My last panel for SxSW was unusually disappointing. “Future of Visual Storytelling is interactive. Or is it?” As a narratologist, I decided that this would be the most interesting way to finish this great festival. Looking at the title, I rightfully assumed (along with a lot of other people in the audience) that this would problematize the one sided-view of the future of storytelling as an ultimately an interactive model. And to some extent it kinda did, but not quiet. The panel, despite the fact that it was made up of some smart people who lead the entertainment business, had really little understanding of what narrative was. The model that was presented within the first five minutes was shockingly binary: on the one had we had the “passive” story-telling (which implied linear narrative models) on the other end of the spectrum we have “interactive” (which was egregiously labeled as “open-ended”): My reaction: WTF???
My work on performative narratives across various media platforms that included print novels, YouTube (Lonelygirl15), ARGs (Art of the Heist) and Second Life (griefers), informed me, if nothing else, that this model was outdated by at least 30 years. Anyone who has worked on narrative in a meaningful fashion knows that novels,n print stories, and film is not consumed passive and that interactive works are not open-ended. You actively build the story worlds, albeit mentally, or even physically perform certain activities in print novels like actively writing parts of the story, adding to the text, sometimes even deforming the text such as in novels such as Tristram Shandy, Pale Fire, and other postmodern novels. And games, hypertext fictions, or other interactive fiction is not as open-ended as they would like to believe, rather, they are controlled by the game designers who actively control how the story unfolds by designing specific levels. Also, one of the panelists several times referred to Lonelygirl15 as a successful community generated story-telling… Hmmm, I can tell that this person did not go beyond the official EQAL press releases and presentations and had no idea what he was talking about. *sigh* More important, when I brought these two issues up in Q&A, I was shut down by the panelists who asked me if I had a question and whether I had been to the LG15 presentation two years ago.
Actually, that was my question. I wanted the panelist to address my concerns about the basic premise of their panel in a meaningful manner rather than publicly rebuking me of challenging them and, no, I had not been in the LG15 panel of SxSW. But I didn’t have to as I conducted research for the last year following the videos and talking to a lot of people in the LG15 community and I was smart enough to question the validity of some of the hype beneath it. Apparently, the panelist was totally taken in by these marketing strategies that the company put out to promote their brand and, what they refer to as “social shows.” Good for EQAL, bad for those in SxSW who don’t question them. I was shouted down (by the panelists no less) as a a trouble maker (and even a griefer) who was raising uninformed questions that weren’t relevant to marketing at all. One of the audience members tapped my shoulder and said “I think you are looking from an academic perspective, they are looking at it from a marketing perspective.” I ask, are they totally unrelated? Just because their goal is to brand and sell stuff, they can’t bother themselves with getting informed with the things that are being put out on the other side of the fence. If I were to ask “what is wrong about the future of story-telling?” I would answer that it is this unquestioning attitude that accepts everything as brilliant without enough research and investigation. So beyond the mere case studies, the panel hardly questioned its premise “Future of Visual Storytelling is interactive. Or is it?” So my next couple of blog posts will explore these two issues I raised in the panel and hopefully give them some insight as to what I saw as the basic flaw of their panel.