Soap Fans Looking for a New Home: The General Hospital Nomads
Who owns the media property? Is it the copyright holder? Or is it the audience, the group that makes that product popular? These are questions at the core in tension between media producers and media audiences and at stake in discussions about relationships between producers or consumers or what consumer "can do" with texts out of the ausipices or interests of the producers.
A reader forwarded me some threads from the official ABC Daytime boards for General Hospital, where fans are upset about the way they are treated and the technical attributes of their board as opposed to message boards for ABC primetime shows. Rather than just complain, though, they have taken to invading the boards of other spaces in order to make their problems and presence more well known.
See this thread, in which fans are organizing 5 minute invasions of various other boards.
That didn't go over as well with the Lost fans, but attention has been directed instead toward the official board for Notes from the Underbelly, a cancelled ABC show that still has an active board, and a board that some GH fans feel are better than what they've been given.
Around the Consortium: ICA, IMR, and Online Music Promotion
A few notes this afternoon from around the Consortium:
First of all, several folks involved in the Consortium--including Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins, Research Manager Joshua Green, and a variety of our consulting researchers--spent the past several days in Montreal for the International Communication Association's annual conference. I was in the process of moving (more on that later) and didn't get to attend, but C3 Consulting Researcher Jonathan Gray has a wonderful short thought piece here, comparing the time he spent at the conference to some of the Consortium's event and praising the values of "paper-less" academic conferencing.
We at the Consortium were deeply saddened to hear of the recent passing of Erlene Zierke. We had the pleasure of getting to know Erlene through our relationship with Turner Broadcasting, where she put much energy into launching and developing Super Deluxe.
Some blog readers might have had the chance to meet Erlene at ROFLCon or the first Futures of Entertainment conference here at MIT--and, believe me, you would likely remember Erlene if you ever had the chance to meet her.
Her enthusiasm was unmatched, and she was always offering creative and unique perspective for those of us who had the chance to work with her here at MIT.
Our thoughts are with Erlene's many friends and family. She was an extraordinary individual, and I personally consider it a great privilege to have had the chance to get to know her during her all-too-brief time with us.
Another piece I've been meaning to direct C3 readers toward was a piece including some comments from C3 alum Geoffrey Long from earlier this month. The story, called Is the future of TV on the Web?, looks at the promises, questions, and tensions of online video.
Awhile back, I was interviewed for a few minutes by a reporter from The Chronicle of Higher Education about the potential promise of a social networking site for youth basketball, organized by the NCAA and the NBA.
Links of the Day: A Few Interesting Random Recent Sites and Stories
One of my tasks for the day has been to clean out the bookmarks I've not yet gone through. To make it a more productive exercise, I thought I'd share a few of them through the blog as well, not just to show how eclectic my own archiving interests are and the types of links people forward to me but likewise to pass along stuff that might be of interest to C3 readers as well.
First, there's this link for the Jack Myers Future of Media discussion from earlier this month. This entry looks at a conversation from a variety of speakers, with the mix including a former Coca-Cola exec and reps from Aegis North America, someone from Colgate Palmolive, blip.tv, and Worldwide Biggies.
Last month, the Program in Comparative Media Studies hosted an MIT Communications Forum entitled "Youth and Civic Engagement."
The official event description asked, "The current generation of young citizens is growing up in an age of unprecedented access to information. Will this change their understanding of democracy? What factors will shape their involvement in the political process?"
The forum featured three speakers with expertise on engaging young people in more active citizenship from various perspectives and backgrounds and was co-sponsored by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, a collaboration between CMS and the MIT Media Lab.
Interesting Soaps Links: Liccardo, Bibel, and Muslim Representation on ATWT
I wanted to start out a full round of post-Memorial Day blog entries today with highlights of a couple of things worth seeing from around the Web. For this post, a few interesting soap opera related posts:
First, see the new blog from Sara Bibel. Sara is a friend of mine who I had the pleasure of meeting through my thesis work on soaps. She was formerly a writer for The Young and the Restless. She used to work with Kay Alden, one of the members of my thesis committee and a current writer for The Bold and the Beautiful, and it has been a pleasure getting to know Sara through some e-mail correspondence over the past year. Now, it's even better, since her thoughts--bolstered by some experience writing in the genre--are freely available online, through Fancast.
Talking Transmedia: An Interview With Starlight Runner's Jeff Gomez (Part II)
What do you see as the challenges of generating content that appeals to both niche and mass publics at the same time?
Like any good story, content designed for genre-lovers or niche markets should contain strong characters, evocative issues and clear, accessible throughlines. Story arcs must be designed from the outset to feel complete and deliver on their promise.
Also importantly, the audience needs to be able to appreciate and enjoy the content as it is presented solely on the driving platform of the trans-media production. With Heroes, for example, the driving platform is the television series. Much of the success of the franchise hinges on the audience finding the show exciting, intelligible and complete.
What the producers of Heroes are doing quite well is in providing fans of the show with a far more expansive experience of the fictional universe of the show on the complementary or orbiting platforms of the trans-media production. This additional content is presented in the form of web sites, graphic novels, prose fiction, etc., and this material all takes place within the canon of the Heroes chronology. So fans are provided with the level of depth, verisimilitude, sophistication and complexity that they crave, but casual viewers are not required to seek it out to enjoy the show.
When the two approaches cross over, we have seen the potential for pop culture phenomena. The media's coverage of "The Lost Experience" for example, conveyed the fact that there was a greater architecture to the fictional universe of the Lost TV series than was originally suspected. The excitement generated by the transmedia components of the show helped to boost broad interest in it. The same can be said of similar approaches for both the Batman: The Dark Knight and Cloverfield feature films.
Also powerful on the home front, as families gather to watch Heroes, a teen fan of the show might recognize a peripheral character making her first appearance on a given night's episode as one he originally read about in the online comic. So our fan takes on the role of gatekeeper for the show, filling in family and friends on the backstory of the character, and giving them a greater appreciation of the show with his "exclusive" knowledge, and making the whole experience more entertaining.
