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A Critical Review of Convergence Culture Through The Matrix, Survivor, and Harry Potter

25 Apr

It may not seem like it, but The Matrix, Survivor, Harry Potter, and American Idol all have something in common. The book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, illustrates how consumers are taking an active role with these various forms of media. Instead of being passive, consumers participate with multi-media, and by doing so have much more active and engaging experiences. The author, Henry Jenkins, argues the importance of focusing on how consumers “are encouraged to seek out new information and make connections among dispersed media content”. This theory is key in understanding the future of media.

To analyze this argument, it is important to recognize the credentials of the author. Henry Jenkins directed MIT’s graduate program, Comparative Media Studies for 15 years. He is now a Provost Professor of Communication at the University of Southern California (University of Southern California). His previous work focused on pop culture, communities, democracy and other related topics (University of Southern California). This research led to the creation of the Convergence Culture book, and then to the formation of The Convergence Culture Consortium, a group of researchers at MIT who analyze the implications of media convergence (Convergence Culture Consortium).

In addition to his accomplishments, Henry Jenkins presents very strong evidence to show that culture is shifting towards a more participatory environment where consumers are able to expand their media experience through multiple platforms: convergence. Similarly, Transmedia is a narrative told across multiple platforms; it is one part of convergence culture. One of the strongest examples Jenkins gave to show the culture shift was through Transmedia and The Matrix. Instead of just producing movies, the creators of The Matrix crafted a media universe that consisted of an animated series, comic books, video games, and many other forms of media. Each one of these mediums provided a platform for the creators to expand the story of the series, and allowed people to take an active role in the overall story.

Jenkins also argues that the ease of online communication allows people to take an active role in the convergence of entertainment. By dong so, their media experience is expanded and a community of knowledge is created. Survivor is used as an example. Some of the fans worked together to predict which cast members would last the longest on the TV show. Others even analyzed how many pounds a cast member had lost to determine how long they were on the show. They pooled their resources and created an online community that expanded Survivor’s media scope and fan experiences.

Jenkins had a very sound research style. He presented evidence, and where applicable, discussed both sides of the argument. For example, he discussed how effective The Matrix was in using Transmedia, but admitted it “was a flawed experiment, an interesting failure”.  He explained that it was a failure because the story was not expanded upon fully in each medium. Movie critics thought The Matrix sequels were poorly written because there seemed to be gaps in the stories. Similarly, people that played the video games, read the comics, and watched the animated version thought that those stories needed more substance.

Because of Jenkins’ ability to present the research, the main argument was very convincing. Participation within the convergence culture is demonstrated very well through The Matrix and Survivor, but Jenkins’ example of convergence and fan participation within the Harry Potter franchise was excellent. A 13-year-old girl started The Daily Prophet, a “Web-based school newspaper for the fictional Hogwarts [school]”. Currently, over 100 children from around the world contribute to its publication. Kids were able to create a fictional characters based on Harry Potter characters and plotlines, while practicing their creative writing. The process helped kids learn, but also expanded upon the Harry Potter universe as well.

The author of Harry Potter encouraged the fan fiction, but when Warner Brothers bought the rights to the Harry Potter franchise, they reacted negatively. Warner Brothers sent cease and desist letters to many of the kids that had created the Harry Potter websites, but The Daily Prophet created a petition that had a “call to arms against studios that fail to appreciate their supporters”, with the intent to protect other fan-based work, even beyond Harry Potter. Currently, the studio allows fan-based work but retains the right to shut down their sites at any time. This example showed how fans have taken an active role in expanding upon, and interacting with media. It also shows the issues that will arise with both fans and copyright holders.

Henry Jenkins created the definitive work on convergence culture. His arguments were effective, and the information he presented in the book was highly relevant. It will become the basis for my term project in Evolutions and Trends on Digital Media. I will focus on how Transmedia has created a more compelling user experience. Anyone who wants understand the future of media should read this book. The contemporary examples Jenkins used can serve as good lessons for the future of media convergence.

Resources

University of Southern California. (n.d.). Faculty. Retrieved April 23, 2011, from University of Southern California: http://annenberg.usc.edu/Faculty/Communication%20and%20Journalism/JenkinsH.aspx

Convergence Culture Consortium. (n.d.). About C3. Retrieved April 23, 2011, from Convergence Culture Consortium: http://www.convergenceculture.org/aboutc3/

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where old and New Media Collide. New York, NY: New York University.

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