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Transnarrative Media

I’ve just spent an hour or two with Herbie Hancock:  Possibilities.  I selected the film from a load of badly-suggested movies that NetFlix figured I’d love (based on my enjoyment of Ken Burns’ Jazz, Ninja Scroll and No Direction Home — a really odd extrapolation).  I did love it, in spite of my expectations.   (Have I even seen Ninja Scroll?  I sure don’t remember liking it.)

I loved the beginning because a famous jazz musician confessed to himself that he was tired of making recordings for the familiar expectations of people who buy them; that making the same creative decisions he’d made countless times before was getting profoundly dull.  I think it wasn’t Yoko who killed The Beatles (’twas expectations of their fans).

So Herbie Hancock set out to bridge a lot of gaps in the usual scheme of expectable collaborations by playing individually with Christina Aguilera, Sting, Paul Simon, Annie Lenox, Brian Eno, John Mayer, Wayne Shorter, Joss Stone…because nothing much (apart from inertia) prevented him from doing so.

I loved the middle because stuff I never knew about Herbie Hancock’s interaction with Miles Davis got talked about; that Miles paid his collaborators to practice on stage, exploring unknown aspects of their personal and collective musicianship to see what together might be made of moments when remarkably competent players exceed their competencies in an environment of suspended judgmental resourcefulness, focused on the primacy of radical innovation.

And I loved the end that brought me back to something I read through earlier today:

http://bhorowitz.com/2010/04/28/why-we-prefer-founding-ceos/

which leads me to see a single narrative throughline crisscrossing the qualitative/categorical gaps that separate technology startups from feature films from musical collaborations from blogs, fiction and autobiographies: 

Media are environmental gaps between A and B.  Whether hostile to or facilitative of communication (between A and B) is only a matter of degree, but the ability/inability to connect competent practitioners of one discipline with another can be determined only by building bridges, recognizing story-commonalities on both sides of the gap and overcoming inertia.

I really like the comments that reply to the AndreessenHorowitz post because they emphasise the difference between hired-gun-CEOs and people whose self-assigned mission is to realize possibilities.  And I find it amazing how similar are the post’s itemized characteristics of exemplary founders and admirable artists:

  • Comprehensive knowledge
  • Moral authority
  • Total commitment to the long-term

I also got off on the music.  Check it out.  Stories are people too.

Eleven months later:

I just realized that I forgot to specify any meaning to the term Transnarrative Media.  It’s threads of meaningful and valuable sense that run through stories owned by competing entities, and reveal themselves clearly to those of us who regard storytellers as brands, even if some of us are clearly delusional.

01 May 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Comments Off on Transnarrative Media

GunnFire

The commentary track of Lullaby (Angel 3.09) is provided by Tim Minear, who co-wrote and directed the episode, and Mere Smith,  writer and script coordinator.  It’s the funniest and most insightful 43 minutes of focussed conversation since Lem Dobbs and Steven Soderbergh argued their way through The Limey. 

Lullaby is a pivotal episode in the development of the saga that brings a final end to Darla and introduces Connor, but Minear and Smith somehow manage to kill (one another and me) in the course of a stand-up/sit-down, microscopic leer behind the scenes of the making of M.E. product.  (I really believe that Darla became the soul of the franchise [and Connor was the stake in its heart]).  Plymouth Cock landed on Darla in a way that permitted her backstory to drop dimensional shadow on the whole whore of American history.  Mutant Enemy barely utilized that exquisitely beautiful teaching aid.

Late in the lively frivolity, derisive mention is made of That Old Gang of Mine (3.03) in which Gunn’s loyalties are divided between his old crew and his new one, while black characters perpetrate violent acts of indiscrimate racial intolerance against a local minority population (of dangerous and harmless demons).  I mentioned the rarity of media insight into black racism in an earlier post on Lakeview Terrace, which leads me to marvel at Tim Minear’s (and Mutant Enemy’s) courage in exploring that special brand of darkness that doesn’t seem to win awards or even lift many eyebrows.  (District 9 tried to go there too, but it overdosed on Stupid and Brutal before it succumbed to Moronic.)

I wonder that a white guy from Whittier (Nixon Country — 43.2% white, 1.2% black, 1.3% Indian in 2000) even took a sympathetic shot at addressing the black experience, let alone an intriguingly clear, equivocal one.  Apart from the unambiguously negative regard with which Tim remarked on That Old Gang of Mine, I’d really like to know how it was meant to fit in the M.E. product line, and how it failed to make the more satisfying statement he obviously intended.

