May 6, 2008
Potentials of YouTube Event Thursday Night

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.

This event will be held from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. at MIT in Building 2 Room 105.

Greenslit's presentation is entitled "'Nothing Sells Like Verisimilitude!': YouTube Counter-Advertising and the Science of Depression." According to the abstract:

This talk will explore the use of YouTube to create and circulate parodies of direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription antidepressants. I will focus on how such counter-advertising participates in debates over the very science of depression and antidepressants. Cartoon animations of neurochemical transmission, virtual reality tours of the brain, short informational films that can be downloaded from drug company website--these are key components of pharmaceutical 'consumer education' campaigns on depression and antidepressants. Just as patient groups in the 1980s like NAMI gave biological studies of schizophrenia a certain credibility by advocating for their capacity to destigmatize mental illness ("chemistry, not character"), so too does the pharmaceutical industry tout the 'chemical imbalance' as a way to destigmatize depression.

Yet the science of depression and antidepressants is highly contentious. Not only do neuroscientists debate the biological mechanisms of depression, but recent analyses of clinical trial data made available through the Freedom of Information Act suggest that, overall, antidepressants do not work any better than placebos. Despite such broad uncertainty over both the efficacy and scientific explanations of antidpressants, DTC is still a nearly five billion dollar per year industry, and antidepressants are one of the most heavily-advertised prescription drug categories.

Within this media environment, audiences are turning to YouTube to participate in social debates over how DTC promulgates sociomedical claims and scientific theories of mental illness. The YouTube parodies are a way in which audiences become not mere passive spectators who simply and fully assimilate intended meaning of DTC; rather, they become actors in a participatory media culture who struggle with and often reframe the meanings they borrow from those ads.

Greenslit is currently collaborating with the Media Lab's eRationality group, where he is investigating the relationship between drug marketing and the placebo effect. Nate wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs (MIT Science, Technology, and Society Program), which he is currently developing into a book.

Driscoll's presentation is entitled "Dancing on the Screen: Identity on the Networked Dancefloor." According to Driscoll's description of his planned presentation:

Thousands of young people dancing in front of their sidekicks and webcams demonstrate the expressive power of movement in a rich ecosystem of online video. In this shared dance space, within the frameworks of various regional dance trends, dancers explore their communities and selves through the performance of territorial, sexual, gendered, racial, and subcultural identities. How has the web enabled the global transit of popular dances and dance musics? What relationships do these homemade videos have with the traditional music video? What implications might this creative activity have for educators?

Driscoll's work focuses on issues of freedom, power, authorship, and identity in hip-hop, K-12 education, SMS/text messaging, and music video. Prior to joining the department, Kevin taught computer science, media literacy, and mathematics at Prospect Hill Academy Charter School in Cambridge, MA. In addition, he is a DJ, and exhibiting artist.