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Top Extratextuals of the Decade

December 24th, 2009 | Jonathan Gray

The lists for best films, TV shows, and music of the decade have already begun, but what about paratexts? What have been the best extratextuals of the 00s?

In no particular order, here are 14 of my top 20. I’m banking on having forgotten some biggies, so I’m hoping my readers will jolt my memory, and I’ll fill in the remaining 6 based on those. After the fold …

1. The Lord of the Rings Platinum Series Special Extended Edition DVDs

These are still the gold (platinum?) standard for DVDs, with an hour or more of extra footage per film, completely woven into the film with full post-production goodies, endless design stills, four commentary tracks, and so forth. They really laid down the gauntlet for what counts as a truly great DVD, and they made bonus materials de rigueur, changing the filmic text in the process.

2. The Disney Princess Line

In the 00s, Disney created its own All-Star team, not of basketball or hockey players, and not for Olympic glory, but of “princesses” for mass profit. It’s an intriguing idea: can you imagine if, for instance, Indiana Jones, John McClane, Dirty Harry, the Terminator, and Jackie Chan all teamed up in one product line? Why limit your extratextuals to one show or one character, in other words? And as anyone with a young girl, a friend or family member with a young girl, or any awareness of pop culture, for that matter, knows, the Disney Princesses have been remarkably successful, uniting from their landmark movies to have all sorts of other adventures in other platforms.

3. Where the Wild Things Are’s entire advertising campaign

Many remember the Arcade Fire song from the trailer, but the rest of the trailer was fantastic, as were the posters, all of which wonderfully captured the other-worldly character of the film. In the process, they helped send a swarm of adults to the film.

4. The Beast – The A. I. ARG

Alternate reality games hardly existed as a form before The Beast. But this wasn’t just one of the first; it was particularly impressive.

5. The Martha Stewart Empire

The post-Star Wars Eighties of host-selling televisions shows such as My Little Pony, Transformers, and GI Joe helped to destabilize notions of what the central product in a textual entourage actually was. But this was all for kids. Martha’s legion of craft and cook books, magazines, linens, utensils, and so forth has shown how lucrative an “after-market” merchandise can prove for adults, too. Transmedia is often seen as an older fanboy or younger fangirl domain, but Martha’s supreme success challenges this.

6. The Iron Man trailer

With multiple million views online, this really is a superb trailer, and is surely responsible for a significant portion of the box office draw by this film of what is otherwise a rather B grade Marvel hero played by a star with a rough past (don’t get me wrong: I really like the film, but I think the trailer played a huge role in getting many other viewers and I into the cinema). The proof is in the pudding of The Onion’s clip here.

7. Lord of the Rings’s Requiem for a Dream song (“Lux Aeterna” / “Requiem for a Tower”)

This piece of music didn’t appear in the trilogy, and its natural context was in a film about strung-out people fucking up their lives in all sorts of nasty, disturbing ways … but it became the theme song for the highest yielding trilogy of the decade, and indeed of film history. It’s also appeared in trailers for Avatar, I Am Legend, Assassin’s Creed, and Lost, and in several ads, the NHL All-Stars skill competition, Sky Sports, numerous mashups, and the Moscow State Circus, amongst many other things.

8. Lost’s transmedia

When a representative of a make-believe company in your television show appears on a talk show to respond to the accusations against said company made by a tell-all novel by a fictional character, you’ve got a pretty elaborate storyworld on your hands. When a billboard for a make-believe airline in that show appears in another show (Flash Forward), when fans can take recruiting exams to join a foundation in that show over the summer, and when your reruns appear with pop-up descriptions of past events, you’re doing even more impressive stuff. In its wake, Heroes learned a lot, as did many other fanboy shows.

9. LiveJournal

A key site for lots and lots of fandom. There’ve been complaints aplenty, power struggles, massive missteps in terms of the site’s policies and running, and its history hasn’t been a peaceful one, but so very much discussion of popular media occurs on LiveJournal.

