Volume 24, 2014


Edited by Kevin Fisher and Holly Randell-Moon


1. Editorial Introduction — Kevin Fisher and Holly Randell-Moon

2. Animating Ephemeral Surfaces: Transparency, Translucency and Disney’s World of Color  — Kirsten Moana Thompson

3. Vertical Framing: Authenticity and New Aesthetic Practice in Online Videos — Miriam Ross

4. Attached To My Devices: Across Individual, Collective and Panspectric Worlds — John Farnsworth

5. The Ecstatic Gestalt in Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams — Kevin Fisher

6. Intermediality and Interventions: Applying Intermediality Frameworks to Reality Television and Microblogs — Rosemary Overell

7. ‘God Hates Fangs’: Gay Rights As Transmedia Story in True Blood — Holly Randell-Moon

8. We are the Borg (in a good way): Mapping The Development Of New Kinds Of Being And Knowing Through Inter- and Trans-Mediality — Anne Cranny Francis

Volume 24, 2014

Themed Issue: Intermediations

Edited by Kevin Fisher and Holly Randell-Moon


1. Editorial Introduction — Kevin Fisher and Holly Randell-Moon

2. Animating Ephemeral Surfaces: Transparency, Translucency and Disney’s World of Color  — Kirsten Moana Thompson

3. Vertical Framing: Authenticity and New Aesthetic Practice in Online Videos — Miriam Ross

4. Attached To My Devices: Across Individual, Collective and Panspectric Worlds — John Farnsworth

5. The Ecstatic Gestalt in Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams — Kevin Fisher

6. Intermediality and Interventions: Applying Intermediality Frameworks to Reality Television and Microblogs — Rosemary Overell

7. ‘God Hates Fangs’: Gay Rights As Transmedia Story in True Blood — Holly Randell-Moon

8. We are the Borg (in a good way): Mapping The Development Of New Kinds Of Being And Knowing Through Inter- and Trans-Mediality — Anne Cranny Francis

We are the Borg (in a good way): Mapping The Development Of New Kinds Of Being And Knowing Through Inter- and Trans-Mediality — Anne Cranny Francis

Abstract: Digital technologies have enabled new ways of communicating and relating to others and this has fundamental consequences for being and for meaning. In this paper I map the development of concepts of intermediality and transmediality that are used to describe textual practice and audience engagement in order to explore these changes to communication practice. At the same time I explore the new kinds of audience engagement enabled by this technology, which includes active participation in the reconstruction of older narratives in new media and the potential this affords for new meanings. It also includes the dissemination of stories, old and new, across multiple platforms by both makers and audiences, who themselves become makers, and the proliferation of stories and meanings this enables. Finally I consider the possibilities for co-creationmy hardware, your software (or vice-versa)which can enable new forms of sharing and mutual knowledge-formation.

Sherlock (BBC, 2010-- )

Sherlock (BBC, 2010– )

1. On thinking about inter- and trans-

The research for this paper led me through a range of ideas and arguments about the meanings of intermediation and transmediation, as well as their relationship to intertextuality (for example, Bakhtin 1984; Jenkins 2006; Herzogenrath 2012; Stein and Busse 2012; Phillips 2012). It led me to think about a multiplicity of texts that are all inter in some way—either intertextually related texts and the kinds of meanings they make or intermediated narratives that tell their story across a range of media and platforms—and about texts, producers and audiences that are most definitely trans—deploying a range of media and platforms to create a composite and complex world, engage with that world, and generate new meanings. This textual multiplicity in the contemporary media environment in turn raised questions about what has caused or generated these differing ways of telling a story and what is the significance of these different modes of story-telling: whether this reflects simply a change in technology (if that is ever truly simple) or if that change has consequences that move far beyond the material technologies involved—the material artefacts and related communication practices—to our ways of thinking and of being in the world.

My argument is that digital technologies have enabled new ways of communicating and relating to others and that this has fundamental consequences for being and for meaning. Further, we are only just starting to realise the possibilities and potential offered by this technology for new forms of relationship, knowledge creation and sharing. I work through these possibilities by reference to a range of texts that were suggested by my research and which recur in discussions of these new modes of story-telling and text production. My interest is not only in digital texts themselves, but also in the new forms of engagement they offer to readers, viewers and listeners to become active producers or makers of meaning alongside the creators of the work. This engagement includes our participation in the reconstruction of older narratives in new media and the potential this affords for new meanings; the dissemination of stories, old and new, across multiple platforms by both makers and audiences, who themselves become makers, and the proliferation of stories and meanings this enables; and finally the possibilities for co-creation—my hardware, your software (or vice-versa)—which can enable new forms of sharing and mutual knowledge-formation.

This exploration of shared storytelling and textual production occurs through my engagement with the theory used by media and cultural analysts to understand transformations in creativity, knowledge-formation and being. This work includes the concepts of intermediation, which explores the possibilities opened up by new media and focuses on the textual practices that enable new forms of audience engagement, and transmediation, which also explores the effect of new technologies on meaning-making but shifts its focus from textual practice to audience response. This is a subtle shift as both concepts essentially study the same phenomena (including both textual practice and audience responses), but it mirrors what Henry Jenkins called the development of ‘convergence culture’: “the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want” (2006, 2). As I will go on to argue, this convergence, this sharing of and linking via new media technologies, has the potential to transform our experience of the world and, along with that, our formation of knowledge and fundamental understandings of being.

2. The Consulting Detective and The Doctor

My first thought when beginning this paper was to use the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) version of Sherlock (2010-) as my example of intermediation. One of the things that attracted me to this text was that it re-tells Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories in such a fresh and engaging way, not only through the revised characterisations of its principals (Holmes, Watson, Lestrade, Moriarty, Mycroft) and the rapid editing and visual layering of the mise-en-scène that creates 21st century London as the technological and social successor to Conan Doyle’s 19th century industrial London, but also by the re-framing of familiar narratives to make them directly relevant to contemporary British society. For example, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901) is re-written by Mark Gatiss as “The Hounds of Baskerville” (2012), a story about experiments with nerve agents and genetic mutation at a United Kingdom military base. The story focuses around a local man, Henry Knight who, as a child, saw his father torn apart by a giant hound on Dartmoor, near the Baskerville military establishment. Fear of the hound is produced not, as in the original story, by phosphorescence painted onto a large dog (though the local innkeepers have a large dog that they used to spread the ‘giant hound’ story to tourists), but by a hallucinogenic drug that is released into the air by nerve pads buried in a certain part of the nearby moors. We eventually discover that Knight’s father was killed accidentally when he wandered into the test area for these nerve pads. Under the influence of the air-borne toxin, Knight tripped and hit his head on a rock while attempting to run away from Baskerville scientist, Robert Frankland, who was wearing a gas mask and so appeared monstrous. The young Henry Knight witnessed his father’s accidental death but under the influence of the nerve toxin transformed the memory into the story of the giant hound, suggested to him by the initials H.O.U.N.D. on Franklin’s jumper.

Gatiss’s story uses elements of Conan Doyle’s original but reworks them into a contemporary story about the development of chemical and biological weapons and their production within an environment of secrecy that puts citizens’ lives at risk. The main characters (Sherlock Holmes [Benedict Cumberbatch], Dr Watson [Martin Freeman], Mycroft Holmes [Mark Gatiss] and Inspector Lestrade [Rupert Graves]) are also developed further in this story, including exploration of Sherlock’s ambiguous sexuality and his relationship with Watson, which is mapped explicitly onto the gay relationship of the local innkeepers. It is an engaging tale for the Conan Doyle enthusiast as it preserves the central motif of the narrative—the ghostly hound—but finds a way of re-presenting it that changes the story from one about evil aristocrats (the original Baskerville and his ruthless treatment of the local peasants) and modern greed (a villainous descendent of the original attempting to kill the successor to the title so that he inherits the family fortune) to one about weapons of mass destruction and government secrecy. It also presents a different ‘take’ on the sexuality of Holmes (also explored in the recent films directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson [2009, 2011]), opening up the possibility that he is either gay or bisexual whereas Conan Doyle presents Holmes as relatively asexual.[1] This re-working of the story and its characters constitutes the text as more than a period adaptation of Conan Doyle’s story, set in the late Victorian period with Holmes and Watson inhabiting the world of brougham cabs and steam trains. So is this an example of intertextuality or intermediality, with the literary creation of Conan Doyle cast as another text or medium that incorporates audience engagement with the story?

Perhaps the most obvious answer here is that this re-casting of the Holmes story is an example of intermediality, defined in an early essay by Dick Higgins as generated by “the desire to fuse two or more existing media” (1966). Berndt Herzogenrath notes, however, that Higgins saw intermediality not as the final text but as “‘the uncharted land that lies between’ … different media” (2012, loc. 129-142).[2] The intermediality generated by the Sherlock re-visioning of The Hound of the Baskervilles enables the presentation of different meanings (about weapons production and secrecy) while maintaining the bones of the original narrative (about the abuse of power and the production of fear). Herzogenrath notes that in Image-Music-Text (1977) Roland Barthes related intermediality to interdisciplinarity, which occurs:

… when the solidarity of the old disciplines breaks down—perhaps even violently, via the jolts of fashion—in the interests of a new object and a new language neither of which has a place in the field of the sciences that were to be brought peacefully together, this unease in classification being precisely the point from which it is possible to diagnose a certain mutation. (loc. 129)

This disciplinary transformation might seem a heavy burden to place on Sherlock, however it is certainly the case that this production of The Hound of the Baskervilles in a different medium tells different stories and interrogates different aspects of everyday life (military activity, government control, sexual identity) from Conan Doyle’s original. Moreover, as discussed further below, Mark Gatiss’s revision of The Hound of the Baskervilles might be seen as Bakhtin’s heteroglossia in practice with Gatiss’ story constituting another voice/telling that reiterates some original narrative elements whilst adding some and transforming others.

Jeremy Brett as/in Sherlock Holmes (1984-94)

Jeremy Brett as/in Sherlock Holmes (1984-94)

From a contemporary perspective the transfer from literary text to television may not seem a case of disciplinary violence, however, some time ago it did. When television was younger and literature was a canonical art form, the production of a literary work as a television program led inevitably to discussions of what was ‘lost’ by the transfer to such an ‘impoverished’ medium. It is only far more recently that we have understood that an intermediated work is offering something new and different, unconstrained by the disciplinary shackles of the past. This realisation enables Sherlock to be written as a contemporary series, while retaining characteristics of its Victorian predecessor—as distinct, for example, from the older BBC series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett (1984-1994) that retained the Victorian setting for the stories. This successful relocation of the narrative for Sherlock depends on viewers being able to read across media platforms without the disciplinary blinkers of an earlier time; they no longer consider the narrative confined to a particular space/time as defined by the originary text. Instead, as regular consumers of postmodern pastiche, they adjust their reading practice for the complex network of intertextual references and narrative transpositions that constitutes this contemporary Sherlock.

This is more than simply a change in forms of entertainment or the emergence of new technologies. This radical unhooking of the narrative from its original space/time and the ability to read the stories for a different age, with different values and different concerns, is characteristic of the specificity and locatedness (sometimes read as relativism) of postmodernity. The postmodern producer appreciates the origin of textual forms and practices and is able to re-mediate them in order to make new meanings for a new time. Similarly, the postmodern consumer is able to appreciate the multiplicity of (textual) voices that constitute their world, and is not constrained to one major or canonical form of textual address as the bearer of cultural value. This is a reflexive consumer who maps networks of meaning extending beyond the confines of a specific text and its world; the viewer of The Matrix (The Wachowski Brothers, 1999) who knows to ‘follow the white rabbit’ to a looking-glass world that is our own world, and yet is not.

One of the means by which this reflexive writing and viewing practice has been understood is through the concept of intertextuality—used to describe the practice of referencing from one text to another via a character, icon, event or interaction, along with the meanings associated with that reference. Based on the work of Mikhail Bakhtin who saw every text as the premise for and related to every other text, via the heteroglossia (different voices) that constitute(s) our world, intertextuality is a way of mapping the complexity of communication practices and the meanings they convey, along with the impossibility of exerting total control over the meanings associated with a particular utterance (1984, 278). Intertextuality is about meaning and its constant deferral (in Derrida’s terms) not just the appearance of story elements in different texts. So intermediality acknowledges the use of different media or platforms to convey a specific narrative while intertextuality is a way of exploring the meanings constructed.

One way of mapping the possible meanings generated by viewer engagement with (intermediated) texts—including their constant deferral of meaning—is through the notion of genre, since this is the way that we typically classify texts in order to render them accessible. In a sense genre imposes order on the chaotic heteroglossia of our world so that it does not become an incomprehensible Babel in which each individual is isolated by a wholly idiosyncratic reading/viewing/meaning-making practice. Not only does genre identify the conventions or characteristics shared by the texts that we recognise as similar and so enable us to trace their history, it also identifies the kinds of issues commonly addressed by those texts. Science fiction, for example, commonly addresses the relationship between human beings and their technology, how technology influences our lives and even the fundamental nature of human being. This is evident in science fiction works such as Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) and The Matrix (1999), both of which explore how we deploy technology and what this tells us about ourselves. And this exploration of identity and technology has its roots in what is commonly regarded the first science fiction text, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein ([1818] 1982), written at the height of the first Industrial Revolution in western societies, when steam power had transformed work practices and social relationships, obliterating older forms of labour and the classes who performed it and reconstructing society into new classes. This industrial context may not be explicit in every reference to Frankenstein but it echoes through portrayals of the angry, sad and abandoned creature and his deluded creator, who become the robots/androids of today and us, their sometimes deluded or unaware creators and users.

Sherlock and Moriarty

Moriarty and Sherlock

One of the striking features of Sherlock is its stylistic similarity to Doctor Who, generated by the visual aesthetic, costuming, editing, and the enigmatic and manic main character, Sherlock/The Doctor and his mirror self, Moriarty/The Master. This might seem unsurprising given that the same creative team is responsible for both programs; writers, Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss devised the idea for Sherlock on the train to Wales to work on Doctor Who (which is produced in Cardiff). However, that fact does not explain the resulting program and its success. A generic analysis of the two series is suggestive, showing that both science fiction (Doctor Who) and detective fiction (Sherlock) have their story-telling roots in Gothic fiction, which was preoccupied with questions about being, the nature of the real, the nature of good and evil, and the dual (good/evil) nature of humanity. In science fiction those concerns are directed to an exploration of our relationship with new technologies, as discussed above.

The Doctor and The Master

The Doctor and The Master

Detective fiction focuses on the nature of knowing, personified in the detective, beginning with Edgar Allan Poe’s brilliant investigator, C. Auguste Dupin in stories the author described as “tales of ratiocination” (2010). Dupin employs a version of the scientific method (involving observation and analysis) leavened with imagination, which enables him to look beyond the obvious. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is even more scientific in his practice, but with the same disdain for conventional ways of thinking. This deployment of scientific method in order to solve social (rather than scientific) problems focuses attention on the process of knowledge formation (how we know and understand our world and each other) and its role in our understanding of morality (whether good and evil are easily identified) and of being (whether human beings are simply good or evil). The contemporary BBC Sherlock continues this tradition of the scientific detective informed by an eccentric imagination that enables him to step outside conventionalised patterns of thought and assumption.

Intertextually, Doctor Who and Sherlock share the Gothic preoccupation with interrogating the nature of being and of knowledge, which is evident in some shared generic conventions and preoccupations, though each also has other specific interests—technology (science fiction), the social construction of good and evil (detective fiction). The value of intertextuality is that it enables us to see how these texts are constituted by the kinds of meanings they are making. It allows us to understand why two genres that we now consider quite different can have shared ontological and epistemological preoccupations, because of a common generic ancestor.

Like intertextuality, intermediality is about textual practice. We saw above that the interdisciplinarity that was generated by the postmodern recognition of diversity and difference (and hence the rejection of certainty, grand narratives and canonical textuality) enabled the production of a Sherlock that is not a period drama but a contemporary construct, telling stories of today’s world. At the same time, as the brief intertextual study of genre shows, it also deploys a conventional detective with an eccentric mix of scientific method and artistic creativity whose ‘ratiocination’ at times leads him to find villainy not in evil individuals, but in the government and its representatives. Intermediality is useful for mapping that kind of practice, where a narrative devised in one medium is transposed into another where it deploys meanings enabled by its original production, but also produces new and different meanings that are generated via this transposition.

3. Spirituality and stained glass

The stained glass windows in Christian churches deploy a similar practice, taking stories from one medium (the Biblical word of God) and realising them in another medium (coloured glass). Interestingly the windows feature a complex iconography that would appeal to the modern gamer, with icons emblematic of values and ideas that cluster around the central theme and its story arc but open up depths of spiritual meaning. One reading of these windows is that they told these stories for illiterate peasants who had no access to written versions of biblical tales. Roger Homan notes: “The great transept window at Canterbury known as the Biblia Pauperium (poor person’s bible), for example, depends upon an extensive visual vocabulary of symbols and an awareness of the supposed theological links between the biblical scenes featured in adjacent panels” (2005). In this way the windows acted as a point of meditation for the viewer, recalling the story and its religious significance. Homan notes also that many scholars believe that preachers used the windows as a reference point in sermons, especially those delivered in the vernacular of the uneducated. They could literally point to the visual representation of the story and explain their exegesis, so that later viewings of the window would recall not only the details of the story but its religious significance.

In his study, Religious Art in France XIII Century (1913) Émile Mâle begins by noting:

To the Middle Ages art was didactic. All that it was necessary that men should know—the history of the world from the creation, the dogmas of religion, the examples of the saints, the hierarchy of the virtues, the range of the sciences, arts and crafts—all these were taught them by the windows of the church or by the statues in the porch. (vii)

Mâle goes on to explain that this art is not easily decipherable to the modern viewer who may mistake elements of the works as purely figurative, bringing a momentary pleasure to the eye. By contrast: “In mediæval art every form clothes a thought; one could say that thought works within the material and animates it” (viii). Roger Homan adds to this an appreciation of the role of the material used in the art-work:

But there are properties of coloured glass that are of deeply spiritual significance and have been recognized by, for example, Pseudo-Dionysius in the first century and Bishop Grosseteste in the thirteenth. We view not an image but the light beyond which it mediates for us. The image owes its life to that ultimate light. This sense is much keener than it is in respect of the reflection of light upon opaque surfaces. The stained glass image is therefore like an ikon: we are not to look at it but through it. (2005)

If we regard the stained glass window as an intermediated presentation of religious and spiritual concepts and stories, then Homan’s analysis leads us directly to the point of intermediation—the light generated by the glass, which is as critical to the meanings of the windows as the images and icons created. Homan speaks of the role of the stained glass as being “to sedate light”: “A stained glass window slows us down; it inclines us to proceed reverently and lower our voices” (2005). The sensory effect of the coloured light produced by the windows is to remove viewers from the everyday world, locating them in an otherworldly space in which to contemplate religious mysteries and spiritual truths. This is surely the essence of the intermedial experience, not a translation from one art form to another, but a transformation of being and knowing generated by the (sensory) engagement of the viewer. Again note that although intermediality does address the effect on viewers of a particular form of text, its focus is on textual practice rather than audience interaction. Which is to say, the concept of intermediality tends to address primarily the ways in which the text positions the viewer, rather than the multiple active engagements of viewers.

4.   Boba Fett, children’s television and transmediality

The term that seems to best capture the active engagement of audiences or consumers of contemporary texts is transmediality. Henry Jenkins popularised this term in his influential study, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, first published in 2006. Writing about the Matrix phenomenon that had recently developed through the Wachowskis’ interrelated films, games and online comics, Jenkins identifies the work as transmedia storytelling as follows:

A transmedia story unfolds across multiple media platforms, with each new text making a distinct and valuable contribution to the whole. In the ideal form of transmedia storytelling, each medium does what it does best—so that a story might be introduced in a film, expanded through television, novels, and comics; its world might be explored through game play or experienced as an amusement park attraction. Each franchise entry needs to be self-contained so you don’t need to have seen the film to enjoy the game, and vice-versa. (loc. 1974)

This directly confronts older canonical notions of the text as a bounded entity, with the roles of the reader, viewer or listener being to unlock the meaning of that text. Instead it acknowledges the active role of the consumer (who moves between these different media) in creating story and generating meaning that is implicit in the notion of intertextuality. However, this is a different consumer from the medieval worshipper, and the key to that difference is the accessibility of a range of media.

Some thirty years ago, as a creative consultant to a network television producer of children’s programming, my job was to construct the world of a particular television program. Like Lucas’s enormously influential Star Wars series it was set in a different space—a set of planets orbiting a small star, each with their own names and characteristics. I no longer remember the details of the exercise but the project report was about forty pages long, and detailed everything a child might want to know about living on that planet. The aim of the exercise was to create a world that all the separate sequences of the program—games, stories, cartoons, write-in quizzes, the club—could refer back to, so that the show maintained a basic coherence. We wanted our viewers to feel at home in that universe, to feel a sense of engagement and belonging.

Lucasfilm led the way with this kind of world-formation by marketing a series of products that not only capitalised on viewers’ responses to the films, but also provided them with the tools to repeat and enhance that experience imaginatively. And, as Jenkins noted in Convergence Culture, Lucas did not simply endlessly repeat the story of the movie: “When Star Wars went to games, those games didn’t just enact film events; they showed what life would be like for a Jedi trainee or bounty hunter” (2006, loc. 2172). Later in the same chapter Jenkins notes that Lucas found that the value of developing toys based on secondary characters was that they might take on a life of their own: “Boba Fett eventually became the protagonist of his own novels and games and played a much larger role in the later films” (loc. 2273).

Again we might argue that this has happened before, with stories based on earlier texts that expand their imaginary world, including some based on Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories: for example, Nicholas Meyer’s novel Seven-Per-Cent Solution ([1974] 1993) presents a back-story to Holmes’ addiction to cocaine (the novel was made into a film of the same name in 1976). What is new, however, is both the number of different media to which consumers have access and the degree to which they can engage with those media. Jenkins quotes Janet Murray’s assessment of the ‘“encyclopedic capacity’ of digital media, which she thinks will lead to new narrative forms as audiences seek information beyond the limits of the individual story” (2006, loc. 2283). Jenkins goes on to argue that, unlike some critics, he does not see this as leading to the death of narrative: “Rather, we are seeing the emergence of new story structures, which create complexity by expanding the range of narrative possibility rather than pursuing a single path with a beginning, middle, and end” (loc. 2323). Of course, it is crucial to know who is developing these new stories and how they relate to the original text.

If we use the example of the Matrix franchise, the whole massive narrative edifice stayed effectively in the control of the Wachowskis. For some viewers it was too complex to try to follow its development and they found the films increasingly difficult to understand, whilst the more dedicated fans were unhappy with the Wachowskis’ attempts to explain every aspect of their narrative, as Jenkins documents (2006, loc. 2436-2446). A fine line exists between the authorial control required to maintain the integrity of the narrative and the dictation of detail that closes down the engagement of the audience. Andrea Phillips discusses this in her practical introduction, A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling (2012). She argues “the most effective tool is to actually create a small piece of your world and give it to your audience to play with” (41).

Phillips’ description of transmediality is subtly different from that of Jenkins, perhaps because of their different roles (Jenkins as critic and theorist, Phillips as maker). In her role as storyteller Phillips is concerned not to shut out the audience, so describes her world-building in a way that prioritises audience engagement. In Chapter 8, “Writing for Transmedia Is Different” Phillips notes that “we’ll be concentrating mainly on the requirements of telling a single, highly fragmented story across multiple platforms, and most particularly across digital platforms—you might call it social media storytelling as much as transmedia. That’s because this is where the methods of traditional single-platform or flat narratives become inadequate” (74-75). She goes on to explain this distinction in terms of the strategies used to enable the world of the narrative to be expanded by the audience: “Transmedia storytelling is an exercise in open-ended storytelling, boundless where a traditional single-medium story is finite” (75). Phillips explains that the storyteller should suggest to the audience that the world of the narrative includes more stories than the one that they have been given (75).

As noted earlier, one of the great successes of Star Wars is that its narrative is not confined to a specific set of incidents, rather the narrative contains the seeds of many other stories, featuring characters such as Boba Fett whose role in the core narrative is relatively minor but has the potential for new storytelling and world-building. By contrast, die-hard Matrix fans were disappointed when the Wachowskis attempted to lock down the meanings of the trilogy to a specific story by resolving the mystery, leaving little scope for imaginative retellings by fans. Instead Phillips notes the value of deliberately leaving loose ends that might become the source of new stories, which directly contradicts conventional advice given to writers. Though she also notes that these narrative possibilities have to be executed judiciously so that you do not “accidentally create narrative expectations that never achieve any kind of payoff” (76). Hence her earlier point about the importance of a clear story arc: “It is especially important in transmedia to have a plot that goes from beginning to end before you launch” (57). Another strategy to enhance narrative openness is “to create story elements in one medium that have their payoffs in another medium” (78), such as a game based on a film. All of this has to be achieved in relation to the basic premise with which she opens the study: “every single element of a transmedia story has to be fulfilling a narrative purpose, without exception” (40-41). And as she notes the aim of transmedia storytelling, as well as the marketers who use it, is engagement: “Transmedia storytelling can provide more engagement and more potential points of sale for any given story, and when it’s done well, each piece can effectively become a promotional tool pointing toward every other piece of the whole” (39). Every strategy used by the storyteller, therefore, should be about giving the audience “things to do, not just things to consume” (117).

Phillips’ Guide addresses textual practice directly in relation to audience or consumer engagement, though Phillips also stresses the need for a critical understanding of textuality (63). This engagement is the both the reason for transmedia production (to sell products, to tell a story) and the result of audience access to multiple media. As Phillips reiterates in her book, this engagement, and the textual openness that enables it, makes transmedia storytelling different from earlier forms of media narratives and audience-media relationships.

The Matrix (1999)

The Matrix (1999)

5. The joy of discovery and the fossilised dolphin

I return here to Jenkins’ crucial insight in Convergence Culture, that this different form of storytelling, described so well by Phillips, and common to the popular culture that preoccupies most children, signifies a new way of being and knowing:

Our workplaces have become more collaborative; our political process has become more decentered; we are living more and more within knowledge cultures based on collective intelligence. Our schools are not teaching what it means to live and work in such knowledge communities but popular culture may be doing so. (2006, loc. 2477)

For Jenkins this makes literacy training for children essential so that they can “develop the skills needed to become full participants in their culture” (loc. 5295), as Phillips argued when she stressed the need to be critical. The joy of transmedia engagement is that of discovery, of finding a way to contribute to the meanings of a text through your own creativity so that your stories are woven into that ever-expanding composite text. As Jenkins notes, however, this is more than a solitary venture. It is about being able to collaborate with others and to contribute to a collective venture without feeling a loss of individual achievement.

Digital technology has enabled this kind of sharing on an extraordinary scale—whether through kids playing games online with others across the globe, researchers collaborating on a project across cities, countries or continents or fans world-wide expanding a beloved narrative. It is also evident in the ways that older media such as radio and television use online resources to expand their research, engage their audiences, and incorporate audience responses and knowledge into their broadcast formats. Museums and libraries too are sharing resources and inviting visitors to become part of the knowledge-production for the institution. For example, by checking the digitisation of older manuscripts and newspapers for verisimilitude. On the one hand, this reflects economic necessity and the poor resourcing of many public institutions. On the other hand, it creates a wholly different, expanded knowledge base for the library, an enhanced level of engagement for visitors. Effectively, this visitor/user involvement changes the nature of the library from that of a central authority giving access to knowledge to a collaborative, creative, knowledge-building project. In December 2013 the British Library released an archive of over 1,000,000 images onto Flickr Commons for free use and reproduction. Dan Colman reported in Open Culture (2013):

The librarians behind the project freely admit that they don’t exactly have a great handle on the images in the collection. They know what books the images come from. (For example, the image above comes from Historia de las Indias de Nueva-España y islas de Tierra Firme, 1867.) But they don’t know much about the particulars of each visual. And so they’re turning to crowdsourcing for answers. In fairly short order, the Library plans to release tools that will let willing participants gather information and deepen our understanding of everything in the Flickr Commons collection.

Many other libraries and art galleries around the world have released part of their archives to open access and at the same time invite visitors to join them in becoming producers of knowledge.

Recently the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. announced Smithsonian X 3D, a web portal that enables visitors to use the museum’s 3D scans of artefacts to build their own models using 3D printers. Günter Waibel, Director of the Digitization Program Office, explains:

These projects indicate that this new technology has the potential not only to support the Smithsonian mission, but to transform museum core functions. Researchers working in the field may not come back with specimens, but with 3D data documenting a site or a find. Curators and educators can use 3D data as the scaffolding to tell stories or send students on a quest of discovery. Conservators can benchmark today’s condition state of a collection item against a past state—a deviation analysis of 3D data will tell them exactly what changes have occurred. All of these uses cases are accessible through the Beta Smithsonian X 3D Explorer, as well as videos documenting the project. For many of the 3D models, raw data can be downloaded to support further inquiry and 3D printing.

And he concludes:

With only 1% of collections on display in Smithsonian museum galleries, digitization affords the opportunity to bring the remaining 99% of the collection into the virtual light. All of these digital assets become the infrastructure which will allow not just the Smithsonian, but the world at large to tell new stories about the familiar, as well as the unfamiliar, treasures in these collections.

This venture confirms many of Jenkins’ earlier predictions about how digital technologies will change our ways of producing knowledge. One of the artefacts currently available is the fossilised skull of an unknown species of dolphin, found in rocks that are 6-7 million years old. The Smithsonian X 3D website now supplies the software and instructions to print your own 3D copy of the skull. Even though this will not be the original skull, the value of a tactile engagement with the reproduction should not be underestimated. As a number of recent studies have argued (see Classen 2005, 2012; Howes 2005; Chatterjee 2008; Candlin 2010; Cranny-Francis 2013) tactile contact, indeed all kinds of sensory engagement, generate bodily responses that in turn produce new ways of knowing and understanding an object and our relationship to it. By sharing these knowledges, we learn more about not only the objects, but also ourselves.