In short, depth and complexity are built around the show, rather than weighing it down by presenting it front and center.
Talking Transmedia: An Interview With Starlight Runner's Jeff Gomez (Part I)
Jeff Gomez, the chief executive officer of Starlight Runner entertainment, spoke at the Futures of Entertainment 2 conference last fall as part of a panel discussion on Cult Media, which also included transmedia creator Danny Bilson, Heroes executive producer Jesse Alexander, ; and Gordon Tichell from Walden Media, the company which produces the Narnia films. Not surprisingly, given I was moderator, the session quickly became a geek out festival mostly centered around issues of transmedia entertainment. You can enjoy the podcast of the event here.
As we were preparing for the session, we distributed a set of questions to the speakers, some of which were covered during the panel, some of which were not. Gomez recently wrote to send me his further reflections on many of those questions in the hopes to continue public conversation around recent developments in transmedia entertainment. I am running this on my blog and wanted to likewise cross-post it here on the C3 blog as well. Given that the C3 blog usually runs smaller pieces than mine, I thought I'd run a couple of sections of the interview today and more later this week.
First of all, though, here's a bio on Gomez:
As the Chief Executive Officer of Starlight Runner Entertainment, Jeff Gomez is a leading creator of highly successful fictional worlds. He is an expert at cross-platform intellectual property development and transmedia storytelling, as well as at extending niche properties such as toys, animation or video game titles into the global mass market.
Culture Wars and Cultural Hierarchies: New York Times on ATWT's Nuke
Lynn Liccardo suggested to Lee Harrington, Gail Derecho, and me that one of us should respond to the recent article in The New York Timesby Gina Bellafante about the soap opera and specifically the popularity of the Luke and Noah couple on As the World Turns, because of the work we are doing on putting together a contemporary anthology of work on U.S. soap operas. Unfortunately, the article had to run right as I was moving into a new apartment, just the worst time to try to organize my thoughts, especially in a way that limited them to 150 words.
Instead, now that most of my furniture is in order and most of the boxes are unpacked, I wanted to return to Bellafante's article last week. First of all, as is no surprise, the article is beautifully written and a great bit of publicity for soap operas, which remain culturally ignored by most mainstream arts and entertainment publications. Scholars I know, including myself, would argue that there's a combination of cultural biases, geographic and economic stereotypes, and gender discrepancies that would explain why soap operas aren't covered as "entertainment" by publications that cover most else, just as one of my other areas of interest--pro wrestling--is ignored by Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker alike. Rather, both get relegated to their own ghettoized press, separate and certainly not equal.
In reading Bellafante's piece, I'm reminded of Victoria Johnson's work on Friday Night Lights, in which she pointed out how critics had to justify and qualify why they liked the show and distance themselves from the stereotypes inherent with being a viewer or, God forbid, a fan. Johnson's best example came from a New Yorker review, I believe it was, in which the author had to explain that she started watching the show when an artist in Manhattan at a museum told her she should watch FNL, overcoding almost to extremes the situation in which she decided to watch the show and playing off the cultural stereotypes of what a show about football in a small West Texas town would be like.
See also this piece from yesterday about my lunch in which a fellow professional seemed somewhat taken aback about my enthusiasm about the creativity and potential for artistry in pro wrestling and soaps.
I have written some in the past about the continued development of the Luke Snyder coming out storyline on As the World Turns, a story which has engaged new viewers to that portion of the soap opera audience and attracted some mainstream attention due to ongoing controversies about the way the show has handled the gay storyline and resistance from conservative groups. The story started with Luke's coming out, complete with an online transmedia extension in which fans could read Luke's blog.
From the beginning, there was a broader audience who started watching the soap specifically through Luke's scenes, as I wrote about back in June 2006. That energy grew significantly when Luke eventually met and had his first gay relationship, with Noah Mayer. For instance, back in August, considerable attention was given to the first kiss between the couple (see here).
Then, there was no kissing for quite a while, and the show started getting protests, not from conservative groups but rather from online fans who were impatient to see the couple kiss again. First, there was the scene under the mistletoe at Christmas, in which the couple looked to be about to kiss, only to have the cameras pan out. Then, there was Valentine's Day, when Luke and Noah were the only couple featured on the episode not to lock lips.
One of my greatest frustrations from Console-ing Passions was that my workshop was scheduled directly against some of the panels most directly relevant to my interests. Now, this is not meant as an attack on the conference planners; I'm keenly aware that there's just no way to avoid this when you're launching a media studies and fandom conference, but it was hard knowing that, next door, there were four interesting research presentations occurring while I was boring audiences with all my blabbing.
Ironically, while I was talking about soap opera audiences outside the target demographic and the ways in which those audiences are devalued in the commodification of audiences, Elana Levine was in the next room, talking about how the masculinization of television in recent years has further devalued more "ephemeral" programming, such as U.S. soaps. Elana was kind enough to forward her research my way, and I found her approach--to look at the increasingly masculine rhetoric surrounding the removal of the television from the domestic and the increasing focus on the technology of television as we move into a flat-panel, digital world--a fresh way to understand how television has begun to overcome many of the cultural biases that have long existed against the products that are broadcast on television and provided through cable.
Foremost, I find it interesting that Elana's compelling argument that television has become increasingly masculinized in rhetoric through emphasis on technology and the escape of domestic spaces exists alongside the growing trend for primetime television to adopt many of the storytelling tactics of daytime soaps. For instance, I was talking with Ivan Askwith about some of the rhetoric surrounding Lost, marveling at the existence of such a large ensemble cast and purporting that there's never been such a large ensemble cast on television. That is, of course, except for the soap operas that have been an hour in length since the mid-1970s and which have featured hundreds, even thousands, of characters in several decades on the air, many of which still have the potential to come and go fluently from the show.
