On Being Cinematic in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Medium Specificity in Transmedia Storytelling and Media Franchising

Conference presentation at the Sydney Screen Studies Network (SSSN) Symposium,

University of New South Wales

8 December 2017

It was great to attend and present at the Sydney Screen Studies Network‘s 2017 Symposium earlier this month, focused on the topic “Intersections in Film and Media Studies”. Full symposium program available here

The Avengers (2012)

My presentation reworked my thesis methodology to consider the role of medium specificity within the context of transmedia franchising.

“On Being Cinematic in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Considering Medium Specificity in the Era of Transmedia Storytelling and Media Franchising”


Transmedia storytelling and media franchising are modes of creative and industrial practice that reflect the pervasiveness of media multiplicity in contemporary screen media culture. In this context, cinema is arguably no longer foregrounded as the creative centrepiece of the entertainment landscape; rather, it can exist in dialogue, confluence, and even tension with other media platforms, like television, video gaming, comic books, and theme parks. For this reason, the emergent critical intersection between cinema and media studies has encouraged a shift away from medium specificity as an analytic approach to textuality—which is now arguably considered an outdated form of media purism—towards a heightened focus on the influences and confluence across media forms.

This paper argues that, in the context of transmedia storytelling and media franchising, the study of media specificity is more relevant than ever to understanding the nature and function of media multiplicity. In Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins seminally defines the ideal form of transmedia storytelling as the organised dispersal of a story world across multiple media platforms. Moreover, Jenkins provides an often understated qualification to this definition: he specifies that, in strategically organising story worlds across multiple media, “each medium does what it does best” (2006, 96). This paper considers the implications of this statement for cinema in relation to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as a compelling case study.

The MCU is a transmedia franchise that assembles and expands a narrative world across media platforms; in this way, it follows the creative premise “it’s all connected,” as it interweaves character development and plot across multiple iterations and mediums. Paradoxically, the MCU foregrounds the ‘cinematic’ as the media centrepiece of its branding strategy. Therefore, in considering the role of media specificity in the context of transmedia franchising, the MCU incites questions about what it means to be ‘cinematic’ in the context of its strategically organised transmedia universe.

Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: NYU Press.

Question time with Adam Daniel (Western Sydney University) and Kim Yen Howells-Ng (UniMelb)

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