April 2, 2008
SCMS: Henry Jenkins and Final Links

C3 Director Henry Jenkins made a presentation at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Philadelphia based on his research on politics in the era of convergence culture, particularly looking at the 2008 presidential primary season in relation to the rising popularity and political uses of sites such as YouTube.

The basis of this presentation was a blog entry Jenkins wrote last fall, entitled "Answering Questions from a Snowman: The YouTube Debate and Its Aftermath." This project has led to a chapter completed for a forthcoming anthology, as well as the paperback version of Henry's book and the project that was this origin of this Consortium, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.

In that blog entry, Jenkins wrote:

By bringing the cameras into their homes, the voters were forcing the candidates to respond to the contexts in which they live. We saw this occur again and again -- not just the well publicized cases of the social workers in Darfur or the cancer patient who removed her wigs, but in the more subtle ways that we get a glimpse of the domestic spaces in the background of most of the videos. The result was a debate which felt closer to the lived experience of voters, which took on some of the informality, intimacy, and humor one associates with YouTube at its best. [ . . . ] All of this brings us to the issue of the snowman which seems to have caused Mitt Romney and many of the conservative pundits so much anxiety. Keep in mind that the snowman animation was used to frame a substantive question about global warming. In this case, then, it wasn't what was being asked but how it was being asked or who was asking it that posed a challenge to establishment sensibilities. The snowman spot was a spoof of the whole process of having the questioner embody the issue and the whole ways in which children as used as foils for political rhetoric, as figures for imagined or dreaded futures for the society at large.

But it also represented a shift away from embodying issues and towards dramatizing them. I was surprised we didn't see more or this -- more use of video montages or projected images in the background, illustrating the topics in a way that went beyond what could be done by a live person standing in an auditorium during a live debate. I suspect we will see more such videos in future debates because they show the full potential of this new format. Now, keep in mind that political leaders have never had any problem dramatizing issues during their own campaign advertisements -- even the use of personification or animation would not be that unusual in the history of political advertisements. Such images have long been seen as appropriate ways for campaigns to address voters, so why should they be seen as inappropriate as a means of voters to question candidates?

Finally, a few other links regarding this year's SCMS. See my post about my SCMS presentation on the official blog for Procter & Gamble Productions. Kristina Busse provides a recap of her panel, which I wrote about here, as well as a panel I wasn't able to attend but had great interest in, featuring Julie Levin Russo and Suzanne Scott, both of whom I will be doing a workshop with at Console-ing Passions. Speaking of Console-ing Passions, Bob Rehak--who will also be joining us for that workshop--did a recent presentation at Temple related to transmedia. See more here. Finally, see Brendan Riley's notes here.