Supernatural and Looking at Fanvids as Media Texts
One of the current shows of focus for understanding fandom within fan studies is Supernatural on The CW. When I go to academic conferences, I probably don't hear about it quite as often as Lost, but it ranks high up on the list (and usually comes from a different set of media scholars). In particular, it is the active fan creation around the show that has driven such scholarly interest in Supernatural along the way, particularly in terms of fanvids.
I've written about one of the fan organizations that has done interesting work around Supernatural in a different context; see my interview last September with the founders of Fandom Rocks, a fan organization built around Supernatural that raises funds for non-profits.
But I spent part of the afternoon reading an interesting piece from Louisa Stein based on her recent Console-ing Passions presentation on fanvids about Supernatural, and I wanted to post a few notes on that work while it's fresh on my mind.
On Valuing Labor and Creativity in Industry and Academia
As part of my continued posts on some of the projects and papers I've found out about as late, I wanted to include some note after spending some time reading Vicki Mayer's latest work on reality casting. Vicki sent me the shorter paper her Console-ing Passions presentation was based on. (And, Vicki, if you read this, I haven't forgotten my promise to get back to you once I've read the full chapter.) But, in the process of reading through her notes on looking at the workload of those who do reality casting, a few interesting things came to mind.
First is one of the main argument Vicki is making in the piece, which is that much of the important work of casting agents come in the relationship building that is part of the job, precisely the type of work that is not given direct value in the system, even as it is the reason the system functions the way in does.
In other words, much of the job of casting doesn't happen at official events or in the office, yet this work is not valued. These people often spend more time "on the job" in ways that aren't financially compensated for, because the media industries don't often appropriately value the labor that goes into this type of work. Vicki looks at how this relates to biases against feminine disourses, often more tied to relationship-building and community-building, and how this might explain why many of the people she encountered in casting roles were women or gay men.
Soap Operas, Relative Realism, and Implicit Contracts
Just yesterday, I was out to lunch with someone when the subject of soap operas came up. This person vaguely knew that I have done a fair amount of writing about soap operas and their audience, so we started to discuss the nature of soaps, pro wrestling, and the other media content that I study.
It didn't take long for the importance of cultural taste hierarchies to get established, as my lunch partner made it clear she had never watched soap operas much herself. She felt the need to clarify after she had told a third person briefly involved in the conversation that they could download their soaps for free and podcast them for the commute to work. "Don't ask me how I know these things, because I don't watch those shows, but I do."
And I believe her. She doesn't watch them. These shows are just pervasive enough in our culture that even those who feel they've safely distanced themselves from "low culture" media texts are often more implicit than they want to be. This person is a media industries professional, who has worked and lived in the New York City area for some time now, and she wanted to be clear, even when talking to a soap opera fan and someone who not only is a fan of soaps but also studies soaps and their viewers, that she doesn't watch.
During the lunch, the difference between East Coast and West Coast soaps came up. I pointed out to her that East Coast soaps often have a different feel, because of the number of stage actors who appear in them. She said that she knew many stage actors worked in soaps for the steady pay, to fund their lifestyle on the stage. I agreed that it was sometimes the case and then posited that soaps often have quite good actors involved.
Lovers and Haters: But What About Ambivalence in Fan Communities?
One of the fan studies scholars I had the pleasure of meeting in person for the first time at Console-ing Passions 2008 in Santa Barbara was Alexis Lothian. I bwecame familiar with Alexis through her many insightful comments in and around the Gender and Fan Studies converastion that I referenced in my previous post, and her presentation at Console-ing Passions was informed in many ways from that conversation.
In short, Alexis posits that we've gotten pretty good at talking about fan enthusiasm in fan studies, as well as the importance of hate, but we haven't developed a significant discourse as of yet for talking as well about fan ambivalence.
Alexis writes that C3 Consulting Researcher Jonathan Gray "recently insisted on the importance of viewers' hate for media productions; but fans' more ambivalent affects toward their objects are rarely foregrounded in academic analysis. When questions not only of taste but also of racism, sexism and homophobia get involved, the textual and discursive spheres active fans build around and from their objects become very complex."
Over the next several posts, I'm going to revisit some of my traveling around the conference circuit in March and April and share some of the other interesting research projects and papers I had forwarded to me. Many of these will be from the 2008 Console-ing Passions conference in Santa Barbara I've written about on the blog in a few previous posts.
As I mentioned, I participated in a workshop that acted as a postmortem for the Gender and Fan Studies/Culture or Fandebate discussion that took place on Live Journal and on Henry Jenkins' blog last year.
On that topic, I saw a recent post from Kristina Busse, one of the central figures in helping to drive that discussion between male and female fan scholars about the state of the field and gender divides in fan communities and fan studies, that I thought might be of interest to blog readers who follow fan studies issues in particular.
Kristina is one of the founders of the Transformative Works and Cultures journal that I am on the editorial board for.
Another note this early afternoon that I wanted to pass along to blog readers. Since my wrap-up on the C3 Spring Retreat last week, C3 Consulting Researcher Robert V. Kozinets wrote a blog entry detailing some of his experiences from the event.
A number of great people from major corporations were involved this year, including people from Fidelity Investments, Yahoo!, MTV/Viacom, and Turner Broadcasting. Industry speakers included Brian Haven from Keith Clarkson from Xenophile Media, Matt Wolf from Double Twenty Productions, Forrester Research, and Judy Walklet from Communispace. And for me, it was a thrill to meet a who's who of fan community researchers--people who were absolutely fundamental to my thesis work and who built the universe of fan studies. These included Nancy Baym, Lee Harrington, Jonathan Gray, and Jason Mittell. I also had the opportunity this year and in the past to meet some excellent new scholars in the area, whose work is sure to open up many exciting new avenues of opportunity and insight. This people include Kevin Sandler, Derek Johnson, Gail Derecho, Aswin Panathambekar, Geoff Long, Sam Ford, and Ivan Askwith. And of course it was genuine pleasure to see my friend the esteemed marketing anthropologist and consumer culture icon, Grant McCracken, whose contributions are always elegantly-phrased and thoroughly thought-provoking.
