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Blog: What's The PhD About Then?

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Since finishing my PhD (which, by the way, I have) many lovely people have congratulated me, some even willingly without me hanging around saying "I HAVE FINISHED MY PHD" in a casual way until they did. Very few (to be precise: 0) people however have asked me what it is ABOUT. I take this to be a delightful indication of everyone being POLITE - "he's probably had enough of talking about it after all this time" they assume, "so let's not bother him about it, despite us all desperately wanting to know because it is almost certainly incredibly interestimg."

For this kindness, much thanks, and in my gratitude over the next few blogs I'll try and do a VERY QUICK (honest) explanation. The title of the thesis was "Doctor Doom In The Marvel Age: An Empirical Approach To Transmedia Character Coherence", which is a) clearly the coolest PhD Title EVER but b) a bit much to get your head around in one go, so the best bet is to split it up into PARTS. For this reason, I'll just do the "Transmedia Character Coherence" bit today - it's the last bit in the title, but it helps to explain everything else!

So, "Transmedia" relates to stories that are told across different media types e.g. "Star Wars" is a classic transmedia storyworld ("storyworld" means the world the story happens in) because characters who appear in the main films also appear in the TV shows and the cartoons, and it's the same versions of the characters throughout. I say "classic" because when Henry Jenkins coined the term "transmedia storyworlds" he was explicitly talking about single storyworlds e.g. the world of Sherlock Holmes is not really transmedia in this way because the TV shows, cartoons and movies are BASED on the original novels, or more often the characters IN them, but do not interact with them or each other and INDEED tend to contradict each other.

HOWEVER! Plenty of people (including me) think this doesn't really work, as under the original definition transmedia storytelling doesn't really exist e.g. the old Star Wars novels USED to be part of the transmedia storyworld but then were REMOVED from it and shunted into their own seperate storyworld. The storyworld of the MOVIES still contains all the planets and people and idiotic Jedi idiots, as well as the ability for light sabers and hyperspace to exist but also the HISTORY of the stories that are deemed to be part of it, whereas the old books contain very similar things, but the HISTORY is different, and so some of the people, planets etc might be too. The Jedi are still idiots though, that is a CONSTANT.

Similarly "Doctor Who" is SORT OF Transmedia, but the books and games don't always necessarily exist in the same storyworld as the TV shows. Going further, there are some characters who clearly ARE Transmedia, in that they hop about all over the place and are clearly meant to BE the same character, but don't appear in the same storyworld. Lara Croft is a good example of this, as she is always Lara Croft except that her HISTORY may change in different games, books or movies, or the way she LOOKS, or what her motivation is etc.

This gives us what Jan Noel Thon calls a "Global Transmedia Character Network", in this case consisting of ALL the various Lara Crofts in one network of LARA CROFTNESS (THAT IS WHAT IT IS CALLED). They all relate to one another, and changes in one version may then influence the other e.g. if Lara Croft develops a new bit of backstory in a movie then that might get integrated into a future game.

A GRATE example of this is Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, who originated in the Superman radio show (which was NOT in the same storyworld as the comics) and proved so popular he made his way over to the comics storyworld too. More recently, Harley Quinn first appeared in a Batman cartoon show, but then was SO VERY POPULAR, especially for CosPlayers (I have been to a Comic Convention and can confirm this!), that she soon started appearing in comics and, eventually, ALL THE FILMS.

All of these different versions of characters can be different to each other in all sorts of ways, but there must be something that makes each of them THAT character. For instance, the Benedict Cumberbatch version of Sherlock Holmes is clearly NOT meant to be the same character as the one played by Basil Rathbone - they look different, behave differently, and exist in different time periods - but they are still definitely Sherlock Holmes because they share traits like other characters (Watson, Moriarty etc), motivations, past adventures and so on. The degree to which they are the same character is, broadly speaking, what I mean in the title by "Character Coherence" - how much they are the SAME from one version to another, or INDEED within the SAME version over time. The Marvel comics 616 universe version of Peter Parker, for example, IS meant to be the same character, but over the past 70 years or so he has varied considerably over time, in different series and at the hands of different creators.

SO - how do you work out HOW MUCH the character changes? That's the NEXT thing!

posted 1/4/2022 by MJ Hibbett

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