Week 9 Private Post: Joel Arellano

Canzo Empyrean and the Economy of Intrigue

The relationships between people and media described in Spreadable Media seemed fresh as well as consonant with my own experience. While Gere explored the history and system trends in the progress of digital culture, Jenkins et al did more to frame and describe our daily engagement with commercial media. I was most intrigued by Spreadable Media’s description of an extended media universe, and I’m glad they used the example of the Matrix website (offline now; caches available via webarchive.org). The site, initially hosted at whatisthematrix.com, was my first experience with an extended media universe, and I found it fascinating. I spend hours scouring out all the easter eggs on the site, mostly by searching the internet for info left by others who’d done the same- a process very similar to that depicted in the first film as Neo tries to answer the site’s eponymous question. The site slowly made more and more information available, which rewarded diligent followers of the site with content that wouldn’t be commercially available to the public for more than a year. This raises an important point, since increasing the depth of a media universe raises the requisite need for cognition among audiences who will access that content, and narrowing the public for whom the media is available diminishes the degree to which extended universe content is directly available to the public. For these reasons, I think it’s fair to say that the media of extended universes is semi-public– there are no firm barriers to direct public engagement, but access requires work.

The reintroduction of work to digital content reverses the digital trend of information coming quickly and easily. Similarly, it also reverses the devaluation of information so gained. Adam Smith posited that value is imbued in a product by mixing work with it, and this is very much the case with extended media universes. Easter eggs, the precursor of extended media universes, are smaller instances of the same principle- they consist of extra content hidden in video games and digital movies, which is only accessible to viewers who know where to look, what to do, and when to do it. But the value of extra content can’t be understood solely in the economic terms of work and scarcity. Extended content is valuable for a more fundamental reason- we want to hear the rest of the story. Humans long to comprehend. We long for conclusion, finality, and completeness. Our desire to systematize and make sense of the world around us drives our every advancement. It is the seed of both religion and rationalism. Even before Cervantes contended with imposters’ false sequels to the first book of Don Quixote, there was the 1,001 Nights. There are the gnostic books of the Bible, and myriad variations on the lives of Greek gods born out in plays. And only by locating our impulse to know at this essential level of our being can we appreciate the scope and immutability of the extended story.

Sequels, remixes, reimagined content, and supplementary material satisfy our thirst for knowledge as well as our pleasure at the enchanting suspension of disbelief when we don’t want the ride to end. They offer meaning and value to consumers in any medium, from fan fiction to the exploding Marvel Universe (the latter of which, by exploiting every conceivable medium, offers an archetype for the future of commercial entertainment). The tenacity of this human characteristic is evident in Canzo Empyrean (SFW, subsequent links on this page NSFW), a transmedia phenomenon based on a film inspired by a cartoon based on a toy. Virtually no one on earth has seen the film Canzo Empyrean (NSFW) since copies are scarce, yet the richness of the digital world of Canzo Empyrean has raised it to cult status. The Canzo extended media universe is still live online half a decade after the original film was released, and it’s just as intriguing as the Warner Bros.-funded Matrix site. Lesson? Intrigue is the most underrated, powerful, and essential tool available in strategic communication, precisely because it lurks under the radar of marketing bean-counters’ metrics. Widely exposed, objects of intrigue become commonplace and evaporate. The enchanting power of intrigue is derived from its guarded status, apprehended through work by those dedicated enough to pursue it. Canzo Empyrean is emblematic of the new economy of digital culture- it preserves value by maintaining obscurity amid cheap noise.

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