Around the Consortium: Advertising, Identity, and Ethnic Television
To start our look around the Consortium this afternoon, I wanted to point toward an intriguing piece from C3 Alum Ilya Vedrashko over at his Advertising Lab site about bookmarkable advertising. He starts:
People bookmark ads. They circle ads with red markers, cut them out, paste them on the fridge, carry them inside wallets, give ads away, put ads on the walls. Given the opportunity and a good reason, people archive, manage and retrieve ads. Naturally, it is in advertisers' best interests to encourage this behavior because bookmarking gives the ad another chance to do its job, which is why we often see the dotted "cut here" lines around ads.
Meanwhile, C3 Consulting Researcher Grant McCracken was just featured in Canada's The Globe and Mail, promoting his new book Transformations and sharing his thoughts on identity in a "convergence culture." Grant says:
You know, Erving Goffman, Canada's great gift to sociology, used to talk about consumer goods as an identikit - the process by which we would buy a number of consumer goods to outfit our present identity. And if it's the case that that identity is multiplying so we have many identities, several selves, then it makes sense for people to be buying several identikits. In fact about a year ago I did a project for a client on storage in the home. The striking thing about homes is that they are bursting at the seams as people accumulate. ... So I found myself in attics and garages looking at colour-coded plastic containers that contained all the things a house would need to outfit itself appropriately for the season. That too was a kind of multiple identity at play.
Amidst all the flurry of late spring here in the academic world, we just wanted to post to the blog to reiterate that our Futures of Entertainment 3 event will be coming up again this November. As has been the case in previous years, the event is scheduled the Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving.
This year, that will be Friday, Nov. 21, and Saturday, Nov. 22.
We are happy to announce that this year's event will be held in the Wong Auditorium in the Tang Center here at MIT, a larger venue from our first two events that we hope will even better accommodate the type of conversation we've sought to have at this event in previous years.
I wanted to start out my list of updates this morning by giving a quick reminder to all our blog readers that the Consortium has started the hiring process for a new position with the title of "Research Director," who will work in conjunction with C3 principal investigators Henry Jenkins and William Uricchio and the various members of the Consortium to help guide both internal and external research for the group.
As many readers may know, the Consortium writes internal white papers, publishes a weekly internal newsletter, hosts an annual internal Consortium retreat, and collaborates with partner companies who pay an annual fee to be members in our Consortium, while we likewise run this blog, host the Futures of Entertainment conference each November, and engage with various audiences about our research through publications, conferences, talking with journalists, etc.
Back in March, Sam Ford ran some information about the new Transformative Works and Cultures journal, from The Organization for Transformative Works. I recently wrote about that new publication on my blog, and I wanted to cross-post that here as a reminder to C3 blog readers. This also includes information about another new organization, The International Association of Audience and Fan Studies.
Dumbledore for a Day: The Things You Can Do in Second Life
A while back, I shared with readers of my blog my experiences in Teen Second Life, thanks to an organization called Global Kids. I recently wrote a follow-up post that I wanted to share with C3 blog readers.
I've gotten a chance to work more closely with Barry Joseph, Rafi Santos, and others from the Global Kids organization over the past year or so and each encounter has left me even more impressed with their respect for their young participants and their imaginative use of virtual worlds to focus young people on issues impacting the real world.
Finally, our afternoon last Friday at the C3 Spring Retreat was spent discussing how academia and industry might work together and putting that discussion into action through a series of breakout discussions built around topics of particular interest to some of those working with the Consortium: advertising and marketing, audience measurement and metrics, participatory culture, global media flow, and gaming.
The discussion started with a conversation led by a panel of C3 Consulting Researchers. I moderated the conversation, joined by Lee Harrington, Grant McCracken, Jason Mittell, and Kevin Sandler. Each talked about their own research and how it intersects with industry, and we had a conversation across the room about what academia has to offer to media industries companies, what type of insight they would like to have from media industries companies in return, and both the potentials and the difficulties in work between academia and industry, taking into account the differences in the approach and interests of each type of research.
This moved into a series of individual discussions that I think reached the pinnacle of what an event like this retreat can accomplish, fostering conversations across this industry/academia threshold. As I've said to many people in the past, it's what I found most energizing about Futures of Entertainment both of the past two years, and it's what I think an organization like C3 can help foster.
C3 Spring Retreat Discussion on Audience/Community
Our second panel discussion at the C3 Spring Retreat in our Friday session focused on the topic of media audiences and the worth of looking at media audiences as a community and as social beings. Moderating the panel was new C3 Consulting Researcher Nancy Baym, who previously wrote a book about U.S. soap opera fan communities online and who now works on "bandom."
The panel was launched by some thoughts from C3 Consulting Researcher Robert V. Kozinets, whose work has focused on the correlation between fan communities built around media content and "brand communities." In short, Kozinets has built his career researching community online and the intersection between community and consumerism.
Also joining the panel from the academic side was C3 Consulting Researcher Aswin Punathambekar, whose angle on the panel in part looked at the multiple communities that might develop around media content in a global context.
These three C3-affiliated academics were joined by two folks from the industry side, Brian Haven from Forrester Research and Judy Walklet from Communispace.
Friday's session at the C3 Spring Retreat featured a series of panels and breakout discussions amongst our consulting researchers, invited guests, and representatives from our partner companies. We mentioned back at MIT Futures of Entertainment 2 that we wanted to design that event to be a public place for industry and academic minds to come together and collaborate and brainstorm together. On a smaller scale, with those officially involved in the Consortium, we see our retreat as a chance to foster the same type of innovation and conversation among our partner companies, the academics we work with, and our core team here at the Program in Comparative Media Studies.
