C3 Weekly Update

Editor's Note

Welcome to the latest edition of the C3 Weekly Update! With the semester up and running here at MIT, we have a variety of new announcements we'll be making in the month of February about forthcoming events here at the MIT Program in Comparative Media Studies, as well as some new additions here at the Consortium.

Date Set for Spring Retreat

As some of you know, we host an annual spring event here at the Convergence Culture Consortium only open to corporate and academic members of the Consortium. What we hope for is an intimate event in which we present some of the research our team has been working in here in the Consortium, to bring in a series of interesting speakers from our set of consulting researchers and elsewhere, and participate in some collaborative discussions with our corporate partners about developments in the media industries in relation to the areas we've been researching and discussing in C3.

That event will be taking place in the afternoon and evening of Thursday, May 08, and during the day on Friday, May 09. We want to strongly encourage anyone involved with the Consortium--both our consulting researchers and anyone who works for our corporate partners, to set off the calendars and plan to attend. We're going to have details on the event coming out throughout the spring, but we really hope to see several of the C3 community in attendance.

For those of you who have not attended our two previous retreats--entitled "Convergence 2006: There Is No Box" and "Collaboration 2.0" please feel free to contact me for more details on the structure and philosophy of the retreat. Our goal is to provide a balance between the type of meta-level discussions that we encourage in more general events like Futures of Entertainment and elsewhere, combined with specific discussion about the work C3 is doing, benefitting from being a focused internal conversation rather than inviting the general public.

The following entries from the C3 blog give an overview of what was discussed at the previous two retreats, as well as some of the guest speakers who joined us:

C3 Retreat's First Day

The Morning's Sessions Here at the C3 Conference

Afternoon's Brainstorming at the C3 Conference

Collaboration 2.0: An Introduction

Collaboration 2.0: Sam Ford and Soap Operas

Collaboration 2.0: Henry Jenkins and Media Violence

Collaboration 2.0: John Banks and Developer/Gamer Relationships

Collaboration 2.0: Jean Burgess and Vernacular Creativity

Collaboration 2.0: Kevin Sandler and Scooby-Doo

Collaboration 2.0: Robert Kozinets and Star Trek

Collaboration 2.0: Ivan Askwith and TV's Terminology for User Engagement

C3 Weekly Update Calendar

The sidebar calendar that will run alongside the Weekly Update each week provides a look at a variety of CMS and Consortium events coming up in the next few months. If you have questions about any of these events, please contact me directly. Unless otherwise specified, these events take place here at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. Feel free to let us know as well if there are any events that you are participating in which are open to the public that might be good to include on the calendar in the future.

In particular, we have two events coming up this month that the Consortium is directly involved with here at MIT which we would like to encourage you to join us for:

Viral Media: Hows and Whys: Non-traditional and viral marketing campaigns raise questions about the content status of advertising and the authenticity of commercial art. This panel discussion will consider the challenges of engaging audiences in non-conventional ways, looking at the status of viral media and the nature of non-traditional marketing campaigns. Berkman Center Fellow and C3 Consulting Researcher Shenja van der Graaf will moderate the converation with Natalie Lent from Fanscape and Mike Rubenstein of The Barbarian Group (who was one of the featured speakers in the advertising panel at Futures of Entertainment 2.

CMS Research Fair 2008: The Program in Comparative Media Studies will hold its annual Research Fair, a chance to highlight our latest research and bring attention to new research staff and initiatives. In addition to displays in the Stata lobby, this year's event will include a panel discussion with current research staff, led by Henry Jenkins and William Uricchio. This discussion will consider the theoretical contributions of CMS research and the role each initiative plays in the CMS research culture. The panel discussion will begin at 6 PM. Refreshments will be served.

This Week's Weekly Update

This week's C3 Weekly Update features the fourth in a six-part series from C3 Director Henry Jenkins updating his work from Convergence Culture, relating specifically to how participatory elements of sites like YouTube are affecting the 2008 U.S. presidential election. The chapter will appear in the paperback version of the book, as well as an upcoming anthology edited by Jonathan Gray. This week's piece focuses on the range of some of the video content shared through sites like YouTube.

