Critical Analysis – Concergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide by Henry Jenkins.

  • Jenkins, H. (2006) Convergence Culture. Where Old and New Media Collide. New York University Press. New York. [Pg. 103 – 106]

Henry Jenkins is considered to be at the forefront in the realm of transmedia storytelling, being the man who first coined the term. His book Convergence Culture is noted as a landmark work due to its exploration of the blurring boundaries of media and fan participation, however, it’s his chapter on transmedia storytelling, Searching for the Origami Unicorn, that holds particular interest, as he examines The Matrix as an example of the strengths and weaknesses of constructing a transmedia universe.

Jenkins criticises the amount of faith the creators had in the casual viewer and in the draw of their own franchise by insinuating that the mystery of The Matrix would be so appealing, that the audience would feel compelled to seek out the answers. Though even when the films were released as DVDs, he notes that only the dedicated fans would actively attempt to piece together the missing information. While analysing interviews, Jenkins describes the method in which the directors and writers confusingly instructed the actor in the nature of the franchises transmedia aspects, actors even admitting that they were uncertain which scenes were being filmed for which media, implying the franchises flawed execution in regards to its storytelling method.

The subchapter, ‘Synergistic Storytelling’, opens by highlighting The Matrix’s grand overarching story, likening it to Casablanca to the nth degree, referring to the series creators, The Wachowskis, wanting to wind the story across a wide variety of media to create a compelling whole. Using examples from both The Matrix animated shorts and video games, Jenkins tracks both, the story of the Osiris crew, and the character of the Kids. Details and events that would only be known to someone who has engaged with both The Animatrix shorts, The Kid’s Story and The Final Flight of the Osiris shorts in particular, and the Enter The Matrix video game, but are included in the main films as arbitrary details, rather than defined characters. Comparing the storytelling style to both the old Hollywood system, dependant on redundancy to ensure that the audience can follow the plot at all times, and the demands of New Hollywood, for the audience to remain in constant focus to the how and why of the story. Jenkins draws particular emphasis on the introduction of The Kid in The Matrix Reloaded, especially given his significance in the final film, The Matrix Revolution, The Kid’s introduction and opening exchange with Neo, the franchises main character, is staged as though the audience is meant to understand and appreciate that the two have a long and important history together, that the scene is written for established characters, confusing the average audience member. A notable failure in regards to transmedia storytelling, as it now leaves the audience with only two options, to actively seek out the backstory behind this exchange just to make sense of it, or to continue as a confused spectator.

During Jenkins exploration of these failings, a second exploration is going on across the sides of each page. In this example, Jenkins chooses to examine The Blair Witch Project, one of the first transmedia projects to enter the public dialogue. Contrasting The Matrix with The Blair Witch provides us with a set of binary oppositions, creating the perfect counter point to the transmedia attempts of the Wachowskis. While both had their first major instalment in 1999, The Matrix had a much higher budget, and a high profile production company to back it, The Blair Witch was an independent venture, with a miniscule budget and significantly shorter shooting schedule, totalling 8 days. Dan Myrick and Ed Sanchez used their assets to the best of their ability, instead of relying on a potentially non-existent audience, they actively spread the information themselves, taking the role of active fans themselves. While stating that they viewed the sire and spin-offs as a form of marketing, they still viewed them as an integral part of the experience. Jenkins points out that the creators awareness of how effective transmedia storytelling can be, and the understanding that not every consumer will dive deep to attempt to solve the films secrets, in interviews the creators note that, what they learned from Blair Witch is that if you give people enough people enough material to explore, they will explore. However, unlike the Wachowski’s, Myrick and Sanchez understood that not everyone will take advantage of this, but those who do will explore the whole world provided. Jenkins uses this example to point out the Wachowski’s failings in the transmedia landscape. The Wachowski’s assumption that by leaving plot holes open, and using their higher budget to create such supplementary materials, would guarantee the audiences compulsion to explore such material. By contrasting The Matrix with Blair Witch, Jenkins is juxtaposing it with its extreme opposite.

The way Jenkins crafts his work, particularly in this example, attempts to point out and acknowledge the failings that can come from crafting a transmedia story in a poor manor, but not only recognising the shortcomings, but contrasting them with a better crafted or less reliant example. The choice of comparing two franchises at the same time, on the same page, allows for a visual juxtaposition as well as a counterpoint in content, the choice of Blair Witch in particular compares two franchises released at the same time, allows for something such as cultural viewpoint to be a non-issue, allowing for certain elements such as technological advancements to be far less of a defining factor. Jenkins is thorough in regards to his research, delving through, and mentioning, as many relevant spin-off pieces of media as can be found, as well as interviews and articles relating, both directly and indirectly, to the desired transmedia aspect of both The Matrix and The Blair Witch Project, giving us a thorough and relevant overview for his comparisons and analysis.

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