6. Conclusion

The terms intertextuality, intermediality and transmediality map the development of new communication technologies through the twentieth and into the twenty-first century. They all effectively interrogate older canonical notions of textuality and of reading, as closed practices controlled by the author. Intertextuality was used to argue that texts have never been closed but part of an infinite conversation to which all texts contribute, and that each textual reading adds another voice to the conversation. Intermediality reflected the beginnings of popular access to multiple media, enabling users to explore the ways in a particular narrative or text may be transposed from one medium to another, expanding or enhancing the original story or idea. Transmediality is an articulation of convergence culture, whereby audiences are able easily to traverse and correlate a range of media in order to explore a complex and growing narrative or argument. The difference between intermediality and transmediality is not simply quantitative, however, it reflects a new way of understanding our relationship to texts, knowledge, and each other. It reflects, as Jenkins notes, the development of a collective knowledge culture in which collaboration is a key component of thinking and being. Further, the materials and practices that new technologies are making available, which incorporate bodily knowledges into this collaborative production of knowledge, presage new kinds of understanding and self-knowledge. As both Jenkins and Phillips argue above, the element required to leaven this heady mix is critical awareness—of the texts we produce and the meanings we make.



Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1984. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Translated by Michael Holquist and Caryl Emerson. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Barthes, Roland. 1977. Image, Music, Text: Essays Selected and Translated by Stephen Heath. Translated by Stephen Heath. London: Fontana.

Candlin, Fiona. 2010. Art, Museums and Touch. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Chatterjee, Helen, ed. 2008. Touch in Museums: Policy and Practice in Object Handling. Oxford and New York: Berg.

Classen, Constance. 2012. The Deepest Sense: a Cultural History of Touch. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Classen, Constance, ed. 2005. The Book of Touch. Oxford: Berg.

Colman, Dan. 2013. “The British Library Puts 1,000,000 Images into the Public Domain, Making Them Free to Reuse & Remix.” Open Culture, December 1. Accessed January 23, 2014. http://www.openculture.com/2013/12/british-library-puts-1000000-images-into-public-domain.html.

Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur. 1981. “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” In The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes, 669-768. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Cranny-Francis, Anne. 2013. Technology and Touch: the Biopolitics of Emerging Technologies. London: Palgrave.

Herzogenrath, Berndt, ed. 2012. Travels in Intermedia(lity): reblurring the boundaries. Kindle edition. Hanover, NH: Darmouth College Press.

Higgins, Dick. 1966. “Synaesthesia and Intersenses: Intermedia”, originally published in Something Else,Newsletter1, No.1 (Something Else Press). Accessed May 19, 2014. http://www.artesonoro.net/artesonoroglobal/intermedia.html.

Homan, Roger. 2005. “Who Looks on Glass? The Spiritual Significance of Stained Glass.” The Social Affairs Unit, August 3. Accessed January 23, 2014. http://www.socialaffairsunit.org.uk/blog/archives/000536.php.

Homan, Roger. 2006. The Art of the Sublime: Principles of Christian Art and Architecture. Farnham: Ashgate.

Howes, David, ed. 2005. Empire of the Senses: the Sensual Culture Reader. Oxford: Berg.

Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. Kindle edition. New York and London: New York University Press.

Lavigne, Carlen. 2012. “The Noble Bachelor and the Crooked Man: Subtext and Sexuality in the BBC’s Sherlock” in Sherlock Holmes for the 21st Century: Essays on New Adaptations.Kindle edition, edited by Lynette Porter, 13-23. London: McFarland & Company.

Mâle, Émile. 1913. Religious Art in France XIII Century: A Study in Mediaeval Iconography and Its Sources of Inspiration. Kindle edition. London: Dent.

Meyer, Nicholas. (1974) 1993. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. New York and London: W.W. Norton.

Phillips, Andrea. 2012. A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling: How to Captivate and Engage Audiences Across Multiple Platforms.Kindle edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Poe, Edgar Allan. 2010. The Dupin Mysteries with The Gold Bug. London: Capuchin Classics.

Shelley, Mary. (1818) 1982. Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, edited by Maurice Hindle. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Stein, Louisa Ellen, and Kristina Busse, eds. 2012. Sherlock and Transmedia Fandom: Essays on the BBC Series. Kindle edition. London: McFarland & Company.

Waibel, Günter. “About Smithsonian X 3D.” Smithsonian X 3D. Accessed January 23, 2014. http://3d.si.edu/about.



Cox, Michael. 1984-1994. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.London: BBC.

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Gatiss, Mark, and Moffat, Steven. 2010-. Sherlock. London: BBC.

Gatiss, Mark, and Moffat, Steven. “The Hounds of Baskerville.” Sherlock, series 2, episode 2. Original airdate 8 January 2012. London: BBC.

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Ritchie,Guy. 2009. Sherlock Holmes. USA: Warner Bros.

Ritchie,Guy. 2011. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. USA: Warner Bros.

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[1]Steven Moffat has been reported as saying that he sees Sherlock as asexual. However, the iconography used with Sherlock and the way in which his relationships with Watson and Moriarty (among others) are presented allow for the many fan readings of him as gay or bisexual—as Carlen Lavigne argues (2012).

[2]References to Kindle books are given as locations, unless the book also provides page numbers.

Bio: Anne Cranny-Francis is Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Technology Sydney. Her recent work includes ARC funded projects on the sense of touch and its deployment by new technologies, described in Technology and Touch: the Biopolitics of Emerging Technologies (Palgrave, 2013), and on ex-patriot Australian writer, Jack Lindsay.


‘God Hates Fangs’: Gay Rights As Transmedia Story in True Blood — Holly Randell-Moon

Abstract: In this paper I examine the television program True Blood’s allusions to gay liberation in terms of the biopolitical and neoliberal implications of consuming civil rights as a transmedia story. In the program, vampires have ‘outed’ themselves to the population at large and in conjunction with the invention of synthetic blood (Tru Blood) are able to publicly participate in social and economic activities without harming humans. Home Box Office’s (HBO) use of Tru Blood to market the show is premised on the commodification of a (vampire) rights based movement across a range of different story-telling mediums. On the one hand, this means that the program is drawing attention to the biopolitical function of rights discourse by suggesting that it is the management of particular kinds of life, through particular kinds of consumption, which remains valuable to the dominant political and economic order. On the other hand, the mapping of vampirism onto civil rights also functions to legitimise a political discourse wherein the purported social ‘harm’ of granting minority groups equal rights can be mitigated by market forces and the cultivation of a constituency whose political power is linked to their ability to consume. The consumption of the True Blood story by fans thereby enacts principles of biopolitical management and containment of civil rights groups through HBO’s and fans’ willingness to enact play-political consumption and performance of rights in a transmediated public sphere.

rm1The television series True Blood (HBO, 2008-2014), based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries novels by Charlaine Harris, features a number of allusions to gay liberation and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) politics in its depiction of ‘vampire rights’. In the fictional town of Bon Temps, in Louisiana, United States, where True Blood is set, vampires have ‘outed’ themselves to the population at large and in conjunction with the invention of synthetic blood (Tru Blood) are able to publicly participate in social and economic activities without harming humans. The production of Tru Blood as a commodity enables individual and collective groups of vampires to advocate for the civil and political rights enjoyed by humans. In the vampires’ attempts to become part of ‘mainstream culture’, there are several references to gay liberation. These include the American Vampire League, whose activism and media interventions mirror that of groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, the use of the phrase ‘coming out of the coffin’ to describe the increasing numbers of vampires publicly acknowledging their existence to humans, and the prejudice directed at vampires by humans, particularly by those with conservative or evangelical Christian beliefs. This specific cultural, political and religious milieu for vampire rights is telegraphed in the opening title sequence by a brief shot of a church sign, which reads, “God Hates Fangs”. Amongst the ostensibly non-fictional images of Southern quotidian life—swamps, road kill, baptisms, church choirs, bar brawls—it is the only indication in the sequence of the program’s focus on the supernatural.

The diegetic plausibility of the vampire liberation movement is aided by various transmedia paraphernalia simultaneously operating outside of and in relation to events in the show’s narrative. This includes the availability of Tru Blood beverages and merchandise, Facebook and social media material for the advocacy groups featured within the show and partnerships between Home Box Office (HBO—the channel that broadcasts True Blood) and advertising companies, such as Geico insurance, to produce fictional campaigns targeted explicitly towards vampire consumers but implicitly, True Blood fans. In this extension of the program’s narrative of vampire rights to other types of media and forms of consumption, True Blood is exemplary of the new practices of transmedia storytelling championed by Henry Jenkins. He defines transmedia as

a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story. (Jenkins 2011; original emphases)

For Jenkins, this type of storytelling enables and builds on audience participation in the meaning-making process of media texts (2006). This mode of storytelling is also closely associated with viral marketing, which utilises “pre-existing social networks like websites and YouTube in order to increase franchise or brand awareness” (Ndalianis 2012, 164). Transmedia forms of storytelling, like those employed for True Blood, can be quite complex and multi-faceted, involving the extension of a text across not only different types of media but also different geographical locations and consumer activities. In her excellent book, The Horror Sensorium (2012), Angela Ndalianis details transmedia stories and campaigns involving scavenger hunts, political rallies, social media tourism and urban graffiti that centre on the production of an embodied fan relationship with media texts. She argues that the transmedia stories deployed for texts such as The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008), Lost (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, 2004-2010)and True Blood “address the fiction/reality interplay by mitigating their stories more invasively into the social sphere” (165). They do this by encouraging fans and consumers to become ‘actors’ in a transmedia performance of a ‘living’ narrative (166). This performance produces a kind of meta-affect because fans “extract cerebral and sensory pleasure participating in and contributing to a highly crafted fictional world that’s in the process of unveiling itself” (169). An example of this type of meta-affective performance occurred in early 2009, in Auckland, New Zealand, when a series of wooden posters advertising True Blood were installed along public streets. Featuring information about True Blood’s airdate (the series was premiering on New Zealand television at this time), the posters had “In case of vampire” written across the top and “Snap here” at the bottom presented alongside flat wooden stakes. Potential fans and viewers of True Blood were invited to participate as performers in the program’s narrative by exercising vigilance and protection from the newly outed vampires by snapping off a wooden stake and carrying the physical textual detritus into their everyday lives.

trubloodbotWhat structures this kind of performance and participation by fans is the story and narrative used to extend a text via transmediation. In this paper I want to examine the execution of True Blood’s transmedia storytelling through a narrative of vampire rights that alludes to civil rights debates around gay liberation. I want to focus on the specifically transmedia dimensions of this narrative and how this particular media form interpellates viewers into a biopolitical and neoliberal mode of consuming civil rights. The program’s use of Tru Blood, both intra- and extra-textually, is premised on the commodification of a rights based movement across a range of different story-telling mediums. On the one hand, this means that the program is drawing attention to the biopolitical function of rights discourse by suggesting that it is the management of particular kinds of life, through particular kinds of consumption, that remains valuable to the dominant political and economic order. On the other hand, the mapping of vampirism onto civil rights also functions to legitimise a political discourse wherein the purported social ‘harm’ of granting minority groups equal rights can be mitigated by market forces and the cultivation of a constituency whose political power is linked to their ability to consume. Fans’ affective investment in vampire rights is then managed via consumption in a transmedia format that mirrors biopolitical strategies of management and containment of minority groups through civil rights discourse.

“No darlin’, we’re white, he’s dead”: Vampires and biopolitics

In her essay “Technologies of Monstrosity”, Judith Halberstam argues that “[a]ttempts to consume … vampirism within one interpretive model inevitably produce vampirism. They reproduce, in other words, the very model they claim to have discovered” (1993, 334). For this reason, in her analysis of Bram Stoker’s Dracula she argues that the central figure is “not simply a monster, but a technology of monstrosity” (334). Representations of monstrosity in texts like Dracula function not so much to reify particular characteristics of monstrosity (be it sexual immorality or corporeal difference) but to produce and disseminate particular discourses constituted as monstrous. So if we take a particular representation of vampires to signify for example, minority rights, we are also at the same time producing an understanding of what minority rights mean in popular and political culture.

Given that monstrosity is typically construed as a threat to human life, textual portrayals of monstrosity are also concerned with the management of that threat and the balancing of the value of human life with the containment of monstrosity. The development and application of various governmental strategies designed foster the life and health of citizens is defined by Michel Foucault as biopower (1991b, 263). In order to maximise the economic productivity of the state, governments and state institutions have “to qualify, measure, appraise, and hierarchize … the living in the domain of value and utility” (1991b, 266). One way to organise social practices around ‘value and utility’ is to encourage citizens to invest in a racialised and heteronormative construction of the family as the site through which life can be fostered or neglected (1991a, 99). As the management of the economic and social life of the polity comes to pivot on heterosexual familial reproduction, non-heterosexual or non-normative sexualities can be positioned in biopolitical terms as threats to the ‘health’ and productive order of a society. In her essay “Tracking the Vampire” Sue-Ellen Case explains:

From the heterosexist perspective, the sexual practice that produced babies was associated with giving life, or practicing a life-giving sexuality, and the living was established as the category of the natural. Thus, the right to life was a slogan not only for the unborn, but for those whose sexual practices could produce them. In contrast, homosexual sex was mandated as sterile—an unlive practice that was consequently unnatural, or queer, and, as that which was unlive, without the right to life. Queer sexual practice, then, impels one out of the generational production of what has been called “life” and historically, and ultimately out of the category of the living. (1991, 4)

In a biopolitical paradigm, subjects deemed unable to contribute productively to the life of a society can be excluded from the rights and protections offered by that society. This exclusion is then overlain with a naturalising discourse, which works to justify the asymmetries of legal and social recognition as simply part of the ‘natural order of things’. This is why Case sees a link between the cultural discourses used to frame both vampirism and homosexuality. In a dominant heteronormative order that conflates a particular kind of social and political life with life itself, both vampirism and homosexuality become aligned with death or unlife.

rm3The representation of the various kinds of harm vampire rights pose to humans in True Blood then seems an apposite metaphor for the biopolitical exclusion of LGBTI people from certain state-based rights. As a number of scholars have pointed out, True Blood’s treatment of vampiresis characteristic of a wider shift in textual portrayals of vampires “from the right to exile … to the right to citizenship in the postcolonial United States” (Hudson 2013, 663). Bernard Beck sees “[t]he plain message of today’s vampire lore” as evidence “that we are becoming less fearful and hostile, more curious and sympathetic to those we insist on defining as strangers” (2011, 92). This narrative shift from exclusion to inclusion in representations of vampiric difference is reflective of a broader social and political consensus around managing minority groups through integration rather than expulsion from a neoliberal economic order. Deborah Mutch notes that the narrative framework for the acceptance of vampires in book series such as Twilight and The Southern Vampire Mysteries are premised on “accepting human definitions of nation and race which are then superceded by globalised trade” (2011, 75).

While the supernatural genre has the ability to, as Dale Hudson puts it, “decolonize our familiar habits of thinking”, particularly with respect to cinematic and televisual “political realism” (2013, 662), textual portrayals of supernatural creatures nevertheless tend to incorporate dominant biopolitical conceptions of human life as the normative narrative bedrock against which other kinds of lives or living is measured. Hudson points out that in True Blood, vampirism is constituted as species difference through reference to characters as ‘vampire Bill’, whereas human characters are not described as ‘white Jason’ or ‘black Tara’ within the diegesis of the show (666). Where vampirism is discursively positioned as bodily distinct from human-ness, the nation on which this embodiment is placed remains invisible. True Blood’s representation of First Nations peoples and their interaction with vampires (those old enough to have arrived in North America during colonisation) is limited enough to suggest an erasure of colonialism as significant to the historical formation of the United States. As Hudson notes, “Indigenous nations appear only in the realm of the supernatural in True Blood” (669). For Hudson, the program’s use of the supernatural allows an imagining of “the New South as a space inhabited by multiple species on multiple planes of reality” (664), which invites consideration of “the right to rights” (685). My interest in this paper is how True Blood’s portrayal of “the right to rights” is linked to the public management and presentation of rights-based groups via transmedia texts, which are dependent on public forms of consumption and fan activity.

“You are not our equals. We will eat you. After we eat your children”: Vampire rights

In True Blood’s narrative conflicts around vampire rights, there are several allusions to civil rights and equality movements. The series has been received predominantly as a commentary on gay liberation. A New York Post article, for example, contends that “the fictional vampires’ quest for the same rights and social acceptance enjoyed by” humans “has become synonymous with the very real fight for gay rights” (Shen 2009). The author of the novels on which the show is based also seems to encourage this association (see Solomon 2010). As with the gay rights movement, vampires’ attempts to achieve equality are perceived by their opponents as a threat to the social and cultural stability of the polity they inhabit. However, the crucial difference between vampires and LGBTI peoples is that the alleged ‘harm’ posed to society by granting the latter civil rights is symbolic and imagined whereas vampires, within the diegesis of the show, do perpetrate considerable violence. In this vein, a reviewer of the show opined, “[t]hese vamps are assholes, not oppressed minorities. They deserve to be hated. If these murderous, evil creatures are figures for gay people, then they are figures for the religious right’s worst nightmare of what gay people are” (Newitz 2008). The program’s creator, Alan Ball, also avers with this reasoning “because the vampires on our show are, for the most part, vicious murderers and predators, and I’m gay myself, so I don’t really want to say, ‘Hey, gays and lesbians are basically viciously amoral murderers’” (Grigoriadis 2010).

outdoor-advertising-aimed-at-vampiresThe question of whether rights should be reserved only for those who are morally deserving is addressed in an interesting way by the American Vampire League (AVL) within the show. In the first episode (“Strange Love”, 1.1), the AVL spokesperson, Nan Flanagan (in an interview with Bill Maher) refutes assertions that vampires perpetrate large-scale murder and assault against humans (for lack of documented evidence) and counters that humans themselves are responsible for slavery and genocide. Later on in the series, another vampire Russell Edgington uses this same logic—humans have caused irreparable damage to the environment and the species they share it with—to reach a very different conclusion regarding vampire-human relations. For Edgington, vampires are right to insist on their superiority to and difference from humans. He broadcasts these views on a live news program and after deboning the anchor, proclaims to the human audience, “You are not our equals. We will eat you. After we eat your children” (“Everything is Broken”, 3.9). Human anti-vampire bigotry meanwhile stems from a corporeal vulnerability to vampires’ biological requirement for human blood. In its extreme form, anti-vampire prejudice manifests as a speciest right to survival exercised by vigilante groups such as the one seen in Season Five. This group of men don Barack Obama masks as they inflict violence and in some cases, death, upon vampires and other supernatural beings. This group mentions and appears to be linked to the ‘Keep American Human’ movement, which has its own website and promotional material. This doubly imbricated right to ‘America’ and to life is framed by anti-vampire humans as exclusive. One of the vigilante characters complains, “it’s some sort of crime now being a regular old human” (“In the Beginning”, 5.7) as if the uniqueness of being human cannot be co-extensive with the existence of other species.

Vampire prejudice thus goes beyond the simple fear of death or bodily harm and involves a speciest condemnation of vampire existence that is often inflected with a moral discourse. When the show begins, vampires have achieved a limited degree of civil equality such as the right to marry (in certain states in the US and if the unions are heterosexual) and are protected by anti-discrimination laws (businesses cannot refuse to serve vampires as customers), which are reluctantly enforced by police. There are also a series of moral and social codes, centred primarily on sexuality, that police vampire and human interactions. Humans who engage with or are thought to engage in sexual relations with vampires are derisively referred to as “fang-bangers”. The central character Sookie Stackhouse is often judged negatively in terms of her moral standing and character for her relationship with the vampire Bill Compton. The first season features a violent expression of this chauvinism in the form of a serial killer with a pathological hatred of women who sleep with vampires.

The corporeal vulnerability of humans to vampire attack is balanced by the portrayal of vampire blood as producing hallucinatory and amphetamine-like effects when consumed by humans. Vampire blood or V-juice is a highly sought-after but illegal commodity associated with the vampire bar scene and fang-bangers, which may allude to subcultural forms of clubbing and recreational drug use. In Season One, a lonely vampire named Eddie claims that he can only express and act on his homosexual orientation by trading his blood for sexual favours with human men (in particular Sookie’s co-worker and friend, Lafayette Reynolds). In an inversion of the life-giving connotations of heterosexual sex, one scene in the first season shows Sookie’s brother Jason and his girlfriend consume V-juice and make love whilst Eddie is tied up and tortured in the basement below them. Here it is an undead subject whose blood provides the impetus and facilitation of heterosexual sex.

The moral repugnance at the tarnishing of human life and sexuality bought about by vampire-human contact is aligned with most (although not all) forms of Christianity in True Blood. The second season features an evangelical group called the Fellowship of the Sun that promotes “pro-livin’ values” (Home Box Office 2012) and warns the human polity about the dangers of vampire rights and the “the wing nuts on the left” who advocate for them (“The Fourth Man in the Fire”, 1.8). In a television interview, the pastor of the church, Reverend Steve Newlin, explains that vampire rights threaten “the rights of our sons and daughters to go to school without fear of molestation by a bloodthirsty predator in the playground or in the classroom” (“The Fourth Man in the Fire”, 1.8). One of the advertisements produced by the Fellowship of the Sun, not featured in the show but distributed online and in poster form in some cities, depicts a young blonde boy with the caption, “To them he’s just a midnight snack” (Ndalianis 2012, 178).

The figure of the child here is important as Ben Davies and Jana Funke note, “the teleology of straight time is projected onto the sex act, which displaces its own meaning, significance or indeed non-significance for the production of the future” (2011, 6). In this way, the future viability of a heterosexual society is linked to the purity and protection of children. In a video press release for the advertising campaign, the elder Reverend Theodore Newlin passionately declares, “our children are our most precious resource, our lifeblood” (the video appears on YouTube under the category ‘Nonprofits & Activism’). On the Fellowship’s website, homosexuality is listed alongside vampirism as a social danger: “It’s nothing new for teenagers and young adults to flock to the newest trend, and it’s hardly uncommon for these fashion choices to be self-destructive, like smoking, drugs, tattoos or homosexuality. But the latest fad—a soulless eternity of drinking blood—can’t be undone with a laser treatment or rehab. Vampirism is forever” (Home Box Office 2012). While some organisations and US Republican presidential candidates view homosexuality as a choice or temporary lifestyle that can be cured or corrected, what makes vampirism especially pernicious for the Fellowship is that it cannot be erased or overcome, it’s “forever”. In another television interview, the younger Reverend Newlin says, “the vampires as a group have cheated death. And when death has no meaning, then life has no meaning. And when life has no meaning, it is very, very easy to kill” (“Nothing but the Blood”, 2.1).

Anti-vampire sentiment is not an opposition to the merits or otherwise of particular vampire rights, rather the opposition stems from the consequence that these rights serve to entrench vampire presence in civil and social spaces. It is precisely because vampirism constitutes a permanent state of being that the necessity of repealing vampire rights takes on an apocalyptic sense of urgency. Such rhetoric alludes to and perhaps parodies anti-gay rights activism, particularly the National Organisation for Marriage’s (NOM) Proposition 8 “gathering storm” commercials which featured activists and citizens expressing concern about marriage equality backgrounded by blue screens depicting severe lightening storms and flooding. Here the public recognition of difference is conflated with disaster. In the type of advocacy employed by the Fellowship of the Sun, and NOM, the out-group’s very existence seems to imperil a safe and normal social and political order.

Where NOM’s advocacy and rhetoric is left open to debate and parody in the marketplace of democratic political suasion, the Fellowship is clearly set up as an object of ridicule within True Blood. First Newlin (in Season Two) and then his wife Sarah (in Season Six) are positioned as villains whose attempts to instigate genocidal war against vampires figure as obstructions and then climatic battles against which Sookie and friends must contend. Hudson argues that “Steve’s punishment is to be ‘made’ vampire, presumably unleashing his latent desires for Jason” and he “becomes a self-defined ‘gay vampire American’” (2013, 672). Such a transformation is presented humorously as a revelation of the character’s moral and political hypocrisy because his hatred of vampires is ostensibly linked to a self-hatred of his orientation. The reading of groups such as the Fellowship as opposed to progressive social and political causes is reflected in scholarly and popular reception of the show. For example, J. M. Tyree explains the premise of True Blood by noting, “The resistance movement to vampire rights is formed out of the ideological dregs of fundamentalist Christianity” (2009, 32). An online recapper describes the vigilante Keep America Human group as “a bungling bunch of bigoted idiots who spew thinly veiled Fox News talking points like ‘lamestream media’” (Berkshire 2012).By framing the Fellowship and Keep America Human’s advocacy against vampires as villainous, True Blood can be seen as participating in progressive representations of civil rights wherein “proclaiming a future in which the current resistance to gay marriage will seem backward” allows those subjects who already accept civil rights to be “projected forward in time” (Davies and Funke 2011, 6).

True Blood’s vampire rights narrative enables the production and facilitation of a set of transmedia texts framed around advocacy. As various groups within the show vie for political, cultural, economic and species preservation, this sets up an affective biopolitical participation wherein fans and reviewers debate the merits of civil rights, equality and state protection. A positive reading of this biopolitical transmedia engagement with the show is that a popular political consensus around inclusion and integration encourages fans to view the contribution of violence and essentialised forms of prejudice to political debate in negative terms—whether in the form of the Fellowship’s moral inflection to humans’ right to life or vampires’ reduction of human ontological existence to food. In the next section of the paper, I want to unpack the implications of how this fan engagement with the biopolitics of vampire rights is achieved through transmedia storytelling as a specifically commodified activity.

“There’s no such thing as bad; or time for that matter”: Vampires and neoliberalism

Aside from some obvious corporeal differences—fast movement, sharp orthodontics, sartorial preference for dark, binding clothing—vampires in True Blood attempt, for the most part, to fit into the social and cultural environment around them. In an interview for The New York Times Harris explains that her vampires “are more sympathetic” than previous sanguisuge incarnations. Of Dracula she says: “He had disgusting personal habits. He had the three wives; he crawled up the sides of the buildings; he had the sharp teeth and fingernails. Mine are at least trying to look like everyone else, but it’s not working out too well for them” (Solomon 2010). While earlier representations of vampires tended to exacerbate their monstrosity as difference, in Harris’ novels and its televisual counterpart, monstrosity is framed around the problem with assimilation to a human-centred social and political order. This integration is premised on the presence of a biotechnological industry, economic infrastructure and political consensus enabling them to do so.

The AVL is able to advocate for the public acceptance of vampires, on the basis that they do not pose a threat to humans, because of the development of the synthetic Tru Blood replacement for human blood. Originally developed by a Japanese biomedical company as a solution for human blood loss and transfusions, an accidental side effect is that the product can provide sustenance to vampires. Thus while the show centres around the politics of integration, the fulcrum for this integration is the successful branding and marketing of Tru Blood as “a globally transported commodity” (Mutch 2011, 81). The second vampire we see in True Blood is shown purchasing the beverage from a 7-Eleven style convenience store. In this opening scene of the first episode, two bored white teenagers eagerly approach the store clerk, fashioned in dark clothing, piercings and long black hair, to inquire about the possibility of scoring V-juice. The clerk indulges the potential V customers, menacing them with intimations of violence, before abruptly revealing his status as human, to the delight of the male teenager and relieved anger of his female counterpart. A burly gentleman in military garb and a cap adorned with a Confederate flag comes forward to express his displeasure with the ruse. After the male teen excoriates the customer by saying, “fuck you Billy Bob”, ‘Billy Bob’ reveals his fangs and responds, “Fuck me. I’ll fuck you boy. I’ll fuck ya’ and then I’ll eat ya’” (“Strange Love”, 1.1). The vampire’s interactions with both the clerk and the young couple subvert generic expectations, from the characters within the show as well as the audience, of the vampire as reclusive and gothic. Hudson reads this scene as evoking “the lingering embers of ‘lost cause’ for white-male-human privilege” where “the privileged position of the white-male-human in the Old South might be restored only in supernatural terms in the New South” (2013, 672). Now a vampire, the Southern white Confederate man can still expect his purchasing power and public presence to proceed without humiliation or impediment.

The development and dissemination of Tru Blood for public consumption creates new forms of human and vampire interaction, which diverse sets of stakeholders attempt to negotiate and regulate in different ways. The AVL attempts to gain political enfranchisement through a Vampire Rights Amendment (VRA) while other supernatural species, such as werewolves, wait cautiously to see how vampires are treated before likewise revealing themselves publicly (Hudson 2013, 665). The means through which a pharmaceutical product propels the development of vampire rights reinforces Halberstam’s point that Gothic monstrosity is always “an aggregate of race, class, and gender” (1993, 334). In order to participate as good biopolitical citizens, vampires must have the capital to access Tru Blood as well as the legal protection to purchase and consume the product in a discrimination free environment. The fake commercials for Tru Blood, released on YouTube, attempt to help this economic and political process along by portraying Tru Blood consumption as alternatively cool and sexy or folksy and non-threatening. For example, in one commercial, three young white men approach a bar and place their orders in quick succession:

I’ll take that vodka with the really cool ad campaign.

Ridiculously expensive imported beer with a name I can’t pronounce.

I’ll have one of those exotic cocktails.