The purpose of this post, however, is to mention a kind of alternative interpretive overlay in which I see significant similarities between Charles Gunn and Malcolm Reynolds. 

Gunn’s pickup truck is introduced in War Zone (1.20), bristling with a stake-throwing, bed-mounted machine gun, and Reaver-style Wash-stickers, strongly resembling “the boat”, late in the BigDamnMovie.  I see another similarity in the gradual raising of Gunn from the heartbroken leader of a streetgang (“muscle”) to the stature of a diplomat in the struggle against overpowering and nearly-immortal sanctioned corruption…which (to my mind [vampire/empire]) resembles the evolution of Malcolm Reynolds from the ungenteel son of an independent rancher to heroic soldier, outlaw, bearer of bad news for the established Allied government, and (ultimately) a leader and diplomat in a subsequent war for interplanetary independence.  I even wonder whether J. August Richards was eyeballed to play the role that was given to Nathan Fillion.  No telling, but there’s room for speculation.

One of many latent conflicts deeply embedded in Firefly is the distinct possibility that slavery and indentured servitude remained to be explored in later episodes/seasons, foreshadowed by Badger’s inspection of the teeth of a woman as Mal enters Badger’s office all the way back in the pilot episode, and Badger’s insistence, in that scene, on the importance of his elevated place (above Reynolds) in the wider social hierarchy in which a businessman on a border planet like Persephone ranks significantly higher than the captain of a Ford F-100.  I think the poignancy of a black Capt. Reynolds, veteran of a war of independence against a culture dependent upon the institution of slavery, would have provided the writers additional leverage in telling tales of biting contemporary relevance by means of the microscope of American history and the telescope of speculative, character-driven fiction.  Tag Glory, buzz Ali, circle The Hurricane and honor The Killer Angels by citing George Pickett’s parable of a gentlemen’s club from the point of view of someone who would not or could not belong to a society that would love to have him as a member; choice/no-choice; states’ rights versus federal obligation (to obliterate slavery).  We just can’t seem to put that pesky slavery thing to bed.

Sexual and racial imperfections in the American character were masterfully massaged in the course of the first two series, and what’s coming from the brand I most admire (Mutant Enemy) remains to be seen repeatedly and reinterpreted to death…the overdue death of obscene and obsolete institutions.

Can entertainment production companies teach, change unquestioned practices?  Can television teach?  Where’s Murrow?

07 Jan 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Blue Hands

In Sanctuary (Angel 1.19) Detectives Lockley and Kendrick converse casually but meaningfully while investigating one of Faith’s innumerable crime scenes.  They talk about pithy junk before Kendrick challenges Lockley’s faith in ooga-booga-stuff with unassailable, empirical and logical reason by nailing her with a topical X-Files reference, which Lockley corrects by undercutting Kendrick’s faith in his generally cocky cop-hipness.  Whatever.  The most remarkable aspect of this interaction is that all of the plainclothed and uniformed cops trooping around the room are sporting blue(-gloved) hands in an episode that aired 02May00, which is just about 28 months before the BlueHands guys made their first appearance on Firefly.

Sanctuary was written by Tim Minear and Joss Whedon, who must have noticed the striking visual peculiariarity of the viagra/TidyBowl-mitts-effect and  simply incorporated that unsettling visual event into the repertoir of the disturbingly bureaucratic and lethal Blue Hands duo, like an ace-in-the-hole.  The other intriguing similarity resides in the Firefly episode, Safe, in which some stress is placed on the irony of the episode-title in that nobody we care about (not even two very rich generations of Tams) is remotely free of danger — and just as Angel confidently comforts Faith in the certainty that no harm can befall her in the comfort of the sanctuary his ultra-low-profile fortress will afford, a heavily-armed Council of Watchers taskforce descends like nightmare terrorists into her morbid gloom and attempts to put the boot to the big damned hero-vampire, rogue slayer and most anybody dumb enough to be caught in Angel’s subtextual asylum.

I’m not saying that any of these casual observations are important or terribly meaningful, but they’re nothing less than noteworthy, either.

29 Dec 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

Coraline

I found a lot to like last night in the iTunes rental of a very photogenic movie that reminded me of Buffy Summers taking up residence a the lip of another hellmouth.  A plucky, prickly, idiosyncratic,  female hero contradicts my sixty years of Dudly DoRight programming.  I like that kind of a lot; but upon reflection, this morning I’ve begun to see a certain resemblance in Coraline to the desperate American themes that flowed out of 9/11.