The Closing Note this week begins a new three-part series from C3 Consulting Researcher Stefan Werning, who shares his thoughts on programmable technologies in business contexts.

If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the update, direct them to Sam Ford, Editor of the Weekly Update, at


In This Issue

Editor's Note

Opening Note: Henry Jenkins on the CNN/YouTube Debates, Part IV

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Closing Note: Stefan Werning on Programmable Technologies in Business Contexts, Part I


Thursday, Feb. 21, 5-7 p.m.
Viral Media: Hows and Whys
Featuring Mike Rubenstein. Natalie Lent, and Shenja van der Graaf: Bldg. 2, Rm. 105
Co-sponsored by the Convergence Culture Consortium

Thursday, Feb. 28, 5-7 p.m.
CMS Research Fair 2008
Featuring CMS Research Groups, including the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium: TSMC Lobby and Bldg. 32, Rm. 155, Stata Center

Thursday, March 06-Sunday, March 09
Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference, Philadelphia
Featuring the following presentations:
Understanding Vast Narratives and Immersive Story Worlds by C3 Project Manager Sam Ford
Bond in Bondage: Ratings Creep, Violence, and Casino Royale by C3 Consulting Researcher Kevin Sandler
The Public Sphere in a "Hybrid Media Ecology": YouTube, Network Television, and Presidential Politics by C3 Director Henry Jenkins
Architectures of Participation: Wiki Fandom and the Case of LostPedia by C3 Consulting Researcher Jason Mittell
The People Formerly Known As: What Happens to the Audience When We're All "Users"? by C3 Research Manager Joshua Green
Framing Motion: Early Cinema's Conservative Method's of Display by C3 Consulting Researcher Ted Hovet
Scholarly Writing in the Digital Age workshop featuring C3 Consulting Researcher Jason Mittell
The Future of Television Studies workshop chaired by C3 Principal Investigator William Uricchio
Location Matters: Spatial Logics of Bollywood-Dotcom Convergence by C3 Consulting Researcher Aswin Punathambekar

Thursday, March 06, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Prime Time in Transition
Featuring Howard Gordon, Barbara Hall, and John Romano: Bartos Theater, Wiesner Building, MIT Media Lab

Saturday, March 08, 2-3 p.m.
South by Southwest Interactive Opening Remarks
Featuring C3 Director Henry Jenkins and Steven Johnson, Austin, TX

Thursday, March 13, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Global TV
Featuring Eggo Müller, Roberta Pearson, and William Uricchio: Bartos Theater, Wiesner Building, MIT Media Lab

Friday, March 21, 10-11:30 a.m.
Valuing Fans Outside the Target Demographic: Soap Opera Fans and Proselytizing
C3 Project Manager Sam Ford's presentation as part of the soap opera area of the National Popular Culture Association Conference, San Francisco

Thursday, April 10, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Our World Digitized: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
Featuring Yochai Benkler and Cass Sunstein: Bartos Theater, Wiesner Building, MIT Media Lab
Co-sponsored by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media

Thursday, April 24, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Youth and Civic Engagement
Featuring Lance Bennett, Ian V. Rowe: Bartos Theater, Wiesner Building, MIT Media Lab
Co-sponsored by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media

Thurs., April 24, to Sat., April 26
Console-ing Passions 2008 Conference
C3 Project Manager Sam Ford will be participating in a panel. Details forthcoming.

Thursday, May 08, and Friday, May 09
C3's Spring Retreat

Thursday, May 22, to Monday, May 26
Communicating for Social Impact, Conference of the Interntional Communication Association
C3 Research Manager Joshua Green will make two presentations at this Montreal event. Details forthcoming.

