One of my biggest pet peeves in transmedia marketing is what I’ve lovingly dubbed the “diegetic fail.” To fully appreciate why this irks me so darn much, let’s review the basics about diegesis, transmedia engagement, and disappointing merchandise designers. But, first, a picture to illustrate all three:
Diegesis refers to the narrative or plot of any story, but it is typically applied in film studies and is used to reference things the audience experiences that are also occurring within (diegetic) or outside (non-diegetic) the world of the story. Examples of diegetic and non-diegetic elements in Star Wars would be the sound effect of blaster fire and the opening crawl graphic effect, respectively. Luke and company absolutely can and should hear the blasters echoing throughout the corridors, but watching Darth Vader frantically steer the Executor around the words “has dispatched thousands of remote probes into the far reaches of space…” would be incredibly odd.
Transmedia engagement is essential to most forms of fandom and consists of both producers and consumers utilizing multiple platforms through which to disseminate, consume, and reinterpret cultural texts. Much of modern fandom as we know it can be attributed to Trekkie culture, which spawned some of the first fan fiction, cosplay, and communal gathering around a film or television show. More so than all his predecessors–save perhaps Walt Disney, the king of living in a simulated reality–George Lucas leveraged the phenomenon of transmedia engagement and, auteur though he was, decided to negotiate primarily for the merchandising rights to the first Star Wars movie. Decades later, we now take for granted that there’s going to be a web miniseries lead-up to the film, a spin-off television show, a second-screen experience when the film is released on home video, and of course the slew of video games, toys, books, and costumes, and even replica-grade props that afford fans the opportunity to enjoy being “in the world” of their favorite franchises for as long and in as many ways as possible.
Why was my childhood TMNT costume poorly designed? It’s not the plastic mask or the vinyl suit; it’s a (growing) child’s Halloween costume and I was not trying to perform at parties. As far as I was concerned, I was Raphael. I had (foam) ninja weapons and I looked like a miniature rude, crude dude with ‘tude… at least from the front, unless you could see around the mask. But, do you remember the scene where Raphael branded his own under-shell with the logo of the television show and some key art from the comics? Yeah, neither do I. This is what bothers me about “diegetic fails.” These other limitations were acceptable, understandable… diegetic within my own world. However, I will never fully understand why companies feel such a strong need to brand their IP logo onto products which are obviously meant to be enjoyed as diegetic artifacts. Would you have guessed that I was trying to be anything else, had that extra bit of branding not been emblazoned upon my chest?
What motivates this post and all future Diegetic Fail posts is the urge to decry the still-continuing practice of ruining fandom with unnecessary reminders that yes, it’s just a toy and no, you’re not allowed to forget it. Future posts from this series will include more pictures, but also further exploration into all the relevant concepts of why it matters from both cultural and psychological perspectives of communication theory. For instance, how does this needless branding affect immersion? Or, how does it moderate social status in the cosplay community? And, once in a while, I’ll highlight some paratext artifacts that manage to strike a balance between the real world and the ones in which we enjoy playing.