Coraline Jones’ dissatisfaction with intractable governance by her modern, negligent, (and wired) distracted parents leads her to explore a new domain in which more-attractive alternatives eventually reveal themselves to be an incontestible evil presence that threatens the security of her homeland.

Maybe I’m responding to the film with ingrained male chauvenist resentment for the subordination of maleness in a story that features three females in positions of preeminent power, and maybe it doesn’t matter.   The most intriguing consideration is that the source of evil in this movie receives no particle of sympathy, which reminds me of our president’s near-simultaneous Nobel acceptance speech in which the presence of absolute evil in the world justifies the inevitablity of war.  It’s a point of view that negates for me the attractive platitudes about hope and change that raised a contradiction into preeminent prominence.

I really liked the film, but I find the reality nauseating.

Not long ago, I mentioned an interest in learning more about India’s struggle for independence from Britain.  Unfortunately, I NetFlixed Lord Mountbatten:  The Last Viceroy as a DVD tele-remedy for my woeful ignorance.  It’s one tough slog for several reasons. 

Everybody speaks English in this 6hour presentation.  Nobody speaks American, and the various characterizations of famous and notorious personages weigh in with interminable passages of important exposition that’s more or less incomprehensible, while millions of Hindus and Muslims are busily wreaking profoundly irrational vengeance against one another and kicking the crap out of Sikhs.  The entire native populations of India come off as relative nutbags as the representatives of Britain appear to be ingenious, resourceful and steadfastly rational.  This is not the story I need to learn anything about the release from colonial bondage of a people engaged in the successful search for freedom (from the box of intellectual property confusion).  It’s, instead, the ideosyncratic tale of a landscape of victims, as far as the eye can see, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is even worse, although the Le Carre interview in TTSS‘s special features is deeply and remarkably insightful with regard to the conscientous consequences of maintaining imperial dominion.

“Ideosyncratic” isn’t spelled correctly, but it says precisely what I mean; that an ideational agenda (supporting the benevolence of despotism) underlies the quirky and more-or-less entertaining recitation of docu/fantasy events that compose the theme of all three stories.  The idea at the root of that common agenda is that incarnate evil exists and must be violently opposed.

In Coraline, that evil is an older, desperately-loving and empty version of Coraline Jones.  In The Last Viceroy it’s an undefined age-old history of religious intolerance.  In Tinker…it’s duplicitous indifference in the imploding-vacuum consciences of our best&brightest undercover patriots.  But in all three stories, the villain is an interesting and familiar two-dimensional stereotype whose point-of-view is underrepresented, except as a terrible force that thwarts the good guys.  The good guys ultimately win, and the benevolent, confusing despotism of copyright law prevails.

Max comes closer than anything I’ve read or seen to a sympathetic demonstration the rationale of evil incarnate; self-interested opportunism.  That’s good enough, for now.

11 Dec 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment

Remedial Entertainment

Struggling to follow along with various discussions of transmedia entertainment, I’ve come to think of this inevitable trend as “remedial”. 

I was deeply surprised a few years ago to find, while participating in a couple of Firefly forums, that I was  rubbing virtual shoulders with profoundly conservative Browncoats, whose interpretations of the beloved text (we’d all studied scrupulously and thoroughly admired) reflected political views that were diametrically opposed to mine.  I was shocked that I’d never noticed that my unspoken assumptions about government, personal responsibility and junk like that weren’t shared by 100% of the Whedon-loving community.

A little research led to the realization that my reading of Whedon’s liberal intent onto the material was no more valid than the libertarian and reactionary readings of people I’ve always tended to visualize as rednecked mastercriminals.  Define evil.  Nope — try again.

The simple fact that a single property has the power to draw together wildly divergent audiences under a common banner is the primary reason I like to call this stuff remedial; it facilitates healing of the bleeding, hostile chasm that prevents adherents of opposed political agendas from talking to one another with good ol’ indispensible civility.

Remedial also applies, in another sense, to my personal history (in the 80s and 90s) of having dropped the habit of reading, going to movies, watching television, and feeling plugged into contemporary culture.  I was busy failing to teach myself to draw for 15 years, pretty much 16 hours/day.  So when I was loaned the Serenity DVD for a weekend in 2005, I (reluctantly but spontaneously) devoured the film four times that Saturday afternoon before racing out to Tower Records to buy myself a copy and snag the season of Firefly…which blasted open my perceptual doors to a great many unexpectable things and scads of additional “branded” purchases over the past few years.  “Branding” has absolutely nothing to do with the studio (20th) that owns the IP, nor the FOX network that botched&cancelled the 2002 broadcast presentation (my money’s on Sandy Grushow for that unforgivable series of blunders). 