Opening Note

Why Mitt Romney Won't Debate a Snowman, Part IV: From Serious Fun to Barely Political

The fourth part of this six-part series from C3 Director Henry Jenkins looks further at the use of YouTube for the 2008 presidential election. This series provides an advance version of Jenkins' latest essay, which will be featured as an additional chapter for the paperback edition of Convergence Culture and as part of a forthcoming book from Jonathan Gray, who was one of the speakers at the Futures of Entertainment 2 conference. The previous three pieces in this series have ran in prior Opening Notes.

Traditional campaign rhetoric stresses the seriousness of the choices Americans face, rather than the pleasures of participating within the political process. Both progressives and conservatives have displayed discomfort with the tone and content of popular culture, especially in the current "culture war" context. Most attempts to mobilize popular culture towards political ends are read contemptuously as efforts to dummy down civic discourse.

In a recent book, Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in An Age of Fantasy, Stephen Duncombe offers a different perspective, arguing that politicos need to move beyond a knee-jerk critique of popular entertainment as "weapons of mass distraction" and learn strategies for "appropriating, co-opting and most important, transforming the techniques of spectacular capitalism into tools for social change" (16). Playing on Noam Chomsky’s critique of propaganda (Manufacturing Consent), Duncombe calls on progressives to learn new strategies for "manufacturing dissent":

Given the progressive ideals of egalitarianism and a politics that values the input of everyone, our dreamscapes will not be created by media-savvy experts of the left and then handed down to the rest of us to watch, consume, and believe. Instead, our spectacles will be participatory: dreams that the public can mold and shape themselves. They will be active: spectacles that work only if the people help create them. They will be open-ended: setting stages to ask questions and leaving silences to formulate answers. And they will be transparent: dreams that one knows are dreams but which still have power to attract and inspire. And, finally, the spectacles we create will not cover over or replace reality and truth but perform and amplify it (17).

Duncombe cites Billionaires for Bush as a primary example of this new kind of political spectacle. Billionaires for Bush used street theater to call attention to issues, such as campaign finance reform, media concentration, and tax cuts for the wealthy. Seeking to dodge attempts by conservative critics to paint their efforts as "class warfare," the group adopted a more playful posture, dressing up like cartoon character versions of the wealthy, showing up at campaign stops, and chanting along with other Bush supporters. Similarly playful tactics were adopted by True Majority, an organization founded during the 2004 presidential campaign by Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream). The group sought to increase voter participation and rally support behind a progressive agenda in part by embracing what Cohen described as "serious fun." True Majority produced a mock preview for an episode of The Apprentice during which a disappointed Donald Trump fired George W. Bush for driving the economy into the ground, using lies to justify a war, and spending way over budget. (For more on TrueMajority, see pp. 206-207 in Convergence Culture).

As YouTube's cultural visibility has increased, more activists have followed True Majority’s example, making parody videos as a more playful and pleasurable mode of political discourse. Save The Internet tapped the talents of diverse online media producers to help raise public awareness of impending policies that they argued threatened net neutrality. To dramatize the diversity of the current web community and thus the potential impact of the proposed policy changes, Save The Internet encouraged members to make and circulate their own videos explaining the issues to their own niche constituencies.

Their website offered a central hub for distributing the videos, juxtaposing serious documentaries with more playful parodies, mixing commercially produced content (such as a Bill Moyer's PBS special or a segment from The Daily Show) with those by amateur and semi-professional groups (such as Ask a Ninja and This Spartan Life, two of the more successful internet comedy series).

The Ask a Ninja series, created by Los Angeles improvisational comedians Kent Nichols and Douglas Sarine, featured a Ninja who speaks with a surfer dude accent. This Spartan Life, created by the startup Bong + Dern productions, stages a weekly talk show within multiplayer XBox Live sessions of Bungie Studio's first person shooter video game Halo 2.

One of the segments featured during the CNN/YouTube Debate came from a similar source -- Red State Update. Two west coast comics, Travis Harmon and Jonathan Shockley, have perfected the online personas of Jackie Broyles and Dunlap, two rednecks from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, who offer colorful commentary on the campaign and candidates. Red State Update receives upwards of 3 million views on YouTube and another 1.2 million more via MySpace; the segments are also syndicated through Salon and replayed on the DirecTV network. (See more on this in Jim Ridley’s Nashville Scene article "Country Boys Can Survive".

