Theorizing Threaded Media; or, Why James Bond Isn’t Just a Failed Attempt at Star Wars

Colin Burnett, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies, Washington University in St. Louis

In today’s media industry, transmedia storytelling is all the craze. With integral elements of their stories dispersed across various media, franchises such as Star Wars now create media-savvy consumers invested in piecing together a unified serial arc from diverse entertainment experiences. But is transmedia storytelling as dominant as many have claimed? In this talk, I show that several alternatives, no less committed to a broad media presence, exist in today’s franchising scene. In order to account for the positive contributions these alternatives have made, and thereby put transmedia in its proper context—as one multimedia storytelling option among many—I propose a whole new approach, focusing on one such alternative, which I call threaded media storytelling. Properties like James Bond differ from Star Wars by showing a preference for intermedial multiplicity over unity, providing consumers with numerous serial continuities to “thread” between in distinct media. For decades, this multi-continuity strategy, one that sacrifices transmedial unity, has proven to be a reliable one for franchise storytellers, at times resulting in some rather intricate experiments in multimedia serial plotting.  

Colin Burnett received his PhD in Film at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2011. His work focuses on the cultural marketplace—the ideas, sensibilities, languages, and social relations that shape how film and media circulate—and its effects on artistic practice, mainly in non-US contexts. His first book, The Invention of Robert Bresson: The Auteur and His Market (2017), re-reads the elusive Bresson style as the product of a subtle form of exchange between the auteur and a confluence of recent aesthetic, literary, theoretical, and cinephilic trends. He is currently at work on a second book, titled Serial Bonds: The Multimedia Life of 007, which investigates the creative “play” the James Bond franchise has fostered among authorized and unauthorized writers and artists around the globe and how this play has resulted in one of the most complex experiments in serial storytelling in the history of the media franchise.

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