Since 2005, I’ve been engaged in an autodidactic bonehead crash-course in media culture, trying to catch up (to the communal worldview of an audience and writer-director who’ve been paying attention to stuff I stopped watching for a couple of decades) by following some of the vaguest and most ill-concieved treads of association imaginable.  A comprehensive list here is impracticable, but among my most peculiar trains of thought are examples of deranged rumination that led me to see the operative as Paladin (in Have Gun – Will Travel) Season One, and Tom Whedon (father of Joss) has a few things to say in the special features of the DVD re-release of The Dick Cavett Show:  Comic Legends.  Although, looking for Reaver-spoor in Texas Ranch House is more wishful thinking than common sense.  I’d estimate 75 pounds of better choices amassed in the past four years.  I’ve even made a chart of the ideas I wanted to pursue across dozens of properties that have nothing to do with 20th nor FOX, except coincidentally.

The thing is that the casual loan of a DVD four years ago ignited in me a hunger I didn’t know I had, and the hunger still burns fairly brightly.  I didn’t know one could read by the light that hunger gives off.  So…long after “the death of print”, I’m reading more now in a week than I read throughout the 80s (except for three bewildered passes though The Photoshop v2.5 Bible, before I had a computer) and injecting annoyingly irrelevant remarks at Henry Jenkins blog:

http://henryjenkins.org/2009/09/the_aesthetics_of_transmedia_i_2.html

for example.  And even though I usually feel like a Special Ed student at the back of a class designed for the best&brightest pupils, the informality of my remedial education doesn’t seem to prevent me from participating, yet.  Perhaps it’s just a lack of common decency.

Early in Convergence Culture, Professor Jenkins differentiates communication platforms from media.  I suspect that the differences between these two closely-related phenomena are easily and frequently confused, and that that confusion impedes a clear understanding of the role the transmedia movement will play in healing a divided and mistrustful Union.

It’s just preliminary thinking on my part, but I think certain platforms effectively target particular communities. 

  • Radio (now often called audibooks at iTunes) is probably far more appealing to people who don’t see or don’t read than books and graphic novels are. 
  • Radio leaves a lot to be desired by the deaf as a means to communicate nuance. 
  • Silent films (in particular) with their frequent use of intersitial text, but all movies and television that condense exposition with printed verbiage don’t really keep illiterates optimally engaged — likewise, subtitles. 

The point of this (my exercise in transparent stupidity) is to suggest that transmedia (in this example, trans-platform) entertainment presents any one singlularly immersive world of engaging content from as many platforms as is feasible in order to attract to that media property the largest audience possible.  If I knew more than I do about videogames, I’d lump them in here, as well.

From this perspective, perhaps Bob Iger sanctioned Marvel to draw the nuclear family together again.  Pixar attracts everyone in the family to a seat under the Disney entertainment umbrella, except the leather-jacketed, disaffected rebel, who’d rather be out raising hell or clubbing than joining in family night at the multiplex.  Remedial entertainment from a vertically integrated, transnational conglomerate that’s hellbent, Buy’nLarge, on grabbing Up the attention of the entire family with wholesome family entertainment, whether they want the entire Disney-ethos package, or not.

On the subject of enumerating “platforms”, I’ll probably stay fairly fuzzy and confused until I can learn to differentiate traditional classroom education from other forms that strongly resemble it.  Stand-up comedy is often indistinguishable from modes employed by classroom teachers.  So I’ll pull out all the stops and stop blithering entirely, once I’ve suggested that remedial edutainment is desperately needed in the necessary evolution of the dying discipline of journalism, our government’s holiest and most-reviled limb.

…except for one more thing and that’s that X-Men Origins: Wolverine doesn’t just kick ass, it pulverizes it — and Lynn Collins brought all the juice to her role as Kayla Silverfox, Wolverine’s girlfriend, that came with her to Portia in The Merchant of Venice.  We’re talking bout the quality of mercy, here.  Vaporized it.  Jackman, Schreiber, Kitsch and Reynolds! Nobody phoned this one in.

18 Sep 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment