent discussion here of "Wiki-Fic" as a way of thinking about the interface between fan fiction and transmedia storytelling.

Other posts to date have dealt with Philip K. Dick and Burning Man. Kozinet's blog will be worth following as he explores the social dimensions of brands and branded entertainment.

I am going to be taking the rest of the week off: there's no new gender and fan studies content this week and I am going to be enjoying the 4th with my family.