Registration is available here. Also, note there is a pre-conference MIT Communications Forum free and open to the public on Thursday, Nov. 8.
At the two-day conference, each morning will be spent discussing key issues faced by media producers, marketers, and audiences alike, at the heart of the futures of entertainment. Each afternoon, we will look into how some of those issues are manifesting themselves in specific media industries.
More information will be released regularly from @futuresof on Twitter.
Also, in anticipation of FOE6, we are finally archiving the video from Transmedia Hollywood 3 here at the FOE site. Transmedia Hollywood is our sister event, held annually in the spring at the USC or UCLA campus. A description of Transmedia Hollywood and the videos can be found below.
Transmedia Hollywood 3: Rethinking Creative Relations
As transmedia models become more central to the ways that the entertainment industry operates, the result has been some dramatic shifts within production culture, shifts in the ways labor gets organized, in how productions get financed and distributed, in the relations between media industries, and in the locations from which creative decisions are being made.
This year’s Transmedia, Hollywood examines the ways that transmedia approaches are forcing the media industry to reconsider old production logics and practices, paving the way for new kinds of creative output. Our hope is to capture these transitions by bringing together established players from mainstream media industries and independent producers trying new routes to the market. We also hope to bring a global perspective to the conversation, looking closely at the ways transmedia operates in a range of different creative economies and how these different imperatives result in different understandings of what transmedia can contribute to the storytelling process – for traditional Hollywood, the global media industries, and for all the independent media-makers who are taking up the challenge to reinvent traditional media-making for a “connected” audience of collaborators.
Many of Hollywood’s entrenched business and creative practices remain deeply mired in the past, weighed down by rigid hierarchies, interlocking bureaucracies, and institutionalized gatekeepers (e.g. the corporate executives, agents, managers, and lawyers). In this volatile moment of crisis and opportunity, as Hollywood shifts from an analog to a digital industry, one which embraces collaboration, collectivity, and compelling uses of social media, a number of powerful independent voices have emerged. These include high-profile transmedia production companies such as Jeff Gomez’s Starlight Runner Entertainment as well as less well-funded and well-staffed solo artists who are coming together virtually from various locations across the globe. What these top-down and bottom-up developments have in common is a desire to buck tradition and to help invent the future of entertainment. One of the issues we hope to address today is the social, cultural, and industrial impact of these new forms of international collaboration and mixtures of old and new work cultures.
Another topic is the future of independent film. Will creative commons replace copyright? Will crowdsourcing replace the antiquated foreign sales model? Will the guilds be able to protect the rights of digital laborers who work for peanuts? What about audiences who work for free? Given that most people today spend the bulk of their leisure time online, why aren’t independent artists going online and connecting with their community before committing their hard-earned dollars on a speculative project designed for the smallest group of people imaginable – those that frequent art-house theaters?
Fearing obsolescence in the near future, many of Hollywood’s traditional studios and networks are looking increasingly to outsiders – often from Silicon Valley or Madison Avenue – to teach these old dogs some new tricks. Many current studio and network executives are overseeing in-house agencies, whose names – Sony Interactive Imageworks, NBC Digital, and Disney Interactive Media Group – are meant to describe their cutting-edge activities and differentiate themselves from Hollywood’s old guard.
Creating media in the digital age is “nice work if you can get it,” according to labor scholar Andrew Ross in a recent book of the same name. Frequently situated in park-like “campuses,” many of these new, experimental companies and divisions are hiring large numbers of next generation workers, offering them attractive amenities ranging from coffee bars to well-prepared organic food to basketball courts. However, even though these perks help to humanize the workplace, several labor scholars (e.g. Andrew Ross, Mark Deuze, Rosalind Gill) see them as glittering distractions, obscuring a looming problem on the horizon – a new workforce of “temps, freelancers, adjuncts, and migrants.”
While the analog model still dominates in Hollywood, the digital hand-writing is on the wall; therefore, the labor guilds, lawyers, and agent/managers must intervene to find ways to restore the eroding power/leverage of creators. In addition, shouldn’t the guilds be mindful of the new generation of digital laborers working inside these in-house agencies? What about the creative talent that emerges from Madison Avenue ad agencies like Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, makers of the Asylum 626 first-person horror experience for Doritos; or Grey’s Advertising, makers of the Behind the Still collective campaign for Canon? Google has not only put the networks’ 30-second ad to shame using Adword, but its Creative Labs has taken marketing to new aesthetic heights with its breathtaking Johnny Cash [collective] Project. Furthermore, Google’s evocative Parisian Love campaign reminds us just how intimately intertwined our real and virtual lives have become.