Most writing about the CNN/YouTube debates gets framed in terms of amateur media makers and commercial network, overlooking how many videos were submitted by semi-professionals (such as the web comedy troops referenced above) or even by editorial cartoonists for various newspapers and magazines.

We might better understand the videos produced for the debates (or those circulated by Save the Internet) as emerging from the mixed media economy Yochai Benkler describes in The Wealth of Networks. Media producers with different motives -- governmental agencies, activist groups, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, fan communities -- operate side by side, using the same production tools and distribution networks. YouTube constitutes a shared portal through which these diverse groups come together to circulate media content and learn from each other’s practices.

In this shared distribution space, short-term tactical alliances between such groups are commonplace. On YouTube, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between videos produced by fans as a playful tribute to a favorite media property, by average citizens seeking to shape the agenda of the campaigns, by activist organizations to promote a specific political objective, and by small-scale comedy groups seeking to break into the commercial mainstream. Content produced for and distributed through YouTube, then, might have complex and sometimes contradictory motives.

A case in point might be the series of Obama Girl videos. The initial video, "I Got a Crush...on Obama," was produced by advertising executives Ben Relles and Rick Friedrick in collaboration with actress and model Amber Lee Ettinger and singer/comedian Leah Kauffman. These media professionals wanted to use their sexy and irreverent content to generate a buzz that might draw attention to a newly launched on-line comedy site. In the original video, the scantly clad Obama Girl describes how she fell in love with Obama during his talk to the 2004 Democratic convention, signals her growing passion for the man and his ideas through stroking his campaign posters, kissing his photograph on a web site, and has the candidate's name printed on her panties.

News commentators often reduce women’s political interests to which male candidate is most attractive, reading them less as concerned citizens and more as groupies for the campaigns. The Obama Girl videos turn such representations around, transforming the candidates into beef cake embodiments of these women's erotic fantasies. The rapid-paced images and the multi-layered wordplay reward careful decoding, requiring consumers to learn more about the campaigns in order to "get" the jokes. But like the other media "snacks" associated with YouTube, they may also be consumed on a more casual level and we can not easily account for the range of meanings which emerged as these videos were spread within different online communities, passed between friends and coworkers, or mobilized by activist groups and campaign workers.

Politics, as they say, makes for strange bedfellows. The buzz pushed the giggling Obama Girl onto the cable news circuit, while the producers announced a partnership with Voter Vision, a multi-media political campaign marketing program which wanted to demonstrate the political value of "viral video." Somewhere along the way the videos had moved from entertainment to activism, from a parody of the campaign into something that was explicitly intended for activist purposes. The slippery nature of such distinctions is suggested by the name of the company’s name -- "Barely Political."

This hybrid media environment and the active circulation of content beyond its points of origin make it hard to tell where any given video is coming from – in both the literal and the metaphoric sense. Increasingly, we are seeing fake grassroots media being produced by powerful institutions or economic interests – what has become known as "Astro-turf." Consider the case of Al Gore's Penquin Army. This cut-up animation spoof of An Inconvenient Truth was first posted by a user named Toutsmith from Beverley Hills but further investigation revealed that it was professionally produced by the DCI Group, a commercial advertising firm whose clients included General Motors and ExxonMobil; the firm also had historically produced content for the Republican Party. (See more on this from The Wall Street Journal.)

One of the best known internet parodies of the 2007 campaign season, a remix of Apple's "1984" commercial where Hillary Clinton stands in for Big Brother, has a similar dubious history. The video turned out to be the work of Phil de Vellis, an employee of Blue State Digital, an internet company that provided technology to both the Richardson and Obama presidential campaigns. de Vellis was forced to resign his job as both the company and the campaigns sought to distance themselves from his activities. He told the readers of The Huffington Post:

There are thousands of other people who could have made this ad, and I guarantee that more ads like it--by people of all political persuasions--will follow. This shows that the future of American politics rests in the hands of ordinary citizens. The campaigns had no idea who made it--not the Obama campaign, not the Clinton campaign, nor any other campaign. I made the ad on a Sunday afternoon in my apartment using my personal equipment (a Mac and some software), uploaded it to YouTube, and sent links around to blogs....The game has changed.

