*Caveat: sorry for all the hardcore academia speak, this post is a submission for one of my media classes at uni. Thought some of you might still enjoy this even though it is heavier than the usual PBJ content.
Movies: You see the posters, you view the trailer, maybe trawl through reviews, and then you commit to watching for a couple of hours. It’s all a contained experience, right? Right. It’s all contained, between the printed posters, the televised trailer, the newspaper/magazine/online reviews, the blogging hype, the filmmakers’ publicity stunt, the word-of-mouth rumors surrounding production scandals…hopefully you see the irony of this statement by now. What was a contained experience not all that long ago is now a metatextual machine that melds the codes and conventions of other media.
A few days ago I made the happy discovery of something that confirmed my view of this “contained experience”: the Monsters University website. Take a virtual campus tour, buy your own MU memorabilia, or check up on Greek Life including Roar Omega Roar! The site is nearly impeccable on detail in terms of imitating a real university website.
I felt many things about this website, mostly joy and confusion. I suspect the joy of it comes from some kind of wrinkle in time: one of my favourite adolescent movies [Monsters Inc.] meets biggest life commitment at present [university study]. The appeal is somewhat generation limited: those who will get the biggest kick out of this site are people who grew up with Monsters Inc. and who are either in university or close to it [the point being they know what a uni website looks like]. Even so, by combining the nostalgia of the original movie with the familiarity of university websites, this marketing scheme achieves a transcending experience that I wouldn’t have had with either factor in isolation. Metatextual cues and codes likes the layout and /edu suffix on the webpage address all factor into this experience. As well, the fact that you can actually purchase MU memorabilia confused me at first in trying to suss out what was real and what wasn’t. The offering of a four-armed hoodie didn’t help.
By honing in on this metatextual experience, I would argue that the movie’s marketers are appealing to a packaged experience similar to amusement parks. I was certainly amused, anyways.
The implications of all this highlight two trends in technoculture:
- The amalgamation of media platforms in marketing practice and
- The blurring lines between truth and fiction in popular media
Admittedly these trends are not mutually exclusive and have overlapping implications. The amalgamation of media platforms is certainly not a new marketing practice, but one that has dramatically increased in recent times as traditional marketing has been all but tuned out by consumers. The overload of information on the Internet and the ability to access television shows without actually watching a television mean that audiences and their attentions are more splintered than ever. In order to grab and maintain our attentive gaze, marketers have had to infiltrate new and unusual spaces. As said before this promotional approach has been used, to varying degrees, by other films like The Blair Witch Project and District 9. What these examples share with the Monsters University website is an emphasis on the importance of diegetic creation, and not just a contained diegesis, but one that implicates the real world. Such a methodology provides the benefits of a unique cultural engagement, however it could also mean we’re becoming less aware of how and when we are being marketed to.
This implicating the real world by marketing in unconventional spaces brings up the other trend of blurring boundaries between fact and fiction. The Blair Witch Projectis infamous for its viral marketing campaign and the real world panic it created; summed up by the forum plea from one fan that reads “Please Help Me; All I want to know is: is it real or not?” To a lesser degree, I see my confusion about the online memorabilia store as a similar phenomena. My easy recognition of the website’s fiction, from its association with the movie and the fact that I would have definitely visited such a place if it really existed, is compromised by the possibility of material extraction. This confusion, like that surrounding The Blair Witch Project, adds to my sense of media skepticism. I thus am that much more inclined to question the fictional or factual status of everything I encounter on the Internet. Which is fair enough, one should question the information one is fed. At what point, though, is everything we read on the Internet assumed false until proven true?
New media practices like metatextual marketing and mockumentary film undermine traditional and supposedly trustworthy media. I asked the ‘false until proven true’ question simply as devil’s advocate. The trend of increased media skepticism means/would mean a more informed and independently thinking public…right? Or maybe it means/would mean a confused and indeterminate public that accepts next to nothing from the media as truthful? Again, I play devil’s advocate. I believe the developed world is moving in the skeptic direction (simultaneous with increased secularism) but that such a movement will settle in a balanced territory.