Shouldn’t Hollywood take note that many of its most powerful writers, directors, and producers are starting to embrace transmedia in direct and meaningful ways by inviting artists from the worlds of comic books, gaming, and web design to collaborate? These collaborations enhance the storytelling and aesthetic worlds tenfold, enriching “worlds” as diverse as The Dark Knight, The Avengers, and cable’s The Walking Dead. Hopefully, this conference will leave all of us with a broader understanding of what it means to be a media maker today – by revealing new and expansive ways for artists to collaborate with Hollywood media managers, audiences, advertisers, members of the tech culture, and with one another.
Once the dominant player in the content industry, Hollywood today is having to look as far away as Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue for collaborators in the 2.0 space.
Moderator: Denise Mann, UCLA
Nick Childs, Executive Creative Director, Fleishman Hillard
Jennifer Holt, co-Director, Media Industries Project, UCSB
Lee Hunter, Global Head of Marketing, YouTube
Jordan Levin, CEO, Generate
In countries with strong state support for media production, alternative forms of transmedia are taking shape. How has transmedia fit within the effort of nation-states to promote and expand their creative economies?
Moderator: Laurie Baird, Strategic Consultant – Media and Entertainment at Georgia Tech Institute for People and Technology.
Jesse Albert, Producer & Consultant in Film, Television, Digital Media, Live Events & Branded Content
Morgan Bouchet, Vice-President, Transmedia and Social Media, Content Division, Orange
Christy Dena, Director, Universe Creation 101
Sara DIamond, President, Ontario College of Art and Design University
Mauricio Mota, Chief Storytelling Officer, Co-founder of The Alchemists
A new generation of media makers are taking art out of the rarefied world of crumbling art-house theaters, museums, and galleries and putting it back in the hands of the masses, creating immersive, interactive, and collaborative works of transmedia entertainment, made for and by the people who enjoy it most.
Ted Hope, Producer/Partner/Founder, Double Hope Films
Sheila C. Murphy, Associate Professor, University of Michigan
By many accounts, the comics industry is failing. Yet, comics have never played a more central role in the entertainment industry, seeding more and more film and television franchises. What advantages does audience-tested content bring to other media? What do the producers owe to those die-hard fans as they translate comic book mythology to screen? And why have so many TV series expanded their narrative through graphic novels in recent years?
Moderator: Geoffrey Long, Lead Narrative Producer for the Narrative Design Team at Microsoft Studios.
Katherine Keller, Culture Vultures Editrix at Sequential Tart
Joe LeFavi, Quixotic Transmedia
Mike Richardson, President, Dark Horse Comics
Mark Verheiden, Writer (Falling Skies, Heroes)
Mary Vogt, Costume Designer (Rise Of The Silver Surfer, Men In Black)
Collaboration across Borders: Interview with Seung Bak of DramaFever
Founded in 2009, DramaFever, an English language video site for Asian TV shows is now the largest US-based site of its kind, boasting over a million active users every month. I had the chance to interview Seung Bak, one of the founders of DramaFever about why the site has become so successful. He also told me about some of the collaborations DramaFever has been able to foster between American fans and producers of Asian dramas.
In the contemporary media environment, it has become increasingly commonplace—and commonsense—to refer to successful, long-running intellectual properties as “franchises.” In May 2010, for example, Advertising Age made sense of the sale of Snoopy, Woodstock, and the rest of Charles Shultz’s Peanuts gang to the Iconix Brand Group in these terms, valuating the history of the property and its continuing potential in the global media marketplace by exclaiming “It’s a Great Franchise, Charlie Brown” (Bulik 2010). This metaphor for making sense of media properties extends beyond trade discourse, with popular blogs also participating in the franchise conversation. In a recent post later picked up by Yahoo! News, Life’s Little Mysteries blogger Mike Avila meditates on the media franchise by trying to determine “the most successful movie franchise of all time.” Having decided to make box office revenue the deciding factor, Avila awards the crown to the Harry Potter series and its $5.4 billion in ticket sales—but with the caveat that Star Wars would gain an advantage if merchandising were to be considered, while the James Bond films exceed both in terms of overall longevity.