This got started on Friday morning with a conversation featuring C3 Consulting Researcher Jonathan Gray moderating a panel on transmedia, an issue C3 has been interested in since our launch at the beginning of 2006. Joining Jon was two more of our newest consulting researchers, Abigail Derecho and Derek Johnson, drawing on their respective work on fans and franchises to look at the phenomenon of transmedia. From the industry end, we invited two guests who are doing innovative work as transmedia practitioners: Keith Clarkson from Xenophile Media and Matt Wolf from Double Twenty Productions.
Notes on Thursday's Events at the C3 Spring Retreat
We're amidst several updates today, after a hiatus from blogging due to our annual C3 Spring Retreat and our continued work on a series of internal white papers within the Consortium, which we presented as part of the event last Thursday and Friday. As many regular readers might know, we have spent the past year working specifically on gaining a better understanding of video sharing sites like YouTube, the type of content that appears there, and how these sites work as potential places for promotion. We've also been exploring the "viral" media concept that has become part of our entertainment landscape.
In addition to the various blog posts we've written about these issues here on the C3 blog this past academic year, we've been working on three white papers that are due to be shared internally at the end of the academic year. We spent the first day of the retreat previewing and discussing that work with our corporate partners (see our partners listed on the left side of the page, along with Fidelity Investments) and our consulting researchers.
The event kicked off with an introduction from C3 Principal Investigator and Co-Director of the Program in Comparative Media Studies here at MIT, William Uricchio, who talked about how the work we do here in the Convergence Culture Consortium plugs into the history of media theory at MIT. William and Henry have been doing research on that connection for some time now, in light of the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Institute.
C3 Work in 2007-2008: 10 Most Popular Posts (RSS Feed)
In my previous post, I highlighted what was the 10 post popular posts on our blog from the previous academic year. Looking at RSS feed data from Feedburner, I wanted to likewise highlight what was the 10 most popular posts from the past academic year through our feed.
The two most popular posts were also one of our Top 10 posts in terms of page views, and--as you will see--most of the most popular topics through our feed dealt with the Futures of Entertainment event.
FoE2: Advertising and Convergence Culture. This post recaps some of the comments from the participants in last November's Futures of Entertainment 2 panel on Advertising and Convergence Culture, featuring Mike Rubenstein, Bill Fox, Faris Yakob, Tina Wells, and Baba Shetty.
FoE2: Opening Remarks. C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins and C3 Research Director Joshua Green open Futures of Entertainment 2 with a discussion on the future of television, interactivity, engagement, and fan labor.
Looking Back at FoE: Not the Real World Anymore. The last panel at the first Futures of Entertainment featured John Lester from Linden Labs, Ron Meiners from Mplayer.com, and Todd Cunningham and Eric Gruber from MTV Networks, talking about virtual worlds.
Hey! Nielsen--Whats the Metric? C3 Graduate Student Researcher Eleanor Baird looks at Nielsen's newest attempts to take into account engagement and fan activities as part of their measurement, through the development of an online community looking at these issues.
C3 Work in 2007-2008: 10 Most Popular Posts (Page Visits)
As we near the end of the academic year, I thought readers might be interested in seeing what the Top 10 most popular posts have been over the previous nine months or so. First, according to page views through Google Analytics, our Top 10 posts have been:
Hustling 2.0: Soulja Boy and the Crank Dat Phenomenon. C3 graduate researcher Xiaochang Li looks at the rise of Soulja Boy and the energy the artist has created on YouTube with the latest dance phenomenon, complete with the Program in Comparative Media Studies' own attempt to "crank that."
Surplus Audiences, ATWT, and the Luke/Noah Kiss.As the World Turns had a milestone moment last September--the first "serious" kiss between gay male characters in American daytime. Sam Ford asks how producers of the show can use the kiss' popularity on YouTube, and in online gay communities?
From Production to Produsage: Interview with Axel Bruns (IV of IV)
This is the final portion of the interview I recently ran on my blog with Queensland University of Technology's Axel Bruns.
Is it appropriate to apply the same concepts to talk about our new roles as consumers/producers of culture and our shifting roles as citizens?
I think so, yes. It's not far to go from active cultural to active political participation, and we're seeing more examples of using the tools of produsage for political effect every day. Building in part on Pierre Levy's discussion of "molecular politics" in his Collective Intelligence, I've tried to develop a first rough sketch of this produsage politics - or perhaps produsage of politics - in my paper at the MiT5 conference last year, and extended this further for one of the later chapters in the book.
One thing, I think, is certain in this context: a produsage-based approach to politics would look significantly different from the current mass media-driven and ultimately industrial model of politics as it exists in the US, Australia, and many other developed nations. To bear any resemblance to produsage as it exists in other domains, to begin with, it would have to operate on a much more deliberative, open, and inclusive basis than political processes have operated during the height of the mass media age - and groups such as MoveOn in the US, and a href="http://getup.org.au/">GetUp in Australia may be early indications that such shifts are now being attempted by interested parties, if haltingly and uneasily.
One of the major obstacles to moving further along that road, however, are the mainstream media, who have oversimplified our understanding of politics to an eternal contest between left and right - this is politics as a sport, scored in opinion polls and delegate counts, and analysed from the sidelines by pundits and commentators. This leaves little room for nuance, for broad, constructive, and open-ended deliberation; such deliberation may take place (we hope) in parliamentary committees and party rooms, and (we know) in grassroots political communities from MoveOn to the central hubs of the political blogosphere, but the media play a very effective spoiler role that prevents these two sides from connecting successfully.
From Production to Produsage: Interview with Axel Bruns (III of IV)
Earlier today, I ran the first two installments of this interview with Queensland University of Technology's Axel Bruns, who discussed his core thesis about the blurring of the role of consumer and producer in the new cultural economy. In the final two posts, he extends this concept of "produsage" to explore its implications for knowledge production, citizenship, and learning, as well as provides us a glimpse into the innovative academic community which has informed his work. This interview originally ran in two parts over on my blog.
