Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hollywood's new Geek Elite

Can I call them or what? A mere week and a half after I lay out the need for the church to take a serious look at Geek culture, the latest Fast Company arrives, and within is an article on "The Rebel Alliance" .... Hollywood's new geek elite.

These are the creators of all the sci-fi hits that are taking the airwaves by storm: Heroes, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, etc. The article gives a fascinating insight into this creative aspect of geek culture ... it began back in the days of Star Trek and Star Wars .... it began with fandom.

All these uber-creatives were huge fans. Take Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly: “I don’t understand creators who aren’t fans….My experience as a fan was, things that I loved, I loved very hard – Marvel Comics, science fiction, Dickens, Shakespeare, Sondhiem. The things I was a geek about, I was a serious geek about.” This kind of fanatical devotion is what Kevin Roberts analyzes in his book Lovemarks “Today the stakes have reached a new high. The social fabric is spread more thinly than ever. People are looking for new emotional connections. They are looking for what they can love. They are insisting on more choice, they have higher expectations, and they need emotional pull to help them make decisions. And finally, they want more ways to connect with everything in their lives -- including brands.” These creative elites intuitively understand that fans feel passionate about the imaginitive worlds, and they will want to play in them .... creators need to give those fans room in which to play ... and create and expand the universe. In the 70s and 80s this was done through fan conventions and fan fiction. Now it's done through transmedia storytelling.

Transmedia means telling the story across multiple platforms .... allowing multiple points of access into the imaginitive world. This is different from cross-promotion, the old marketing idea that when you made a movie, franchise the rights to McDonalds so you can have the happy meal. This is actually expanding the story in different places.

The article uses the TV show Heroes as an example. Beyond the weekly show, there are graphic novels that explore the lives of some of the minor characters, there are online games that allow you to experience some of the imaginitive world yourself, there are websites for the fictional companies that exist in the show, there are web extras that allow users to get into the commentary from the creators, there are official fan sites that allow fans to submit their own artwork. One could immerse themselves in the story as much as they want.

This really is no great surprise. Pine and Gilmore foretold this kind of transition in their work Experience Economy .... Way back in 2000 they posited that we were moving away from an economy based off goods and services to an economy that provided experiences. Their book detailed a taxonomy of the types of experiences people could enjoy and talked about how businesses of all sorts could transition to the experience economy.

And thus, the question becomes, what can we in the church learn?
1) from Fandom and Lovemarks, we learn something about the nature of committment. Many of the wars that happen within churches do not arise from apathy....they arise from Love. Take the worship wars for instance. The argument over traditional vs contemporary music is not simply an intellectual debate .... music has the power to stir deeply, and when they take "our" music away, they are messing with "our" world. Forget all the rationales one way or another and try to understand this from a fan perspective .... it's not much different than the which is cooler, Star Wars or Star Trek, debate ... The difference in the church is that we're expected to all get along and move forward together. We don't really have the option of saying "those crazy trekkies." and surrounding ourselves in a cocoon of our own preference. Perhaps understanding something of fan mentality will help us have a little more empathy for one another in the church.

2) Using transmedia. We in the church need to figure out ways to do church across multiple platforms. This doesn't mean we set up an "I-church" on Second Life and use that as our sole spiritual experience. that's not transmedia, that's replacing one media with another. Rather, we need to find ways that our multiple media complement each other. I believe that a physical presence in Sunday Worship is absolutely vital to our Christian growth and committment to a community of believers. But are there ways we can tell our story and bond together beyond that. Are there ways we can invite an "extended family" to continue to be a loose part of a congregation? Are there ways we can leverage technology to allow people to easily go deeper should they so desire? Transmedia is much more than setting up a static web-page ... it's creating online experiences that complement what is coming up.

so for instance .... we have a mission trip coming up this Waxhaw, NC. How could we use gaming technology, online experiences, etc, to help extend that mission trip to people who aren't able to physically be there?

Looking forward to your thoughts.
Soli Deo Gloria