Their requests are interrupted by a conventionally attractive white woman who orders Tru Blood and then carries it to her wan date, languishing in the shadows of the bar. The men stare at the Tru Blood customer in astonishment and awe. The ad ends with the tagline, “Tru Blood, because you don’t need a pulse to make hearts race”:

The commercial has no branding for True Blood or HBO and is a self-contained transmedia text—the Tru Blood logo shown at the end even has small legalise advising potential consumers, “Synthetic blood products contain varied cellular content than actual blood. Please consult a Tru Blood Cellular Specialist for specific nutritional information”. True Blood fans are addressed as both consumers of the show and of the fictional Tru Blood beverage. These fans are positioned as savvy and media literate cognisors in a way that disarms the purpose of both the True Blood text and the Tru Blood advertisement to establish a blatantly commercial relationship with fans through a postmodern knowingness of alcohol marketing. The intended affective response here, as per Ndalianis, is to generate meta-pleasure in recognising the text’s transmedia connection to the show (in the absence of specific show branding) amidst the generic conventions of alcohol commercials.

Another commercial features a group of mostly white men camping and enjoying beer around a fire. We then see the group through a point of view shot from the darkness in a way that appears to show a predator sneaking up on them. In a reverse shot, a vampire emerges behind one of the men and snarls. The men are startled and then begin to laugh as they welcome the vampire as a recognised friend. “You boys got something for me to drink?” the vampire chuckles as his friends hand him a Tru Blood.

These commercials generate a convivial affective connection to the show anchored through transmedia commodity relations that mirror the internal commodity relations between characters in True Blood. The success of Sookie and Bill’s relationship for example, is implicated in the proliferation of cheap pharmaceutical substitutes. After a passionate bout of lovemaking and bloodletting, Bill tenderly instructs Sookie to take vitamin B-12 tablets to compensate for and replenish her blood loss. Coming out of the coffin is also made more consequential for some vampires due to their social media proficiency. Hudson notes that, “Unlike Jessica today, whose ‘babyvamp’ blog  is part of the series’ multiplatform format” Bill “could not interact with a human society that knew him to be a vampire” (2013, 665). Here the internal narrative of the show permits a younger character to be expanded into its transmedia storytelling in a way that would seem implausible and inauthentic to Bill’s character (at least before he is recruited as an AVL figurehead in Season Three). These video blogs, which are performed by the actors in character, also function to link consumption practices to vampire integration. One vlog has the vampire Pam dispense fashion advice to Jessica and her ‘audience’ about where humans should shop to avoid wearing silver (a metal that enkindles vampire flesh in True Blood). Extra-textually, the real brands that Pam lists off as acceptable for human-vampire contact also confirm to True Blood viewers which consumption practices will identify them as fans of the show (below).

Where once vampires could be seen to attest to “the consequences of over-consumption” (Halberstam 1993, 342), the vampires in True Blood reflect a different set of economic and biopolitical concerns. Writing for Newsweek Jennie Yabroff posits that the current crop of vampire films and televisions shows are permeated by “vampires who have enough self-control to resist the lure of human blood, reflecting, perhaps, the conservative direction the culture has taken” (2008). The popularity of vampires who are able to exercise self-control is politically conservative insomuch as it reflects a neoliberal focus on improving and maximising the capacities of the self. In such an economic climate, Stephen Ball writes that workers are encouraged “to think about themselves as individuals who calculate about themselves, ‘add value’ to themselves, improve their productivity, live an existence of calculation” (2001, 223). That this neoliberal calculation and control could be construed as vampiric speaks to cultural shifts in assessing social and economic success. In his book The Culture of the New Capitalism, Richard Sennett writes that workers who flourish in the contemporary business climate are “oriented to the short term, focused on potential ability, willing to abandon past experience”. This type of employee “is—to put a kindly face on the matter—an unusual sort of human being” (2006, 5). While this continual need to improve, calculate and enhance oneself and one’s resources can prove taxing to a living human, vampires have the physical capabilities as well as an endless amount of time to adapt to and thrive in volatile neoliberal economic conditions.

Vampires who are able to successfully pursue their business and political endeavours recognise the strategic value of performance. Despite her exhortations that vampires can ‘mainstream’ through the consumption of Tru Blood, the AVL’s Nan Flanagan presents herself quite differently to humans in comparison with her fellow vampires. In the episode, “Everything is Broken” (3.9), Russell Edgington kills a human on live television and Nan is revealed watching the event unfold mid-snack on a female human. When Bill is invited by Nan to appear at the AVL-sponsored Festival of Tolerance (“Let’s Get Out of Here”,4.9), he queries the political efficacy of only having three vampires present at the event, “it’s like having a civil rights protest without any black people”. In response, Nan scolds him, “They’re called African Americans and maybe those protests wouldn’t have turned into the blood baths they became if they hadn’t been there, ever consider that?” This cynical and racist understanding of minority groups as responsible for the institutional and social violence inflicted on them is an instrumentalised version of strategic essentialism (see Spivak 1987). The disjunction between Nan’s private ‘life’ and the AVL’s public management of vampire behaviour and comportment draws attention to the ways identity politics bargains on the securing of certain rights at the expense of the lived, or undead, complexity of the identities being politicised.

The shifting between rights discourse in Nan and Bill’s conversation, from the African-American Civil Rights Movement to vampire rights, is indicative of True Blood’s dual treatment of historical inequality as a topic that is both serious and linked to a post-industrial commodification of identity politics. The program typically presents critical views of the US’ racist history through the character of Tara. She is sceptical of Bill’s intentions when they first meet because he admits that his family owned slaves (“The First Taste”, 1.2) and complains, “People think just cause we got vampires out in the open now race isn’t an issue no more” (Hudson 2013, 674). Later Tara is ‘outed’ as a vampire to a former high school classmate who patronisingly affirms her identities by saying, “now you’re a member of two minorities!” (“Somebody That I Used to Know”, 5.8). The politics of being ‘out’ as a vampire are also refracted through allusions to racial segregation. Where Eddie and Steve Newlin’s status as vampires allows them to act on their sexual attraction to men (albeit in different and limited ways), other vampires do not have “built-in privileges of masculine whiteness” (672). For Tara, her body reads as both vampire and African-American, Bill meanwhile is discursively positioned as simply ‘vampire Bill’. As Arlene Fowler explains to her child (upon seeing Bill), “No darlin’, we’re white, he’s dead” (“Sparks Fly Out”, 1.5), whiteness and race are embodied by the living first and non-white bodies second. While the AVL stakes an authoritative claim to what constitutes ‘good’ vampire behaviour, vampires must negotiate their public presence among humans along normatively defined lines of race, gender and sexuality.

These intersections of vampire rights and human-centred identity politics are dramatised in transmedia texts which portray vampires’ attempts to police themselves according to competing sets of claims about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ vampire behaviour. In one of her vlogs, Jessica politely advises Tara to avoid saying phrases like “it sucks” now that she is a vampire, for fear of alarming her audience and the public at large (see vlog below).

The ways in which vampires in True Blood are portrayed “both as a threat and as a fully paid up part of civilian life” (Matthews 2011, 200) exemplifies a biopolitical order which depends on the self-policing and disciplining of subjects according to social norms so that excessive external coercion by the state is not required (Foucault 1977). In this sense, True Blood is the culmination of a representational trajectory of vampires as ostensible outsiders to ciphers for sensible consumption, civic pride and business ethics. In an AVL sponsored Public Service Announcement entitled “Accept the Truth” (below), various vampires describe themselves as ordinary “Americans”, for example, “I’m a short-order cook in New York City, I’m cold to the human touch”, and “I run a horse ranch in Northern Montana, sunlight turns me to ash”.

These dramatic declarations of nationality read as humorous precisely because audiences are used to seeing vampires as obviously different from and suspicious of human life. The extension of the True Blood narrative primarily through these media texts, which simultaneously exhort and parody ‘good’ performances of citizenship and consumption, interpellates fans into a transmedia public sphere along the same lines, through HBO-approved forms of consumption. In the final section of the paper, I want to unpack the distinctions and comingling of political-play as consumption and activism in terms of the role of transmedia storytelling and marketing in disciplining the use of public space.

But please remember I can rip your throat out if I need to”: Vampires and political-play consumption

I have argued so far that True Blood’s vampire trope conjoins civil rights with consumption and civic pride based on a neoliberal performance and management of the self. The program’s focus on the performance of vampirism enabled by a state protected mode of consumption is carried over into fans’ engagement with the show through officially sanctioned forms of consumption. The program’s production and broadcast through the premium HBO cable channel enables a much more explicit and liberal portrayal of sex and violence than traditional broadcast television, and this is undoubtedly a significant reason the show was pitched to and commissioned by HBO. The positioning of the show as both risqué and compatible with a politically progressive demographic is used in marketing material for the show.

For example, one HBO commercial (above), advertising the Season Two DVD box set, has a white family unwrapping Christmas presents from a young woman, presumably their daughter. In response to her Grandma’s query, “What’s this honey?”, the woman gives a quick recap of the season culminating in this description, “and the whole town has a huge orgy. Merry Christmas Grandma, I love you so much”. The commercial’s tagline is “The perfect gift for almost everybody” . The marketing of True Blood’s sexually explicit and graphically violent content as different to or in opposition to the ‘safe’ television programming that your grandmother enjoys sits at odds with the class and cultural capital required to actually consume the show. This includes access to premium cable or at least reliable broadband Internet to download or view the program as well as the supplementary web material that accompanies the program and is designed to satiate audience interest in between episodes and seasons. Whatever form of risk or subversion the vampires in True Blood present to the existing textual order of vampirism is incorporated into an already safely established mode of television production and consumption.

As Ndalianis points out, the goal of an effective transmedia campaign and story is to make audiences “forget that they’re a marketing strategy devised to sell a product” (2012, 166). Fans are encouraged to immerse themselves “in an emerging narrative that isn’t fixed or pre-staged but which they perform a key role in unraveling” (189) and “the participant is invited to literally play and become part of a performance as if it’s real” (172; original emphases). The unfolding of transmedia participation in ‘real-time’ is precisely how the constructed nature of the story is obfuscated. While fans can unravel or make sense of a transmedia story in diverse ways, the underlying narrative which structures the assemblage of transmedia texts is nevertheless necessarily fixed or pre-staged in order to generate an economy of performance that will move the story along.

The framing of transmedia stories around questions of rights, survival or torture can legitimate biopolitical performances through the commodification of fan activity. For instance, Ndalianis describes an aspect of The Dark Knight campaign, which “included phoning a security guard and trying to convince him to save someone being tortured” (168). In this scenario, fans can ‘create’ their own story based on their conversations with the ‘security guard’ but the narrative economy of bargaining over torture still remains intact. An interesting feature of the transmedia campaigns analysed by Ndalianis are the attempts to import ‘real’ protest into the fictional political campaigns devised for Harvey Dent, the protagonist/antagonist in The Dark Knight,and True Blood’s AVL. In the former, Dent’s campaign website was overlain with graffiti that painted his image with clown make up, signifying the Joker’s growing ‘invasion’ of the movie’s promotion (186). In the latter, AVL ads promoting the VRA were covered over, after their initial ‘clean’ public presentation, with anti-vampire slurs such as ‘Killers’ (179). The more consumers interacted with the campaigns, the more oppositional dissent was introduced into their advertising. This ‘dissent’ then becomes an entertaining spectacle, in which fans can participate, that drives the unfolding transmedia narrative as a story about biopolitical conflict; i.e. what are the democratic limits to expelling the Joker and criminals from Gotham City and vampires from public space in True Blood respectively.

In Simulacra and Simulation, Jean Baudrillard argues that the “impossibility of rediscovering an absolute level of the real is of the same order as the impossibility of staging illusion” (2006, 19). To illustrate this point he talks about the impossibility of staging a ‘fake’ bank robbery and assumes that “the network of artificial signs will become inextricably mixed up with real elements” (20). It is impossible therefore, to stage something that remains “close to the ‘truth,’ in order to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulation” (20). I would argue however that successful transmedia campaigns illustrate the degree to which the simulacra of political and juridical order is routinely accomplished by corporate and commercial interests and even accommodated by municipal councils and local governments. These transmedia activities seem to be premised on an expectation and acceptance that political campaigns which ostensibly aim to address crime and inequality will inevitably meet public backlash or violent acts of civil disobedience. Contestation over rights and public space are a normalised feature of transmedia campaigns.

Presumably this is entertaining in the context of a performance for a fictional text, albeit one that requires performance in the non-fictional social and political realm of everyday life, but we might compare this transmediation of political contestation with the everyday disciplining of activism in the public sphere. For example, in 2012, pro-Israel advertisements placed in New York subways by the American Freedom Defense Initiative were defaced with words such as “Racist” and “Hate Speech” and activists such as Egyptian-American writer Mona Eltahawy were arrested for spray-painting over them (Holpuch 2012). Here the spectacle of the invasion and countering of advocate discourse is swiftly disciplined by police and security forces, who acted to protect the purchase of advertising space by the American Freedom Defense Initiative. In New Zealand, 2007 saw a series of anti-terror raids resulting in heavy fines, long court proceedings and jail time for anarchist and Māori activists. Among the evidence used to surveil and arrest the defendants were recorded conversations detailing an apparently jocular suggestion that former US President George W. Bush could be assassinated on his next visit to New Zealand by launching a bus at his person (see Operation 8 [Abi King-Jones and Errol Wright, 2011]). Vijay Devadas (2008) provides a thorough examination of the events by situating them within the convergence of government and private security agendas during the ‘war on terror’. I note here that in distinction to transmedia campaigns that compel play-performance of public safety and order issues, parodic suggestions in the execution of advocacy by marginalised communities exacerbate rather than diminish their biopolitical position as threat.

Of course the difference between these ‘real’ events and transmedia storytelling is that the latter involves “a cognitive and sensory satisfaction that relishes in the performativity and playfulness of the text” (Ndalianis 2012, 183). The playfulness and enjoyment of transmedia fan participation seems to occur by virtue of the lack of substantive social and political consequences to transmedia performances. Where Baudrillard might see such performances as testing the authoritative apparatus of juridical and state institutions in such a way as to restate the latter’s epistemological authority to delineate ‘real’ from ‘fake’ civic activity, I would argue that transmedia activity, provided it is authorised by corporate and municipal bodies, does not test ‘the apparatus’ of a juridical and institutional order so much as it ‘simulates’ this order safely and with a positive affective disposition protected by officially authorised forms of consumption.

Ndalianis’ work maps out a framework of analysis, which takes into account the embodied, affective and urban social participation of transmedia storytelling as a significant dimension of fan activity. Given that transmedia storytelling involves the cultivation of activity and participation in the public sphere and urban environment, by connecting private acts of consumption to a theatre of public brand performance, it would be productive to extend Ndalianis’ analytic framework to an investigation of the types of affective relations emerging between fans, the public sphere, media texts, corporate industry and processes of social and political inclusion and exclusion. Does transmedia storytelling encourage a positive affective relation to biopolitical performance so long as this performance is confined to the ‘fictional’ realm? Do media scholars need to account for the consequences of transmedia ‘play’ such as the mass-shooting which took place in an Aurora, Colorado, cinema during a screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises by a young man impersonating a character from the Batman textual archive? How might we compare the increasing surveillance of political advocacy and creative protest with the seeming acquiescence of municipal and city councils to permit corporate branding to invade civil and public spaces for transmedia storytelling campaigns? Notwithstanding the possibility for resistance or divergence on the part of fans with the ‘intended’ transmedia story, the type of narrative used to anchor transmedia campaigns nevertheless frames and orients fan relations to texts through modes of consumer engagement that are legitimated by corporate, state and municipal institutions. Although my focus here has been on the ways in which transmedia consumer engagement legitimises biopolitical modes of performance and debate around civil rights, it may prove fruitful to investigate other types of relations that emerge from embedding fans into state institutions and discourses via transmedia storytelling.

Conclusion: “That’s the sickest shit I’ve ever seen … and I watch Dance Moms!”

In this paper, I have examined how biopolitical imperatives and constraints around vampire integration in True Blood are mediated through transmedia forms of storytelling and marketing. The transmediation of vampire rights involves fan immersion in discursive and representational practices which (re)produce vampirism as an allusion to gay liberation and LGBTI politics. The program’s use of Tru Blood, both intra- and extra-textually, is premised on the commodification of identity politics but also attests to the permeation and popularisation of a rights-based consensus for minority groups. In a positive reading of the program’s allusions to gay rights, True Blood’s transmedia storytelling appears to evince an inclusive textual and representational landscape for LGBTI politics. At the same time, the program draws attention to the biopolitical function of rights discourse by suggesting that it is the management of particular kinds of life, through particular kinds of consumption, that remains valuable to the dominant political and economic order rather than the identities these rights are attached to. In this sense, the mapping of vampirism onto civil rights also functions to legitimise a political discourse that measures some rights against others in terms of the strategic economic and social benefits such rights grant to the polity or fan community as a whole. This weighing up and measuring of rights in terms of who deserves social and political life, and what ‘life’ can be ‘good’ for the community, is surely more monstrous than anything True Blood’s vampires are capable of.



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[1] My thanks to the anonymous referee for their thoughtful comments and suggestions for improving the paper’s analytical focus. I am also grateful to Kevin Fisher for sharing his insights on Baudrillard and transmedia during the writing of this paper and to Katharine Legun for her help with improving the clarity and coherency of the paper. An early version of this paper was published in the magazine Cherrie. The original version of the paper can be found here: http://gaynewsnetwork.com.au/feature/vamps-and-queers-5136.html


Bio: Holly Randell-Moon is a Lecturer in Communication and Media Studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Her publications on popular culture, gender, and sexuality have appeared in the edited book collections Common Sense: Intelligence as Presented on Popular Television (2008) and Television Aesthetics and Style (2013) and the journal Feminist Media Studies. She has also published on race, religion, and secularism in the journals Critical Race and Whiteness Studies, borderlands and Social Semiotics and in the edited book collections Religion, Spirituality and the Social Sciences (2008) and Mediating Faiths (2010).


Intermediality and Interventions: Applying Intermediality Frameworks to Reality Television and Microblogs — Rosemary Overell

Abstract: This article explores the usefulness of ‘intermediality’ approaches for understanding contemporary reality television. Through a case study of Intervention, it is proposed that intermedial frameworks illuminate reality television’s function as a “dream of presence”. The article focuses particularly on intermedial manifestations of the television program on the microblogging platform, tumblr. Building on studies of intermediality within cinema and visual cultural studies, this article highlights the liminal, affective and processual elements that arise from the intermedial movement of content. It does this through an application of ideas from non-representational theory as a means for expanding intermediality beyond the cinematic. This article suggests that liminality, affect and process are, in turn, presented in Intervention, and emphasised in the intermedial presentation of Intervention ‘screencaps’ on fan-made tumblr microblogs.

Figure 1. An example of the black and white titles used in Intervention to elaborate on the addict’s back story (ordinary intervention, 2012 - ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Tammi and Daniel” (A&E Network 2006b).

Figure 1. An example of the black and white titles used in Intervention to elaborate on the addict’s back story (ordinary intervention, 2012 – ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Tammi and Daniel” (A&E Network 2006b).


This article is an intervention into contemporary accounts of intermediality. Building on recent work in cinema and visual culture studies (Barker 2009; Bennett 2007; Pethő 2010; Pethő 2011; Rajewsky 2005),I propose that intermediality functions as a useful framework for understanding how contemporary popular cultural production works as what Derrida calls the “dream of presence” (1978) –a representational manifestation of a striving for significance and meaning in response to more than representational experiences. Here, I integrate work in non-representational theory (NRT) to elaborate on the more than representational potential of intermedial products.

Intermediality’s concern with the between-ness of media signifiers highlights the liminal, affective and processual aspects that arise via the movement of content between media forms. These, in turn, destabilise the apparent coherence and ‘purity’ of mediated representation and the presumption of media specific modes of spectatorship. This complements NRT approaches, which argue for a privileging of the more than representational dimensions of the cultural landscape. In particular, Mitch Rose’s (2006) elaboration on Derrida’s “dreams of presence” as an inclination and striving – but necessarily also failing – towards an ossified, accountable understanding of culture enlivens intermedial approaches. In this article, I apply the framework of intermediality to the reality television programme Intervention (A&E Network 1999 – 2013) and its surrounding fan blogs.


Intermediality rejects media specificity. It moves away from understanding media as discrete technologies of representation and, in particular, rejects assumptions that particular types of representation are bound to particular types of media (for example moving images with cinema). Furthermore, it differs from transmedia frameworks, which focus on how textual content and significance change when moved from one media form to another. While transmedia approaches acknowledge the mobility of media content, they still present media forms as discrete signifying systems, which produce coherent meaning – either across or within formats. Intermediality troubles this assumption by focusing on how media products come into being via the dynamic inter-relation between media. That is, intermediality is characterised by medial transposition. The process of the transposition of media content, and of one medium into another, also points to the instability of signification. Ágnes Pethő (2011) posits intermediality as constitutive of new mediated experiences in between media forms where media – and their associated significations – are radically dislocated and displaced. This is partly because, via this movement, traces of the originary medial form and content are incorporated into the new medial form and content. Pethő notes the possibilities constituted via intermedial relations and the potential of an intermedial perspective to highlight the multiple mediated relations that produce our comprehension of media content.

Pethő emphasises the affective elements integral to intermediality through her rejection of Kristevan intertextuality.[1] According to Pethő, intermediality is more than textual. It is also more than representational. It is about the myriad of experiences, which are beyond articulation and cognition via standard signifying frameworks such as language: “Intermediality … is not something one ‘deciphers’, it is something one perceives or senses” (2011, 68). Pethő thereby emphasizes the sensuous aspects of embodied spectatorship of cinematic products. She argues for a phenomenological approach to intermediality as a means of accounting for the pre-cognitive experience of cinema. Her understanding, then, is that the experience of intermediality is affective. Here, affect is defined in Massumian (1992; 2002; [1987] 2007) terms as a “prepersonal intensity” ([1987] 2007, xvi) beyond representational frameworks and descriptors such as emotions. The instability of a coherent cinematic mediality is highlighted precisely through intermediality’s concern with the liminal spaces constituted in the moments when media content and representations move between media. This, again, echoes Massumi who argues that affect can only occur in terms of process, passage and interaction between subjects, things and spaces.[2] Massumi posits process as primary to “every formation” (1992, 194) and notes that processuality works as “sites of passage that gather up movement and send it back translated” (ibid.). As Rossiter (2003) points out in his work on processual media theory, this movement between media formations is important, partly because such a dynamic changes the media’s form, content and reception, but also because, by understanding contemporary media as processual, space is made for understanding media as socially, and culturally contingent.

Figure 2. An example of the black and white titles used in Intervention to present ‘facts’ about addiction and health problems (ordinary intervention, 2012 - ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Linda” (A&E Network 2009a).

Figure 2. An example of the black and white titles used in Intervention to present ‘facts’ about addiction and health problems (ordinary intervention, 2012 – ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Linda” (A&E Network 2009a).

Intermediality as a “dream of presence”

I propose that we can understand intermediality in terms of non-representational theory (NRT) – a conceptual framework associated with cultural geography. NRT’s remit is to “enliven” the humanities through a privileging of affective experiences over representational—particularly textual—analyses (Thrift 2008; Anderson and Harrison 2010).

A key site for NRT analyses is “cultural landscapes”(Rose 2002; 2006). Rose broadens the geographical implications of “landscape” to include theoretical engagements with cultural practices and objects that attempt to “capture” such manifestations “into sense … into something that can be … imagined in a mental tableau” (2006, 537). Rose argues that the representational concerns of much cultural analysis ossify the vitality of cultural processes. Instead, he presents an NRT approach to culture as one that collapses subject and object into co-emergent becomings (538). In this way his approach is resonant with Pethő’s emphasis on intermediality as constituted through phenomenological correlations of the types of embodiment implied by different media forms.

Rose’s (2006) approach to cultural landscape further complements intermedial approaches through his understanding of cultural analysis as a ‘dream of presence’ instead of a ‘thingified’ culture. Rose claims that we are drawn to stable understandings of culture that mitigate the messy experience of engaging with the world. Rose dubs these inclinations – both in their manifestations as coherent, signifying systems and the process of striving towards these coherencies – dreams of presence. Here, he draws on Derrida (1978), who describes the “dream” of the “philosophical man” [sic] for “full presence, the reassuring foundation” (292). In Derridean terms, this is an impossible possibility because of the instability of language systems.

Nonetheless, as Rose posits, we are inclined to the certitude of teleologies, grand narratives and coherent signification. Rose provocatively suggests that cultural theory is itself a manifestation of this dream. Like other NRT theorists, Rose calls for the humanities to account for the “more than representational” (2006, 345). One means for doing this is a foregrounding of the process of these inclinations towards the “performance of closure and encirclement” (2006, 345) that goes with cultural analysis, but also permeates our everyday encounters with cultural products and processes. Despite the impossibility of stabilizing culture into a coherent landscape, we repeat this performance as a way of being in the world which Rose dubs “affective cabling that connects self and word” (ibid.). The privileging of the strivings towards meaning undercut claims to representational meaning.[3]

In terms of intermediality, Rajewsky gestures towards a similarly impossible—though desired state, arguing that the apparent material specificity of originary media is illusory. That is, intermedial products foreground the surface claims of media as inscribing a discrete materiality within their modes of representation. She notes that this foregrounding produces a particular ‘as if’ experience for the intermedial consumer: “the book reads as if it is a film”.[4] Here, we see the inclination towards coherent significations. Medial approaches are a “dream of presence” and intermedial approaches operate similarly to Rose’s work – in destabilizing the assumption of medial solidity. Pethő echoes a similar idea in her discussion of the viewer’s embodied response to cinema – the desire and striving to stabilise and decipher the intermedial experience. The work of the spectator in fostering what Rose dubs a “dream of presence” in fact draws attention to the intermediality of cinematic experience and the impossibility of a coherently signifying, cinematic product.

To summarise, intermediality is characterised by liminality, affect and processuality. These three characteristics highlight the significatory instability of media content, as well as the power of media themselves and of intermedial experiences to push beyond the representational systems that characterize discrete, medial, approaches. In turn, I propose that intermedial approaches are enriched through recourse to NRT frameworks that privilege the in-betweenness within all “dreams of presence”.

Figure 3. An example of how the production mechanisms of the program are shown on Intervention (ordinary intervention, 2012 - ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Linda” (A&E Network 2009a).

Figure 3. An example of how the production mechanisms of the program are shown on Intervention (ordinary intervention, 2012 – ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Linda” (A&E Network 2009a).

Case study: Intervention

Intervention was a reality television program that aired on the American cable channel A&E Network (A&E) between 2005 and 2013. The show was demonstrative of A&E’s shift from “Arts and Entertainment” programming – made up of imported British dramas and documentaries on opera, theatre and cinema – to a focus on reality television.[5] The premise of Intervention is the representation of an addicted subject, who undergoes a “Johnson Institute” – so called “ambush” – intervention for their addiction and is encouraged to go into rehabilitation.[6] The addict is contextualised through to-camera commentary from the addict and their family and friends. The intervention is overseen by a professional interventionist, and the program usually closes with a “catch up” clip, generally of the recovering addict in a rehabilitation clinic.

Intervention is formulaic. Certain formal elements are consistent across ten of the thirteen seasons. The stylistic changes in the final seasons were minimal, indicating that the show had found its formula. Common elements included the theme song, advertising break bookends which incorporated sirens over a blurred, fast moving image of flashing lights, the closing theme of The Davenports’ song about recovery “5 steps” (2000), the use of black-background-white-text inter-titles to inform viewers of personal information on the addict subject and ‘facts’ about addiction (Figures 1 and 2), the narrative of introducing the addict and showing their substance use and relaying the addict’s (often traumatic) personal history, the intervention, and then finally rehabilitation. Two of the interventionists appeared in all thirteen seasons, Jeff Van Vonderen and Candy Finnigan. Both Van Vonderen and Finnigan are themselves former addicts. Like other A&E reality programs, and reality television broadly, Intervention used a documentary aesthetic. Camera work, particularly in the initial section of each episode, where the addict is tracked in their everyday life, was handheld. The production staff was regularly revealed – particularly when interventions did not go to plan – talking to the addict and their family from either behind or in front of the camera. Camera operators and production equipment were often shown in mirrors or by second cameras (Figure 3). In the final few seasons, the intervention “scene” began with an overhead establishing shot that revealed the family and interventionist as well as the production staff, lights and cameras. This cinema vérité style was crucial to building the program’s generic classification as reality television,[7] and claim to an authentic ‘documentary’ portrayal of substance use. This aesthetic also positioned it apart from slicker programs with similar themes, such as Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew (VH1 2008 – 2012) and Addicted (TLC 2010). The hand-held aesthetic of Intervention only lifts in the final scenes at rehab – where steady shots of doctors, counselors and the recovering addict are used.

Figure 4. One of the liminal spaces common to Intervention, a hallway (ordinary intervention, 2012 - ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Tammi and Daniel” (A&E Network 2006b).

Figure 4. One of the liminal spaces common to Intervention, a hallway (ordinary intervention, 2012 – ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Tammi and Daniel” (A&E Network 2006b).

Intervention is transmediated in numerous ways. Its content has crossed primarily from television to Internet platforms. Two popular memes have been created by viewers from the television episodes. The first shows a clip of inhalant addict Allison (A&E Network 2008) “huffing” computer duster and mumbling “I’m walking on sunshine” mashed up with the K. C. and the Sunshine Band song “Walking on Sunshine”.[8] The disconnect between Allison’s obvious desperation and the song’s upbeat lyric serves as the “punch line” for the meme. The second Intervention meme shows Rocky (A&E Network 2010e), a cocaine addict, emitting a high-pitched cry during his intervention. The meme became a viral video dubbed “The Best Cry Ever” and was remixed into clips of people expressing disappointment at ostensibly trivial matters.[9] These memes appropriate content from Intervention and re-signify it through incorporating it with apparently unrelated content from popular culture. There are also numerous other viewer-made YouTube mash ups of Intervention, including facebook fan pages and discussion boards focused on the program. Like many other reality television programs, Intervention has prompted various tumblr pages where users can share, like and upload primarily visual and video material. tumblr has a handful of blogs focused on Intervention where users screencap (still frame) and gif (moving frame) particular moments from the show and sometimes provide commentary on the program.

