Meatpuppets & Transmedia Storytelling

In the early days of online politics, we invented a way to unfold key points of a campaign’s narrative in different online niches — depending on which demographic we needed to clue in. For example, the 2,100,000 active bloggers in the atheism subReddit could be counted on as a receptive audience for messages warning about theocratic Governor Huckabee, and for fundraising for the secular group “Doctors Without Borders” rather than faith-based charities.

Some strategists proposed using meatpuppets – a practice like sockpuppetry, except you drop the intel in online conversation using real interns or real staff identities versus invented personas. Most politicians and political organizations feared blowback from opponents, so almost every linkdrop came from the organization’s official office accounts. Also, we usually linked to some news story that was already out there on the internet rather than a leak.

But this fear doesn’t need to exist in entertainment. Storytellers should consider how to unfold supporting points in your narrative plot through more than one medium – using character or storyworld identities.

What books are your characters reviewing on What do those books say about that character’s frame of mind? Plans? Feelings?

Alan MooreThere is this tradition in graphic novels of what artist Grant Morrison called “Fiction Suits.” The fiction suit is most often used in books exploring alternate realities – when the storyteller breaks the fourth wall in a way that also reinforces what the graphic novel is trying to say about the nature of fiction and reality.

Vikram Gandhi’s documentary “Kumare” raises this very question – that of a storyteller’s responsibility to fact as an entertainer (versus as a journalist). Kumare lied to tell the truth. It appears that the only people who couldn’t see the difference between a lie and what Vikram Gandhi did were reporters who felt that documentary film should be long-form journalism.

As Peter Vamos at the Banff World Television Festival said, “Over the next 10 years, literally what we consider traditional ways of telling stories are going to completely fall apart. TV’s survival depends on multi-platform programming, social media and interaction.”

Maybe it’s time TV storytellers consider their stories to be bigger than one medium.

The “Jenkem” story is a case where a complete fiction was picked up by press and parroted. If your TV show is about gullible reporters… then what’s wrong with “getting caught” while spreading a fake story?

Jimmy Kimmel knows this. The viral video with the Twerking Fail was a hoax staged by ABC’s late-night host. He got 9.3 million people to watch the video online… which led to Kimmel’s reveal:

“Even though the video was fake, that did not stop hundreds of news outlets from showing it. Some people even blamed Miley Cyrus, as if this was her fault,” Kimmel joked.

Kimmel then aired a montage of clips from TV shows that reported on the video as if it were real, including ABC’s own The View, CBS’ The Talk and MSNBC. So what if Kimmel had been building toward something other than a gotcha? This could have been a plot point in a larger narrative.

Personally, I like the idea of planting “true” stories within media outlets that will help build the world of your story. Think of it as lighting a fuse outside the TV show for a bomb that goes off in the plot. No need to maliciously goad gullible reporters into copy-and-pasting make-believe information.

Consider though, does getting “caught” in a lie somehow contribute to what your plot is trying to say? If so, you should want to get caught. If getting sued contributes to what you’re trying to say, you should hope for a very public lawsuit.

It is a game of getting and keeping eyeballs. Throw out the rule book. Play hard.

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