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On the Formal Aesthetics and Politics of Transmedial Superhero Series in Contemporary American Film and Television

Associated Project G

The project examines contemporary televisual and cinematic takes on comic book superheroes – like Marvel Studios' string of interconnected film and television releases under the banner of the 'Marvel Cinematic Universe' (The Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, etc.), recent adaptations of DC properties like Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, the films Man of Steel and Superman Returns, or the TV series Arrow. Proceeding from the idea that a combination of different dimensions of serialization – namely, (multi-)linear serial storytelling, a transmedial serialization of content across different media formats, and the non-linear seriality typical of remakes and adaptations – is central to the commercial success and popular appeal of these productions, the project seeks to identify the formal strategies by which these texts engage their audiences in sustained, ongoing, and culturally productive reception practices.

The project argues that by employing complex, multidimensional modes of serialization, these texts encourage their viewers to engage in particularly time-consuming, laborious, cognitively challenging, and, ultimately, economically productive reception practices – a development that signals a redefinition of the relationship between work and leisure, between recreational media consumption and professional content production. By exploring how popular superhero film and television series encourage such culturally and economically productive practices on the part of their audiences – as well as by charting how the continued proliferation of contemporary series hinges on such unpaid activities of viewers – the project attempts to contribute to the articulation of a critical aesthetics of popular seriality in the digital age.

 

The project is supported by a full-time PhD scholarship from the Graduate School of North American Studies at the John F. Kennedy-Institute, Free University Berlin.

 

Research Associate: Felix Brinker, M.A., Graduate School of North American Studies, FU Berlin.