A number of academic articles have discussed Intervention. None, however, have looked at the intermediality of the program, nor its transmedia engagement by audiences. Instead, work on Intervention has critiqued the ethics and efficacy of the program from a health-science perspective (Kosovski and Smith 2011); the commodification of drug addiction and Intervention’s position within the wider genre of transformation reality television (Oriekose 2013); and the over-representation of white addicts as ‘wasted’ white citizens on the program (Daniels 2012).[10]

Intervention and intermediality

I propose that intermediality is a useful method for understanding Intervention, particularly “tumbld” interventions which emphasise liminality, processuality and affect. I argue that the intermedial characteristics of tumbld Intervention demonstrate the “dreams of presence” that Rose discusses via Derrida.

Figure 5. One of the liminal spaces common to Intervention, a streetscape (ordinary intervention, 2012 - ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Trent” (A&E Network 2007).

Figure 5. One of the liminal spaces common to Intervention, a streetscape (ordinary intervention, 2012 – ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Trent” (A&E Network 2007).

Intervention, the television program, focuses on liminal spaces, experiences and subjects. These representations of in-betweeness gesture towards televisual media’s desire to overcome liminality in favor of neat teleology. However, the repetition and foregrounding of such spaces simultaneously highlight the inability of media to cordon off experience into coherent, self-contained narrative forms. The settings for all but the final section of Intervention (in rehab) are usually interim sites. We encounter squats, cheap hotel rooms, brothels, conurban housing estates, fast food outlets and, most of all, streetscapes (Figures 4 – 6). The chief ‘interim’ space common to every episode is the hotel conference room where the intervention occurs. The “beige blandness” (Daniels, 110) of the conference room signals liminality in a most banal way. It is striking how similar these rooms are despite being scattered across North America (Figures 8 – 10). This sameness indicates the purpose of such rooms – as inoffensive sites through which hundreds of professionals move every year. Further, the conference room works as a waiting room for each episode’s ‘cast’. Prior to the intervention, we see the family and friends waiting for the addict and anticipating the confrontation. During the intervention, the interventionist, family and friends wait to see if the addict will move on from the liminal site of the conference room to rehab. The repeated trope in the later seasons of zooming out to show the mechanics of the show’s production prior to the intervention further highlight the temporary function of the conference room. The wide shot gives an impression of urgent assembly of production equipment which will then be hastily dismantled so that the room can be used again by conference delegates.

Figure 6.One of the liminal spaces common to Intervention, an image of a fast-food restaurant sign, presumably taken from a car (ordinary intervention, 2012 - ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Salina and Troy” (A&E Network 2006a).

Figure 6. One of the liminal spaces common to Intervention, an image of a fast-food restaurant sign, presumably taken from a car (ordinary intervention, 2012 – ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Salina and Troy” (A&E Network 2006a).

Furthermore, the overarching discourse of Intervention is that of “moving on” from one’s addiction. As Daniels discusses, Intervention’s narrative hinges on the transformation of the addict from the negatively framed substance (ab)user to a healthy citizen-subject.[11] This discourse requires a focus on the addict’s life as a series of transitional experiences. The instability of addiction is emphasised in each episode’s opening scenes where we see addicts scrounging for money, usually via illicit activities, and the apparently infinite risks of scoring and then consuming their substance. As with the waiting space of the hotel conference room, these scenes position the addict’s experience as liminal. The addict is almost always on the move – their experiences are framed as transient. This is most evident in the repeated trope of the addict resisting the format of the show itself. Usually this manifests in the addict storming out of a to-camera scene, removing their microphone and running away into the street. The addicts – by warrant of their addiction – occupy a marginal subjectivity. This is compounded by the regularity of the inclusion of addicts who signify marginality within dominant discourse. Intervention, though white-dominated, as Daniels observes, offers a parade of working-class people, abuse victims, prostitutes, non-heterosexual subjects and the mentally ill. The addicts also embody an interim subjectivity – relentlessly striving for, and dreaming of, a stable, present self via the use of drugs or alcohol, while simultaneously demonstrating the impossibility of this position through a heightened instability in the form of chasing their substance and waiting for a connect.

Figure 7. The hotel room, the site of the intervention, is ubiquitous and similar across episodes of Intervention (ordinary intervention, 2012 - ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Trent” (A&E Network 2007).

Figure 7. The hotel room, the site of the intervention, is ubiquitous and similar across episodes of Intervention (ordinary intervention, 2012 – ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Trent” (A&E Network 2007).

The liminality of Intervention – and by implication the televisual medium – is highlighted when screencaps and gif images of the program are presented on tumblr. “Ordinary Interventions” (ordinary intervention, 2012 -) tumbls screencaps from Intervention without narrative linearity. Tumblr is a microblogging platform, launched in 2007, which is mostly used to post images. Users can ‘follow’ others’ blog posts and access them through a generic ‘dashboard’ which displays blog posts chronologically. That is, all the posts from bloggers one follows are collated onto the dashboard. Tumblr also follows an “infinite scroll” format. The screen refreshes with more posts each time the user appears to reach the end of a feed. Provided the user follows a number of bloggers, the dashboard is constantly offering new images, which may have little to do with the other images displayed.

If one follows a cute puppy blog and a feminist comic blog, for example, seemingly unrelated images from both will appear sequentially – as the blogger posts – producing a discordant series of images. Users can also personalize their individual blog interface through the application of ‘themes’ which determine font, layout etc. With “Ordinary Interventions”, images are displayed two across and rarely are images from the same episode placed alongside each other. The screencaps are of varying sizes, determined by the format of the video file from which the image was taken. They are hashtagged with the name of the addict, addiction as well as #intervention and #aetv. However, and unlike most tumblr interfaces, the hashtags are not readily viewable to browsers, though they can be searched on the blog’s search function or by clicking the ‘+’ button, though this is not readily apparent. Importantly, “Ordinary Interventions” does not include images of drugs, alcohol or substance use. That is, the blogger focuses on the ordinary, liminal moments of the addict’s everyday life – the interim moments between the spectacularised (through the television program in extreme close ups and repetition) instances of substance use. “Ordinary Interventions” provides no information about the blog’s author, no text or re-blogged images.

Figure 8. The hotel room, the site of the intervention, is ubiquitous and similar across episodes of Intervention (ordinary intervention, 2012 - ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Tammi and Daniel” (A&E Network 2006a).

Figure 8. The hotel room, the site of the intervention, is ubiquitous and similar across episodes of Intervention (ordinary intervention, 2012 – ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Tammi and Daniel” (A&E Network 2006a).

The apparently random collation of screencaps on “Ordinary Interventions” produces liminality through its un-anchoring of ‘moments’ from Intervention in a non-linear format. The ‘capping’ of people: crying and laughing, ordinary household scenes, urban landscapes, old photographs, direct-to-cameras against a blue background and the banality of the hotel conference rooms, lack narrative coherence. This is not a “remix” like the Allison and Rocky memes where elements from Intervention are incorporated into a new narrative for comic effect. Instead, “Ordinary Interventions’” presentation of Intervention appears meaningless. In fact, tumblr users without familiarity with the program would most likely find ‘Ordinary Interventions’ impenetrable. The very act of tumbling indiscriminate screencaps from Intervention radically dislocates the transformational, solidifying narrative of the program as televisual media. There is no rehabilitation or resolution, simply an endless scroll through interim moments. Instead, Intervention mobilises affect as crucial to the flow of each episode. The representation of affective responses to addiction, both from the addict and their loved ones, generates sympathy in viewers and a desire for the protagonist to “move beyond” the liminality of addiction to the apparent solidity of rehabilitation. Recall Massumi’s and NRT theorists’ understanding of affect as more than articulated, representable and cognized emotion. Instead it refers to the intensities one experiences through the movement from “one … state … to another” (Massumi 2007, xvi), hence the program’s liminality. Thus, while the affect gestured towards in the program may provoke an emotional response in viewers, affect is not synonymous with emotion. However, the subject’s containment of affect within language – through the 12-step process of ‘admitting’ a problem and containing affective responses within a pathologised discourse of “emotional trauma” – gestures yet again towards the inclination to pin down the instability of everyday life experiences.

 Figure 9. The hotel room, the site of the intervention, is ubiquitous and similar across episodes of Intervention (ordinary intervention, 2012 - ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Nichole” (A&E Network 2012).

Figure 9. The hotel room, the site of the intervention, is ubiquitous and similar across episodes of Intervention (ordinary intervention, 2012 – ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Nichole” (A&E Network 2012).

Affect is most evident in the liminal moments of the program. In fact, Rocky’s “Best Cry Ever” clearly demonstrates the more-than-ness of the experience of addiction and, accordingly, how affect is mobilized in Intervention. His cry is wordless, high-pitched and completely embodied. He shudders as he emits it from deep in his body. This moment, of what Dolar (2007) might call “voice” demonstrates the inadequacy of language for representing embodied experience.[12] Further, Rocky’s cry demonstrates affect’s own liminality. The moment occurs in the interim space of the intervention in a hotel conference room. Moreover, as Dolar writes, screams demonstrate the pre-cognitive “penultimate stage” (69) prior to the subject’s interpellation within representational structures.[13] Alongside affective moments, such as Rocky’s scream during the intervention, the program dwells on addicts’ repeated insistence that they are “without words” and that their subjectivity – bound to their addiction – is beyond representation. For example, addicts say: “wow I can’t even talk right now” (A&E Network 2010d), “it’s like having an orgasm; you can’t just describe it” (A&E Network 2010e), and “it’s kind of hard … that feeling you get” (A&E Network 2011).

Figure 10. The hotel room, the site of the intervention, is ubiquitous and similar across episodes of Intervention (ordinary intervention, 2012 - ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Greg” (A&E Network 2009b).

Figure 10. The hotel room, the site of the intervention, is ubiquitous and similar across episodes of Intervention (ordinary intervention, 2012 – ). The episode from which this is screencapped is “Greg” (A&E Network 2009b).

The intermedial presentation of Intervention’s representations of affective intensity on tumblr generates an affective response from tumblr users. Such responses can be understood as yet another variation of the “dream of presence”. The affective engagement with the program – generated through tumbling and commenting – foregrounds the impossibility of understanding either the program content, or the medium, as singular, discrete and, most importantly, representational.

“Fuck Yes Intervention” (Fuck Yes Intervention, 2011 – ) is a tumblr, which presents screencaps alongside gifs from Intervention. Unlike “Ordinary Interventions”, the interface offers clear hashtags and information about the blogger, who is a drug addict.[14] “Fuck Yes Intervention” also encourages interaction from tumblr users. Followers of the blog can comment, ask the blogger questions and request that particular episodes be screencapped or giffed. “Fuck Yes Intervention” presents affective moments from the program that then generates discussion of viewers’ affective responses to Intervention. For example, responding to a screencap of crystal-meth addict, Cristy (A&E Network 2006c), radhabits writes: “i cried the first time i watched this episode, and every time I watch intervention” [sic] (Fuck Yes Intervention, 2011a). Another Cristy post (Fuck Yes Intervention, 2011b) – this time showing Cristy’s experience of being high as she dances around her bedroom – prompted unintelligible responses from other users, unable to represent linguistically “what they just watched”:

dynomitemedley: uhhhhhh

luxuryintherough: what. the. fuck. did. I. just. watch???? luxuryintherough

zombiecupcake: I DON’T KNOW (ibid.).

Rather than the apparently straightforward governmental meaning of Intervention as a lesson in how not to be a good, healthy, citizen, the users of “Fuck Yes Intervention” present multiple, affective responses to the screencaps and gifs on the blog.

“Ordinary Interventions” also focuses on affective moments from Intervention. There are numerous images of addicts, family-members and friends in the liminal space of embodied intensity. Furthermore, the tumblr’s screencaps of the inter-titles and subtitles common to every episode undercut the apparent authority and hegemony of textuality not only in the program, but more broadly, in representational understandings of reality television. Intervention uses inter-titles to elaborate on the addict’s back-story as well as to present facts about addiction. Subtitles are used when the speech onscreen is inaudible. The haphazard insertion of text-based screencaps beside images of Intervention’s overwrought subjects produces a dislocation of language and image, which draws attention to the inadequacy of representational structures for expressing embodied experience. More importantly, the blog’s bricolage of images and text foregrounds the illusory claim of reality television forms to signifying authority. The affect – isolated in the screencaps of “Ordinary Intervention” – overwhelms pretentions to representational solidity. Writing on captioned visual art, Bennett indicates that rather than the printed words operating as a Barthesian anchor for the image they “run relentlessly unable to flow through the normal communication channels … register[ing] as pure intensity: affect characterised by … lack of attachment, disarticulated from motives” (442). “Ordinary Interventions” enacts this affective disarticulation in sequences, which themselves are sense-less. For example, an image of a woman laughing to camera is followed by an inter-title stating: “Coley has been collecting burl for the past three months. He has never sold any” (Figure 10). Next is a screencap of a woman petting a puppy on a mattress, then a middle-aged woman sitting in front of giant rosary beads, and so on. As Pethő points out in relation to cinema, the potential of intermediality to break up and dislocate signifying systems through a foregrounding of the disjunction between speech and image not only rejects a fixity of meaning for the content represented, but also the media form ‘doing’ the representing (61).

Figure 11.“Ordinary Interventions” offers a bricolage of disarticulated screencaps from Intervention (ordinary intervention, 2012 - ).

Figure 11.“Ordinary Interventions” offers a bricolage of disarticulated screencaps from Intervention (ordinary intervention, 2012 – ).

The presentation of the processual nature of addiction in Intervention resonates with intermedial understandings of media forms as mutable, changing and striving towards coherence, though never reaching it. The premise of the program, as discussed above, is a transformative ‘journey’ from addiction to rehabilitation. Using pop-psychological platitudes common to therapy culture, interventionists Finnigan and Van Vonderen encourage the addicts’ families to “process” the intervention and “work through” their own neuroses (often via a the “Betty Ford Family Program”) as a means of overcoming the co-dependency of their relationship with the addict. For example, in season 8, Van Vonderen tells the family before the intervention: “recovery is not a sudden landing. It’s a long journey” (A&E Network 2010a). In a later episode, Finnigan tells crack addict Vinnie’s family that addiction is “a progressive, terminal disease … nothing changes, if nothing changes” (A&E Network 2010b).

Despite its emphasis on process, Intervention rarely offers a straightforward transformation of either the addict or their loved ones. By frustrating deterministic narratives of self-improvement the show highlights both the desire for wholeness and progress, as well as its futility. This is clearly demonstrated in the closing inter-titles which regularly inform viewers that the addict “left treatment” before the proscribed ninety days, has “relapsed”, or simply refused to continue treatment and be “rehabilitated”. Over thirteen seasons, viewers, addicts and their families and friends repeat a desire for wholeness and wellbeing, which can never be achieved. The viewer who tunes in weekly finds pleasure in both the desire for narrative neatness, coupled with knowledge of the trajectory’s likely failure.

It is in its intermedial form on tumblr, presentations of Intervention demonstrate the processuality of intermedial transposition. We can understand the screencaps of “Ordinary Interventions” as foregrounding process, but like the content of the program itself, repeatedly failing. “Ordinary Interventions” presents a radical asynchronicity in its infinitely scrolling, random presentation of Intervention screencaps. It repeatedly interpellates users to “make sense” of the images while always undermining this through the random order in which the images appear. “Ordinary Intervention” does use tags, which could ostensibly sort the images. However, these tags are haphazard. Addicts have multiple addictions or their name or addiction is incorrectly tagged, and images of non-addict family members will often also be tagged with the substance name. Users remain stymied in their search for narrative clarity. This failure of comprehension highlights the processual nature of cognition and foregrounds our initial affective responses as unable to “fit” the signifying structures assumed by media forms.

The processual reconfiguation of Intervention via “Ordinary Interventions” is also reflexive. The blog draws attention to how affect is produced within the medium of television via its re-presentation on tumblr. It is therefore intermedial in the sense that it is concerned with the emergence of both Intervention the program and reality television more broadly. Rather than being presented with a one-way – or even dialogic – communication from media to consumer, “Ordinary Interventions” in the asynchronicity of its mediality is a porous “dream of presence”.[15] As “Ordinary Interventions” lacks clear narrative conventions, it fails to communicate a coherent explication of addiction. Instead, its interface generates a repeated experience of striving for and inclining towards present-ness. Even more than the repeated failures depicted in its televisual form, the transposition of Intervention through “Ordinary Interventions” will never offer resolution. When the medium migrates it is “reconfigured” (Bennett, 448) by its presentation in a new medium’s interface. The screencaps of addicts, their loved ones and the interventionists – for lack of a dialogic reverse-shot – seep into one another to potentially produce multiple, contradictory, affective responses which make any clear articulation in language difficult. The apparently random sequences of images resist the sequential reading to which televisual content lays claim.


In closing, I wish to briefly describe one of the most recent screencaps posted on “Ordinary Interventions” (Figure 11). It shows a black screen with a white blur. The blogger has clearly screencapped the interim moment between the affective enaction of the addict’s ‘process’ to intervention and the insertion of an explanatory title card. The hashtags are general (#substanceabuse; #addiction #intervention etc.) – they do not indicate the episode. The one unique, though perhaps predictably inadequate, hashtag is #blackscreen. The screencaps around it show a tattooed woman in profile, a hand reaching for an hors d’ouevre, and a close up of a woman crying. This image: #blackscreen, perhaps best embodies the intermediality of Intervention as transposed through tumblr. It is a representation of liminality, a captured microsecond in-between narration. Its position in relation to the affect-steeped screencaps around it foregrounds affect and refuses clear signification. Its lack of communication, despite gesturing towards textuality (it is obviously a fade from text to black), demonstrates processuality.

Figure 12.Recent posts on “Ordinary Interventions” (ordinary intervention, 2012 - ).

Figure 12.Recent posts on “Ordinary Interventions” (ordinary intervention, 2012 – ).

This discussion of intermediality in relation to reality television and microblogging demonstrates the usefulness of intermedial frameworks for analysing and destabilizing popular cultural texts and media. Further, I want to suggest that the application of intermedial theory to Intervention’s televisual and tumbld manifestations could fruitfully be expanded through reference to NRT understandings of Derridean “dreams of presence”.






A&E Network. 2013a. “All Shows” A&E. Accessed December 10, 2013. http://www.aetv.com/allshows.jsp.

A&E Network. 2013b. “Intervention: About the Show” A&E. Accessed December 10, 2013. http://www.aetv.com/intervention/about/.

A&E Network. 2013c. “Intervention: Meet the Interventionists” A&E. Accessed December 10, 2013. http://www.aetv.com/intervention/meet-interventionists.

Anderson, Ben and Paul Harrison. eds, 2010. Taking Place: Non-Representational Theories and Geography. Farnham: Ashgate.

Barker, Jennifer M. 2009. The Tactile Eye: Touch and the Cinematic Experience. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Bennett, Jill. 2007. “Aesthetics of Intermediality.” Art History 30 (3): 432-450.

Tony Bennett and others, eds, 1981. Popular Televisions and Film. London: BFI Publishing in association with the Open University Press,

Berlant, Lauren. 2011. Cruel Optimism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Daniels, Jessie. 2012. “Intervention: Reality TV, Whiteness, and Narratives of Addiction.” Advances in Medical Sociology 14: 103-125.

The Davenports. 2000. “5 Steps.” Speaking of the Davenports. New York, NY: Mother West.

Derrida, Jacques. 1978. Writing and Difference. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Don. 2013. “Walking on Sunshine” Know Your Meme. Accessed December 10, 2013. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/walking-on-sunshine.

Dolar, Mladen. 2007. A Voice and Nothing More. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Fuck Yes Intervention. 2011 – . “Fuck Yes Intervention,” tumblr. Accessed December 10, 2013. http://fuckyesintervention.tumblr.com.

Fuck Yes Intervention. 25 August 2011a. “Cristy Intervention Vodka Bed,” tumblr. Accessed: December 10, 2013. http://fuckyesintervention.tumblr.com/post/9384802554/cristy-intervention-vodka-bed.

Fuck Yes Intervention. 31 August 2011b. “Cristy,” tumblr. Accessed: December 10, 2013. http://fuckyesintervention.tumblr.com/post/9640210736/cristy.

Fuck Yes Intervention. 27 May 2013. “Submissions?”, tumblr. Accessed: December 10, 2013. http://fuckyesintervention.tumblr.com/post/51492204728/submissions.

Idah, Oriekose. 2013. “Viewer-Patient Confidentiality: Commodification of Illness in Contemporary U.S. Medical Reality TV.” Intersect 60 (2). http://ojs.stanford.edu/ojs/index.php/intersect/article/view/569. Accessed November 7, 2013.

Kosovski, Jason R. and Douglas C. Smith. 2011. “Everybody Hurts: Addiction, Drama, and the Family in the Reality Television Show Intervention.” Substance Use and Misuse 46: 852-858.

Kristeva, Julia. 1986. “Word dialogue, and the novel.” In The Kristeva reader, edited by Toril Moi, 79-106. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Massumi, Brian. 1992. A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Massumi, Brian. (1987) 2007. “Pleasures of Philosophy.” In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri. Translated by Brian Massumi, ix-xix. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Massumi, Brian. 2002. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Ordinary intervention. 2012 – . “Ordinary Interventions.” tumblr. Accessed December 10, 2013. http://ordinaryintervention.tumblr.com.

Paech, Joachim. 2000. “ESF ‘Changing Media in Changing Europe’.” Paper presented at Artwork – Text – Medium: Steps en Route to Intermediality, Paris, May 26 – 28.

Pethő.“Ágnes. 2010. Intermediality in Film: A Historiography of Methodologies.” Film and Media Studies 2: 39-72.

Pethő, Ágnes. 2011. “Reading the Intermedial: Abysmal Mediality and Trans-Figuration in the Cinema.” In Cinema and Intermediality: The Passion for the In-Between, 55-94. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Rajewsky, Irina O. 2005. “Intermediality, Intertextuality and Remediation: A Literary Perspective on Intermediality.” History and Theory of the Arts, Literature and Technologies 6: 43-64.

Rose, Mitch. 2002. “Landscapes and Labyrinths.” Geoforum 33: 455-467.

Rose, Mitch. 2006. “Gathering ‘dreams of presence’: a project for the cultural landscape.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 24: 537-554.

Rossiter, Ned. 2003. “Processual Media Theory.” symploke 11.1-2: 104-131.

Steez. 2010. “Best Cry Ever.” Know Your Meme. Accessed: December 10, 2013. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/best-cry-ever.

Thrift, Nigel. 2008. Non-Representational Theory: Space|Politics|Affect. Milton Park: Routledge.


Moving Image Works Cited

A&E Network. January 8, 2006a. “Salina and Troy”. Intervention. Season 2, episode 5.

A&E Network. July 23rd 2006b. “Tammi and Daniel”. Intervention. Season 2, episode 14.

A&E Network. August 20, 2006c. “Cristy”. Intervention. Season 2, episode 18.

A&E Network. April 20 2007. “Trent”. Season 3, episode 5.

A&E Network. August 18, 2008. “Allison”. Intervention. Season 5, episode 9.

A&E Network. November 23rd 2009a. “Linda”. Intervention. Season 8, episode 1.

A&E Network. December 7, 2009b. “Greg”. Intervention. Season 8, episode 2.

A&E Network. January 4, 2010a. “Sarah”. Intervention. Season 8, episode 6.

A&E Network. January 18, 2010b. “Vinnie”. Intervention. Season 8, episode 8.

A&E Network. April 5, 2010c. “Rocky”. Intervention. Season 8, episode 14.

A&E Network. April 12, 2010d. “Ashley”. Intervention. Season 8, episode 15.

A&E Network. August 23, 2010e. “Ryan / Jason”. Intervention. Season 9, episode 9.

A&E Network. January 3, 2011. “Erin”. Intervention. Season 10, episode 4.

A&E Network. August 13, 2012. “Nichole”. Intervention. Season 13, episode 1.

Comedy Central. April 28, 2010. “Crippled Summer”. South Park. Season 14, episode 7.

Phillips, Todd. The Hangover Part III. 2013.

TLC. Addicted. 2010.

VH1. Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. 2008-2012.


[1] Rajewsky also discusses the difference between Kristeva’s framework of intertextuality and intermediality (Rajewsky 2005, 48). See also, Julia Kristeva (1986).

[2] Other scholars have looked at the potential for an affective becoming through the application of an intermedial methodology to understanding cinematic texts. Barker, for example, suggests that the interaction between viewer and film is one of emergence, rather than consumption. Bennett deviates from studies of cinematic intermediality in her work on visual arts that incorporate or gesture towards the moving image. However, she is also emphatic that intermediality is processual, liminal and more-than representational.

[3] See also, Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (2011). Berlant argues that it is the desire and striving for an end, which we know will always already fail, which is seductive.

[4] Pethő also discusses this: “we can always tell for example when a piece of prose writing or poetry in literature is unfolding like ‘moving images’, we recognize the characteristics of cinematic ‘framing’ or ‘montage’ whenever it is reflected in any other medium” (2010, 66).

[5] Examples of recent and current reality programs on A&E include Hoarders, Duck Dynasty, Rodeo Girls and Storage Wars (A&E Network 2013a).

[6] Says the website’s copy: “Each episode follows addicts through their daily life and the devastation their dependency has brought to their family and friends. Upon reaching the brink, their loved ones stage a surprise intervention conducted by one of four specialists” (A&E Network 2013b).

[7] The ‘recovered’ status of Van Vonderen and Finnigan also built the program’s claim to authenticity. Both interventionists regularly mentioned their own “struggles with addiction” in episodes and the profiles of Van Vonderen and Finnigan on Intervention’s website foreground this aspect of their history (A&E Network 2013c).

[8] A summary of the variations on the Allison meme are available on Know Your Meme (Don 2013). The “Walking on Sunshine” motif gained further status when it was included in an episode of South Park (Comedy Central 2010).

[9] A summary of the variations on the Rocky meme are available on Know Your Meme (Steez 2010).

[10] Daniels argues that white addicts in Intervention are moralized. Firstly – as addicted – they are framed as ‘failures’ in terms of their performance of normative whiteness. If the addict accepts the offer of rehabilitation, however, they are positioned as redeemed and “deserving” (2012, 114).

[11] This is also reflected in the lyrics to the program’s closing theme song. The lyrics include: “No reprimand / Deliberate, demand / With your two feet at hand / Get back / This train’s a comin’ down the track / Five steps you’re over” (The Davenports 2000). These lyrics presumably gesture towards the “Five Major Steps to Intervention”.

[12] Rocky’s cry is also reproduced in The Hangover 3 where the emphasis lies on the affective aurality of his cry (Phillips 2013).

[13] Here, and throughout the book, Dolar draws on Lacanian psychonanalysis.

[14] The blogger writes: “i don’t know if i have ever mentioned this on here but i am also an addict” [sic] (Fuck Yes Intervention 2013).

[15] See Bennett: intermedial gesture is a “tension … that it expresses … the experience of ‘being in’ an interaction – rather than … articulated communication” (2007, 441).



Rosemary Overell completed a PhD on extreme metal music at the University of Melbourne, Australia. After teaching in Melbourne, she moved to the University of Otago, New Zealand, to take up a lecturer position in the Department of Media, Film and Communication. Currently, she is researching how nikkeijin (Japanese-Brazilians working in Japan) relate to Japanese national space through their experiences in extreme metal music. Her book, Affective Intensities in Extreme Music Scenes: Cases from Australia and Japan was recently published by Palgrave Macmillan.

The Ecstatic Gestalt in Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams — Kevin Fisher

Abstract: Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) has been celebrated as the first non-gratuitous use of 3-D: perfectly suited to revealing the interior of the cave and the naturalistic environment in which it is situated, as opposed to immersing the spectator within computer-generated artificial worlds. I will dispute this reading of the film, describing its use of stereoscopy as instead expressive of an anti-naturalistic ecstatic gestalt by appeal to Ágnes Pethő’s concept of intermediality and the film phenomenology of Vivian Sobchack. Moreover, I will read the figural tropes generated through the film’s use of stereoscopy through George Bataille’s analysis of the emergence of human consciousness, which I argue reciprocates a key thematic of Herzog’s filmmaking.


Figure 1: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010)

Figure 1: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010)


This essay began with the desire to read the use of “3D” stereoscopic imagery in Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010) as an expression of one of the film’s central themes: the enigmatic consciousness of those early humans who left their renderings and cultural artifacts in the Chauvet cave in southern France. Indeed, the film, and Herzog as narrator, both reflect on the cave paintings as a form of proto-cinema, and reciprocally upon cinema as an analog of primitive consciousness. In its reflexive layering of media forms and metaphors between the bookends of what Herzog claims to be the oldest know examples of human representation and the most current cinematic technologies, the film engages in what Ágnes Pethő, in her book Cinema and Intermediality: The Passion for the In-Between (2011), describes as elaborate forms of mirroring characteristic of “abysmal intermediality”. For Pethő, intermedial confrontations open onto an in-between space (or abyme) that transcends medium specificity but instead foregrounds the embodied situations that negotiate them. In this respect, intermedial analysis has phenomenological implications, in relation to which, like Pethő’s own work, I will invoke the film theory of Vivian Sobchack. In describing the structure of the particular abyme onto which Cave opens, I will also draw upon Georges Bataille’s anthropological speculations about the co-emergence of human consciousness, tool use and the order of things to reflect upon the meaning of the particular correlation in which the film configures spectator, object and world, which I will elaborate as its ecstatic gestalt.

