Monday, February 06, 2012

The Story of a Transmedia Revolution: (Part 2) The Story Wars

The Rise and Fall of a Story-Showing Empire
The Transmedia Revolution has begun!
Which side will you join?
An empire of greedy corporate media cartels?
Or an ancient and mysterious order of storytellers...

Image via Panicposters
After years of study, I've come to realize that contemporary storytelling—books, film, television (and to a significant extent, even live theater)—are a completely passive medium.  They are narratives that lack interaction and any kind of participation from their audience.  These mass-produced mediums of entertainment are more appropriately labeled "story-showing,” then storytelling.

People often wonder why there isn’t anything "new" in Hollywood.  Why is it that every movie, TV show, and most popular literature, tastes like reheated "leftovers" disguised with some kind of mystery sauce?  It’s because after a century of industrialization, we've become indoctrinated as a species of “story consumers.”

We’ve been raised to passively swallow the shallow narratives presented to us in our extended childhoods; schizophrenic mythologies filled with stories that have no depth, meaning, or purpose--other than to entertain (or perhaps more sinisterly, distract).

All of our modern entertainment (all of our stories) are almost entirely mono-active.
Our “entertainment industry” is simply a convenient medium for a 24/7 multimedia stream of consumer subconsciousness—peppered every fifteen minutes with commercials, product placement, and other forms of materialist propaganda.  Even traditional literature has become a victim to this malaise.  

The Lost Art of Storytelling

Parents who "tell” stories to their children, usually aren't really “telling” them.  They’re reading them word for word from a book; an example of modern mono-active story-watching.  Unless the child occasionally takes control of the narrative, thus making it interactive (I.E. "No, Red Riding Hood had a cell phone, and she called the cops on that mean nasty wolf!") the true immersive, and transitive aspects of storytelling are neutered, or even entirely absent in our modern fictions.
English: Little Red Riding Hood
Is modern media a "big bad wolf" that
devours creativity and imagination?

Image via Wikipedia

If you put your book down, and “tell” a story to your audience (instead of read it), something about your story will always change, each and every time you tell it.  Unless, of course (as you’ll find in live theater), you have your lines memorized.

This is because even when you tell the same story (with the identical characters and plot),  you’ll always be a different person each time you tell it, and so will your audience (even if they’re the same people):
If you told a story to a group of recent college grads (while they were partying around a campfire in the middle of the wilderness) the crazy things you did to get into your career field…would that story be identical to the one you told to a classroom of second graders, the day after you lost your job?

If this is the case, does "storytelling" in its interactive sense, still exist in today's society?  Perhaps...

Thanks to new combinations of divergent media platforms, a new kind of storytelling is on the rise.  One that recognizes the importance of engaging an increasingly distracted and impatient audience: transmedia.

The Rise of the Transmedia Revolution

In a world where amateur online video content continues to be produced in ever increasing amounts, and affordable professional audio, video, image editing, and publishing tools makes it possible for almost anyone to create all kinds of multi-media content: we can clearly see the first signs of an impending transmedia revolution. If our current entertainment industry wants to adapt and survive these changes, they are going to have to learn a whole new way of telling stories.

Print newspapers and magazines are struggling to remain relevant and profitable in this new Google powered age. Blogs, social media, web comics, original web series, and dozens of other avenues of self-publishing are providing an explosive growth in topics and genres that were previously marginalized (or completely unknown) by mainstream media.

Last year, E-book sales surpassed those of paperback and hardcover books combined. Many of them created independently, without the assistance of publishing houses. As brick and mortar book and video stores find themselves going bankrupt in record numbers, more people are refusing to pay exorbitant amounts for movie tickets, and online piracy continues to be prevalent; it will only be a matter of time before enfeebled media giants will have to start giving their content away for free, just to maintain their rapidly fragmenting audience.

They haven’t yet learned why all of their draconian copyright efforts are doomed to failure. They continue to try to remedy the symptoms, but not the chronic debilitating disease that is causing their media empires to crumble. Their hubris is their mistaken belief that they alone can provide the content that the world requires…

The Death of Storytelling
MooMooTheUglyShoe via YouTube

They stubbornly refuse to engage with their audience; they myopically continue to base their entire business model on advertising and making a profit; they refuse to acknowledge that good stories are successful because they are shared—not because they are jealously guarded secrets.
Focus groups, beta readers, and screenings foster an environment of derivative creativity. Where the artistic, inspired, and innovative aspects of a story are excised in an attempt to gain a favorable reaction from the largest demographic.

As a paranoid entertainment industry continues to spew out bland books, television shows, and films that are mass produced, irrelevant, and poorly veiled attempts at netting a maximum amount of profit from a dazed, and disenfranchised audience (one that finds itself burdened with a constantly shrinking pool of disposable income); they will finally realize the error of their ways.

As a world audience of almost seven trillion people begins to liberate itself from the repressive control of production/distribution cartels (music labels, movie studios, TV stations, publishing houses); a brave new world of consumer controlled (and created) content, will eventually lead to the discovery of a diverse cross-pollinating, and self sustaining multi-media ecology.

In this rapidly evolving consumer-centric media-consumption economy, audiences will no longer be starved by a limited menu of entertainment fast-food. They are armed with inexpensive video cameras and software, and they now have access to their own multi-media kitchens. They can finally start creating the kind of entertainment they actually want to consume.

--Peter Usagi
Transmedia Storyteller

[Check out some of the books, albums, and soon movies produced by Mythos Media and our various media partners.]


  1. Peter, this is an inspired pair of articles. I resonate with the vision of a transmedia future you describe with great clarity and examples. Sign me up for the ancient and mysterious order of storytellers!

  2. Great article! For me, the issue of storytelling in our modern age is that it has moved away from its original purpose: as a way of not only imparting a lesson about the wider world, but as a community-builder. This understanding is central to Cultural Anthropology and certain literary disciplines, but kind of lost on those in charge of most of the major entertainment fields. Now it's all about the bottom line (and marketing, marketing, marketing) and over time a disconnect developed between form and function. Mass marketability won out over quality and originality and the parable is a lost art. I have enjoyed some transmedia projects in the last couple of years that attempted to go back to that sort of communal environment by having the audience also function in part as the content creators, and I think certain social media platforms really have a decent grasp of how to involve the potential audience in the development of the narrative, so I do see the recent surge of user-creators as a positive.

  3. Mobile Tech Jeff, M, glad you found my posts interesting.

    Stay tuned, in the next few updates I'll be discussing that disconnect between the form and function of storytelling.

    And I'll also be offering some unique ideas on how wrest back storytelling from those who see it purely as a means to make financial profit.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...