Media Franchise Identity

In his conclusion, Derek Johnson states that after writing this book, Media Franchising he believes franchising itself is often misunderstood as the homogenization of culture. Rather, “Creative in the sense that franchises must be creatively bounded with other cultural products that may be very different, and thus collaboration calls for a specific type of creativity, which can bound the two, creating a more heterogenous franchise” (238). His understanding is that these collaborations between media and products with creative contributions from different parties, help to sustain franchises is reproducing new cultural identities to existing forms of cultural products as well as the creativity involved in collaboration between to seemingly different franchises. An example of the changes to a franchise made over time, is Johnson’s discussion of  the Battlestar Galactica franchise. The creative producers decided to change the lead masculine role of Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica (1978), from a “tough talking, cigar-chomping, male action hero” to a “tough talking, cigar-chomping, female action hero” in the 2003 remake version (62). This change of a male character to a female character caused discussion over a “feminized nature of mass culture,” and a changing sense of identity in seemingly masculine franchises (63). This exemplifies how a franchise changes over time, creatively in relation to budding audiences and social structures in societies, to create new identities for new parties. 

Franchising does not, therefore, carry a stable set of meanings and values, but proves to be an imaginative field in which gender differences and other vectors of social power can structure and shape ongoing bids for economic and cultural legitimacy. Though instances such as Dirk Benedict’s Battlestar critique represent rare moments when that work becomes most explicit, franchising makes industrial production of culture imaginable not only through a history and form of economic organization shared with retail business formats, but also through cultural terms such as gender and sexuality (64).

Johnson makes clear that qualities of a franchise change over time, as pertaining to “social power” changes within society, as well as an economic organization based on that of ‘retail business,’ thus, in a way finding new ways of retailing culture. Although, the collaborations of franchises and their differences overtime seem to create a heterogenous aspect to their system, Johnson reminds us of the power of ownership over these franchises, which is the ultimate goal of the franchise.

To be clear, the collaborative partnerships implied by the franchise system were not democratic collectivities, and my attempt here to identify heterogeneity and difference within these networked relationships should not be considered evidence of utopian forms of cultural production hidden within the machinations of industry. Even when dispersed through a collaborative network in ways that complicate top-down industrial hierarchies, power still matters (238-39)

Although franchises draw from consumer identities and interests, it is still a top-down momentum, which drives franchises to gain their power over media and consumer goods. Media franchises produce cultural products, which consumers relate with, and identify with, and therefore help to guide, but the owners of the cultural products have the final say. They are large collaborations, meaning that these cultural products are made available over more platforms. They shape identities, as Johnson points out in the first chapter, “media franchising is a site of social and cultural reproduction where gender difference is structured, policed, and given value” (59). Gender identifications are created and culturally reproduced with a given value, and these cultural identifiers are ways of reaching a group of consumers but this cultural value is a means to gain money. They seek to expand their franchise identity across media platforms and through consumer goods. As Johnson notes, “Through franchising–an industrially driven process perceived as unchecked expansion ad assimilation across cultural contexts– media products have proved culturally threatening not just in their seeming lack of sophistication, but in the challenge  choice, diversity, and creativity posed by their mechanistic, almost viral drive toward self-replication” (2). While he also proves that there is more to the franchise, there is still the fear of a franchise overtaking the market and leaving little room for other creativity. Because these franchises gain momentum from consumers identifying closely with the cultural products they own– diversity will remain an issue in the industrialization of cultural products.

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