What are the implications of the produsage model for understanding how knowledge gets produced and circulated? You clearly are interested in this book in Wikipedia. What core insights can we take from Wikipedia that might be applied to other collaborative enterprises?
In the first place, perhaps, I think it would be great if Wikipedians themselves could draw some further insights from the way Wikipedia has developed so far, and better understand the drivers of its success. Its very success is a threat to its future survival, if it means that there is a growing disconnect between middle and upper levels of Wikipedia's administration and everyday users and contributors. The project has been remarkably resilient to internal and external threats, of course, but that doesn't mean that it will continue to weather any storm that comes its way. In particular, I would argue that Wikipedia should work to enshrine the prerequisites for produsage as absolutely fundamental, inalienable principles of the project, and protect them even against well-meaning suggestions for change. (That doesn't mean locking down its present modus operandi for all eternity, of course - but whatever changes are made must be made very carefully and with due consultation.)
The crucial question for Wikipedia and other produsage projects concerned with building and growing repositories of community knowledge is that of how to engage with those who are regarded as experts in their field, of course. Both sides of this debate have valid arguments in their favour, of course - people like Wikipedia dissident and Citizendium founder Larry Sanger point to the fact that clearly, different people do have different levels of knowledge about any given topic, while others believe that any a priori elevation of the contributor level of such experts (or ultimately, exclusion of non-experts) is unnecessary: if these people have superior knowledge and the sources to back it up, that knowledge should come through collective evaluation processes unscathed.
From Production to Produsage: Interview with Axel Bruns (II of IV)
This is the second part of an interview I conducted recently with QUT's Axel Bruns on my blog.
Your analysis emphasizes the value of "unfinished artifacts" and an ongoing production process. Can you point to some examples of where these principles have been consciously applied to the development of cultural goods?
My earlier work (my book Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production, and various related publications) has focussed mainly on what we've now come to call 'citizen journalism' - and (perhaps somewhat unusually, given that so much of the philosophy of produsage ultimately traces back its lineage to open source) it's in this context that I first started to think about the need for a new concept of produsage as an alternative to 'production'.
From Production to Produsage: Interview with Axel Bruns (I of IV)
I have long regarded the Creative Industries folks at Queensland University of Technology to be an important sister program to what we are doing in Comparative Media Studies at MIT. Like us, they are pursuing media and cultural studies in the context of a leading technological institution. Like us, they are adopting a cross-disciplinary approach which includes the possibility of productive exchange between the Humanities and the business sector. Like us, they are trying to make sense of the changing media landscape with a particular focus on issues of participatory culture, civic media, media literacy, and collective intelligence. The work which emerges there is distinctive -- reflecting the different cultural and economic context of Australia -- but it complements in many ways what we are producing through our program. I will be traveling to Queensland in June to continue to conversation.
Since this blog has launched, I have shared with you the reflections of three people currently or formerly affiliated with the QUT program -- Alan McKee; Jean Burgess ; and Joshua Green, who currently leads our Convergence Culture Consortium team. Today, I want to introduce you to a fourth member of the QUT group -- Axel Bruns. I presented this interview recently on my blog, but I wanted to share it here in a series of posts as well.
Thanks to my ties to the QUT community, I got a chance to read an early draft of Bruns's magisterial new book, Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage (New York: Peter Lang, 2008), and I've wanted for some time to be able to introduce this project to my readers. Bruns tackles so many of the topics which I write about on the blog on a regular basis -- his early work dealt extensively on issues of blogging and citizen journalism and he has important observations, here and in the book, about the future of civic media. He has a strong interest in issues of education and citizenship, discussing what we need to do to prepare people to more fully participate within the evolving cultural economy. As his title suggests, he is offering rich and nuanced case studies of many of the core "Web 2.0" sites which are transforming how knowledge gets produced and how culture gets generated at the present moment. He has absorbed, engaged with, built upon, and surpassed, in many cases, much of the existing scholarly writing in this space to produce his own original account for the directions our culture is taking.
In this interview, you will get a sense of the scope of his vision. In this interview, Bruns lays out his core concept of "produsage," explains why we need to adopt new terms to understand this new model of cultural production, and then explores this term's implications for citizenship and learning.
This Thursday evening, the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium, in conjunction with the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, will be hosting a public event entitled "Potentials of YouTube."
This event is the public portion of our C3 Spring Retreat, with many of our consulting researchers and representatives from our corporate partners in attendance.
Since the Consortium has been spending significant time researching YouTube in the past year, we will feature two short presentations and subsequent discussion about the potential uses and significance of YouTube as a site for cultural performance, vernacular creativity, and evolving business practice.
C3 Research Manager Joshua Green will introduce the discussion, and presenting will be Nate Greenslit, a postdoctoral scholar in MIT's Program on Emerging Technologies, and Kevin Driscoll, a graduate student in the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT.
In my final piece this afternoon regarding product placement, I wanted to provide some excerpts from my research on the subject of acceptable and unacceptable placement. This project started as my Master's thesis work (see original submitted version here--today is the one year anniversary of my thesis defens...ahem...consultation), and I have continued editing the manuscript, eyeing eventual publication. Let me know if you have any thoughts, queries, or disagreements.
Product Placement in As the World Turns
In my manuscript chapter entitled "Not So Nice 'n Easy," I wrote about an example from As the World Turns, in which a longtime character, Margo Hughes, notices gray in her hair. Hughes, one of the senior officers of the local police station, talks to her mother-in-law about it at the police station and gets a recommendation to use Nice 'n Easy, which she does. Later, in the same episode, we hear how satisfied she is with the results...
While there was some attempt to use the Nice 'n Easy product integration for humor, viewers and columnists did not find the disruptive audio references to the hair product amusing in the least.
