Lemke on Board with ‘inter-media world franchises’

On May 29, 2005 by christy

I’ve just discovered that Jay Lemke, a semiotician, has cast his eye on transmedia. Very cool. He terms this area ‘inter-media world franchises’ and looks to the usual suspects: Harry Potter, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, America’s Army, Disney, Manga, Star Trek and so on.

My aim here is first to identify the phenomenon of the distributed franchise as a new kind of inter-medium with significant ideological potential. Second, to argue that some of its features, such as immersive alternative worlds and identification through online fan or player communities, as well as its ability to continue to re-present itself to us in many guises, in many sites, and across extended periods of time, may make it a more powerful medium for shaping peopleÂ’s views of what is natural in the social world than prior media. And finally, to ask what extensions of CDA, conceptually and in terms of research practices, will be needed to enable us to assess the affordances, effects, and dangers of this new inter-medium and its messages.

I want to argue that the ability of the franchises to extend the experience of engagement with their worlds across space and time is a key feature for their potential ideological influence.

Lemke provides a curious distinction though, with the separation of franchises according to game genres.

It is important at this point to distinguish among the various genres of computer games in relation to gameworld franchises. To some extent these genres are blurring today as hybrids attempt to maximize appeal to players, but there are certain principles at work in the genre divisions that are relevant to this analysis.

Lemke mentions some genres: RPGs, FSPs, sports-playing games. I think it is not so helpful to categorise franchises according to genres, but Lemke’s argument is about the ideological function of franchises. Lemke then traces a line between games and globalisation, discussing how games are sold as ‘cultural products’:

I am making these loose connections to the globalization of capitalist-commercial culture because of the familiar argument that the increasing scale of commercial production and the drive to maximize profits in global markets favors the creation of more culturally uniform markets. To sell LOTR or Final Fantasy in global-scale markets, you need the power to create demand for what are essentially cultural products (in the sense that desire for these products arises mainly from the need to define and express culturally-significant identities).

Lemke makes the interesting point that the ‘virtual-world franchises are also engaged in this project of re-creating stratified global market-cultures’.

Some big, exciting quotes for the cross-media researchers out there:

there is a new global cultural order in the making

I believe that the most interesting new phenomena in terms of how ideological effects are carried by semiotic media arise in the new inter-media world-franchises, and this is where I am focusing my own efforts to develop research techniques and theoretical conceptualizations to more effectively analyze inter-discursivity across products, media, and markets.

Not only do we not have adequate models of semiotic effects and inter-discursivity for each of these media individually, but many of the discursive and ideological effects of interest in inter-media franchises depend on inter-relations among presentations in coordinated, multiple semiotic media.

Lemke also makes some interesting comments on how these works will be approached. I found this interesting because I am currently working on a taxonomy of polymorphic narratives.

Accordingly, the precise subdivisions of the market for, say, films and those for videogames or fantasy novels may well not be the same. In fact, part of my thesis here is that through the work of the franchises capital is trying to make them become the same. What I expect will be seen in an empirical analysis is the construction, in franchise products and across franchise products, of various imposed principles for categorization, such as those defined in BernsteinÂ’s more abstract view of classification systems (Bernstein, 1981), playing upon and seeking to reinforce those which are already naturalized from the prior history of Western capitalist cultures. In all these cases, I expect to see an interplay between efforts to homogenize the market by conflating categories or principles of classification and efforts to maintain or reformulate the differentiation and hierarchization of the market/culture.

To end, Lemke proposes some ideas for extending Critical Discourse Analysis. The first is a ‘cross-media analysis of inter-discursivity, which builds on HallidayÂ’s meta-functional principles for language and on my interpretation of BakhtinÂ’s notion of heteroglossia’:

[W]e need to ask which groups of people identify with which media artifacts and qualities (types of music, types of art, types of videogames; visual styles, musical styles, gameplay styles), and then discover what principles are at work for differentiating and hierarchizing these groups that can be discerned from the affordances of the media artifacts themselves.

The approach he outlines is dubbed ‘a “multiplicative model” of multi-media meaning effects (Lemke, 1998), because it assumes that meaning effects are not simply additive, but “multiply” insofar as the meaning potential, or set of possible meanings from each component multiplies that from each other component, creating in principle a vast combinatorial space of meaning possibilities.’
The second strategy is to ‘look for instances of cross-modal subversion of consistent meaning effects’. In other words, how ‘no two semiotic resource systems are capable of producing exactly the same meaning potential in a text or artifact’.

The third and final strategy is that of ‘”traversal” analysis’. This approach analyses how meanings are gathered across ‘institutions’ and how contradictions are discovered.

The ideal approach is to combine multi-site ethnography with critical discourse analysis of the texts and media encountered by subjects in the course of their life-traversals (this would of course need to include interviews to assess subjectsÂ’ interpretations of each text/product and also across sites and texts). This approach is however quite difficult in practice because of the need to coordinate two levels of data collection and two levels of analysis: one on the timescale of short encounters with media, and the other on the timescale of lived days and weeks, many orders of magnitude greater.

He he he. There are some of us that are working on making this happen!
Lemke ends with this:

I hope that this sketch of phenomena, issues, and strategies for research goes some way toward formulating a research agenda for the extension of the project of critical discourse analysis to an important class of new media and potential new sites of ideological effects.

Come on down researchers! The more the merrier! I’ve added Lemke to my Researcher Page on my Polymorphic Narrative site.

Lemke, J. (2004) ‘Critical Analysis across Media: Games, Franchises, and the New Cultural Order’ presented at First International Conference on Critical Discourse Analysis, Valencia, published by Jay Lemke’s Personal Webpage [Online] Available at: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jaylemke/papers/Franchises/Valencia-CDA-Franchises.htm