The popularization of transmedia storytelling has generally been attributed to recent innovations. Twitter, webisodes, fan blogs and other socially interested routes to narrative bolstering have become so commonplace that in trying to garner active fan participation an industry needs only to allow fans a way to do so and can forgo convincing them that it will be worth their time. But these communities are also connected to the brand of shows that sprout them: the cinema and television transmedia landscape is deeply entwined with the plot-driven, often comic book-influenced narrative that requires up-to-date knowledge in descending into topical discussion.
But take AMC’s Mad Men, for example. You could watch the first season, skip the second and start the third without having many questions about what is going on. Many episodes move the story nowhere. This is not an indictment, of course. Most fans of the show watch it not because they are dying to see what happens to the characters but so they can simply see the characters, watch them give a handful of witty one-liners and look dashing as students of misogyny. But fans of Mad Men are no different from fans of the Marvel universe when it comes to a desire for immersion, and so how does the show facilitate this off-screen involvement? On the website, interactive options take this ostensible lack of opportunity and appropriate it to exploit the show’s true value: aesthetics.
This is my fantasized 1960’s ad man version of myself, created using the website’s “Mad Men Yourself” game. Because what does a Mad Men fan truly wish for above all else? To look as though they were on the show of course, and AMC knows this. The sphere of the show is fictionalized, but it is agonizingly romantic because of the sentimentality born from its real-world existence. You secretly suspect you could pull off living the beautifully broken life of the Drapers. Thus, attempts by AMC at world-building (defined by Henry Jenkins as the inducing of an “encyclopedic impulse” by through the fleeting complexity of a story’s fictional world) bleed into relics of the 60’s that are historical. The website has a section called “Scrapbook” that has pictures of some of these items: fictional paraphernalia from SCDP clients alongside actual newspaper headlines, etc. that add realism to the show. There is also a link to the Tumblr page steeping in the grace of well-skirted and well-suited characters.
Leading up to the final episodes, AMC is introducing a competition encouraging fans to recreate their favorite scenes from the first episode and submit them to help in piecing together the entire 45 minutes. It does not just celebrate the show as it nears its end, though; it lets fans literally be a part of Mad Men. The fans can live within the show. “A cultural attractor is anything that draws people to you. A cultural activator is anything that gives those people something to do” (Jenkins). AMC needs to both attract and activate, and this is a crystal example of activation. It is a bludgeoning of the visual element of the show; the episodes themselves give fans all they need to discuss, and when they want to return to the world of Mad Men they probably just want to get dreamy with it.
Jenkins: Future of Media – Cultural Attractors and Activators. Perf. Henry Jenkins. 2011. Film.
Jenkins, Henry. “Transmedia Storytelling 101.” Confessions of an Aca-Fan. 22 Mar. 2007. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.