Product Placement: C3's Work on Implicit Contracts and Reverse Placement
I think product placement and good television can co-exist in cases where the product doesn't get in the way of the text. It should be a utility to further the story, first and foremost, or to add realism to the drama, not a way to insert commercials into the text. If it provides some of the latter, great for business, but the $$$ deal can't be put first, at least if companies don't want to annoy their audiences.
However, as I wrote about in my thesis work, the worst that can happen is visual combined with reference, unless it is done in an ironic way (and that only works in rare form, so marketers don't think you can just pull an out by being funny with the brand and then laughing all the way to the bank).
C3 Alum Alec Austin did a significant amount of work while he was here looking into the history of product placement and what makes product placement look particularly good or bad. For one of the internal studies for the Consortium, entitled Selling Creatively: Product Placement in the New Media Landscape, Alec writes about the long history of product placement in American television, the problem with industry and critics alike pretending as if product placement is new considering its central place on radio and in early television (i.e. the Texaco men, the origin of "soap operas," etc.), and the need for a more nuanced way to understand what successful product placement would look like.
In trying to catch up on my reading this week, I noticed that C3 Consulting Researcher Grant McCracken continues his look at product placement done poorly over at FX, this time writing about a conversation about buying a GMC as part of the dialogue of the show.
Grant first writes about a character in The Riches driving a GMC car, noting that GMC both appears throughout the show and is advertised at several points during commercial breaks. He says, "I don't like product placement, as I have argued here, but as long as we TIVO through the ads this is perhaps forgivable."
However, it is the insertion of a pitch about the GMC into dialogue that becomes the blatant offender here. Grant writes:
Holy ****. This may very well be the most egregious example of commercial interference ever registered in our culture. Recall that my original objection to FX was that they put an ad for one of their shows in the corner of the screen for the duration of an episode. I thought this was a little much. But to put a sales pitch in the middle of the dramatic action, and to reduce a dramatic genius like Minnie Driver to a product pitcher, this is insufferable.
Grant ends with a call to action, wondering how the audience can discourage such blatant pitching in the middle of a show and questioning what commercial force might be held responsible for such a deal.
Transformations: Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture
The final C3-related publication I want to highlight this afternoon is the recent release of Grant McCracken's latest book, Transformations: Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture. The book, from Indiana University Press, has a May 2008 release date and is already available through Amazon.
According to the official description:
Self reinvention has become a preoccupation of contemporary culture. In the last decade, Hollywood made a 500-million-dollar bet on this idea with movies such as Multiplicity, Fight Club, eXistenZ, and Catch Me If You Can. Self reinvention marks the careers of Madonna, Ani DiFranco, Martha Stewart, and Robin Williams. The Nike ads of LeBron James, the experiments of New Age spirituality, the mores of contemporary teen culture, and the obsession with "extreme makeovers" are all examples of our culture's fixation with change. In a time marked by plenitude, transformation is one of the few things these parties have in common.
In addition to the piece I ran on the C3 blog from Kevin Driscoll earlier today, I wanted to share another piece from my blog by C3 Graduate Student Researcher Xiaochang Li.
Here, Li interweaves her reflections on the Spy genre, especially Get Smart and Alias, and her own personal and family history. This distinctly cold war genre is deployed in an effort to understand her own identity as a Chinese-American. (Of course, though this will make sense to few outside our circle, but the most fannish gesture in this essay may be, in Xiaochang's case, the opening reference to Marcel Proust!)
by Xiaochang Li
Marcel Proust, working from the sinking grave of his bed, tells us that we are creatures assembled from faulty memory, the eager sum of our desperate retellings, frantic optimists. Autobiography is not the province of excavation but construction, and even the most honest of us are careful architects of repetition and forgetfulness, deliberate amnesiacs working to amass reasonable explanations for what we have become. Recollection, I learned, is just another form of secrecy.
In the 60s spy satire, Get Smart, Maxwell Smart is a haphazard agent engaged in a long-term stand-off with an organization called KAOS, an epic battle against the perpetrators of general disarray. He fumbled his way through disarming death rays and and foiling assassination plots, assured in his aptitude even as he walked into the obvious traps and locked himself inside phone booths. This he taught me too: we are not always what we appear, even to ourselves.
Another recent book from a Convergence Culture Consortium consulting researcher that might be of interest to a variety of the blog readers is Amanda Lotz' The Television Will Be Revolutionized, from NYU Press. According to the official description:
After occupying a central space in American living rooms for the past fifty years, is television, as we've known it, dead? The capabilities and features of that simple box have been so radically redefined that it's now nearly unrecognizable. Today, viewers with digital video recorders such as TiVo may elect to circumvent scheduling constraints and commercials. Owners of iPods and other portable viewing devices are able to download the latest episodes of their favorite shows and watch them whenever and wherever they want. Still others rent television shows on DVD, or download them through legal and illegal sources online. But these changes have not been hastening the demise of the medium. They are revolutionizing it.
This is the fourth in a series of "intimate critiques" produced by masters students in my Media Theory and Methods proseminar that I've been running over on my blog. Since Kevin will be speaking as part of a Consortium-organized colloquium event on Thursday regarding his work on video sharing sites, I thought it would be a great idea to share his post with C3 blog readers as well.
Here, Kevin walks us through the process by which he learned to hear and appreciate a mix tape which initially challenged him both formally and ideologically. In the process, as a young white male, he confronts some explicit lyrics which force him to re-examine some of his assumptions about race, class and sexuality. This essay may take some readers out of their comfort zone -- and that's part of its point, since he is trying to explain how we renegotiate our senses of ourselves when we encounter forms of expression which do not fit our norms or pre-established tastes.
Bitch Ass Darius "Follow The Sound" Mixtape
by Kevin Driscoll
The CD itself is rather unassuming. Sleeveless, its face bears a name and phone number handwritten in Sharpie. Flip the disc over and you might suspect it is blank. The area pock-marked with data stretches from the center hole to just before the outermost edge. Drop it into a CD player and you'll discover that there are eighty tracks, few of which extend beyond sixty seconds.
