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How the Digital Generation is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories

by Frank Rose

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-393-07601-1
Publisher: Norton

The media discovers that the best way to sell a commodity is with a good, potentially interactive story.

After the success (and legal battles) of mass-market movie tie-ins for commodities like Star Wars, fans today are encouraged to write their own stories and flesh out the details of their favorite obscure plotlines and characters. Just like Homer retelling The Iliad, fans love to author their own escapes, even if they’re unoriginal. But why feed the avarice of the techno-schizoid media masquerade hosted by mega-rich executives? Because, as Wired contributing editor Rose (The Agency: William Morris and the Hidden History of Show Business, 1995, etc.) writes, storytelling is genetic. The author, dealing primarily with the history of storytelling and consumer desires and skillfully circumventing predictable stabs at psychology and sociology, finds that it’s the fault of mirror neurons in our brains. Mirror neurons allow us to experience what we perceive as if we were actually performing the perceived act ourselves, albeit to a lesser degree. The video game Grand Theft Auto, for instance, rewards felonious criminal behavior as your digital homunculus runs amok. Mirror neurons, however, trigger impulses in your brain that fire as if you were actually committing the crimes in real life—suggesting that, at the very least, there are real consequences, and possibly real rewards, to immersive entertainment. Stories have always been immersive, but digital technology makes them omnipresent—see the massive popularity of Lost, The Sims and other TV shows, movies and video games. So, like it or not, you’re likely already immersed. In a country of more than 300 million people, there are millions of devoted fans who prefer to be fettered to headsets and keyboards.

An intriguing snapshot of where media will continue to move in the near future—great for rabbit-hole spelunkers.