Such posts contribute to an overall popular understanding of the media franchise as the result of ongoing management of a property across time and various markets, corroborating the perceptions of industry insiders like Disney’s Robert Iger, who similarly defines franchise as “something that creates value across multiple businesses and across multiple territories over a long period of time” (Siklos 2009). The economic meanings carried by this metaphor, however, have also been negotiated by those working creatively with these properties, whose individual interests and energies must be asserted in the face of all this successful brand maintenance. Reflecting on the conclusion of the TV series Lost in 2010, producer Carlton Cuse notes: “We certainly understand and absolutely respect that ABC and Disney has an incredibly valuable franchise and they want to do more things with Lost, but the story we're telling ends in May” (Chozick 2010). Because Lost is understood in this way as one of the most successful television franchises of the early twenty-first century, Cuse finds it necessary as a stakeholder to reassert the role of creative individuality within the perpetual corporate management of the shared property.
This notion of media franchising, therefore, shapes how analysts, executives, creators, and popular audiences each imagine the media industries of the contemporary moment. And as Cuse’s attempt to position his work outside perceptions of franchising demonstrates, this metaphor is a particularly loaded one, often negatively connoting corporate control and exploitation of a cash cow at the expense of independence and artistry. Without a doubt, many of these connotations come from the wider cultural history of franchising. Prior to the industrial revolution, a franchise was conceived primarily in the political terms of enfranchisement. Derived from the French franchir (to free), the word “franchise” conveyed one’s right to participate and pursue one’s interests free of constraint. Within a collective system such as electoral politics, the franchise was, by and large, a freely determined individual vote. However, as historians of marketing such as Harry Kursh argue, this free right to participate took on more economic—and more sinister—connotations by the nineteenth century, as emerging tycoons “slit each other’s corporate throats” in fierce competition to be awarded “franchise” rights over utilities, railroads, and other elements of public infrastructure (1968: 194). According to scholar T.S. Dicke, the term acquired an additional use around 1959, newly deployed to describe business systems in which corporate franchisors operating on a national level develop a trademarked system of doing business enter into contractual relations with franchisees who pay a fee to independently operate outlets on the local level (1992: 2).
It is from this usage that most consumers understand global business operations such as McDonald’s restaurants, Meineke auto shops, or Best Western hotels. Thus, as industry analysts in Variety, Hollywood Reporter, and other sites of trade discourse began in the early 1990s to make sense of media content and its production as “franchising” (moving the term beyond existing usage to describe the assignment of broadcasting licenses and municipal cable monopolies as franchise rights to infrastructure), the term brought with it a great deal of historical and cultural baggage. To think about media culture as franchise is to think about it in the same terms that make sense of fast food. And in the same way that critics like George Ritzer (2000) have lamented the increasing standardization and rationalized control of culture as what he calls the “McDonaldization” of society, the articulation of media to fast food reflects allows the latter to act as cultural shorthand for the inadequacies of the former.
So while media franchising has been frequently invoked in industrial, popular, and scholarly discourse, perceptions of its economic determinism and its lack of cultural value have at least partially sidelined specific attempts to understand what the franchising of media culture actually means. In most accounts, the media franchise is a rather simple effect, figured most often as a product of increasing corporate power and conglomeration or as the endgame for intellectual property management strategies. Even as Henry Jenkins (2006), for one potentially divergent example, considers the franchised intellectual property more productively as a site where new forms of narrative practice and cultural collaboration have emerged, the media franchise is positioned and understood in relation to the larger patterns of convergence culture and transmedia storytelling. Nevertheless, media franchising is a phenomenon in its own right, not confined to specifically transmedia considerations, as properties like Law & Order and CSI have become understood as franchises for their multiplication within the single medium of television. Similarly, in The Frodo Franchise, scholar Kristin Thompson (2007) offers a detailed picture of the Lord of the Rings franchise, but in arguing about its exceptional character, her book offers only a limited perspective on the phenomenon of media franchising at large.
