For Westworld‘s ‘Hosts’, what is the difference between a ‘lived’ experience–say, an interaction with a guest–and an implanted memory? Is the situation analogous to our own experiences of the world versus our experiences of media? Though, unlike the Hosts, we might consciously remember a certain experience of media as an experience of media, the choice of ‘experience’ in the noun phrase is equally meaningful. For fully immersive media, such as we might consider Westworld to its guests (virtual reality, of a kind), all the sensory details are there, no matter how synthetic they may be. In a movie theater, sight and sound are the focus, while the rest of the environment is darkened for better effect. And we love that. Especially in 3-D. But, for less immersive media, the rest of the environment is remembered in the experience only insofar as we ourselves pay attention to it. I can listen to a particular radio play, for instance, over and over again in a thousand different locations. I’ll know that story back to front, but will I remember every experience of it, everywhere I experienced it? Should I even be able to in justifiably valuing that overall experience of that story?
“Some panels and pages [of some erotic comics, like the work of Molly Kiely and Colleen Coover] unfold like snapshots, gesturing at a larger hole that is unrepresented and perhaps unrepresentable.” -Lyndsay Brown, ‘Pornographic space-time and the potential of fantasy in comics and fan art’
My own question, then, isn’t whether unrepresentability is possible in the ways we communicate our narratives–especially our fictions–but how.
Text (for context) and a deleted footnote (the fun part) from the methodology chapter of my dissertation, currently in development:
Superhero comic book culture itself recognizes its own media situation: the Marvel Comic Universe is sometimes, in fandom particularly, referred to as Earth-616, while the Cinematic Universe is conceived of as an ‘alternate dimension’—a variation rather than a derivation—known as Earth-199999.
 This is an intentional distinction on the part of the content creators, but the discursive situation is further complicated by other factors, such as business and politics. For instance, the Spider-Man and X-Men films do not exist in nor recognize the continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe–or each other, for that matter–yet they nevertheless stand in an identifiable proximity to the same Marvel Comic Universe that provided their origins and which, through the assignment of designation numbers, both recognizes them and reserves some potential for mounting future narrative mergers and crossovers featuring them. Their designations are as follows: the Spider-Man series beginning with 2002’s Spider-Man is denoted as ‘Earth-96283’, while the ‘reboot’ is known as ‘Earth-120703’, effectively validating the concomitant canonical existences of both: according to Marvel, both are Spider-Man. The X-Men series, beginning with 2000’s X-Men and extending into the Wolverine franchise constitutes Earth-10005 (though others, such as 2016’s Deadpool and 2017’s Logan, occupy Earth-TRN414; the new television show Legion, meanwhile, takes place in another X-Universe offshoot, Earth-TRN620). Interestingly, the Marvel Database (Marvel.wikia.com) lists the original X-Men film universe, Earth-10005, as ‘destroyed’, due, narratively-speaking, to the timeline-bending events of its ‘last’ film, Days of Future Past, itself a plotline culled from the 616 universe. But it doesn’t end there, the complexities of licensing have also given us, among others, Earths 121698 (beginning with 2005’s Fantastic Four film), 400083 (2003’s Hulk, as opposed to the iteration of the character that appears in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Avengers films, part of the aforementioned 199999), 92131 (cartoons such as X-Men: The Animated Series), 58627 and 58732 (the 1989 and 2004 Punisher films), and even 58470 and 58472 (the Howard the Duck film and its own subsequent comic book adaptation, respectively; ‘58471’, oddly, has no listing).
Our own material reality is designated as Earth-1218, but we also inhabit what Marvel calls the “Omniverse”, which itself comprises:
“every single universe, multiverse, dimension (alternate or pocket) and realm. This includes not only Marvel Comics, but also DC Comics, Image, Dark Horse, Archie, Harvey, and every universe ever mentioned or seen (and an infinite amount never mentioned or seen)…. The Omniverse is EVERY reality, including those published by all other companies. Even fan-fictions, cancelled works, mere thoughts created by people, and fictional universes yet to be published are considered part of the Omniverse, simply put the Omniverse is every version of every type of reality and existence imaginable.”
What have we already named? What do we not yet have a ‘proper name’ for? In English, we tend to rely on ‘thing’ as a placeholder until we’ve come to consensus on a better term–or, at least, until various parties have submitted their respective names for the subject and one or a few have shaken out in regular discourse.
Here, then, maybe the start of that process. What do/should we call those media products that are made to appear within a narrative? Products that, at some level, are still made for us–the real-world audience–yet which don’t directly acknowledge any intended audience but that of the narrative in which they appear? Should we be calling them full-fledged ‘media products’ in the first place, or does their contingency on the larger narrative somehow negate the fact that they were yet produced and can be independently viewed, at least sometimes? For example, see the comic book that appears in the trailer for Logan, a page of which was released via Tumblr, as well as the newscast that serves as the trailer for Stranger Things‘ second season.
Are these ‘inward facing’? ‘Narrative-bound’? ‘Viewer-blind’? None seems entirely accurate for the unusual position of this type, though I’m not yet sure that the two examples cited above are even the same animal themselves. Specifically, the end of the Stranger Things newscast, in which we see only an empty chair, might be the point at which that product specifically stops being for its own narrative realm and starts being only for us.
Suggestions for tagging this phenomenon would be welcome.
Another attempt to summarize my perspective that will only seem inaccurate later:
At this point, it’s seeming as though the only notable difference between narrative and linguistic subjects (fictional characters and real people) is one of physicality in this linguistic, physical realm (lacanian ‘reality’): we linguistic subjects have bodies, narrative subjects don’t and may or may not ever. But, in discourse–communication via representations that pretty much constitutes all media by definition–physicality is what’s precisely not needed, worked around, obviated. So, the distinction between the subject who has a body and the one who doesn’t, at least in how they’re treated, how their identities are socially understood, how they are defined in discourse, doesn’t amount to much.
Especially since we’re also getting around the lack of fictional bodies by making our fictions more realistically interactive in various ways, such as gaming, VR cinema, and even ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ YouTube series.
Would it be fair to characterize M*A*S*H as the story of the death of Henry Blake and its aftermath among those he served with? A kind of bildungsroman that extends past the actual presence of the protagonist whose life–and the effects of that life–it follows?
I might write more on this.
So, I randomly wrote a script for an issue of the Batman comic. This is in no way authorized nor endorsed by DC and I have no plans to make any money from it (unless someone at DC reads it and wants to hire me–in which case, screw academia: gimmie that money!).
So, give it a read. It’s short and you might actually like it.