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Franchise Cultures

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Organizer: Benjamin Robertson

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The term “franchise” has long refered to a production model that develops a consistent storyworld in order to leverage this world indefinitely as intellectual property. The James Bond films provide an early example of this production model, with Star Trek, Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and countless other franchises following. However, film and other forms of media scholarship have not sufficiently addressed franchise beyond its status as a production model. This seminar aims to think about franchise in other, more pressing terms, as more than a collection of individual texts in multiple media and on multiple platforms. Rather, it asks whether we might be able to understand specific franchises as single, coherent objects of interpretation and whether we can consider franchise as a form. What would it mean to think about the Str Wars Universe—which canonically comprises twelve films, four live-action streaming series, four animated television shows, and dozens if not hundreds of comics and novels (with countless more texts of every type planned and in production as we speak)—as a single text, telling a single story? What challenges does this consideration produce for traditional forms of scholarship, which often think of individual texts as belonging to a clear historical moment and understand the text to be finished before the task of criticism begins? The first Star Wars film appeared in 1977, on the heels of the Vietnam War and in the midst of the economic crises of the 1970s. The most recent film appeared in 2019, at the start of the COVID pandemic and three years into the Trump administration. Since that time, three new series have appeared and Lucasfilm has announced future series and other projects that extend the time of the franchise into the mid 2020s, a challenge to any critic who makes a claim about what the franchise means now. If we consider Star Wars as not only a single text but also as a single text beholden in some way to a form, how might we understand this form in its historical context, from the mid-twentieth century on? What is, to borrow from Fredric Jameson, the “content” of this form? What does it tell us about its conditions of production and the subjects who consume it? As franchise increasingly dominates twenty-first-century cultural production in film, television, streaming media, video games, and even prose fiction, such questions must be raised. This seminar invites papers that consider “franchise” and the fictions that franchises produce in as broad a manner as possible, in any media or on any platform whatsoever. It is open to any perspective including: historical, comparative, theoretical, formal, and so on. It especially welcomes papers that consider franchise in the context of race, gender, disability, sexuality, and globalization.

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