Intermediality and Phenomenology

For Pethő, what differentiates intermediality from intertextuality, as well as from more closely related theories of remediation, is the former’s emphasis on embodiment as the primary axis of analysis. As she asserts: “While in intertextuality we have an object that dissolves into its relations, in cinematic intermediality we seem to have moved closer to … a quasi-palpable, corporeal entity in its intermedial density” (2011, 47). In other words, the intermedial resides at the intersections among the embodied situations implicated both by the different media invoked within a given film, and the specific embodied situation of the spectator. She argues further, that as a result of it’s irreducibly embodied nature, “the intermedial cannot be read, at least not in any conventional way that we understand reading … because it is not textual in nature” (67). She continues: “It is not something one ‘deciphers’, it is something one perceives or senses” (68). This assertion involves some contentious assumptions regarding the relationship between embodiment and signification in the context of Pethő’s adaptation of Sobchack’s phenomenology. I’ll return to this issue towards the end of the essay, as it will be exemplified in the analysis that follows. However, I want to assert from the outset that notwithstanding this concern, it is the general phenomenological commitment of Pethő’s theorisation of the intermedial that marks its particular applicability to Cave. Reciprocally, I hope that my reading of the film will also lend some clarification to an approach that is at times as vague as it is provocative. For as Pethő herself acknowledges, “the possible import of phenomenological approaches to film in the interpretation of cinematic intermediality has not been stressed enough…. The phenomenology of intermediality, although hinted at … is yet to be spelled out” (69).

As suggested above, such a “spelling out” must attend to the modalities of embodiment implicated in cinematic intermediality. On one hand, intermediality is itself predicated upon an understanding of film and other moving image based media as intrinsically expressive of situations of embodied consciousness. On the other hand, as Pethő points out: “‘reading’ intermedial relations requires more than anything else, an embodied spectator” (69). In elaborating both sides of this correlation, Pethő relies on Sobchack’s phenomenology of film experience: in the first instance her concept of “film’s body” (1992), and in the second her notion of the spectator as “cinesthetic subject” (2004).

According to Sobchack, “a film must constitute an act of seeing for us to be able to see it” (1992, 129). Insofar as “vision is an act that occurs from somewhere in particular; its requisites are both a body and a world” (25), an observation she applies “not only to the spectator of the film, but also to the film as spectator” (49). What she calls the “film’s body,” like our own bodies, is experienced primarily and prereflectively not as a visibly represented body-object, but as the implicit means of perceiving a visible world. She writes:

Each film projects and makes uniquely visible not only the objective world but the very structure and process of subjective, embodied vision—hitherto only directly available to human beings as the invisible and private structure we each experience as “my own”. (298)

Figure 2: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010)

Figure 2: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010)

In this respect, the spectator’s own embodied situation functions as the common denominator through which the film’s body is made sensible and intelligible within a “double occupancy of vision” (260). As Sobchack argues, the fact that cinema communicates directly through sound and vision alone does not mean that the film experience is reduced to those channels of perception. Rather, through the phenomena of synaesthesia, the lived body automatically and prereflectively transcodes visual and auditory perceptions indirectly across the other sensory registers. In Cave this is most apparent in the way the proximate relation of the camera to the walls of the cave invokes the tactile qualities of the surface within the lived body of the spectator—as if touching through one’s eyes. The cinesthetic subject is thus neither disembodied—reduced to a transcendental gaze—nor is its experience of film equivalent to direct unmediated perception.

In qualifying this mingled “intermedial density” as “quasi-palbable”, Pethő seems to corroborate Sobchack’s point that the film’s body is never experienced as identical to that of the spectator, nor collapsed or conflated in experience. As she asserts, “I never merely ‘receive’ the film’s vision as my own … ” (271). While they might overlap and intersect in ways uniquely enabled by their intermediation, each still retains a mutual exteriority or otherness so essential to the preservation of that “in-between space” on which the intermedial relies. For Pethő it is precisely the unique openness of the film’s body to that of the spectator combined with the distinct differences between the two that marks the intermedial nature of film experience. She cites Jennifer Barker’s reflections on Sobchack’s phenomenology in this respect:

We exist—emerge really—in the contact between our body and the film’s body… a complex relationship that is marked as often by tension as by alignment…. so that the cinematic experience is the experience of being both “in” our bodies and “in” the liminal space created by that contact. (2009, 19)

What I will explore in this essay is how the use of stereoscopy in Cave of Forgotten Dreams augments this tension, both in relation to the embodied situation of the spectator and the embodied situations implicated by other medialities within the film.

Pethő is equally concerned with intermedial relations within film insofar as the incorporation of other media forms involves exchanges among the modes of embodiment implicated by each. In an article not mentioned by Pethő: “The Scene of the Screen: Envisioning Photographic, Cinematic, and Electronic Presence” (2004), Sobchack prefigures this move as she traces how the “techno-logic” of each medium implicates a particular “phenomo-logic”:

Insofar as the photographic, the cinematic, and the electronic have each been objectively constituted as a new and discrete techno-logic, each has also been subjectively incorporated, enabling a new and discrete perceptual mode of existential and embodied presence. (139)

For example, Sobchack describes a scene in Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) where Deckard re-animates a photograph belonging to the replicant Leon through a fictional electronic device. She observes how “transmitted to the television screen, the moving images no longer quite retain the concrete, material and objective ‘thingness’ of the photograph, but they also do not achieve the subjective animation of the intentional and prospective vision objectively projected by the cinema” (154). Sobchack’s description of the transmuting force of this remediation anticipates the in-between status that Pethő attributes to the intermedial.

The example from Blade Runner is also indicative of the capacity of film’s body to generate other embodied situations as correlatives of the actual and speculative technologies represented and emulated within its fictional world. In Cave there are a peculiar series of shots, peppered throughout the film, in which scientists researching different aspects of the cave paintings each stand (either alone or with their partners) inside the cave while displaying a printed image of a painting towards the camera. Rather than taking on an enhanced appearance it is the anemic two-dimensionality of the displayed images that is accentuated in relation to the stereoscopically enhanced environment they occupy. While their affect is one of scientific seriousness, the intermedial figuration of these images within the stereoscopic world of the film offers no enhancement of the representational field within their frame, but instead serves to diminish both their objective presence and signifying power. It’s as if stereoscopy is being turned against representation to reverse the relations of containment between the remediated photos and their referents. The insertion of the two dimensional images within the stereoscopically augmented world of the film thereby exemplifies the “abysmal” power of the intermedial to figure one media element against the other as ground, so as to throw some limitation into relief (Pethő 2011, 44).

Pethő describes how intermediality can also generate traces or metaphors from other media that reflexively allegorise embodied situations within the film (65). In one instance, the film’s remediation of the digital image processing techniques of Tossello and Fritz, who in Herzog’s words “used the dimensionality of the surface to create a powerful contrast” by dissecting the palimpsest of marks on the walls (from bear scratches to rendered figures) into discrete layers, offers a reflexive model of his own use of stereoscopy to hold certain intermedial elements in suspension. In another example, the computer-generated model of the cave, a geometric structure of luminous pixels rotating within a blackened virtual space, quite literally turns the unfathomable negative space into a stereoscopic positive—an objective correlative for Sobchack’s description of the film’s body as subjective embodied vision turned inside out and made visible onscreen. However, in Cave the reversibility of film’s body finds itself at an impasse qua abyme relative to the consciousness of the cave painters, which according to Herzog’s voice-over, we “will never be able to understand”.

Figure 3: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010)

Figure 3: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010)

Stereoscopy and Documentary

One key advantage of Pethő’s account of intermediality as intercorporeality is that it bypasses reductively empirical and technologistic definitions of media specificity while restoring the phenomenological grounds for describing (without reifying) the experiential differences among media. For example, within the context of this study an intermedial approach aids in exploring the tensions between assumptions regarding stereoscopy, documentary, and Hollywood cinema that, according to Barbara Klinger, many of the critical celebrations of Cave of Forgotten Dreams have sought to neutralise. For instance, emphasis has been placed on the fact that “Cave … focused on a real-life marvel rather than a CGI-manufactured landscape” and that it was shot in 3-D as opposed to other films “converted in post-production and thus considered as ‘fake 3D’” (Klinger 2012, 38). On this basis the film is regarded as “one of the few justifiable recent excursions into 3D” (Hoberman 2011), “necessary” for revealing the interior of the cave and the natural environment in which it is situated (Klinger 2012, 38). It’s worth noting how the criteria of indexical documentary realism implicated in the aforementioned defenses of Cave, on the one hand, and the connotations of 3D with Hollywood spectacle, on the other, constitute a problem that must be resolved by these same critics through the recuperation of Cave’s “naturalism”.[1] However, such apologies ring false in the face of Herzog’s own rejection of the documentary tendency (of which he accuses Cinéma Vérité in particular) that “confounds fact and truth” (2002, 301). Instead, he insists that “there are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization” (301). Thus, “ecstatic truth … is the enemy of the merely factual” and a counterpart rather of the sublime (2010). The notions of media specificity that haunt the critical reception of the film also conspire to diminish what Pethő identifies as the productive tensions of the intermedial both within the film, and between film’s body and spectator. It is thus no surprise that the radical intermediality of Cave must be quelled in order to preserve a received sense of its “documentariness”.

Klinger herself is suspicious of this critical mobilisation of stereoscopic CGI in the Hollywood blockbuster as foil for Cave’s “naturalism”. As she writes:

Cave’s relationship to 3D is more paradoxical and interesting than such contrasts suggest…. In fact [the] film is [reflexively] as much about 3D as it is about its archaeological site…. [Specifically] the stylistic choices of deep focus cinematography (which presents foreground, middle ground, and background in focus) and a dynamically mobile camera help to wed spectacular natural phenomena and the spectacle of space. (39)

Her strategy is thus to argue that Cave transcends the presumed antagonism between the conventions of naturalism and spectacle qua stereoscopy by becoming reflexive in its spectacular naturalism. In so doing, Klinger responds to, but also reproduces, a tendency to understand stereoscopy as mimetically reflecting [or enhancing] structures and properties belonging to the objective world. Contrary to this tendency, and consistent with intermedial analysis I’d like to focus instead on the role of stereoscopy in its production of a mode of subjective embodied consciousness. In this context it is worth recalling Sobchack’s fundamental insight that any cinematic representation of a visible world entails the primarily invisible structuring presence of an embodied viewing subject—what she calls film’s body.

In pursuing the question of what structure of consciousness is manifested by the use of stereoscopy within Cave, one source for an answer can be found in Jonathan Crary’s Techniques of the Observer where he argues that the “lack of planar unity” in the nineteenth century stereoscope produced a fragmented observer quite distinct from the unified observer of the camera/photograph (1990, 128). I want to suggest that the reflexivity of Cave hinges upon a structurally analogous “structural/planar disunity of the perceptual field” (128) that prevails in normative cinematic experience, and a correlative fragmentation of the viewing subject/spectator (though to different effect). Following Crary’s account of the experience of stereoscopic photography, my analysis proceeds from a rejection of the naturalism ascribed to Herzog’s deployment of stereoscopy. Instead, I want to argue that the combination of stereoscopy with deep focus cinematography and camera movement (especially inside the cave), which Klinger refers to as “gold standards … of achieving ‘3Dness’” (2012, 40), often result in a hyperbolic space that exaggerates the separation of figure from ground towards the center of the frame while attenuating it at the peripheries through anamorphosis. The effect is especially amplified during instances of negative parallax (objects appearing to protrude through the screen) in addition to the film’s more persistent positive parallax (the appearance of supplementary depth behind the screen).[2] This emphatic demarcation of figure from ground produces what I describe as the film’s ecstatic gestalt. It is ecstatic in the double sense of ekstasis: as a literal standing out of figure from ground, and as the existential sense of what Herzog describes as “a person’s stepping out of himself into an elevated state” (2010). These two meanings of the ecstatic also relate to the two principle correlations within the gestalt: figure and ground within the perceptual field, and subject figured against the perceptual field as object of perception.

Figure 4: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010)

Figure 4: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010)

I want to argue that stereoscopy exaggerates the configuration of figure/ground relations within the cinematic image that, according to Sobchack, provides the most fundamental expression of the intentional activity of the film’s body as viewing subject. As she writes: “perception—as an irreducible correlation of figure and ground—forms and organizes a perceptual field(1992, 70). In this respect, every relation of figure and ground implies the intentional activity of a viewing subject as an irreducible element within the gestalt (figured against the perceived world), whose literal and intentional movement reconstitutes the perceptual field, altering and potentially reversing the relation of figure and ground within it. Because this changing configuration of subject/figure/ground is accomplished by “the radical and prereflective deliberation of the body-subject” (Sobchack 1992, 70), we are typically unaware of the co-constituting force of our embodied intentionality, which remains latent to consciousness. However, for Crary this latency is counteracted in stereoscopic photography, which impressed upon consciousness the productive power of the apparatus/observer couplet as projective of dimensionality—experiencing it where it did not objectively exist: within the representational field of the two dimensional image (1990, 129). Or, as Martin Jay summarises: “its three-dimensional images were only in the perception of the viewer—the stereoscope called into question the assumed congruence between the geometry of the world and the natural geometry of the mind’s eye” (1994, 152).

The highly mobile camera in Cave redoubles this effect by associating the exaggeration of its stereoscopic demarcation of figure/ground with the intentional movements of a viewing subject rather than with some natural geometry inherent to the represented world. Put simply, the effect follows the movement of the camera, as in the three-hundred and sixty degree pan around the so-called “cave of the lions” where the sense of added stereoscopic depth, or positive parallax, fluctuates with the distortions of perspective caused by the rotation of deep focus cinematography within such a tight space. The awareness of stereoscopic perception as constituted by the visual subject is also reinforced inside the cave by the spotlight on Herzog’s helmet (or that of the camera person), which creates a sort of iris within the image that circumscribes a zone of greatest effect. Taken together, these representational strategies install a persistent reflective awareness of the productive power of the film’s stereoscopic body within the otherwise prereflectively constituted visual field.

The expressionism of this ecstatic gestalt is also critical to recognition of the intermedial fissures opened in-between the spectator and film’s body. Barker’s earlier remarks to this effect corroborate Sobchack’s argument that the “double occupancy” of the film experience also creates a potential site of tension since the film’s body “in its visible and visual intentional activity, exists within our vision but not as our vision” (1992, 142). As such, “in so far as the visual space I see before me is not completely isomorphic with the bodily space from which I see, there will be a pressure from, an echo of, the machine that mediates my perception” (179; original emphases). This phenomenon of “echo focus” takes on a persistent quality in Cave given that the 3D effect is unlike both non-stereoscopic film and the extra-cinematic space lived by the spectator. The ecstatic gestalt is thus experienced not just as a transformation of the ordinary dimensionality of film, but also of the quotidian three-dimensional world of the spectator.

The “inner landscape” of stereoscopy

Herzog refers to the cave paintings in voice-over as “inner landscapes … of long forgotten dreams”. The notion of an inner landscape is a potent phenomenological and intermedial metaphor which Eric Ames has analysed as exemplary of how Herzog’s representation of “[outer] landscapes serve to conjure unseen words of affect and spirituality, even as they represent the physical world we inhabit” (2009, 58). For example, in his voiceover narration for The Dark Glow of the Mountain (Werner Herzog, 1984), Herzog remarks: “We weren’t so much interested in making a film about mountain climbing per se, or about climbing techniques. What we wanted to find out was what goes on inside mountain climbers who undertake such extreme endeavors…. Aren’t these mountains and peaks like something deep within us all?” During Herzog’s voice-over the camera pans across the peaks and valleys of the range, providing what Ames describes as a “graphic representation” (58) of the affective highs and lows of the climbers’ inner landscape. In Cave’s ecstatic gestalt, I want to locate a related system of correspondence. Though in this case the graphical axis of the inner landscape has been rotated from the vertical and horizontal (peaks and valleys) to the perpendicular (figure and ground), and from the syntagmatic to the paradigmatic.

Figure 5: The Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)

Figure 5: The Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)

In Cave as in other film’s such as The Grizzly Man (2005), the expression of inner landscapes connects with another persistent theme from Herzog’s oeuvre: exploration of the boundary between human and pre-human or animal consciousness. The relationship of gestalt philosophy to such themes is well established. In his reading of gestalt theorist Jean Piaget, Habermas describes how the emergence of a reflexive capacity within figure/ground relations in the development of the human child (to constitute oneself as figure against the world) recapitulates a stage in the evolution of human consciousness (1979). This is not to deny that infants, pre-human ancestors, or animals possess some ability to delineate figure from ground. The assumption rather is that they are incapable of bringing the gestalt to reflection, and of thereby figuring themselves within it. As Georges Bataille observes in Theory of Religion, although “the animal can be regarded as a subject for which the rest of the world is an object, it is never given the possibility of regarding itself in this way” (1989, 19).[3] Rather, for Bataille, “the animal is in the world as water is in water” (23). For example, the difference between the eater and eaten within the animal world is never qualitative but only ever quantitative: “In the movement of the waters he is only a higher wave overturning the other, weaker ones” (18-19). The animal is in a state of immanence, intimacy and immediacy within a world defined by continuity.

It is only through the correlated emergence of tool use, language and representation that human consciousness becomes reflectively aware of itself within a world of atomized and discontinuous ‘things’ defined by their function within a scheme of utility. For Bataille, the birth of the tool is intricately connected to that of the object and the subject. An instructive rendering of this event can be found in “The Dawn of Man” sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) when the hominid has an epiphany in which it suddenly perceives/conceives a bone lying on the ground as a weapon. Simultaneous with this realisation is its ability to imaginatively extrapolate the application of the tool into other situational contexts (from breaking other bones on the ground, to smashing the head of an animal, to killing the leader of a rival group at the water hole), as well as into hypothetical temporalities, such as planning future uses of the tool. As a result, discontinuity is introduced into the world by an object that is perceived indirectly according to what it does rather than directly in its immanence and immediacy: “the purpose of a plow is alien to the reality that constitutes it” (Bataille 1989, 41). In what Bataille describes as “one of the most remarkable and fateful aberrations of language […] men situated on the same plane where the things appeared (as if they were comparable to the digging stick or the chipped stone) elements that were nonetheless continuous with the world, such as animals, plants, other men, and finally, the subject determining itself” (28, 31). So in other words, the question of what a thing is automatically devolves to a question of its use value, so that all things refer in their utility to humanity, and humanity in turn to God. Through a certain contagion of thought, “the transcendence of the tool and the creative faculty connected with its use are confusedly attributed … to the entire world” (32).

For Bataille, “the world of things is perceived as a fallen world. It entails the alienation of the one who created it…. The tool changes nature and man at the same time: it subjugates nature to man, who makes and uses it, but it ties man to subjugated nature” (41). The subjugation lies in the fact that, in contrast to the reversibility of figure and ground within the discontinuous world, the figuration of the discontinuous human world against the ground of the continuous pre-human world is irreversible. The thing becomes a reducing filter within consciousness, as perceptions become indiscernible from the concepts projected, which take on a sort of autonomy inseparable from the world in-itself. As a consequence, states Bataille, “nothing is more closed to us than this animal life from which we are descended…. We can never imagine things without consciousness … since we and imagine imply consciousness, our consciousness, adhering indelibly to their presence” (20). Nevertheless, as Bataille asserts: “There is every indication that the first men were closer than we are to the animal world; they distinguished the animal from themselves perhaps, but not without a feeling of doubt mixed with terror and longing” (35). An anthropologist that Herzog interviews concurs that the cave painters did not merely see the animals they painted as things but as spiritual entities in a relationship characterised by greater “fluidity and permeability” than the modern world. By contrast, for Bataille, “The sense of continuity that we must attribute to animals … derived a new significance from the contrast it formed to the world of things … [and] offered man all the fascination of the sacred world, as against the poverty of the profane tool (of the discontinuous object)” (35). In Cave as in other films such as Encounters at the End of the World (2007), Herzog is most interested in the inner landscapes and unconscious drives of the scientists he interviews, such as Julien Monnet who reports that after going into the cave he couldn’t stop dreaming of lions and paintings of lions, and that he was possessed by “a feeling of powerful things and deep things, a feeling of understanding things, that was not a direct way”.

Indeed, Bataille concurs with Herzog that indirection is the only means of approach to such depths. The “abysmal” quality of this reciprocal mirroring between the human and the animal is illustrated traumatically in Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005) through the folly of Timothy Treadwell’s desire to “enter the secret world of the bears”. Narrating over a close-up shot of the face of the bear that likely killed and ate Treadwell, Herzog senses: “no understanding, no kinship, no mercy, only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me there is no such thing as the secret world of the bears and to me this blank stare speaks only of a half bored interest in food” into which Treadwell was (at his own peril) anthropomorphically projecting an “inner landscape”. Hence the irony (and the poetry) that the false opening through which Treadwell imposed himself on the world of the bears was reprised by an open mouth, the only way into the animal world being the reduction of the self to pure immanence, since one could not become animal and maintain any vestiges of human subjectivity and sovereignty.

Here we might begin to grasp the function of Cave’s stereoscopic ecstatic gestalt: to return its spectator not just to the physical site of the cave, but to a consciousness still astonished by the novelty and discontinuity of the thing figured in unnatural and quasi-hallucinatory fashion against a continuity that it occluded, but from which to quote William Wordsworth on his recollections of early childhood, it was “still trailing clouds of glory” ([1919] 2008, 536). In this way, my reading of Cave’s ecstatic gestalt through Bataille’s speculative anthropology also resonates with Paul Arthur’s elaboration of Herzog’s “metaphysical realism” in which:

As self-professed intermediary between opposing worlds—modern/pre-modern, prosaic/myth, accessible/recondite—Herzog’s strongest moments revolve around what can’t be shown, what exceeds or beggars representation … [and to] that which testifies to his own inadequacy and, by extension, that of cinema’s meager communicative tools. (2005, 5)

This metaphysical realism is reflected, for instance, in the way that Cave points from objective to non-objective forms of transcendence, between that from which the camera is merely physically blocked and that which is existentially inaccessible. For example, the reverse side of a large stalactite in the “cave of lions” on which is represented the one arguably human figure in the cave, cannot be viewed directly from the walkway to which the camera crew is restricted. “You’ll have to make do with a partial image”, observes the scientist supervising the filming. Undaunted, Herzog’s crew mounts the camera in reverse on a boom and extends it into the space to capture the opposite side of the formation. The effect of negative parallax is pronounced as a result of the proximity of the camera to the surface, which seems to bulge through the screen. While the attempt to get around the backside of the representation yields a full image, it reveals a partial human: resembling a bison from the waist up and what appears to be a female nude (reminiscent of the Venus of Willendorf) from the waist down. The desire to get behind the image leads paradoxically to an image of the desire: the fundamentally conflicted impulse to merge human and animal modalities of embodied consciousness (via “fluidity and permeability”) through the means of representation.

Cave’s ecstatic gestalt involves both the literal sense of ekstasis as a figural standing out, and the metaphorical/metaphysical sense of an extraordinary pronouncement of being that defies representation. Writing in relation to a group of non-stereoscopic films invested in the expression of the spiritual through the material,[4] Sobchack observes how “the camera seeks a parallel ekstasis in the ‘flesh’ of the world: it offers up a profane illumination of objective matter that … opens into an apprehension of something ultimately unfathomable, uncontained and uncontainable—not only in the thing on which we gaze but also in ourselves” (2004, 298). In Cave the intensity of stereoscopic effects wax and wane relative to the film’s intentional objects. It is significant in this respect that the most pronounced instances of negative parallax accompany the exhibition and demonstration of pre-historic artifacts including weapons and tools, whose figuration within the film re-enacts—and commutes to the spectator—the sudden eruption of discontinuity that, according to Bataille, would have issued from their originary invention. The reflexivity of this intermedial reading is corroborated by the fact that in addition to pre-historic tools, the only similarly ecstatic expressions of negative parallax relate to representations of the tools of filmmaking, such as boom microphones and lighting equipment.

Indeed, negative parallax has a special affinity for tools that extend intentionality into space. However, it is telling that these stereoscopic representations of tools (both old and new) transcend the film’s explanatory function of their utility, and “illuminate” (to use Sobchack’s term) something in excess of their functionality. In this way, inadvertently perhaps, the film also invites intermedial reference to the very gratuitous deployments of stereoscopy from which critics have been so determined to distance Cave. For example, anthropologist Wulf Hein’s demonstration of replica prehistoric spears by thrusting and throwing them into negative parallax finds analogs in Hollywood films from Bwana Devil (Arch Oboler, 1952) to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson, 2012). However, the effects of negative parallax are most profound in relation to a different category of objects worked by tools but gesturing towards that continuous world whose opening—like a trompe l’oeil—they simultaneously block. The first of these objects is the figure of a chimerical lion/man rotated against a darkened backdrop, and offered as a complement to the image of the bison/woman on the stalactite. The second figure is the Venus of Hollifers, about which anthropologist Nicholas Conard makes the unintentional pun: “this one … stands out. It’s the absolute root of figurative depiction as we know it” (emphasis added). The effect of negative parallax is even greater here than in the previous example. Suspended in a glass box, the small sculpture seems to float in front of the screen in a state of ecstatic discontinuity from the surrounding world. The autonomy and disconnection that these objects achieve relative to their environment resonates with the emphasis on their being the “firsts” of their kind. Through the hyperbolic use of negative parallax, the spectator is invited to return to the moment of their radical “newness” in which their startling discontinuity would have been tantamount to a special effect, like the obelisk before the hominids in 2001.

I don’t offer these examples to imply that Herzog’s use of stereoscopy attempts to directly capture the inner landscape of a pre-human consciousness. For as Bataille declares: “There was no landscape in a world where the eyes that opened did not comprehend what they looked at, where indeed, in our terms, the eyes did not see” (1989, 21). Rather, I want to argue that Herzog cultivates this ecstatic gestalt in order to commute to the film spectator the startling novelty and transformative power that would have accompanied the eruption of the capacity for tool use, representation, and reflective consciousness against the ground of a pre-human world—which is why Herzog refers to the cave as the site of “the birth of the human soul.” In this way, Ekstasis thus accedes to ekphrasis, by which according to Pethő cinema incorporates intermedial relations to point beyond its own limits (46).


In concluding, I’d like to return to Pethő’s assertion that intermedial relations, because they occur at the prereflective level of embodiment, are not textual and cannot be read (69). This position is further grounded in her statement that “phenomenology does not see images as representations or signs; it sees them foremost as events and corporeal experiences” (70). This argument might at first glance seem to concur with that of Bataille. However, where he is content to be silent, Pethő wants description without signification. In this sense, her argument is in contradiction to the existential phenomenology of Sobchack in the context of which she advances it. In The Address of the Eye, Sobchack is explicit that she pursues a “semiotic phenomenology,” meaning that the structure of all systems of signification emerge from and recapitulate the structure of embodied prereflective perception (1992, 8). Thus embodiment appears as a theme only by virtue of being brought to reflection, but it can only be brought to reflection because it is already signifying. Hence for Sobchack, embodiment can be read, and she writes of “a textualizing of the sensing body” (69) which is a correlative of the fact that “in its existential function—perception is always semiotic” (70). The consequence of Pethő’s misreading is a potential mystification of the intermedial and romanticisation of the cinematic, in so far as the intermedial must be non-signifying yet embodied and cinematically expressible.

Relative to this discussion, it is intriguing that where Pethő touches briefly on “3D”, she asserts its antagonism to intermedial phenomena by drawing a contrast between “the intrusive ‘tactility’ of 3D images” and “‘haptic’ images” that, by contrast, “preserve a quality of openness towards intermediality” (105 n. 18). She continues that intermediality depends upon an “aesthetic distance”, which is preserved so long as the film is emulating some other mediality, such as painting or photography—a capacity cancelled by the “illusory display of objects in space that act upon our senses (as in the case of 3D imagery)” (105 n. 18). This critique seems overly proscriptive in light of the intermedial elements clearly apparent in a film like Cave. Also, when read in relation to Pethő’s dissociation of signs from corporeality, one might diagnose that it is precisely stereoscopy’s exaggeration of the signifying power of embodied consciousness through its ecstatic gestalt that troubles her.

There is also another way in which what Pethő refers to as stereoscopy’s “illusory display of objects” reflexively turns back upon the illusion of the object. In this respect, I would argue that Cave’s ecstatic gestalt induces a sort of impromptu phenomenological reduction upon the familiar, everyday world of things whose taken-for-granted dimensional extrusion as discrete and autonomous objects it renders strangely artificial, and quasi-hallucinatory. This is nowhere so apparent as in the opening scene, when the novelty of the stereoscopic effects would seem most pronounced to the unaccustomed eyes of the audience. The camera glides down a row within a vineyard that borders the area of the Chauvet Cave. Against the undifferentiated manifold of nature the vines are doubly objectified: both as “raw” nature “cooked” (to use Claude Lévi-Strauss’s [1969] terminology) into the useful form of a vineyard, and as figures of vision unnaturally extruded from their ground through the instrumental movement of our own language-laden consciousness. It is in this way that the novelty of Herzog’s use of stereoscopy doubles for that of the more primordial innovation of which cinema is itself an extension. By breaking the plane of representation and the illusion of depth to which the cinematic spectator is habituated, Cave simulates the world-rupturing force of a much more fundamental discontinuity in the perceptual gestalt and (importantly) provokes reflexive awareness of this event.



Ames, Eric. 2009. “Herzog, Landscape, and Documentary.” Cinema Journal 48 (2): 49-69.

