Locating the World-Builder

World-BuildingIn his book Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries, Derek Johnson does an impressive job theorizing media franchising, and furthermore, displays a multidisciplinary approach very similar to that of the media franchise itself. Henry Jenkins, professor at University of Southern California and prevalent media scholar, conducted an interview with Derek Johnson just over a month ago on January 15, entitled Rethinking the “Value” of Entertainment Franchises: An Interview with Derek Johnson (Part One)Johnson, who cites Jenkins in his own work, admits to one of the most eminent dilemmas regarding media franchising:

As much as franchise products may or may not be indicative of creativity, I see franchising more broadly as a site of struggle over creativity, what it means, and who can claim it in industrial contexts. (Jenkins, 1)

This battle to “locate” creativity seems to fall neatly into the discussion in our last class session regarding the writer’s rights in an ever-evolving digital landscape during the early 2000s. The notion of storytelling proves vital to both media franchising and writers, specifically. As Professor Stenger asked early in the class, “Who is the real storyteller? Can the editor be credited as a storyteller?” The question seemed to provoke some equivocal responses; it is supremely difficult to identify the source of creativity as if it is some concrete location. Johnson quotes Jenkins in regards to the storytelling process, and how it pertains to media franchising:

As Henry Jenkins suggests of contemporary media, ‘storytelling has become the art of world building, as artists create compelling environments that cannot be fully explored or exhausted within a single work or even a single medium.’ (Johnson, 108)

Johnson goes on to point out the flaws in Jenkins’ thoughts on storytelling’s role in media franchising. He notes that franchising is, “better conceived in the terms of world-sharing than world-building” (Johnson, 109). This is to say that storytelling is the process of world-building, whereas franchising is the process of spreading and evolving that world in a multimodal fashion. Once a constructed world is adopted and franchised, it essentially loses any potential point of origin in regards to its creation. In other words, the original writer falls victim to the countless other writers that will adopt the world in another format. Professor Stenger made this point quite clear last class.

The word “franchise”, as Johnson notes, inherently connotes and promotes certain negative connotations. For instance, franchises are thought of as ‘self-propagating’; in other words, they automatically beckon recreation and matriculation. However, Johnson argues:

Franchises do not replicate themselves: they are produced in negotiated social and cultural contexts that demand exploration. (Johnson, 3)

It is the appropriation of the original story that results in the apparent threat to the original source of creativity. In this sense, media franchising is a double-edged sword; while it presents a valid and effective manner for spreading a constructed world (the examples are endless), it simultaneously promotes that world as rhizomic, thus complicating the originality, and furthermore, the validity of the original author’s work. This desire to locate the creator is somehow engrained in the human fiber; Johnson admits to a similar claim.

“…[franchising] is both a logic for multiplying media production, but also a meaningful discourse for making sense of and assigning value to that production.” (Jenkins, 1)

In my opinion, there may not be a way to avoid the issue of authorship in regards to media franchising. It is at once an incredibly profitable and far-reaching manner of product evolution, yet raises issues in regards to the validity of that product. It seems that, as new media has tightened its grip on parts of the world, consumers will be progressively forced to acknowledge the faults of franchisement.

Image found here.


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