I met Joe Beuckman in the summer of 2003 when we performed together in a small artspace located inside one of dozens of post-industrial hulks scattered around Allentown, PA. He gave a demonstration about reverse engineering Nintendo cartridges, showed off a vinyl record used to store executable computer instructions, and then scratched that record over Three 6 Mafia's "Sippin' on Some Syrup" while shouting, "I'm scratching data right now!" I introduced myself after the show and he gave me CD-Rs containing the latest mixtapes from two of his DJ alter-egos: Kenny Kingston and Bitch Ass Darius. Kenny Kingston is a lover of early-90s dance music: house, hip-hop, r'n'b, and new jack swing. Bitch Ass Darius plays a mixture of Miami bass, acid house, and pitched-up Detroit techno known occasionally as "ghettotech" or "booty bass." While I found familiarity, comfort, and nostalgia in Kingston's pop-heavy mix, everything about Darius' mix, from the super-fast tempo to the puerile lyrics, felt alien and alienating.
A couple more book projects I wanted to point everyone toward from around the Consortium this week. C3 Consulting Researcher Kevin Sandler's 2007 book through Rutgers is The Naked Truth: Why Hollywood Doesn't Make X-Rated Movies.
According to the official description:
From parents and teachers to politicians and policymakers, there is a din of voices participating in the debate over how young people are affected by violence, strong language, and explicit sexual activity in films. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) responded to this concern in 1968 when it introduced a classification and rating system based on the now well-known labels: "G," "PG," PG-13," "R," and "X."
Is it possible any longer to "read" markets fast enough to respond to them? A world of discrete parts is now one interconnected web of ceaseless calculation and response. Marketing has become a thing of speed and turbulence, with all the players moving simultaneously.
Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World
While spending a little time this week pointing toward recent books from Convergence Culture Consortium members, I thought I'd also mention another book from the past year that might be of interest to C3 blog readers:
Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World: C3 Consulting Researchers Jonathan Gray and C. Lee Harrington are joined by co-editor Cornel Sandvoss in this 2007 volume about fandom.
According to the description:
We are all fans. Whether we log on to Web sites to scrutinize the latest plot turns in Lost, "stalk" our favorite celebrities on Gawker, attend gaming conventions, or simply wait with bated breath for the newest Harry Potter novel-each of us is a fan. Fandom extends beyond television and film to literature, opera, sports, and pop music, and encompasses both high and low culture.
Speaking of recent books from C3 Consulting Researchers, I thought C3 blog readers might be interested in knowing more about the latest book edited by C3 Consulting Researcher Robert V. Kozinets, along with Bernard Cova and Avi Shankar.
The book, entitled Consumer Tribtes, is a collection of essays on understanding consumption in social rather than individual terms.
Using a combination of multi-sited ethnography, textual analysis, historical documentation analysis, and memoir writing, the author provides macro and micro perspectives on what it means to be a gay man located in Gay Bombay at a particular point in time. Specifically, he explores what being gay means to members of Gay Bombay and how they negotiate locality and globalization, their sense of identity as well as a feeling of community within its online/offline world. On a broader level, he critically examines the formulation and reconfiguration of contemporary Indian gayness in the light of its emergent cultural, media, and political alliances.
As we move into the final phase of our work for the third academic year for the Consortium and go through the process of finishing out many of our internal research projects over the summer, there are some changes taking place for the Consortium, as we prepare for new students to come in and some of our roles to shift. As part of that, we are looking to hire a new person with the position title of "research director" for the Consortium.
We figured the best way to circulate word about the job is to reach out to some of the folks who follow the Consortium's work regularly. Please feel free to forward the link along to anyone you know who fits the qualifications and might be interested in working with a project like C3.
The full job description is in the full entry link below, as well as a link to the page at MIT to submit an application.
Who Do You Think I Am?: My Life as a Cartoon Character
I shared this over on my blog recently but thought Consortium blog readers would enjoy it as well.
Shortly after South by Southwest, I got a note from Rafi Santo from Global Kids calling my attention to the fact that my likeness had become a cartoon character, thanks to a new site called Bitstrips, which has used the festival to broaden its public visibility. Bitstrips is a site which supports the production and distribution of user-generated web comics. More recently, reader Jordon Himelfarb, a Canadian journalist wrote to tell me that the Henry Jenkins character had been deployed more than 95 times. I am one of a small selection of icons supposed to represent "famous figures", including Steve Jobs, Moby, and Doogie Howser. (The narrow range of options here suggests how deeply embedded this project has been in geek culture to date.)
As someone who is interested in the ways images get appropriate and transformed over time, not to mention a notorious ego-maniac, I was very interested to see what uses were being made of this iconic representation of me. For what it's worth, I think I am funnier in real life than in the comics.
It is clear that the first few uses were from people who attended South by Southwest and were somewhat familiar with who I am and what kinds of things I am apt to say or do.
A Followup from Lynn Liccardo on Listening to Consumers and P&G Soap Operas
In the previous post, I ran a piece from Lynn Liccardo, one of my thesis advisors and a longtime soap opera fan and critic, on how the P&G ethos is separated from their soap opera programming. I waned to run Lynn's followup piece this morning.
No matter what reformulations, new packaging and other improvements market research generates for existing products, the fundamental function of those products must remain recognizable to consumers. At the end of the day, people have to be able to wash their clothes with Tide's "new formula" and brush their teeth with the "new and improved" Crest. While our mothers and grandmothers used earlier versions of Tide and Crest, they certainly wouldn't have any trouble recognizing and using the current formulas.
But when it comes today's soap operas, what I see flashing by as I watch with my finger on ff I can barely recognize the shows I've been watching for over 50 years. Such has been the impact of market research on soap operas. (And I want to be clear that while I'm speaking here specifically about P&G, the negative impact of market research effects all soap operas, not just those produced by P&G.)