Arthur, Paul. 2005. “Beyond the Limits: Werner Herzog’s Metaphysical Realism.” Film Comment 41 (4): 42-47.

Bataille, Georges. 1989. Theory of Religion. Translated by Robert Hurley. New York: Zone Books.

Bataille, Georges. 2005. The Cradle of Humanity: Prehistoric Art and Culture, edited by Stuart Kendall. Translated by Michelle Kendall and Stuart Kendall. New York: Zone Books.

Crary, Jonathan. 1990. Techniques of the Observer. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Habermas, Jürgen. 1979. Communication and the Evolution of Society. Translated by Thomas McCarthy. Boston: Beacon Press.

Herzog, Werner. 2002. “The Minnesota Declaration: Truth and fact in documentary cinema.” In Herzog on Herzog, edited by Paul Cronin, 301-302. New York: Faber and Faber.

Herzog, Werner. 2010. “On the Absolute, the Sublime and Ecstatic Truth.” Werner Herzog: The Only Official and Authentic Website of Werner Herzog. Accessed June 13 2013. http://www.wernerherzog.com/117.html.

Hoberman, J. 2011. “Cave Man: Werner Herzog Can’t Get Out of His Own Way in Forgotten Dreams.” The Village Voice, April 27. Accessed January 12, 2014. http://www.villagevoice.com/2011-04-27/film/cave-man-werner-herzog-can-t-get-out-of-his-own-way-in-forgotten-dreams/.

Jay, Martin.1993. Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Klinger, Barbara. 2012. “Cave of Forgotten Dreams: Meditations on 3D.” Film Quarterly 65 (3): 38-43.

Klinger, Barbara. 2013. “Beyond Cheap Thrills: 3D Cinema Today, The Parallax Debates, and the ‘Pop-Out’.” Public Journal: 3D Cinema and Beyond 47: 186-99.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1969. The Raw and the Cooked: Mythologiques, Volume One. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Pethő, Ágnes. 2011. Cinema and Intermediality: The Passion for the In-Between. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Sobchack, Vivian. 1992. The Address of the Eye: A Phenomenology of Film Experience. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Sobchack, Vivian. 2004. Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Wordsworth, William. (1919) 2008. “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections on Early Childhood.” In The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250-1900—Volume II, edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch, 536. Alcester: Read Books.



Herzog, Werner. 2010. Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Creative Differences.

Herzog, Werner. 2007. Encounters at the End of the World. Discovery Films.

Herzog, Werner. 1985. The Dark Glow of the Mountains. Sudfunk Stuttgart.

Herzog, Werner. 2005. The Grizzly Man. Lions Gate Films.

Jackson, Peter. 2012. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. New Line Cinema.

Kubrick, Stanley. 1968. 2001: A Space Odyssey. USA: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Oboler, Arch. 1952. Bwana Devil. United Artists.

Scott, Ridley. 1982. Blade Runner. Warner Bros.



[1] Such critical tactics are ironic given Herzog’s self-reflexive stance towards the realist strategies he routinely deploys. Evident here, for example, in his penchant for testing the credulity of the audience, such as the apocryphal story about albino alligators mutated by radiation that concludes Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

[2] For a discussion of debates surrounding the value of negative and positive parallax, see Barbara Klinger, “Beyond Cheap Thrills: 3D Cinema Today, The Parallax Debates, and the ‘Pop-Out’” (2013).

[3] Over the span of his life, Georges Bataille produced a collection of short essays and talks on prehistoric cave art (from 1930 to 1957) compiled in The Cradle of Humanity: Prehistoric Art and Culture (2005). However, his Theory of Religion (1989) reproduces many of these ideas in more systematic form, especially with regards to the relationship between tool use, language, and the emergence of human consciousness.

[4] She refers specifically to Diary of a Country Priest (Robert Bresson, 1950), Thérèse (Alain Cavalier, 1986) and Babette’s Feast (Gabriel Axel, 1987).

Bio: Kevin Fisher is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Media, Film & Communication at the University of Otago. His research interests include phenomenology, special effects and audio-visual analysis, and documentary. His essays have appeared in the anthologies Meta-Morphing (2000), The Lord of the Rings: Studying the Event Film (2007), Cinephilia in the Age of Digital Reproduction (2008) and The Fourth Eye: Mäori Media in Aotearoa/New Zealand (2014) as well as journals such as Science Fiction Film & Television and The New Review of Film and Television and The New Zealand Journal of Media Studies.


Attached To My Devices: Across Individual, Collective and Panspectric worlds — John Farnsworth

Abstract: Attachment is a complex subject in the psychological literature. In this paper, affect and attachment is discussed in relation to mobile devices and new technologies. This opens up questions about how we consider attachment in relation to individuals and to collective formations, as well as by extension, how networks of attachments are organised on behalf of either citizenship or corporate interests. Drawing on recent writing about participatory datamining and surveillance technologies, the paper explores how these tensions are negotiated across different sociotechnical worlds and how this reconstructs what we understand attachment to mean in itself.


Next to me, in a café, a man is absorbed in his iPad, whilst his partner is idling flicking through the messages on her Galaxy Note. At a table nearby, another customer is trying to have a muted conversation on an iPhone while her daughter is hunched over a tiny mobile screen playing CandyCrush or Subway Surfer. I notice another table on which there’s a Windows Surface tablet propped up with the user’s keyboard crunching out Excel spreadsheets. Outside, every second pedestrian, and the occasional skateboarder, seems to sport earbuds, Bluetooth devices or massive headphones to listen to podcasts, radio or streaming music as the traffic roars by.

Attachment, where mobile devices are concerned, is not a simple issue. To what are these individuals attached? Is it the apps, the media they’re consuming, the device itself, their co-participants, or some combination of these? What, too, is their experience of attachment? In the cafe, we can assume from observation that mostly there is an absorption and contentedness; in other words, a sufficient sense of security so they can become involved in their devices.

Attachment, then, is a complex and dynamic concept. To investigate attachments also involves entering a field of sociotechnical and disciplinary tensions, each of which is highly dynamic in its own right. Technically, mobile and smart devices are still a new and rapidly developing phenomenon: tablets, for example, are still in the process of overtaking netbooks and laptops as preferred portable technologies (Takahashi 2012). The iPad is still, remarkably, less than four years old, yet it is part of a tablet and smartphone market that now takes 70% of new computer sales (MobiThinking 2014). Across devices, there is an immense array of apps, sensors, personalisation software, ringtones or wallpapers.

How, then, to consider attachment? This paper works from a central tension, extensively documented in psychological literatures, between attachment and separation (Fraley et al. 2013; Schore and Schore 2008). Separation mobilises anxiety whilst attachment promotes security—a finding true not just of human individuals but all mammals, because they possess a responsive limbic system (Bradshaw and Schore 2007). This amounts to an ongoing dynamic, a constant alternation, between trust and suspicion. I explore the dynamics of attachment below, but attachment/ separation provides a way of understanding not just how the social glue between individuals, publics and groups is maintained, but how disintegration threatens the individual when attachment is at risk. Attachment, then, may be directed to others or mediated by devices.

Where attachment and separation are mediated through devices or networks they introduce new forms of configuration and exploitation. Prior to the development of online worlds such possibilities were barely thinkable, though they have now become part of everyday life. Consequently, a complex media ecology opens up that extends right through to the posthuman (Hayles 1999; Apprich et al. 2013). On the one hand, humans and technologies are becoming increasingly integrated. On the other, attachment ties become vulnerable to exploitation through datamining technologies, particularly in relation to the large forces of state and capital interests. Taken altogether, this creates a range of interacting dialogues that moves between themes of subjectivity and attachment, the individual and the collective, the social and the sociotechnical, the citizen and the machinic.

Attachment Dynamics

What is attachment? At first blush, it appears as an unproblematic form of emotional connection. Yet, as Marenko observes, “emotions are elusive, intangible and difficult to define” (2010, 136) and the distinctions between emotion and affect further complicate the issue. Moreover, Lasén (2013) emphasises how a Western tradition constructs affect as embodied, pre-reflective and therefore authentic. Like Lasén, Pile (2010) acknowledges the complexity and ambivalence of emotive and affectual states. However, he also draws on Thrift (2004) to emphasise a key distinction between conscious, representable expressions of feelings and non-representational affect. As he puts it, non-representational theory “emphasises the importance of inexpressible affects” (Pile 2010, 7). Investigating affective flows of non-cognitive, contagious, viral communication has also been central to the affective turn in post-structural scholarship (Blackman 2007; Brennan 2004; Massumi 2002; Gregg and Seigworth 2010). Exactly how affective transmission takes place has also been studied in recent neuroscience and neuropsychoanalytic work (Dalgleish et al. 2009), and illuminates how attachment is commonly mobilised through the subtlest forms of non-verbal communication (Schore 2003).

At the level of the individual, or dyad, Guattari refers to the “remarkable” research of Daniel Stern on the “pre-verbal subjective formulations of the infant”, experiences that are “sustained in a parallel formation throughout life” (Guattari and Genosko 1996, 195). This work traces precisely how secure attachment is created: by the moment-by-moment affective interaction between mother and infant unfolding through gestures, touch, smiles, cries and echoing vocalisation. Close observation reveals how this attunement evokes a heightened synchrony between the couple (Schore 2010). Recent intensive investigation in attachment research illuminates not only how attunement creates strong attachment bonds and an experience of emotional security that persists through adulthood, but also how the ebb and flow of affect itself is effectively modulated—both within the self and between self and other (Fonagy 2010; Fraley et al. 2013; Pellis and Pellis 2009; Schore and Schore 2008). Failures of synchrony, by contrast, create anxiety and insecure attachment that, likewise, persist through life in response to early mismatches, absences or grosser violations (Van der Kolk 2005). The security of attachment ‘pulls together’ one’s sense of self; insecurity undermines and threatens it. Together, these form the framework of dynamics thatthen become reproducible in digital and online environments.

Even though individual, dyadic and micropublic interactions (including the family) are relatively bounded worlds, they don’t function in isolation. As Thrift emphasises, they are constantly shot through with other currents of collective experience. He points here to affective contagion, likening collective interaction to “schools of fish” which are “briefly stabilised by particular spaces, temporary solidifications of affective pulses” (2008, 9). This is all the more so where “devices like books, screens and the internet act as new kinds of neural pathway” (9). Because these devices transmit faces, stances and forms of discourse, they provide “myriad opportunities to forge new reflexes” (9). Attachments, through these explicit and implicit dynamics, are continuously made, unmade and remade. Some of this is accomplished, Thrift argues, by continuous patterns of imitation and behavioral copying, patterns first detailed by Gabriel Tarde (1962).

Attachment, the semiotic and contagion

Attachment can be understood in yet another way. Guattari moves beyond the purely relational and extends it to the semiotic. Drawing on his experience with patients at La Borde clinic, he points to “architectural space, economic relations, co-management by the patient and care giver of the different vectors of treatment”, “everything that can contribute to the creation of an authentic relation to the other” (Guattari 1996, 195). Objects and self become commingled in ways that echo his admiration for concepts in the field of relational psychoanalysis (for example, Kohut 1984). All of these molecular components, Guattari argues, are linked to fields of signification, to the semiotic. The semiotic enables him to detail how subjectivity is produced, and how this can be charted as cartographies, whether through social groups or media assemblages. Here, his emphasis is on how the subjectivity of “dream, delirium, creative elation, feelings of love” is produced through different, often contested, collective formations: “Whether we turn to contemporary history, to machinic semiotic production, or to social ecology or mental ecology, we find the same questioning of individuation, of a subjectivity that is only, in sum, a configuration of collective assemblages of enunciation” (Guattari 1996, 196).

Inevitably, these contagious possibilities are of particular interest to marketers and manufacturers. Within the emerging tablet market, for instance, there is intense scrutiny of how consumers become engaged to particular brands, such as Apple or Samsung, or to devices such as small or large screens and to the patterns of activity with which these become routinely associated, or to the usage of apps, from games to social media. At their extreme, these involve forms of viral contagion as new games, music, videos or software features are seized on by consumers. Music apps such as Spotify along with Facebook or other social media sites draw on this potential for contagion in distributing and promoting enthusiasms. The contagion can be intensified by devices of ‘liking’, sharing, and other forms of enrolment. These enrolments not only create continuous new, shifting publics, switching between new affections, they also re-attach consumers to the technologies that make them available.

Kullenberg and Palmås (2009) characterise these corporate activities as practices of surveillance, utilising De Landa’s notion of the panspectron (1991). Here, marketers ceaselessly attempt to manage affective, expressive and discursive flows through two processes: injection, where they offer enticing new digital objects; or containment, where they attempt to bound how objects are used. This includes proprietary software in operating systems, or consumer management via iTunes. As Kullenberg and Palmås emphasise, injection and containment are strategies linked to intensive tracking and datamining. They follow Deleuze (1995) in describing these practices in terms of deconstructing humans as decomposable “dividuals”: “we are no longer surveilled as unitary subjects, but as ‘dividuals’ whose electronic footprints can be found in a quilt of overlapping ‘data banks’” (5). Individuals become tied to particular corporate formations or, at the extreme, become subject to disintegration, atomisation or a sense of self insecurely reconfigured around shifting consumer enthusiasms. In turn, this puts acute strains on how attachments are forged or sustained.

Attachments to devices

How, then, do individuals become attached to their devices? There is no doubt they do. 88.3% of tablets are used on the road and 35% are even used in the bathroom (Staples). Jaume (2013) reports that, with phones, not only do 67% of owners check them without any prompts, but 44% now sleep with them next to their bed in case of a message. According to Hartland, “On average, Americans spend 2.7 hours per day socializing on their mobile device. That’s twice the amount of time they spend eating, and over 1/3 of the time they spend sleeping each day”. (2011) The attachment to smart devices now spans virtually every domain of life (Huffington Post 2013), and is becoming an increasingly global phenomenon (Nam 2013). Over half of Americans use phones whilst driving, a third use them during movies or dinner and a third at their child’s school function. 12% of American adults even use their smartphone while showering (Elizabeth 2013). According to Jumio (2013), 19% of Americans use their smartphones in church, whilst Podolak reports “22 percent of informants said they would be willing to go a week without seeing their significant other rather than go without their phone” (2011).

Users also report considerable anxieties around losing their phone: Fitzgerald reports “73 percent of people … would feel ‘panicked’ while another 14 percent would feel ‘desperate’” (2012). There is even a reported ‘condition’, nomophobia, for the anxiety of mobile disconnection. However, these reports, some of them generated by marketing interests, also have to be viewed as part of a complex discourse. This, to an extent, is one that constructs the very phenomena it is investigating or reporting. Ruppert (2010) and Savage (2010), for instance, demonstrate that both commercial and social scientific surveys construct publics out of the methodologies used to investigate them.

With mobile attachment, the discourse is clearly about the centrality of devices to ongoing sociality and a coherent sense of self. The same discursive issues are found in the extensive mobile devices literature (see for instance Verhoeff 2012; Lasén 2013). Vincent (2013), for example, writes of mobiles as “personalised social robots”, and how these translate into affective connections; Vincent and Fortunati (2009) explore affective computing; Beer (2012) and Turkle (2004) discuss mobile technologies as evocative objects, and the psychoanalytic implications such objects produce. Lasén (2013) writes of how emotions can be converted into things and stored, with mobile devices, as digital inscriptions. All of these are instances of human-technology interlacing.

Attachments and technologies

Within the broader media ecology literature, there are different accounts of how attachment takes place. For instance, Richardson takes a phenomenological approach, drawing on Merleau-Ponty (1962) to suggest that “the world is an agentic environment that also changes in common relation to our own flexible corporeality” (2005, 6). Here, device and person are “covalent participants” that coalesce “as various technosoma” (2005, 5), a perspective that opens up the possibilities of collective embodiments explored in the work of Tarde and later writers. De Landa (1991), for instance, draws on a version of technosoma to argue for the panspectron. Kullenberg and Palmås describe the panspectron as “a multiplicity of sensors” deployed “around all bodies” so that data can stream to computers “all the information that can be gathered”(2009, 3).

The extension of this, via Deleuze and Guattari’s control societies, is modelling and machinic-semiotic integration. Guattari (1989) describes in Schizoanalytic Cartographies how these surveillance capacities dissolve attachments, as noted earlier, and transform them into forms of affective, technosomatic integration. On this view, mobile sensing devices become not just prosthetic extensions for the individual but, conversely, intensive data monitors of the subjects who carry them. Indeed, these devices illustrate how the very struggle over the notion of the human is reshaped. In one construction, they may be RFID or nanotechnology enhancements of the self. In another, they may act as potential mechanisms of predictive control mobilised through data analytics, so that the markers of the subject can be read off and synthesised at distance (Lenoir 2011).

Most arguments of this kind offer a view of attachments as diffused and dispersed across collectives and technologies to the point where it is difficult even to identify attachment as such, so bound has it become with digital interfaces. Media ecology literature extends this position, whether it is Hayles (1999) writing on technogenesis or Stiegler’s (2012) argument that, from the beginning, the human has only ever been realized through technics, the “prosthetic supplementation of the human” (Barker 2009, 1). Petters et al. have recently explored how robots can function as attachment figures or become that unlikely prospect, “machines that love” (Petters and Walters 2010; Petters et al. 2011). If accomplished, this would seem to be the ultimate translation of attachment dynamics from humans to technologies.

Whether technologies are attached or integrated with humans, two questions are raised. First, attachment is not limited to humans but is a characteristic of many species: Lorenz’s (2002) work on animal priming and Harlow’s sometimes horrific experiments with monkeys (Karen 1998)are both instances. Attachment is not simply an outgrowth of either prosthetics, or the digital or technics. Instead, it is a long-term evolution of complex neural circuitry wired through the intricate interaction of attachment dynamics across all mammals (Pellis and Pellis 2009). Secondly, neural networking suggests how shifts between fluidity and stability of attachments take place. Schore and Schore (2008), for example, detail advances in neurobiology, showing how the relationship of synaptic connectivity in the right hemisphere is linked to the growth of attachment and affective modulation. This growth produces and stabilises what they call the intersubjective origins of the implicit self (2008, 12).

Neural circuitry raises the question, alive at least since Freud, of how affective mechanisms are activated. One key process is through association and suggestion which, in turn, trigger emotional links (Lasén 2013). Bolstad (2002), for example, describes how sustained associations are created through the process of anchoring. Anchoring is based on Pavlov’s work (2003) with stimulus and response, where unconscious responses are created and anchored to particular stimuli, just as Pavlov’s sounds once prompted his dogs to salivate. Anchoring and association are both continuous human experiences where specific sounds, tastes, smells or touch evoke memories and responses. Mobile devices, then, are potential sources of powerful anchoring and association because users load devices with exactly those memorabilia and motifs that are most evocative to them: mp3 files, photos of loved ones or significant moments, video, text, Twitter or email messages, Facebook pages, favourite games and much else. Moreover, it has not been lost on manufacturers that haptics—the weight, feel, look and, in Android devices, pulses—also contributes to sensory experience. Because these experiences are constantly repeated, they are constantly re-anchored. So, too, is the device on which they are located. Powerful associations are generated and these trigger acute anxiety when the device goes missing. Not only the device but whole clusters of anchoring are lost simultaneously.

These experiences are intensified because of the amount of personalisation devices enable. Whether this is a smartphone’s bright cover, the feel of wraparound leather stands for tablets, or the endless array of wallpapers, lockscreens, ringtones or widgets, each re-anchoring contributes to individualisation and to identification with the device. This companionship extends to nicknaming phones with individuals treating their mobiles as ‘companion objects’. Companion objects, as Persson writes, are material objects that individuals “hold dear and that are of special personal importance to them in their everyday life” (2013, 96). This companionship extends to the mobile as fashion statement, with Sugiyama (2013) detailing how individuals use their mobiles to negotiate their self, self-expression, body and meanings. He links his account to Katz’s work on the “apparatgeist” in The Machines That Become Us (2003). Here, Katz delineates how machines such as mobile devices become us, integrated with our clothing and body, and part of us: the mobile an extension of the body (Katz 2003; Katz and Aakhus 2002; Sugiyama 2009). Again, these accounts emphasise attachments as increasingly integrated sociotechnical phenomena.

Anchoring and priming through self objects

There is a further dimension to anchoring, linked to the subjective sense of self. This is anchoring to the mobile as enhancement of the phenomenon of self object constancy. This is a different, though related, understanding of attachment. Self objects, developed in the area of self psychology, are commonly understood as objects which are not experienced as separate and independent from the self. They are persons, objects or activities that ‘complete’ the self, and are common to everyday relational activity: as such, they afford a sense of ongoing self-coherence (Kohut 1984). Consequently, attachment to objects becomes crucial because, as Kohut comments, they “support the cohesion, vigor, and harmony of the adult self” (1984, 200). Parkin illustrates this with a poignant example of refugees, for whom “under the conditions of rapid and sometimes violent flight and dispersal, private mementos may take the place of interpersonal relations as a depository of sentiment and cultural knowledge” (1999, 315). Likewise, mobile devices, by mediating complex sociotechnical networks, provide an increasingly important means of potential self object presence and constancy. They are similar to Donald Winnicott’s (1953) idea of transitional objects, which perform similar functions. He points to children’s teddy bears or blankets as typical: intensely personal attachments, however stained, smelly or tattered they may be. These subjective objects carry a soothing presence because they are felt to be part of the self yet, clearly, are materially distinct from it.

Anchoring and self objects both refer to constancy and stability. The difficulty with affective associations is that, by contrast, they are dynamic, mobile and unstable. Bolstad recognises this in the four common requirements for creating powerful anchors: state-appropriate, timing, uniqueness and repeatability (2002, 46). If these aren’t present, anchors are less likely to be effective. The same dilemma appears with the social psychological process of priming. This draws on implicit memory and influences how individuals unconsciously orient towards a stimulus to which they have already had a response (Wentura and Degner 2010). Priming non-conscious expectations strengthens associations and reinforces anchoring; it also creates a form of potential suggestibility. It does so because, as neuroscience research indicates, our perceptual horizon is always being shaped by past experiences and associations (Ochsner et al. 1994). Inevitably, priming is of great interest to marketers, in both media and social media fields (Marshall 2012; Mograbi and Mograbi 2012), with branding as a key means of cueing consumer expectations. Yet, pressure within attention economies is so great that consistent cueing is constantly disrupted by competitors, making priming difficult to sustain (Davenport and Beck 2002). Nonetheless, there is a lively industry in coaching social media and other agents how to develop priming to secure attachment to consumer objects (Hotchkiss 2013).

Priming is only one strategy used by marketers to create attachments. The whole range of traditional advertising practices both in hailing and tracking consumers is brought to bear, often with only minimal translation, upon the mobile sector. This can involve keeping the message simple, even ‘boring’ because of the tiny screen real estate available, or for businesses to consider “their mobile app or mobile website a virtual ATM, not an interactive game or website” (SiteTuners 2013). This, as Evans comments, is because “onscreen time is short” (2013). The effectiveness of priming and attachment are also evident in other studies which find that average users checks their smartphone 35 times a day “for about 30 seconds each time” (Davis 2012).

Such marketing and tracking can give the impression of a monolithic industry remorselessly bent on extracting value from every consumer: a view easily linked to De Landa’s panspectron or Deleuze’s dividuals. The reality is more complex and, sometimes, more mundane. Developers and marketers report that the experience of creating any mobile technology is chaotic and unpredictable. Podolski (2011), for example, provides a chastening case study of launching an iPad app, FlickPad. As he comments, “Getting your app noticed in the iTunes App Store is a monumental task” amongst “330,000+ iPhone apps and 60,000+ iPad apps” (2011). One of many headaches was simply trying to get review coverage for his offering: “I tried all the major ones that I could think of—TUAW, MacStories, Macgasm, TiPb, 148Apps, iPhone.AppStorm, AppShopper, theAppleBits, etc. with varying levels of success” (2011). The app’s career remained highly uncertain, dependent on navigating Facebook server changes and Twitter advertising to outages or managing pricing decisions. Podolski’s story is intended as a cautionary tale, typical in a hyper-competitive mobile environment. What it illustrates is the difficulty of securing consumer attachments even to a single app amongst the churning marketplaces of platforms, whether these are Windows, Linux or Android.

In short, sustaining attachments to devices or apps in complex markets is highly uncertain. It replicates uncertainty found in other cultural and innovation markets, such as the difficulty of ensuring hits in the popular music industry (Peterson and Berger 1975). As Foster et al. (2011) found with other cultural markets, major corporations, whether these are Facebook Apple, Google, Samsung or Windows, act as key gatekeepers through their online stores, brokering access, connections and reputations. Social networks, then, suggest how the mediation of attachments applies not only to devices but also to numerous suppliers, agents and shifting publics. The oscillation of attachment and security or potential separation and anxiety is constant across all these sociotechnical networks.

Citizenship, publics and attachment

Ties to networks of others may be mediated through mobile devices. Yet, such ties produce a broader set of tensions, each invoking differential degrees of trust or suspicion. In the first instance, trust often arises in the context of citizenship, digital commons or participatory publics (Mische 2008). In the second, suspicion emanates in relation to corporate and state practices,as is commonly articulated in surveillance literatures. Each invokes quite different accounts about the formations of publics, ties and attachments (White 1992; Grabher 2006).

One example of trust and citizenship is the recent development of vernacular mapping. Gerlach draws on the collective Open-StreetMap project. He describes Open-StreetMap as

cultivating a different kind of cartographic politics that edges away from classic conceptions of counter- or indigenous cartographies, moving instead towards a sensibility understood as vernacular mappings, maps of and for the everyday, maps generated through what Belgian philosopher Isabelle Stengers calls an “ecology of practices”—the co-fabrication of cartographies by human and non-human assemblages, from entanglements of codes and digital spaces to heated arguments via electronic mailing lists over whose GPS trace is the most accurate. (2010, 167)

Kelley develops these ideas through the idea of the geoweb, “a convergence of geography and the interactive/ participatory/ generative Internet” (2013, 187). He observes that geoweb enables

geospatial services such as OpenStreetMap and Wikimapia, but also geosocial media participants, information, and applications that do not (as a rule) facilitate the production of conventional vector-based VGI [Volunteered Geographic Information]. Casual participants—particularly information consumers—on the geoweb are increasingly equipped to become more actively engaged in the reciprocal production of the data and information that populate geospatial portals and geosocial media applications. (187)

Kelley describes how these practices are mobilised through smartphones, creating local imagined communities and newly forged “digital landscapes of the imaginary” that not only mediate “relationships to place but also inform our socio-spatial practice” (201). Austrin and Farnsworth describe similar relationships between communities and social media and mobile technology following the Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 (2013). In both cases, these sociotechnical imaginaries create distinctive and particular ties to places and persons, always mediated by digital technologies. Simultaneously, they create specific publics and counter-publics, citizen formations that remake existing discourses and practices as new digital, vernacular assemblages. In the case of the Christchurch earthquakes, these can be understood as versions of what Latour describes not as a panopticon but as oligopticons (Latour and Hermant 1998; Latour et al. 2012). These are partial, not total, views assembled by numerous parties through diverse technologies such as citizen blogs, Twitter, self-made Youtube videos or radio documentaries—an idea Latour and Hermant developed in their analysis of “Invisible Paris”. In the case of Christchurch, it encompassed mobile devices, social media, geospatial maps and the infrastructures of the technological unconscious (Austrin and Farnsworth 2013, 80).

The radical implications of these practices, just as with OpenStreetMap, undo the inherently suspicious, paranoid notion of a centralised, all-seeing authority in favour of the mobilisation of networks of citizens. In turn, this gestures to a range of political traditions, from Arendt to Foucault, where social groups regardless of state or corporate authorities mobilise in favour of preferred, emergent collective interests. Key to these activities is the making and remaking of sociotechnical ties and attachments. These ties are to places, persons and, as Gerlach emphasises, to ethics—to shared bonds of association. As Knudsen and Stage argue with contemporary online activism, they can trigger affective, contagious responses (2012).

Participatory sociotechnical networks

There are other networks of publics that operate in a different way as participatory, democratic practices. One instance is digital gambling. For example, datamining, not for corporate purposes but shared, popular, even anarchic participation, has been a long-established practice in digital gambling. One such practice has been through the development of poker bots: software that plays cheaply and relentlessly online, based on the accumulation of massive databases of played poker hands (Dance 2011). Recently, these databases have migrated to a wide range of mobile devices and online forms including Poker Office, Hand History and Poker Agent, all of which handle “session logging, player tracking, hand recording” (Poker Agent 2013). Databases aggregate digital analysis, such as the strength and weakness of poker hands, playing styles, betting practices and much else. As hand-histories.com comments, these practices involve “observing the statistical differences between winning and losing players … seeking out players who have a losing record, avoiding winning regulars, in table selection, and in making decisions based on more informed player ‘reads’ during play”. All these practices are, implicitly, forms of sociotechnical public assembly based on shifting dynamics of trust, suspicion and competition. Their initiators attempt, at one and the same time, to outwit corporate regulation through software tools and to provide themselves with advantages against rivals through their skills in handling software.

Within gambling, the alternative use of datamining is through highly sophisticated casino surveillance. The same algorithms used by poker players can also be used to detect suspicious patterns of player activity (Ryan 2011). Caesars Entertainment, the casino corporate, utilises predictive technology to track table behaviour through video analytics of player behaviour, constantly innovating its predictive surveillance tools (Ferguson 2013). Whichever use is made of datamining technologies, in the gambling arena, all are predicated on the idea of attachments and ties: ties to the game, the scene, other players, or the cards. With gambling, of course, attachments become rigidified as addictions. Ironically, even these can also been tracked by analytics. A new technology, Sports Bettor Algorithm 1.1, is used to trace and predict problem gambling by identifying when bettors “inhibit sporadic patterns” which is often a clue to “people with problems” (Ryan 2013). Although accuracy is limited,the technology still points to the complex links between attachments, gambling publics and sociotechnical assemblages.

