Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 (and sometimes Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory) at York University, Canada

Building Imaginary Worlds: Religion and Mythology

Posted on | January 27, 2014 | 1 Comment

Building Imaginary Worlds: Religion and Mythology

Lev Manovich writes that “the new media object consists of one or more interfaces to a database of multimedia material…” and that “this formulation places the opposition between the database and the narrative in a new light, thus redefining our concept of narrative. The “user” of a narrative is traversing a database, following links between its records as established by the database’s creator.” (Lev Manovich – The Language of New Media) In this way new media is a library of information about its imagined world, be it characters, geography, laws, culture etc… I was struck when reading this book how closely this world building, trans-media experience is to many religious structures. Take for example Christianity and its manifestation across varied media, including the use of the book (the bible, also a world building text), performance (seen in a variety of aspects from re-enactments of the crucifixion to the Virgin of Guadalupe pilgrimages), music (church choirs and musicians), food (the sacrement), and painting – the list goes on. Religions are often huge databases of information that are rarely consumed in a linear, single action. While access to the information in this format is vastly different than today’s web, game console, movie and book experience many of the same structures seem to exist. Wolf paraphrases Janet H. Murray as follows, “what she describes is significant in that it reflects the shift in audience attention from the central storyline to the world in which the story takes place, where multiple storylines can interweave in a web of story”. Thinking about this statement allows for a moment of contemplation about story and narrative. Is this accurate? When I think of ‘world’ narratives such as Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, Game of Thrones and X Files (to name only a few), I don’t see an absence of a central storyline. Instead what I see is a shift toward narrative arcs that extend or traverse entire worlds. One can see this shift when looking at the Star Trek series. Voyager involves a series arc, getting home – whereas Star Trek the Next Generation is still episodic. Yes it is true that there are many narratives going on within these larger arcs but how this differs (in terms of storytelling) from any story with multiple characters is questionable. What this ‘world creating’ device does allow for is an extending of the central story over time both figuratively and literally. Whether this extension of literal content is solely motivated by economic demands or is more representative of a human bias or wish to dwell more deeply into the characters, rules and moralities of these imagined worlds is a question in need of more research. Maybe what is happening here is a quest within modern culture to connect, collectively, through these new media’s. Unlike closed, single narrative works – world creating allows for collective participation. “Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths”, as Joseph Campbell would say. In this way these participatory worlds allow for more public dreaming and as such perhaps create more substantial myths – which could account for their overwhelming popularity.


One Response to “Building Imaginary Worlds: Religion and Mythology”

  1. fdibacco
    January 28th, 2014 @ 10:03 pm

    Such an interesting point about religion.
    I agree completely with the idea that participatory worlds and multiple story lines allow for greater audience interest, but I do think that is more present in modern storytelling. A show like Game of Thrones is a great example. There are so many storylines connected only by the fact that they are in the same world. As a viewer, I am really only interested in a few of the stories but follow the show religiously to see my favourite characters. Their merchandise furthers this point. There are very few “Game of Thrones” branded shirts, mugs, etc. Most product is specific to House Stark or House Baratheon (Stannis Forever!) etc, so that you can show which storyline makes you follow the show. Maybe human bias exploited for economic gain?

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