“To burn with the intention of leaving a mark on an object or livestock.”
-Traditional definition of “branding” before the 20th century
Successful transmedia must be impactful. If it is going to travel across multiple platforms, it needs to be carried not only by fiber but also by meaning. In an effort to stay current and “with it” in the ever-changing world of the exponential growth that “Moore’s Law” brings, sometimes we forget the obvious: Transmedia still needs to move us. Transmedia is not only about whistles and bells, science fiction and fantasy, or gaming applications – if it is to be successful, it needs to hold impact.
I was reminded of this when I was at Borders the other day, trying to get the graphic novel of Diary of Anne Frank for my niece Jane Kirkpatrick. The idea of turning Anne Frank’s diary into a comic book was a bit outlandish so I was anxious to have a quick look at it myself amidst all the journalistic hullabaloo. The graphic novel was sold out and on “back order.” On that day, I had to settle, egads, for the original Diary text without pictures or “re-imaginings”. I found a nice edition that had a woven gold book mark that was embedded in the binding, like an old-time dictionary or the Bible. As Jane had just become 16; I thought it was age appropriate.
“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life.”
Jane acted excited about receiving the book, but she was well raised and is always kind to her uncle, so who really knew? Several weeks later, she sent me a surprising email, “I just finished it today and it changed my entire perspective of life. It was so tragic to know what the Jewish people had to go through. You really opened my eyes. I was a mess at the end of the story. Tissues galore.”
I was moved not only my niece’s graciousness but by how the power of the word, of a realized moment on paper. It can speak across time and space from a young girl of 1943 in a ravaged Amsterdam to a millennial girl of 2011 in Lancaster, Massachusetts. Of course, when I started thinking about the noble life of Anne being ripped away from her in such evil violence, I was reminded how her written , eloquent story had been translated , for the last 70 years, into award winning plays, movies, television and yes, now, a graphic novel. I think of all the “Annes” in my own life who were named and marked by the young heroine of the holocaust and how their lives became influenced by that noble name. When considering Transmedia stories, we must now include the platform of naming : actual people who bear the name of the fictional or non fictional character. In many cases, they carry on the ideals of their namesakes.
Winston Churchill once said, that “we shaped the buildings and then the buildings shaped us.” Culture is constantly framing us. We are seeing technology shape us in ways both positive and cautionary. A name also shapes us. The most important book of fiction outside of Catcher in the Rye in the post-war generation was , of course, To Kill A Mockingbird. My friends, Michael Hoffman and Samantha Silva, named their first born, Atticus, after the selfless, social justice hero of To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch. While I haven’t seen their son, Atticus Hoffman, in many years, I am told that he has started some very cool soccer camps for under privileged kids when just a junior in high school. I am sure Atticus will grow into the strong and chivalrous man for which he is named. On Facebook, Atticus lists To Kill a Mockingbird as one of his favorite books.
I have great fondness for the written word. I have this habit of going to Staples and using their blue print machine to make posters of quotes I have liked. It’s a great deal and under $5 dollars. This was a giant poster of one of the quotes from novelist Harper Lee that hung in my office for years:
People would read that quote and get “goosebumps” or “shivers down my back”. Maybe it’s a different experience when it is confined to small type on a blog.
The American Film Institute names the number one hero in world cinema, not Spartacus or Luke Skywalker, both transmedia heroes and high on the list, but Atticus Finch. Atticus carried neither sword nor light saber, but a heart for the opressed. I read the book when I was 10. I saw the movie when I was 11 . I performed in the play when I was 12, playing Jem. To Kill A Mockingbird was my first transmedia experience in the early 1960s and it informed my life and culture, and the Civil Rights Movement. According to the latest Harris Interactive poll, To Kill A Mockingbird is still among the top ten most read books of western culture.
As an adult working in media I did my best to work with the people associated with the movie from Horton Foote who penned the lean and efficient screenplay (still one of the great book-to-screen adaptions) , Robert Mulligan, the director, to Alan Pakula, the producer. I even tried to reach out to Harper Lee as recently as 2006 about naming a proposed film studio project on the east coast , “Atticus Heights”. She most kindly rebuffed me on school-lined paper. Below is the telling artifact:-)
Transmedia is not only about the bells and whistles. What was the surprise of the Grinch when he heard the creatures of Whoville sing that Christmas morning? “ It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags…”
It seems to me that the enduring transmedia product includes the classic themes that make us all human; and that the great transmedia story will continue to brand us in heroism. So it is that a transmedia story or character does not have to come only from the world of science factory or fantasy. A friend of mine who heads up a transmedia division at a major publishing concern , Keith Clayton, recently said s that neither he nor his company wants to confine transmedia focus only to science fiction or fantasy genres. That’s a great sign.
With so much uncertain in the world, it is exciting to conjecture that a noble character, as Anne Frank or Atticus Finch, could grace the pages and screens of our culture for a new generation. So I hope that the storytellers of tomorrow will be bold and remember that meaning gives rise to the shimmering surface of things.