Remaking attachments: datamining and societies of control

Poker or OpenStreetMaps constitute public formations and collective enterprises all based around sets of overlapping ties (Mische 2008). This is the opposite pole to the idea of the atomised dividual described by Kullenberg and Palmås. For example, Kullenberg and Palmås (2009), and Palmås (2011), focus on the extraction and exploitation of value through datamining and web analytics. Datamining requires the identification of semiotic and algorithmic elements in massive online data sets, routinised to detect useful patterns of online activity. One of the largest, Google’s PageRank, employs sophisticated algorithms, currently Hummingbird (Rogers), which is similar to Facebook’s EdgeRank in exploiting the extraction of metadata (Kincaid 2010). Google’s PageRank runs every search term through complex algorithms that assess and weigh more than 200 ‘signals’, metadata and relational links. These indicators sift out what a searcher is looking for and, at the same time, improve the term’s potential commercial value.

Metadata and algorithms exploit, and construct, attachments that are far from stable. Instead, they shape how the contagious uptake of products and services might be managed by corporate interests. This is what Kullenberg and Palmås (2009) suggest. Tracking is not just dynamic but designed to assess and predict which affective or symbolic cues may trigger the widespread imitation of consumer ‘contagions’. Whilst it might be the latest iPhone or Angry Birds app, this equally describes how Wal-Mart will “continually change prices on every product, optimising it so that it is just—but only just—low enough for us to buy it” (2009, 348).

Subjectivities, on this view, are not only fluid, but shaped and anticipated through their perpetual exchanges with commodities and mobile technologies, whether these are through the design and sensory appeal of a device or the engagement with its apps and interfaces. Attachments then are intended to be both shaped and transferred to maximise market returns through the use of analytics. This is very close to Guattari’s machinic-semiotic integration. Palmås illustrates how this operates through tactics of predictive surveillance. Following Deleuze, he argues that the tracking and datamining of large corporations is an expression of the “societies of control” (2011, 339). These activities are “a means of rendering objects visible, thus generating order” with individuals “subjected to continual logging of behaviours” as they pass through “interlocking networks of monitoring” (342). Davenport and Harris (2007) illustrate this mode of individual subjection through numerous cases: the Boston Red Sox, Netflix, Amazon.com, CEMEX, Capital One, Harrah’s Entertainment, Procter & Gamble and Best Buy, all of which used data analytics to create successful competitive strategies. They outline how Harrah’s Entertainment used analytics to create the gaming industry’s first loyalty program and tracked, as Palmås comments, “each visitors’ personal ‘pain point’—the level of gambling losses that will send the visitor home” (2011, 348). The company forestalls this ‘pain’ by sending a “luck ambassador” who approaches the guest and offers to take them immediately to dinner (Ayres 2007, 173). Davenport (2006) describes how the Marriot hotel chain uses analytics:

It has developed systems to optimize offerings to frequent customers and assess the likelihood of those customers’ defecting to competitors … The company has even created a revenue opportunity model, which computes actual revenues as a percentage of the optimal rates that could have been charged. That figure has grown from 83% to 91% as Marriott’s revenue-management analytics has taken root throughout the enterprise.

Both cases are instances of big data that use continuous tracking and modelling to manage and shape customer attachments, maximise individual consumer investment and subjective experience in their casinos or hotels (see Davenport 2013). Collectively this is the affective, dynamic contagionology, along with the practices of injection and monitoring/ prediction, to which Kullenberg and Palmås refer.


What is at the heart of attachment? For most of us, it lies in experience: the tug or repulsion of affect, or else trust against suspicion, however strongly or weakly this is activated. Elaborated over time, these affects constitute either experiences of security, settledness, contentedness and a cohesive self; or a feeling of dissociation, detachment and, at worst, disintegration. Certainly, this is what the psychological literature documents. As Lasén puts it, “participants affect and are affected, feel in their bodies and their senses, the effects of the affective experiences they are living” (2013, 94).

Attachment, in mobile worlds, is an equally complex, ambiguous experience. On the one hand, it may be a potentially stabilizing, affective individual experience evoked by Kohut’s self objects. The illustration I gave of café inhabitants at the beginning of this essay suggests how mobile attachments are anchored by a secure setting and the shared company both online and in the physical world around them. On the other hand, recent writers argue for attachment as an endlessly fluid, collective, semiotic, destabilizing, disintegrative phenomenon, perpetually struggled over by states, corporations and counter-publics. In this scenario, mobile devices become just so many tokens, counters and strategies in the production and surveillance of subjectivity. All this is a long way from the bounded worlds of couples and connections described by Lasén (2013). Taken together, these diverse accounts chart the tensions between the different ways that collective ties are both assembled and depicted. Guattari’s (1989) version of cartographies, at the molecular level, highlights machinic-semiotic assemblages emerging through to the ceaseless struggle of subjects for enunciation, however this might be individually or collectively accomplished.

As I noted at the outset, investigating attachments involves entering a dynamic field that includes sociotechnical, affective, embodied and disciplinary tensions. Attachment, in this context, acts as a probe to investigate such tensions. Nonetheless, a significant problematic exists around what Holmes describes as the “pathic core of territorialized existence”. A pathic core, the concept drawn from Guattari (1989), is the radical or democratic potential of sociotechnical assemblages. These include oligopticons, OpenStreetMap or the open data commons (Chignard 2013). Constantly confronted by panspectric technologies, Guattari suggests how resistance may be possible in “the multiple exchanges between individual-group-machine…. These complexes offer people diverse possibilities to recompose their existential embodiment, to escape their repetitive impasses and to resingularize themselves” (1995, 7). In short, Guattari offers a therapeutic and emancipatory potential that, he argues, is still alive to confront the perpetual biomachinic surveillance that panspectric technologies pursue.

Under these conditions, attachment is constantly prone to reconfiguration and destabilisation. Little wonder then, the anxiety many users report experiencing with their mobiles, since the tensions around either dividuation or individual attachment are often played out precisely through these sociotechnical mediators. Such anxious technological attachments can be almost infinite in variety. It may be the constant interactions of purchasing or changing network plans, updating apps and operating systems, agreeing to new, half-understood policies with iTunes, PlayStore or Microsoft, negotiating new kinds of connections to VOIP services, such as Skype or Google Hangouts, or querying bulletin boards about how to get a device or feature to function. Each interaction brings its own varying degrees of indeterminacy in the shifting experience of attachment and disattachment. Attachment then becomes, paradoxically, a fluid and deferred experience in mobile worlds, whether it is to the devices, software or human connections these technologies mediate.


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John Farnsworth is associated with the Media, Film and Communications Department at the University of Otago. He is also a registered psychotherapist working in private practice. Recent papers include work on new technologies, mobile devices, short-term psychotherapy, ethnography and methodology.

Vertical Framing: Authenticity and New Aesthetic Practice in Online Videos — Miriam Ross

Abstract: In recent years there has been much focus on the opportunities that mobile media devices (phones, tablets) offer for user-generated audio-video production. Most often this focus has concentrated on content with emphasis on new citizen journalism and YouTube home videos. Less attention has been given to the negotiations of aesthetic parameters that mark a departure from traditional filmmaking modes. In particular, the tendency for a new generation of filmmakers to shoot on mobile phones has led to a number of works produced in a vertical (portrait format). Initially dismissed as content “shot the wrong way”, vertical videos have proliferated in the exhibition platforms provided by YouTube, Facebook and other social media sites. This article examines the trend for shooting in a vertical mode, the material markers of ‘authenticity’ this mode appears to lend to its audio-visual content, and the effect of circulating this material in a context where other users can ‘police’ videos for bad practice. It will focus, in particular on how these aspects interact with the different mediations of authenticity that emerge from new screen technologies amongst the ongoing contingency of media forms.

A video version of this essay is available at this link: https://vimeo.com/99499627

The “CAUGHT ON CAMERA: Fertilizer Plant Explosion Near Waco, Texas” video on YouTube

In 2013, a video entitled “CAUGHT ON CAMERA: Fertilizer Plant Explosion Near Waco, Texas was uploaded to YouTube. It records the 17th April ammonium nitrate explosion at the West Fertilizer Company Storage and Distribution Facility from the perspective of an observer who is seated in a car beyond the perimeter of the plant. One of the aesthetic considerations that most clearly signals that it was recorded by an ‘everyday’ user is its use of vertical framing (the production of moving images in a portrait mode). Due in part to the proliferation of mobile phone cameras, which record in a vertical mode when the phone is held upright, vertical videos have begun to circulate widely on YouTube and other social media sites. Because they depart from the professional standard of horizontal composition, vertical videos are commonly perceived to be shot by amateur users rather than professional filmmakers. They tend to become known to a wider audience only when distributed as viral videos and/or they are picked up by traditional news channels as alternatives to professional news footage.[1] Similar to many newsworthy vertical videos, the vertical framing in the “Fertilizer Plant” iterates a sense of authenticity: the vertical mode’s association with amateur users suggests an everyday user providing unmediated witness to events as they occur rather than a professional filmmaker involved in staging and careful composition.[2] Although the relationship between authenticity and aesthetic configurations is always contingent upon historical, social and cultural uses of media, in cases such as this, vertical framing emphasises the potential for new media technologies to be used for capturing the ‘moment’ and emphasising the object of observation rather than traditional aesthetic concerns. At the same time that the “Fertilizer Plant” video breaks with a hundred year plus tradition of displaying moving-images in a horizontal, or landscape, format, it signals some interlinked debates around authenticity, aesthetics and new media technologies that are currently being worked through in the context of a new media backdrop where moving image screens proliferate to a greater extent than ever before and in increasingly diverse configurations (for example, Manovich 2001, 94; Friedberg 2009, 6; Verhoeff 2012; Casetti 2011). Within this context, I will discuss how vertical media generates possibilities for a new, increasingly flexible audio-visual environment in the early twenty-first century and how the use of a seemingly ‘amateur’ mode of framing raises issues around concepts of authenticity and aesthetic norms.[3]

Although YouTube has an idiosyncratic and diverse range of material on its site (that ranges from HD video and 3D enabled films to stop motion animation and pixelated phone videos) the “Fertilizer Plant” video exemplifies what has become known as the YouTube video aesthetic: an audiovisual object that expresses user-generated content through an amateur rather than professional appearance (Cubitt 2008, 45; Burgess and Green 2009a, 90; Müller 2009, 136).[4] This particular video’s affective power lies in the way that it combines its amateur appearance with an explosive event that is more akin to the pyrotechnic effects of a blockbuster action film. The spontaneity of the blast combines with the realisation that there are observers in the car who are perilously close to the fireball at the Plant. It is not unique in this regard as various YouTube videos capture spectacular ‘real life’ events but it is distinct from the many mundane domestic amateur films that circulate on YouTube.[5] At the same time, the shocking impact of the video’s events are not wholly due to its content but are also supported by aesthetic configurations that indicate to the viewer the events were not staged and the observers in the car were ‘true’ witnesses to the explosion. In no preferred order, these aesthetic configurations operate in the following ways: the slight shake from the hand held position indicates a human observer and, in this particular video, the observer is evident through the display of the filmmaker in the car’s side mirror; the view of the filmmaker makes it clear the video is filmed on a mobile phone, an amateur recording device notable for its spontaneous filming potential; the lack of staged lighting or artificial sets combines with a lack of cuts to express a type of ‘unmediated witness’ to the events that unfold; the wind buffering the microphone on the mobile camera reminds us of a recording device that is present; the lack of closure at the end of the film (as we struggle to know whether the invisible but presumably present members of the car are okay[6]) colludes with a number of open media texts that circulate somewhat anonymously online.[7]

Additional to all of these factors is the use of vertical framing. Beyond merely suggesting an amateur user, the vertical video gestures powerfully to a subjective human observer behind the camera. It suggests a person who has a mobile phone, close to hand, and has initiated the camera without changing their normal bodily hold upon that technological device. Even though mobile phones such as the Nokia C6were designed to encourage users to hold them in a horizontal alignment, most camera-enabled phones, particularly the new generation of iPhone and Android-based smart phones, are configured to operate primarily in a vertical alignment. In this way, use of a vertical filming mode reinforces the filmmakers’ personal touch as well as a sense of immediacy and presence within the act of filming. These components contrast with the seemingly impersonal viewpoints created by virtual cameras in CGI compositions, in which no filmmaker could be present such as shots high above Earth or shots passing through the walls of buildings (Brooker 2009; Jones 2013; Purse 2013). At a time when visual manipulation tools make it increasingly impossible to identify which visual objects are a ‘faithful’ record of an event and which are staged, vertical framing suggests (whether truthfully or not[8]) that no such manipulation has taken place.[9]

This type of aesthetic positioning of a real life event is not without historical precedence. In his discussion of the use of camcorder footage in documentary and news broadcasts towards the end of the twentieth century, Jon Dovey notes that

the low grade video image has become the privileged form of TV ‘truth telling’, signifying authenticity and an indexical reproduction of the real world; indexical in the sense of presuming a direct and transparent correspondence between what is in front of the camera lens and its taped representation. Secondly, the camcorder text has become the form that most relentlessly insists upon a localised, subjective and embodied account of experience. Finally, the video text has become the form that represents better than any other the shifting perimeters of the public and the private. Video texts shot on lightweight camcorders uniquely patrol, re-produce and penetrate the boundaries between the individual subject and the public, material world. (2000, 55)

Mobile phone footage offers the most recent iteration of this context, demonstrating, on the one hand, historical continuity whereby technology serves rather than creates desires for seemingly authentic material that mixes the public and the private and, on the other hand, the potential for new technologies to reinforce and renew the embodied relationship between filmmaker, text and viewer (Hjorth 2006, 2). It is in this context that Max Schleser has discussed the way in which the mobile phone, operating as a hand-held recording device, presents opportunities to “construct personal narratives and representations of self” (2012, 400; see also Hjorth 2006). Similarly, Gavin Wilson notes “such films repeatedly reference the body and sensory perception, evoking the sense of what objects feel like as we look at them, as objects and as images” (2012, 68). In each case, these possibilities are contingent upon the extent to which the mobile technology continues to reiterate the presence of its user and the extent to which the technology is upgraded so that its images are no longer discernible from professional footage. In an era in which YouTube offers to stabilise uploaded videos, phones increasingly offer HD settings, and readily available editing software allows the addition of professional levels of colour grading and sound mixes, it is not always possible to view the traces of an amateur and/or embodied user within the footage. However, in its current manifestation, a vertical framing mode cannot be subsumed within professional filmmaking practice. Apart from the fact that there is not a body of professional vertical works for the new vertical piece to join, few professional screens exist for its exhibition and so YouTube and mobile screens remain its natural home.

Figure 2. YouTube offers a range of configurations to help professionalise the appearance of videos

Figure 1. YouTube offers a range of configurations to help professionalise the appearance of videos

When exhibited on the mobile screen, it is possible to see that the vertical mode articulates a conflation of audiovisual technologies: the distinction between capture and display devices (Wilson 2012). Since the earliest motion-picture cameras, which had the dual function of capturing images on film and then replaying that film in a projector mode, there has been the ability to use cameras as both recording and display devices. Nonetheless, the speed with which digital devices such as the mobile phone (and increasingly the tablet) can replay images recorded by the camera leads to a sense of immediacy which couples the camera device to its screening function. Immediate playback can lead to forms of intimate encounters between the device, text and viewer. At the same time, the current novelty of vertical framing emphasises how the coupling of mobile filming/display device with filmmaker/viewer create unique convergences that are not available in traditional media.

While this framing mode can be understood productively as a new iteration of digital vernacular practice, unease with its appropriation of moving image capture/screen technology has appeared. Vertical videos operate in a context whereby new technologies and their users do not function in isolation but are, instead, conditioned by networked, discursive, peer practice that is highly visible in contemporary, Internet-oriented, society:

The instant and permanent visibility and availability of social peers (and the permanent exposure of their content-related activities) enable the instant and permanent social control of exposed activities and connect the semipublic-mediated space with the private place of home. In addition, the convergent nature of the platform (i.e. the permanent and straightforward possibility to receive, post and repost various media) lowers barriers for the participation in content and at the same time brings the text right next to the negotiations of its value. (Macek 2013, 298-9)

The negotiation of the value of vertical videos has been particularly prevalent on YouTube, one of the main exhibition platforms for vertical media. The most visible debate on this topic has been conducted through and in relation to a video that appeared in June 2012, “Vertical Video Syndrome—A PSA.  The video uses a highly comic parody of United States style Public Service Announcements (PSA) to explain to audiences why shooting in a vertical mode is incorrect. It makes statements ranging from the technical, “vertical videos happen when you hold your camera the wrong way,” to the technological, “while you can turn a picture, you can’t really turn a video … Motion pictures have always been horizontal. Televisions are horizontal. Computer screens are horizontal” and the biological “People’s eyes are horizontal.” It has gathered a significant number of views (4.3 million at the time of writing) and pages of comments on YouTube as well as repeated ‘shares’ throughout social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

“Vertical Video Syndrome—A PSA”

Other, similar videos have been produced such as “Turn Your Phone! (Vertical Video PSA)in July 2013 and “Turn Your Phone! (‘No Scrubs’ parody with Andrew Huang, DailyGrace, Hannah Hart, Soundlyawake) in June 2013. Both are set to music: the former portrays a young man, showing various people filming on their mobile phones, how to turn their camera “the correct way” and the latter shows a female singer explaining why videos should be shot in a landscape mode. The videos are entertaining and light-hearted but perpetuate a number of aesthetic ideas surrounding the way in which new camera technologies, particularly the camera phone, should be regulated.

Figure 4. “Turn Your Phone! (‘No Scrubs’ parody with Andrew Huang, DailyGrace, Hannah Hart, Soundlyawake)”

Figure 2. “Turn Your Phone! (‘No Scrubs’ parody with Andrew Huang, DailyGrace, Hannah Hart, Soundlyawake)”

Foremost in their claims is a normalisation of the landscape format as somehow biologically informed and historically pervasive. With regards to the biological argument, originally initiated in the “Vertical Video Syndrome” video, the claim that “people’s eyes are horizontal [sic]” has had a particular resonance with viewers providing comments on YouTube and has been repeated regularly in other Internet discussion sites such as Twitter. In the first instance, this statement ignores a lengthy history of recorded images with roots in the camera obscura whereby “the camera obscura, with its monocular aperture, became a more prefect terminus for a cone of vision, a more perfect incarnation of a single point than the awkward binocular body of the human subject” (Crary 1992, 53; see also Friedberg). Efforts in the nineteenth century to overcome this problem resulted in obsessive attempts by stereoscopic photographers such as David Brewster and John F. Mascher to create two-camera apparatuses that would exactly mimic the eyes’ relations and retinas (Silverman 1993; Pietrobruno 2011). Similarly, a number of twentieth century stereoscopic filmmakers have been equally determined to provide orthoscopic views that exactly replicate the human field of perception (Lipton 1982, 134). The failure for their experiments to take hold as the dominant way of producing photographic images points to the extent to which biological determinism and photographic reproduction have only limited interest for audiences. Even IMAX screens that are designed to exceed the boundaries of human peripheral vision operate within a rectangular frame that is distinct from the seemingly unbounded scope of human vision, particularly with the eye’s ability to focus on and narrow in on a range of different fields. Moreover, there is the problematic assumption embedded in the statement about horizontal eyes that a person must have full vision in both eyes in order to appreciate moving images.

The extent to which horizontal moving-images are historically pervasive is also often emphasised in discussions of vertical framing to the detriment of a more nuanced historical approach that takes in to account the lengthy history of diverse visual culture. Although visual culture has produced art in a variety of forms (square, circular, oval, portrait rectangle, landscape rectangle) and across different media, moving-image production has been mainly confined to a landscape rectangular format that is most commonly found in either a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio. Yet, as John Belton notes, even when W. K. L Dickson and the Lumière Brothers popularised the 4:3 35mm film format during cinema’s development, there was no obvious technological precedent for this standard. Photography in the nineteenth century had a range of aspect ratios and shapes (square, circular, rectangular) and was not standardised into a similar 4:3 aspect ratio until the twentieth century, after the development of cinema. Similarly, nineteenth century hand-painted lanternslides came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Thus,

there is nothing “natural” about these formats. They do not seem to have grown ‘organically’ out of some prior medium of representation. Nor do they initially appear to be automatic consequences of the invention process. At the same time, they were not quite arrived at arbitrarily. (Belton 1992, 18)

The technological conditions that demanded effective ease of reproduction during cinema’s global development means it is hardly surprising that a rectangular, landscape format was arrived at but it is, paradoxically, the non-arbitrary nature of technological development that gave rise to alternatives to the landscape mode. One such alternative arose during the development of stereoscopic (3D) cameras. An early problem was that the desire to produce separate left and right eve views for stereoscopic footage resulted in the need for two cameras and two projectors in order to film and display footage. The added expense and difficulty in synchronising footage meant that it was desirable to develop cameras that could simultaneously record the left and right eye image on one filmstrip. The result was cameras such as the16mm Bolex camera which split the horizontal frame in two and recorded left and right eye images on each half of the frame. When played back, the projector was focused using a projection lens with polarising filters in order to overlay the two halves of the frame into a singular, vertical, stereoscopic image on a vertical screen. Unsurprisingly, the need for a vertical screen at a time when standard screens were horizontal meant that this technology reached an end point in amateur users while professional 3D filmmakers developed systems that would work in a traditional landscape mode (Hayes 1989; Zone 2007). Nonetheless, important stereoscopic documentation of the twentieth century did take place in a vertical mode, such as the Co-operative Wholesale Society’s documentary on 1950s Britain in Co-op 3-D Film (1952).[10]

More recently advertising displays in transport facilities such as underground stations and airports have begun displaying moving-image content on vertical screens. In the London Underground, for example, the numerous escalators carrying passengers from platforms to exits, and vice versa, have vertical screens placed on their walls. Similarly, in Glasgow airport there are a number of vertical screens next to the arrivals and departures screens that show moving-image advertisements in a vertical frame. The architecture of these spaces means that horizontal screens would be inappropriate and so advertisers have developed vertical moving-image content (often in the form of short animations or brief live action scenes, for example “Clarins Vertical LED TV.”  In each of the aforementioned examples of vertical filmmaking and display, there is nothing arbitrary about the decision to place or view moving-images in a portrait format. Instead, they remain tentative examples of what new screen cultures might be able to offer in terms of aesthetic experimentation. While fixed screens will always require that content is created in order to match its intended display, the greatest change in twenty-first century screen culture is the portability and malleability of screens on offer. At this time tablets, mobile phones and other portable screens are limited to rectangular frames but the ability to turn this frame into either portrait or landscape mode means that moving image content can be configured depending on which framing possibility best suits the subject being filmed.[11]

Figure 5. Departure and advertisement screens at Glasgow Airport

Figure 3. Departure and advertisement screens at Glasgow Airport

Attention to how vertical framing suits the ergonomic conditions of the filming device and the subject matter means that vertical videos can be understood more as a form of vernacular creativity than an aesthetic error in filmmaking modes. Examples of vertical videos that have been posted on YouTube and Facebook often suggest a hasty reach for the camera and opportunistic filming decision (adding to the sense that they reproduce unmediated, ‘authentic’ moments in the filmmakers life). This accounts, in part, for how the embodied hold on a mobile device translates into the framing mode. However, this practice does not mean that the filmmaker is inconsiderate of the visual field that the vertical mode will capture. Instead, certain subjects encourage a vertical mode. For example when a single human is the focus of the video, they are often framed to take up the central sections of the screen as is the case of the Irish dancer performing on top of a train’s table in “Incredible Set Dancing & Trad Session on Dublin Train to Galway  or the man jumping on a trampoline in “Epic trampoline flip FAIL dog attack.”  A type of portrait framing for subjects directly addressing the camera is also seen. This is evident in the New Zealand Red Cross’ addressthestress.com website where, amongst others, Olympic rower Mahé Drysdale speaks about how to deal with stressful situations in a vertical video aimed at New Zealand youths.  When the architecture of space means that a vertical corridor of action predominates, portrait framing is also used. For example, the interiors of trains, subway cars and other carriages or building corridors and stairways are frequently framed in a portrait format. This can be seen in the interior of a light rail car during “Light Rail Bushido Blade! It’s all fun and games until someone pulls out a sword  and during a shot of dogs descending down a staircase in “Puppy teaching Puppy to go down stairs! SO cute!—ORIGINAL VIDEO!.”  Unprofessional videos such as the series of students performing trapeze moves on the Aerial Edge Facebook page unashamedly use a portrait format in order to provide as much detail of the moving bodies as possible in videos that are both celebratory of the students’ skills and informative for those trying to see how the moves are undertaken.

Finally, a number of smart phone applications, such as Talking Tom Cat, present characters in a portrait format that users can animate and share on sites such as YouTube, resulting in numerous vertical videos such as “Talking Ben and Talking Tom” that has had over 9 million views.  In each case, the vertical mode frames events in ways that suit the subject matter.

Figure 6. From left to right: “Incredible Set Dancing & Trad Session on Dublin Train to Galway,” “Epic trampoline flip FAIL dog attack,” “Puppy teaching Puppy to go down stairs! SO cute!—ORIGINAL VIDEO!” and “Talking Ben and Talking Tom”

Figure 4. From left to right: “Incredible Set Dancing & Trad Session on Dublin Train to Galway,” “Epic trampoline flip FAIL dog attack,” “Puppy teaching Puppy to go down stairs! SO cute!—ORIGINAL VIDEO!” and “Talking Ben and Talking Tom”

The extent to which this mode, and its revelation of a new type of digital vernacular, will be accepted is dependent upon the mechanisms of highly scrutinised exhibition environments. Although many mobile phone videos are made to be viewed only by the filmmaker or distributed only to personal contacts, the new ‘sharing’ features on most smart phones means that filmmakers are encouraged to distribute videos immediately via Internet platforms. By returning to Jakub Macek’s point that the visibility and connectivity of peers mediates the production of content in online spaces, it is possible to recognise the ways in which a negotiation of vertical media’s newfound place is occurring through and beyond that of the Vertical Video PSA videos. Not only are the PSAs highly visible on YouTube, they also reflect and contribute to comments that spread across a range of Internet forums, websites and social media sites. In the first instance, commentators often repeat the main claims in the “Vertical Video Syndrome” video: vertical videos happen when you hold your camera the wrong way/while you can turn a picture, you can’t really turn a video/motion pictures have always been horizontal/ televisions are horizontal/ computer screens are horizontal/people’s eyes are horizontal. In the second instance, they frequently provide links to the “Vertical Video Syndrome” video (that has outpaced the other PSA videos in terms of popularity) which further increases the visibility of the claims in the original video. Examples of this taking place can be seen in websites such as Provideocontent where a post reiterates that “the screens we watch video on are horizontal” followed by the Vertical Video Syndrome video in an embedded link.  Similarly, a search of Twitter on 30 October 2013 found more than a dozen tweets, within a 24-hour time period, in different languages, posting links to the Vertical Video Syndrome video with comments such as “protect yourself! Keep yourself from shooting vertical,” “shooting vertical video on a smartphone? You’re doing it wrong” and “a very serious problem: Vertical Video Syndrome.” When one user, Mike Griffith, started a thread on Twitter saying “there should be a global campaign to get people shooting video on a smartphone to hold it in landscape” the reply was “why don’t the cool phone maker peeps just do a pop-up alert telling you ‘Turn it round, turn it round’.” Subsequent tweets noted that YouTube and Google’s capture applications have functions that already do so. Further addressing this issue, an app for the Apple Store called Horizon was developed that would similarly discourage users from filming in a vertical mode (Liszewski 2014).

This type of technological reminder can be considered in light of Michel de Certeau’s (1988) description of strategies and tactics, whereby institutions and figures of authority put in place strategies for the correct use of consumer products while users often perform tactics that negotiate and change this intended use. The introduction of software that conditions how users may film content on mobile cameras suggests a reiteration of strategy in the face of vertical video tactics. However, there is not merely a simple division between those who control products and everyday users. Instead, there is a complex interplay at work between technology manufacturers, everyday users, and their peer networks. Following Pierre Bourdieu, Jakub Macek notes that

through participation, we establish our common interest in shared content and so we ensure that our cultural capital (and thus our values, preferences, tastes and opinions) and that of those included in our social circles are compatible, that we are surrounded by ‘proper people’ with ‘proper interests’ and that our textual interests and pleasures are consistent with the rest of our habitus. (2013, 298)

In the vertical video context, filmmakers are often operating within peer networks that are attuned to performing correct consumer operation of filming equipment that has been embedded in and reinforced by traditional media. Yet a tension emerges between the cultural habitus in which users are expected to conform to standard horizontal norms and a parallel, embodied technological habitus which encourages users to hold their phone in the vertical position that non-video applications and other content encourages.[12] Although these different habitus represent the meeting of contradictory strategies (media institutions indicating the horizontal framing is correct, hardware manufacturing that encourages a vertical display), their incongruence is overlooked in discussions of vertical video. Instead of recognising the way users are tactically engaging with media technology in new ways, the assumption in the Vertical Video PSAs and related comments on social network sites is that filmmakers shooting in a vertical mode do so because they are amateur users who do not know better and/or do not have the skills and training to conform to professional norms. Paradoxically, by distancing vertical videos as amateur, commentators reiterate the likely authenticity of vertical videos as unmediated documentation. In contexts where authenticity is favoured, such as news sites and certain realms of social media, vertical videos are thus given additional value.