The game has indeed changed but it isn't necessarily clear what game is being played here or by whom. Will we see other such videos circulated by groups or campaigns which hope to maintain a "plausible deniability" about their roles in generating their content? Are the candidates losing some control over the campaign process?

Next week, in the Opening Note, Jenkins provides the fifth part of this six-part series.

Henry Jenkins is the chief faculty investigator for the Convergence Culture Consortium and is Director of the Comparative Media Studies program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities at MIT. His blog is available here.

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Fans, Producers, and When Real Person Fic Actually Becomes About Real People. C3 Graduate Student Researcher Xiaochang Li writes about a recent experience in which she encountered fan fiction about members of a band she knows personally and about the implications of what this means for her as a fan scholar and with some "insider" knowledge of fan fiction communities.

Be Kind Rewind: Between Participation and Control. C3 Graduate Student Researcher Ana Domb writes about issues of fair use and copyright surrounding the marketing and launch of this new film.

Scott Bryce Fan Campaign Continues. Sam Ford writes about the ongoing fan campaign to protest the firing of As the World Turns actor Scott Bryce, further fueled by a recent TV Guide interview with the actor.

Passions Cancelled Again...But Rumors of Its Continuation Persist. Sam Ford writes about the news that DirecTV is canceling the NBCU soap opera but that rumors persist that the company is still looking for potential homes for the soap.

WWE's Departure from The CW a Situation Worth Watching. Sam Ford writes about World Wrestling Entertainment's departure from The CW at the end of this television season and potential alternatives to distributing Friday Night Smackdown.

Recut, Reframe, Recycle: An Interview with Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jassi, Part II. C3 Director Henry Jenkins posts the second part of this interview with two American University professors researching fair use and copyright.

Watching for the Ads: Consumer Culture, Engagement and the Super Bowl (2 of 2). C3 Graduate Student Researcher Eleanor Baird concludes her look at the Super Bowl with a look at shifts in Super Bowl ad CPMs from the 1960s to the present.


Watching for the Ads: Consumer Culture, Engagement and the Super Bowl (1 of 2). C3 Graduate Student Researcher Eleanor Baird provides the first of a two-part post looking at the history of advertising revenue and the Super Bowl, including a chart on the number of Super Bowl viewers and household share from 1967 until 2007.

Recut, Reframe, Recycle: An Interview with Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jassi, Part I. C3 Director Henry Jenkins provides the first part of his interview with two American University professors regarding their work on fair use and copyright from his blog.

YouTube and Non-English Media Content. Sam Ford writes about some of the most popular non-English dramatic content he finds on YouTube, including Filipino series MariMar and Turkish series Binbir Gece.

Measuring Consumer Awareness about the Digital Deadline. Sam Ford writes about recent conflicting research about the February 2009 digital deadline and some of the issues this research raises about the importance about understanding the structure of survey questions.

Around the Consortium: IAP Class, Ad Impressions, Indian Radio, Community Managers, and the NATPE. Recent research around the Consortium includes Grant McCracken's followup on his recent class, Ilya Vedrashko's investigation about the longheld believe that people are confronted with 5,000 ads a day, Aswin Punathambekar's piece on the relationship between film and radio in the first decade of Indian independence, Robert Kozinets' work on fan community management, and notes from the NATPE over at The Extratextuals.

Fandom in the Age of Franchising (2 of 2). C3 Graduate Student Researcher Xiaochang Li concludes her writing about Friday Night Lights and "convergence culture" by looking further at the fan culture surrounding the show.

Follow the Blog

Don't forget – you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog.

