In the period where film and video narratives were popular cultural forms intended for the largest mass audiences on an international as well as national level, linearity as a narrative principle was critical. The codes of linear narrative—the goal-directed main character, the antagonist so superior in his counter-goal as to make a hero of the main character, the linear plot veering from point to counterpoint with an accelerating speed, and, of course, the inevitable resolution which justified all that had proceeded it—are portable, moving from one story to another, transported form one country to another, and from one medium to another. This is the system of storytelling is necessary in a period of mass audiences.
But what happens when the audience fractures? What happens when there are films and videos produced for particular age groups, particular interest groups, gender groups, educationally levelled groups, corporate culture groups, media-suspicious groups? In the digital age, with many channels (500-plus), the audience will fragment into a large number of specialty audiences. Under these circumstances, modes of storytelling also can be modified to take into account the pattern of desire, thought, and belief of these subgroups. In this new environment, the opportunity to move away form linear narrative, and to experiment with narrative styles is simply a fact of the digital age. If the makers don't experiment with new styles, they may find the audiences taking the means of production into their own hands. The accessibility of the means of production in the digital age will force filmmakers to reach out and to define those means with their audience. This very impulse lies at the heart of the success of Quentin Tarantino, Mary Harron, and Spike Lee. They have fashioned a style that helps them define and communicate with their audience.
Linearity served its purpose. It will not disappear, but nonlinearity will now assert itself more aggressively. The digital age demands new narrative styles for the new but fragmented audience of the age.
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