The vertical videos discussed thus far include many or all of the traits discussed in relation to the “Fertilizer Plant video and in this way demonstrate amateur practice. At the same time, their successful circulation (23.3 million views for the “Fertilizer Plant video at the time of writing) means that they are often able to gain more exposure and recognition than the wide variety of professional filmmaking practitioners who put portions of their work on YouTube. It is not surprising, then, that tensions arise when these two groups operate within a shared exhibition platform. Significant to this context is the extent to which blogs, posts, tweets and videos calling for an end to vertical video are often from non-professional filmmakers or otherwise liminal media practitioners. With regards to this type of behaviour amongst filmmakers on YouTube, Eggo Müller notes that similar processes take place when amateur and professional filmmakers interact through videos and forums dedicated to ‘upskilling’ the average YouTube user. He notes that a quality discourse prevails whereby relatively conservative adherence to traditional filmmaking norms is upheld but he also states that it is impossible to delineate a clear boundary between amateurs and professionals within this process. Instead,

users with different backgrounds and interests in YouTube contribute to and maintain this quality discourse. Full, semi-, pre- and post-professionals use YouTube to share and promote their knowledge, and dabblers, novices and amateurs contribute to the same discourse through their questions and comments. As opposed to the era of mass media—with producers on the one side and consumers on the other – there is a diverse field of positions in the space of participation YouTube creates. (2009, 136)

In this context, the efforts to police a portrait framing practice become a means for some users to distinguish themselves as knowledgeable and attuned to the importance of visual aesthetics at a time when sites such as YouTube offer a type of anarchic free-for-all. Thus, conformity to a perceived set of professional norms is “exposed, articulated and reproduced in a performative interaction” (Macek 2013, 299).

However, for every desire to be valued by and incorporated into a social milieu there are often antithetical desires to be visibly unique (Macek 2013, 299). This means that, aside from advertising professionals who have been contracted to produce vertical moving-images for billboard display, there are a small, but growing number of media practitioners advocating a portrait mode in order to produce distinct aesthetic effects. As will be discussed, their work is supported by digital viewing platforms, but there are antecedents for their work in experimental filmmaking practice such as Paolo Gioli’s vertical Film Stenopeico (1973/81/89), Commutazione con mutazione (1969) and L’operatore perforato (1979) (Bordwell 2009) andBill Viola’s “The Messenger” and “The Crossing” (Young 1997).[13] Building on the challenges these experimental films pose to an understanding of traditional compositional strategies, some groups of digitally oriented filmmakers are using the exhibition platform Vimeo to showcase experiments in vertical framing.[14] Started in 2010, the main focal point for this activity is the Tallscreen group that provides a space to upload short vertical films. Although not directly stated, it is implied that there is a concern with distinguishing these works from the amateur efforts being produced elsewhere and to this end there are calls to use High Definition SLR cameras or equivalents in order to “avoid the non aesthetic Jello Effect.”

Elsewhere on Vimeo, artist Gregory Gutenko has uploaded versions of his work such as “Rail Poem” (2012) and “Orientation Video” (2012) that have been exhibited in a portrait aspect ratio in gallery space.  The former focuses on motion through landscapes, often with an emphasis on movement that follow the narrow borders of railway tracks. Careful editing and manipulation of images means that various parts of what the camera has captured are morphed together and laid over one another within individual shots. The latter uses an upside down camera to produced “upside down” images that then frame media devices such as a television displaying their own images “upside down” which in turn appear the correct way up to viewers. In each case, portrait formatting concentrates attention on movement and objects in the screen space that would no longer be central in the same way were the frame to be widened. In a similar manner, Christoph A. Geiseler’s documentary Curry Power (2012) (http://www.verticalvideos.com/index.html) experiments with vertical framing. Like the Vimeo Tallscreen group, Geiseler narrates his reasons for using the portrait format. “Musicians on a stage, runway models, train-tracks disappearing into the distance, close-up portraits, skyscrapers and trees beg for a vertical video to capture their inherent beauty: the essence of their form, flow and function is vertical.” Like the filmmakers mentioned before, the attention given to his practice sets his work apart from the vertical videos that are deemed and contextualised as amateur content. In this way, discourses of authenticity are less apparent but bridging the artistic and unmediated documentation contexts for vertical filming is a film by musician Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips group. In 2013 he produced A Year In The Life Of Wayne’s Phone, a film that premiered at the SXSW festival in March of that year. Filmed on his iPhone, A Year in the Life of Wayne, took vertical moving-images shot by Coyne and displayed them three at a time, side by side on an horizontal screen. Noted as a somewhat jumbled assemblage of footage from Coyne’s personal and professional life, the film captured the unruly nature of unplanned and hastily thrown together YouTube videos while simultaneously elevating them to a status worthy of a film festival audience (even though reviews of the festival screening were not always complimentary [Miller 2013; Saldana 2013]).

Heaven (2013)

In my own experiments with colleagues at Victoria University of Wellington, I have been able to contribute to short films that take into consideration these vertical concerns as well as how our films can be exhibited. In our first short film “Heaven(2013),  we wanted to make use of new DIY media technologies and so we shot the film on an HTC mobile phone and in a portrait format. This process posited its own creative possibilities that enriched our sense of aesthetic experience.

Figure 7: Poster for Christoph A. Geiseler’s Curry Power (2012)

Figure 5: Poster for Christoph A. Geiseler’s Curry Power (2012)

We often found ourselves visualising sequences in a horizontal format as we were accustomed to working within that framing but then had to recalibrate our mental images as we composed individual shots. However, we found that the focus on human subjects within our script (essentially a story of two idiosyncratic male characters portrayed over a week’s timeframe in Wellington, New Zealand) was supported by vertical framing and we were able to utilise space in ways that we hadn’t previously conceived of. For example, the opening shot is of a plane flying overhead on its way to land at Wellington airport. The vertical framing allows the underbelly of the plane to take up the majority of screen space, intonating the visceral and dizzying feeling that occurs when one watches a plane fly overhead. At various points in the film a two-shot is constructed between the male characters. They do not speak to one another and so it was useful to frame their bodies vertically in a way that emphasised the subtle interactions between them that take place through whole body positioning. While the film could have been shot with horizontal framing and the essence of the story would have remained, the details of our composition and the way in which this framed the relationship between the characters would have been altered. Knowing that the eventual distribution for the film would take place on YouTube and the film would ideally be viewed on portable vertical screens such as smart phones and tablets, we also took into consideration Andreas Treske’s questions concerning developing visual work for small screens: “how does the development of smaller screens and online video influence how we compose and create images? How is the reproduction of images influenced by its assumed viewing environment? How is it related to the viewing situations of its audience if these are not the cinema theatre or the television set with its attached couch?” (2008, 215). For this reason we attempted to compose bold dynamic shots that suited vertical framing for small screen viewing.

Figure 8: “Heaven” (2013)

Figure 6: “Heaven” (2013)

While the aforementioned vertical works have mainly used live action footage, there have also been experiments with other media. The Alicewinks (alicewinks.com) project created by David Neal originated in a desire to animate the various illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) that appeared in different publications of the text around the beginning of the twentieth century. Because these illustrations were mainly in a portrait format, the animation was conceived of in this way and Alicewinks follows a variety of different visual versions of Alice as she moves through the narrative of the original book, all within a vertical framing. The story of the work’s journey from production to exhibition is illustrative of the changing landscape of screen technologies and the way in which traditional formats retain a hold on the way new media works can be conceived and distributed. Due to its feature film length, Neal initially approached Apple’s iTunes in order to distribute it through their Movie store but because of its vertical format Apple responded that it could not be distributed as a movie but might be better distributed through their App Store. The App Store stated that the piece was not sufficiently interactive and suggested returning to the Movie Store. Unable to resolve the issue between either of these stores, Neal eventually found a place for Alicewink’s distribution in Apple’s iBookstore. For many viewers, its placement here means that it will initially be perceived as a book yet its ability to provide vertical moving images in tablets and e-book means that its audiences will be exposed to portrait format moving images.

In 2008, Lev Manovich asked: “given that the significant percentage of user-generated content either follows the templates and conventions set up by professional entertainment industry, or directly re-uses professionally produced content … does this mean that people’s identities and imagination are now even more firmly colonized by commercial media than in the twentieth century?” (36; see also van Dijck 2009) On the one hand, the continued policing of vertical videos and the desires to prove that there are correct, inflexible ways of framing content confirms the extent to which media traditions retain a stronghold on aesthetic practice. On the other hand, the proliferation of user-filmed vertical videos on YouTube and social networking sites suggests vertical framing may find its place as part of a new digital vernacular. Furthermore, the small but steady uptake of digital vertical content in animation, advertising billboards, gallery works and short films on Vimeo, suggests that new screen environments are creating new aesthetic practice. Manovich goes on to draw upon Michel de Certeau to suggest

a city’s layout, signage, driving and parking rules and maps are strategies created by governmental and corporate interests. The ways an individual is moving through the city, taking shortcuts, wandering aimlessly, navigating through favourite routes and adopting others are tactics. In other words, an individual can’t physically reorganize the city but she can adopt itself to her needs by choosing how she moves through it. (2008, 37)

I would suggest that, within this analogy, vertical framing is more akin to squatting: it is the occupation of a space and a way of undertaking habitation that is related to the normal use of this space but in new, unauthorised ways.

As this article has sought to prove, there is no inherent technological determinant that means moving-images must be displayed in a horizontal format yet there are technological concerns that make portrait and landscape modes more or less advantageous depending, firstly, on the screen environment in which they are to be exhibited, and secondly, on the type of content that filmmakers wish to portray. To return to the “Fertilizer Plant video, its vertical framing acts as a signifier of authenticity which is useful in its claim to represent a real-time, non-manipulated event. Other videos are able to use the same framing in order to tactically present their own version of events. This mode is, of course, open to be co-opted by commercial media in order to simulate a visual signifier of legitimate amateur content (in much the same way the shaky camera and camcorder-style white-balance were co-opted by The Blair Witch Project [Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, 1999] and Cloverfield [Matt Reeves, 2008]). To exemplify this potential, comedian Ricky Gervais produces popular comedy shows (mainly for television) in traditional horizontal framing. At the same time, he maintains a Facebook page which frequently hosts vertical videos filmed in his home space such as video of him in his bath  or a video of his cat. The vertical framing suggests these are unmediated moments in his domestic life but their playful nature also suggests that Gervais is using them to blur the boundary between his real-life and on-screen persona in a way that is typical of his comedy work. In this case, there is a highly media-literate public personality drawing upon an amateur framing technique in order to add value to the videos that he produces.

In the contexts discussed in this article, the diversity in filming possibilities has not really changed, as it has always been possible for a filmmaker to turn a camera on its side for dramatic effect and the vertical mode is already appearing amongst traditional media when, for example, television news programs insert vertical footage of an event in a way that suggests everyday persons were present to witness it. What have changed are exhibition possibilities. In the first instance, readily available digital projectors and large digital monitors make it possible for the art gallery film and advertising content to exhibit vertical images. In the second instance, the hand held screening devices make the possibility for filming vertically ubiquitous. Detractors of a vertical format are right to note that vertical footage will normally default to a small image within a larger screen when displayed on horizontal televisions and computer monitors but these thoughts fail to foresee the present and the future of new screen technologies in which “a variety of screens—long and wide and square, large and small, flat and fat, composed of grains composed of pixels, lit by projected light, cathode-ray tube, plasma, LCD—all compete for our attention without any convincing arguments about hegemony” (Friedberg 2009, 7).[15] In this environment there will likely be the continuation of amateurs producing vertical works as a type of vernacular practice while there are also open possibilities for media professionals to engage with this framing mode in new and dynamic ways.



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[1]For a related discussion of the way news sites are using user-filmed videos as a type of ‘media witnessing based on an aesthetics of authenticity’ see Andén-Papadopoulos (2013).

[2] For a discussion of the way the unprofessional was associated with authenticity in factual documentary video footage see Dovey (2000) and in photojournalism see Pantti and Bakker (2009).

[3] This article takes on and moves forward initial discussion of this concept outlined in Ross, Miriam and Maddy Glen. “ Vertical Cinema: New Digital Possibilities” Rhizomes (forthcoming).

[4] There is a paradoxical public imagining of YouTube’s operation whereby YouTube seems to simultaneously act as a transparent exhibition platform for professionally produced content (music videos, trailers, old movies, high quality promotional videos) and a creative machine for engendering home-video style user videos and their proliferation (Burgess and Green 2009b).

[5] For a discussion of the way YouTube content creators use ordinariness as a trope for suggesting authenticity in vlogs see Tolson (2010).

[6] Although the YouTube page that hosts the video now has a description of who the filmmaker was and a note that says he and the child that was in the car are okay, initially no such description was added and the video was just one of the many videos uploaded to user zidyboby’s prolific channel.

[7]For a discussion of the way previous media texts, particularly 1960s Direct Cinema documentaries, have used similar techniques to suggest unmediated and authentic representation see Arthur (1993).

[8]For example, the vertically framed YouTube video “Seeing her for the first time again,” purportedly showing a man awakening from an operation and not recognizing his wife, was widely believed to be faked (http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/09/10/the_man_with_amnesia_viral_video_may_be_a_hoax.html)

[9] Sites such as Tom Phillip’s http://istwitterwrong.tumblr.com/ features images and videos that have been circulated by traditional news sites and social media sites as purportedly authentic representations of a particular moment or event even as their veracity has been questioned.

[10] Artist Zoe Beloff has used this technology in recent years to make the critically acclaimed Shadow Land or Light from the Other Side (2000) and Charming Augustine (2005), both of which are screened on a portable, vertical screen maintained by Beloff.

[11] It is worth noting that new media applications such as Vine and Instagram produce moving image content in a square format.

[12] The tablet offer an interesting case study in this regard as computer-similar tablets such as the iPad are often seen used in a landscape mode whereas book-similar tablets such as the Kindle Fire are often seen used in a portrait format. In both case, the tablet will be rotated depending on both the functions they are performing (electronic books encourage portrait display, audio-visual content encourages landscape display) and user preferences and habits.

[13] A more recent example would be the vertical films screened at the International Film Festival Rotterdam films that, while made with digital technologies, were printed on 35mm film (Maheshwari 2014).

[14] I would suggest that Vimeo and YouTube have complex complementary and competitive relationships whereby Vimeo has emerged as a space for ‘artistic’ filmmakers who place emphasis on cinematic style whereas YouTube simultaneously appeals to popular, mass audiences and extremely niche interest groups that often have little concern with aesthetic tendencies.

[15]A playful installation, DVD Dead Drop vol.6: “Vertical Video”, by Aram Bartholl was commissioned by MOMA New York to provide audiences with a DVD of amateur videos captured in a portrait format along with instructions for adjusting a home theatre or other viewing environment to properly experience the works (http://datenform.de/blog/vertical-video-dvd/)


Bio: Dr Miriam Ross is Lecturer in the Film Programme at Victoria University of Wellington. She is the author of South American Cinematic Culture: Policy, Production, Distribution and Exhibition (2010), as well as publications on film industries, stereoscopic media, film festivals and new digital technologies.

Editorial: Intermediations — Kevin Fisher & Holly Randell-Moon

This special issue developed out the Intermediations symposium held at the University of Otago on May 31, 2013,[1] and on the invitation of keynote speaker and Refractory Editor, Angela Ndalianis. Presenters at this symposium who have contributed essays here include Kirsten Moana Thomson (the other keynote speaker), John Farnsworth, Kevin Fisher, and Miriam Ross. Topics at the symposium ranged across the terrain of intermedia and transmedia theory, provoking new lines of inquiry on both fronts, and drawing into question the complex relationships between the two emerging paradigms. It is from the extended conversations during and following the symposium that the issue expanded to include essays by Anne Cranny Francis, Rosemary Overell, and Holly Randell-Moon. Some of these essays directly engage the intermedia/transmedia relationship. Kirsten Moana Thompson explores the affinities between animation and more ephemeral forms of theatrical exhibition at Disney theme parks in terms of the sensual dimensions of colour. Rosemary Overell considers the affective intermedial dimensions of the reception and blogging practices surrounding the rehab-based reality TV show Intervention (A&E Network, 2005-2013). Anne Cranny Francis analyses the development of the Sherlock Holmes story world within the convergence culture of transmedia.

Other essays, while working more decisively on one side of the inter/trans spectrum, challenge or expand upon existing approaches in ways that suggest new dialogues. Miriam Ross’s essay investigates sociotechnical debates around vertical framing that issue from the convergence of video and cell phone technologies, and explores their implications within her own media practices. John Farnsworth combines psychological theories of ‘attachment’ with affect studies to suggest how mobile devices simultaneously augment and substitute for social relations. Kevin Fisher describes how the use of 3D imagery in the documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010) stages the intermedial encounter between a human and pre-human consciousness. Holly Randell-Moon analyses how allusions to civil rights advocacy and debate in True Blood (HBO, 2008-2014) work in the service of the biopolitical management of difference under the aegis of transmedia consumer participation. Together, the essays constitute a critical inquiry into the emergence of inter- and transmedia in the disciplines of media, cultural and film studies and how these terms both illustrate and re-ignite sociotechnical forces and debates in digital media and convergence culture. In the following section, we offer a brief genealogy of inter/trans media analysis, focusing specifically on the terms’ phenomenological and ideological valences in scholarly reception and utility.

In between and among: a brief tracing of inter/trans media analysis

Over the past two decades academic discussions of intermediality and transmediation have undergone a parallel development within the context of what Henry Jenkins describes as digital convergence culture. However, the exponents of each have, with few exceptions, tended to talk past one another. This is paradoxical insofar as the phenomena they respectively describe are often intertwined in the media examples they differently engage. While transmedia analysis has been primarily concerned with the distribution of narrative across media platforms, intermedial analysis has interrogated the internal singularity and ‘specificity’ of those same medialities. The experience of transmediation involves the participation of interpretive communities in the co-creation of stories and the enactment of story worlds. By contrast, intermedial experience unfolds within the heterogeneous spaces generated along the various intersections of medial forms and traces within a given medium.

The subject of transmedia combines the active viewer of cultural studies and the social media user within an expanded understanding of narrative as an irreducible component of human experience, cognition and social activity. This anthropological notion of homo narrativus is shared by the academic methods of transmedia analysis as well as creative methods of transmedia storytelling co-emergent with commercial practices such as viral marketing. Scholarly interest in this ‘new’ form of storytelling can be traced to Alvin Toffler’s development of the term ‘prosumer’, coined to describe a shift in audience and consumer activity that was more self-directed, individualised and selective than the traditional mass media model of consumption and production (1980). Following on from this work, Axel Bruns (2008) and Henry Jenkins (2006) have explored how the ‘produser’ repositions the production and communication flows of media content from media companies and creators to the consumer/user. As Jenkins explains, “Reading across the media sustains a depth of experience that motivates consumption” (2003) and “A good transmedia franchise attracts a wider audience by pitching the content differently in the different media” (2003). Audiences can read media texts with an awareness of their transmedial dimensions or they can consume different media forms in isolation whilst still being interpellated into a broader transmedia story. Jenkins’ development of transmedia is thus an attempt to capture the new specificities of medial engagement that have emerged from digital convergence and new media formats. He identifies a number of transmedia modes of communication which include: transmedia storytelling, transmedia branding, transmedia performance, transmedia ritual, transmedia play, transmedia activism, and transmedia spectacle (2011). [2]

There are two important implications to be drawn from this type of cross-media communication. The first is that transmedia forms of communication require an explicit appreciation of the intertextual (though not necessarily intermedial) elements of storytelling on the part of media producers. The second is that this type of media storytelling and communication recognises the social character of narrative and textual construction. Writing about transmedia fan activity, Jenkins speaks of “a new kind of cultural power emerging as fans bond together within larger communities, pool their information, shape each other’s opinions, and develop a greater self-consciousness about their shared agendas and common interests” (2007, 362-363). Kaarina Nikunen also suggests that fan activities reveal “the institutional and technological spaces of shaping the pleasures of media” which also “possibly reshape […] audience practises more widely” (2007, 111). What this type of media engagement does is shift political and ideological discussion of audiences’ (pleasurable and social) involvement in meaning making from the passive/active consumer debate to questions of the audience’s role in the economy of media production and consumption.

It is this seeming incorporation of fan and audience desire into the narratives of media production that has generated scepticism about the extent to which produsage challenges or subverts existing media structures. S. Elizabeth Bird for example, points out that “True produsers are a reality, but they are not the norm, and can often seem to be so in thrall to big media and technological ‘coolness’ that they accept the disciplining of their creative activities” (2011, 512). Indeed, the end goal of transmedia branding according to social media marketer Rick Liebling is “creating an environment that is so authentic and compelling that when consumers do generate their own content that utilizes your brand, they do so in a way that is in line with your existing messaging” (2011; emphasis in original). For this reason, fan activity as a form of produsage qua consumer action (or more idealistically, resistance) may also be understood as “a form of market-sanctioned cultural experimentation through which the market rejuvenates itself” (Holt, as cited in Kline 2009, 32). The critical distance between a marketing approach to transmedia activity and a more scholarly one is the extent to which audience activity can instantiate resistance or subversion to existing media and communication hierarchies. Indeed, such concerns as they relate to media’s enmeshment in other political institutions specifically inform Randell-Moon’s essay in this issue.

One of the more salient critiques of transmedia analysis is that medial specificity is subsumed within the overall importance of the story, even if as Jenkins argues, transmedia storytelling relies neither on the continuity nor homogeneity of its narrative. Still, according to Jenkins, “Most discussions of transmedia place a high emphasis on continuity—assuming that transmedia requires a high level of coordination and creative control and that all of the pieces have to cohere into a consistent narrative or world” (2011). For Ndalianis it is the “holes” within transmedia stories that create opportunities for audience co-creation and performance, and that these types of co-creation are among the most successful examples of transmedia campaigns (2012, 174). Yet, even with its emphasis on the cross-media processes of audience engagement, transmedia still implies a substrate of medial relations where there is an experiential sameness across platforms. As Bernd Herzogenrath notes, the transmedial version of intermediality “is built on the concept that there are formal structures (such as narrative structures) that are not specific to one medium but can be found (perhaps differently instantiated) in different media” (2012, 4). Consequently, transmedia analysis “has the problem that ‘media specificity’ cannot be conceptualized within it” (4). By contrast, the issue of media specificity takes centre stage in Francesco Casetti’s analysis of the “relocation of cinema” as medial form beyond its traditional substrate (2011), which also animates Ross’s examination of the convergence of video and mobile telephony in this issue. This centrifugal thrust of intermedial analysis against the internal coherence and specificity of medialities within what Rosalind Krauss terms “the post medium condition” (1999) provides a counterpoint to the centripetal force of narrative implied in Jenkins’ convergence culture.

In this issue, Cranny-Francis traces the term intermediality back to Roland Barthes, where he appeals to the interdisciplinarity required by new cultural objects that defy prevailing codes and classifications. She argues that intertextuality, in Mikhail Bakhtin’s sense of “heteroglossia”, provides the methodological link between intermedial and transmedial analysis. Transmedia storytelling is, in important ways, an inherently intermedial phenomenon because it depends on and generates engagement with media texts as multiple and heterogeneous. The forms of reading and engagement across transmedia stories, as outlined by Jenkins, have similarities with intermedia defined by Herzogenrath as “between the between” (2012, 2) in the sense that “we can only refer to media using other media” (3). In relation to what Cranny-Francis describes as a process of endless intertextual deferral, Herzongenrath observes: “Individual media do not exist in isolation, to be suddenly taken into intermedial relations. Intermediality is rather the ontological condition sine qua non, which is always before ‘pure’ and specific media, which have to be extracted from the arch-intermediality” (4). The intermedial thus constitutes “the quicksand out of which specific media emerge” as well as “the various interconnections” made possible between the audience and different types of media (3).

Other contemporary theorists, such as Ágnes Pethő (2011) and Joachim Paech (2011), insist that intermediality is altogether distinct from intertextuality, which reproduces the privileging of narrative characteristic of transmedia, conflating relations between stories with intersections between medialities. Pethő, for example, describes intermedial experience as extra-narrative, extra-representational, and a-signifying. Hence, “it cannot be read” (2011, 67). Rather, as an encounter with the ‘in-between’ generated along the interstices of different medial forms and traces, intermediality makes itself felt on the prereflective level of embodied sensation. Hence, for Pethő, and contributors Moana-Thomson as well as Fisher, intermediality is an irreducibly phenomenological experience. Other essays, such as those by Farnsworth and Overell draw upon affect studies and non-representational theory to approach the embodied aspects of intermediality that escape both medium-specific and hermeneutic containment of media texts. For example, Farnsworth explores the affective and psychoanalytical dimensions of attachment as a constituent feature of embodiment and sociality that become augmented or constrained through mobile technologies.

However, the emphasis of the intermedial on embodiment and affect over interpretation has also informed some strains of transmedia theory, in particular Ndalianis’ work on transmedia horror as predicated on affective participation in a particular “sensorium” (2012). The focus of intermedial analysis on the heterogeneous spaces and experiences between medialities also complements the methodological and historiographical projects of media archaeology (Elsaesser 2005, 2009; Huhtamo and Parikka 2011; Parikka 2012) and remediation (Bolter and Grusin 1999). Paech, for example, echoes Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s logic of remediation by arguing that film has always been intermedial, though its experience as such becomes more pronounced or “hypermediated” during historical periods characterised by intensified sociotechnical change (1999). At this moment in time, renewed interest in medial co-creation is heightened by the shifting economies of convergence culture and the post-medium environment, in whose context the paradigms of intermedial and transmedial analysis will continue to be subject to the same exchanges and mutations as the medialities they describe. Such mutations occur, we would argue, as intermediations between audience, text, screen and body as a constitutive feature of medial meaning and sensation.

In this issue, we offer some intermediations on the changing dynamics of mediality in relation to embodiment, media specificity, and audience participation in and performance of textuality. We hope you enjoy reading the essays.



Bird, Elizabeth S. 2011. “Are We All Produsers Now? Convergence and Media Audience Practices.” Cultural Studies 25 (4-5): 502-516.

Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. 1999. Remediation: Understanding New Media.Cambridge: MIT Press.

Bruns, Alex. 2008. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond: From Production to Produsage. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Casetti, Francesco. 2011. “Back to the Motherland: The Film Theatre in the Postmedia Age.” Screen 52 (1): 1-12.

Elsaesser, Thomas. 2005. “The New Film History as Media Archaeology.” Cinemas 14 (2-3 Spring): 75-117.

Elsaesser, Thomas. 2009. “Archaeologies of Interactivity: Early Cinema, Narrative and Spectatorship.” In Film 1900: Technology, Perception, Culture, edited by Klaus Kreimeier and Annemone Ligensa, 9-22. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Herzogenrath, Bernd. 2012. “Travels in Intermedia[lity]: An Introduction.” In Travels in Intermedia[lity]: ReBlurring the Boundaries, edited by Bernd Herzogenrath: 1-14. Lebanon, NH: Dartmouth College Press.

Huhtamo, Erkki and Jussi Parikka, editors. 2011. Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Jenkins, Henry. 2003. “Transmedia Storytelling.” Technology Review, January 15. Accessed June 28, 2014. http://www.technologyreview.com/news/401760/transmedia-storytelling/.

Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York: New York University Press.

Jenkins, Henry. 2007. “Afterword: the future of fandom.” In Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World, edited by Jonathan Gray, Cornel Sandvoss and C. Lee Harrington, 357-364. New York: New York University Press.

Jenkins, Henry. 2011. “Transmedia 202: Further Reflections.” Confessions of an Aca-Fan, August 1. Accessed April 28, 2014. http://henryjenkins.org/2011/08/defining_transmedia_further_re.html.

Kline, Stephen. 2009. “Ronald’s New Dance: A Case Study of Corporate Rebranding in the Age of Integrated Communication.” In The Advertising Handbook (3rd edition), edited by Helen Powell, Jonathan Hardy, Sarah Hawkin and Iain MacRury, 24-33. London: Routledge.

Krauss, Rosalind. 1999. “A Voyage on the North Sea”: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Liebling, Rick. 2011. “Intermedia—The Next Phase in Consumer Engagement.” How Soon is Now?: Culture in a 24/7 World, September 11. Accessed April 28, 2014. http://www.rickliebling.com/2011/09/11/intermedia-the-next-phase-in-consumer-engagement/.

Ndalianis, Angela. 2012. The Horror Sensorium: Media and the Senses. Jefferson: McFarland Publishing.

Nikunen, Kaarina. 2007. “The Intermedial Practises of Fandom.” Nordicom Review 28 (2): 111-128.

Paech, Joachim. 2011. “The Intermediality of Film.” Acta Univ. Sapientiae, Film and Media Studies 4: 7-21. Accessed May 7, 2014. http://www.acta.sapientia.ro/acta-film/C4/Film4-1.pdf.

Parikka, Jussi. 2012. What is Media Archaeology? Cambridge: Polity Press.

Pethő, Ágnes. 2011. Cinema and Intermediality: The Passion for the In-Between. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Toffler, Alvin. 1980. The Third Wave. New York: Bantam Books.



Ball, Alan. True Blood. 2008-2014. USA: HBO.

Herzog, Werner. 2010. Cave of Forgotten Dreams. USA: Sundance Selects.

Mettler, Sam. Intervention.2005-2013. USA: A&E Network.



[1] The “Intermediations” Symposium was organised by Catherine Fowler and Paul Ramaeker in conjunction with the Screen Cultures Research Group and the Department of Media, Film and Communication at the University of Otago.

[2] Of these types of transmedia communication, transmedia storytelling and branding appear to have captured scholarly and popular interest above the other significant and no less interesting forms of transmedia identified by Jenkins.