10. Star Wars Videogames

According to the list in Wikipedia, approximately 60 Star Wars games hit the shelves in the last decade, quite a monumental achievement, and a sign of why that galaxy is never really much further away than the local Game Stop. Moreover, the games range in genre from MMORPGs to educational titles to first person shooters to flying games and so on. To understand Star Wars as a film franchise alone is to sorely underestimate the power of the trilogies’ extratextual Force.

11. Enter the Matrix

When the Wachowski Brothers decided to write their Matrix sequels across media, they created a licensed game that wasn’t simply a run-of-the-mill game with character and place names from an established franchise plastered on them. The game became an active site for the storytelling, with original scenes with the film’s cast members, and with references to the action of the game in the Matrix sequels. It was also a relatively fun game

12. The Family Guy DVDs

The successful sale of these DVDs brought the show back from the dead. Now, in the show’s eighth season, and with it regularly rating extremely well in the Nielsen rankings, it may be hard to remember that once upon a time, FOX canceled it. The heft of those DVD sales forced many to reconsider exactly what counts as meaningful sources of revenue for television, and helped in its small way to decenter ratings as the all and end all.

13. American Idol’s Deal with AT & T

How awesome a deal does AT & T have, when every person who wants to vote for American Idol does so by spending money for them. Evil genius. And while I was about to say that the text messages hardly create meaning for the show, thereby falling short of counting as true extraTEXTuals, in truth I’m sure that they help to personalize the show and one’s control over it, amplifying its pitch at being intimately related to all its fans.

14. The Miley Cyrus / Hannah Montana Best of Both Worlds Tour

There’s devious brilliance in how Disney have seemingly learned to control every aspect of their properties, even the living ones. Hannah Montana is case in point, and the concert tour of Miley Cyrus both in and out of Hannah character (though perhaps not out of Miley character? Or is there even a there there to go in and out of?) blazes a path for their future work (witness the Jonas Bros), and helped to affirm the spinoff concert tour as much more than just an oddity.

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ARGs, bonus materials, lists, trailers

  1. December 26th, 2009 at 03:46 | #1

    Apple’s advertising campaigns can probably be included because the simplicity of the ads (Mac vs. PC, hand navigating the iPhone, iTunes silhouettes, “There’s an app for that”) lend themselves to being parodied. YouTube is flooded with fan recreations of these culture and industry-changing ads.

    Also, “The Simpsons Movie” campaign, which introduced The Simpsonizer website and the Kwik-E-Mart/7-Eleven reverse product placements.

  2. December 26th, 2009 at 11:49 | #2

    @Gladys Santiago
    I’m not sure I call ads for products “extratextuals.” On one level, a product is of course a text, and so ads play a key extratextual role in creating them. So they could. But I didn’t count em for this list.

    And I’m glad you mentioned The Simpsons. I did feel it warranted a spot, but realize that I have a rather overarching bias there. It also led to the fantastic videogame ads and parody too, so if we count it all as one entity, that certainly gets a spot on the list. Thanks, Gladys!

  3. December 28th, 2009 at 16:27 | #3

    Nice list (aside from reminding me of the existence of the Disney Princesses!) – here are a few additional suggestions:

    Any political extratexts warrant mentioning? I’m thinking of the Will.i.am Obama vid as a particularly impressive & influentual example. Jib Jab is another, although quite annoying IMO.

    Colbert Nation needs some representation, as the way the meta-fandom matters in the text itself is quite revolutionary.

    Maybe the Harry Potter Lexicon, and its associated lawsuit with Rowling? Quite important, both as fan-generated references and the court ruling on the limits of fair use.

    And perhaps Wikipedia broadly as a meta-paratext on all things? Where can you find such detailed info about worlds both real and fictional side by side?

  4. September 25th, 2010 at 04:34 | #4

    Star Wars forever! Just played Lego Star Wars, just simple but lot of fun…

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