Closing Note

Economic Codes – Some Thoughts on the Impact of Programmable Technologies in Business Contexts, Part I of III

Arguably, companies in almost every area of media creation as well as on almost every scale level increasingly rely on computer-based tools, often in their day-to-day routines. Programmed and partially programmable technologies from asset management and versioning tools like NXN Alienbrain over collaborative writing environments like Writeboard to scriptable content creation systems like Autodesk Maya fundamentally shape the way media companies work today, yet at the same time have become so evident that the built-in contingencies of their pervasive usage are usually being overlooked.

For that reason, a quick initial look back at the well-studied implications of Fordian industrial innovations and their socio-technological implications might provide a suitable methodological canvas for assessing the use of programmable technologies within the media industry. Ford's primary innovation was the dissection of work processes into subtasks which could be handled by less skilled labor, leading to standardization and mass production of products. This paradigm both re-interprets the work process and the final products; Fordist urban planning with its tiered, centralized model of concentric ring-shaped zones was but one manifestation of the socio-economic effects that key technologies like the conveyor belt produced. Similar considerations can and should be applied to the implementation of programmable tools in business contexts, starting with very basal elements like using a shared calendar integrated with a company's email and messenger system as in Novell's widely used GroupWise collaborative work environment.

Later on, elements of mathematical game theory were being prominently proposed as blueprints for economic processes, first in macroeconomics and politico-economic theory to approximate consumer behaviour but later (notably in the mid-1990s) also in more pratical areas like business administration, applied in concrete case studies to "shape strategy." Essentially, the approach suggested by Adam M. Brandenburger and B.J. Nalebuff in their July 01, 1995, Harvard Business Review piece entitled "The Right Game: Use Game Theory to Shape Strategy" suggested "design[ing] a game that is right for their [i.e. a manager's] companies" (58) which involves understanding the work processes in a company as a 'game' in the first place.

The most obvious advantage of using game theory which Brandenburger/Nalebuff demonstrate e.g. using the General Motors credit card (59) and the NutraSweet patent expiration (61) as examples is the opportunity to anticipate the behavior of multiple other 'players' (like e.g. competitors) in the game by iterating mathematically modelled 'game' sessions. As a result from the 'macro perspective' obtained from the constant application of these game theory techniques, Brandenburger and Nalebuff suggested "changing the game" as a radically new perspective which promised great potential from defying or rather modifying the very game rules whose application game theory promoted (65).

The authors illustrate this point e.g. by pointing to Nintendo of America's strategies of harnessing "the buyers' power" to counter the dominance of retailers like Toys R Us and Wal-Mart in the early 1990s. The notion of iterated game sessions obviously is one point of transition to programmable media, i.e. both digital games and simulations, as implied role models in theories of business administration. Rather than 'changing the game,' this new perspective suggests questioning the established simulation parameters and 'algorithms'; one company to exemplify this shift is again Nintendo which 're-set the simulation' with the Wii in 2006 by adopting the 'Blue Ocean' strategy formulated by Kim/Mauborgne and thus required a broader public as loosely related 'agents' (or 'objects' according to Object-Oriented Programming (OOP)), inter-acting through online forums and other 'discourse algorithms', to adjust their stance towards video games as a medium in society and towards Nintendo as a company.

By analogy, the goal of this three-part series will be to review one exemplary popular theory of business administration and demonstrate how it intrinsically draws on the notion of companies as 'programmable' entities, specifically following the OOP paradigm and, as a second step, to exemplify how this knowledge can be and is being translated into successful, novel business constellations.

The second part of this series, looking at program code logic in the critical chain, will appear in next week's C3 Closing Note.

Stefan Werning works in the product analysis department of Nintendo of Europe, where he started in March 2007. He joined the Convergence Culture Consortium as a consulting researcher during his semester as a visitor of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT when he was a doctoral candidate and associate lecturer at the Asian Studies Center in Bonn, Germany. He writes on topics including e-learning solutions based on digital games and modeling terrorism in recent military policies to interactive media analysis.

The Fine Print

Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford ( for the Convergence Culture Consortium.


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