But what can we learn from the logic of franchising itself? What does it tell us about how cultural production and creative collaboration might work? How can we make use of this understanding? With much of this phenomenon remaining to be explored by media researchers, this project aims to directly confront and deconstruct the cultural logics of franchising in order to understand it not as the effected product of other issues and forces, but as a process and set of relationships that have historically produced culture. Though the notion of the franchise carries with it much cultural baggage, those entrenched meanings and values accompany a very specific logic for organizing and making sense of cultural production sustained over time and across multiple market sectors. By developing a detailed, historical portrait of what franchising is and how it has worked, we will deepen our understanding of how culture has been collaboratively produced and consumed across decentralized networks of “enfranchised” stakeholders. To that end, this inquiry combines current research trajectories in media and cultural studies with conceptual models drawn from the fields of marketing and organizational communication to make sense of media franchising as a social practice. This approach demands we consider franchising not solely in terms of texts, products, brands, or properties, but also through power-laden, networked relationships between franchisors and franchisees with distinct interests in the shared cultural resources of the franchise. By combining analysis of trade press with archival research and original interviews with media professionals, this project examines how these shared resources have been deployed, managed, and sustained in specific historical instances by media institutions, creative personnel, and even consumers invested in them.
Ultimately, this study recognizes that any attempt to define the media franchise once and for all is an exercise in futility, as its slippery cultural meanings are perhaps what make it such a versatile means of understanding a wide variety of media practices. Nonetheless, by arguing that franchising offers a cultural structure through which media content, media institutions, and media audiences have been put into productive relations, this study helps point to the relational, collaborative logic that defines a franchised culture. From this perspective, five key findings will be delivered to demonstrate the value of comprehending franchising as a structure for organizing collaborative cultural production:
The Cultural Logic of Franchising is Relational: franchising must be understood as relational given its dependence on sustained, strategic relationships between stakeholders with unequal interest in shared cultural resources; franchises are not reflective of intellectual property monopolies, but instead negotiation of imperfectly aligned interests.
Franchising Drives Institutional Relationships: the cultural networks constituted by franchising have not merely bolstered the power of “big media” institutions, but rather, in driving institutional relationships, have created tensions, cleavages and challenges to be negotiated by conglomerates and upstarts alike. The franchise strategies of companies like Marvel Comics, when most successful, have depended upon institutional partnerships.
Franchising Supports Creative Relationships: franchising must also be understood with respect to creative relationships, in that it has enabled co-creation and collaboration through decentralized, emergent uses of shared story worlds. Users of properties like Battlestar Galactica must negotiate not only the structure of a shared set of narrative resources, but also hierarchies of creative power that encourage and constrain creative uses of them.
Franchising Generates Consumer-Constituent Relationships: as shared cultural resources, franchised worlds have supported what can be described as consumer-constituent relationships. Invited to invest at a variety of productive, affective, and even civic levels, consumers act as defacto franchisees, pursuing their own economic and political interests in the institutional and creative management of programs like 24.
Franchising Extends Transnational and Transgenerational Relationships: franchises support transnational and transgenerational relations through ongoing exchange, transformation, and reinvestment. Franchises like Transformers can be most productively understood not as globally traded products, but as cultural processes in which local innovations feed cross-cultural networks of production over long periods of time.
From these findings, this project theorizes the culture of media franchising to uncover an established tradition of collaborative production in the entertainment industries. As a cultural logic structuring production in relational terms, the media franchise might therefore be considered, despite its more historical, less cutting-edge character, a crucial corollary to any attempt to understand emerging “social media.”
By reflecting on the heterogeneous interests in a shared set of resources implied by the term “franchise,” we gain a much clearer insight into the social, institutional, and creative relationships by which culture has been produced and reproduced in the media industries. To be sure, media franchises are not reducible to the franchise relationships that have structured the retail and service industries over the past sixty to seventy years. Relationships geared toward the expansion of distribution channels and marketing reach function much differently from those aimed at multiplying the production of media culture.
Moreover, the degree to which the cultural logic of franchises (as it has been described in this white paper) is consciously and strategically recognized in the media industries remains to be seen. Many of the executives and creative professionals interviewed for this project disavowed or distanced themselves from the very notion of franchising, claiming ignorance of the term or explaining that such considerations were outside their job description. This likely means that relatively few producers are actually thinking in any real depth about media franchises. While the practices and relationships described here may be in place, a firm structural and strategic logic may not actually underlie them in practice.
Thinking more strategically in terms of franchising—and the cultural logic it implies—has some distinct advantages, and it is here that some initial recommendations can be synthesized:
1. Practitioners should consider franchising in terms of its instructive potential as a historical precedent.
2. The relational logic of media franchising challenges industry insiders to reconsider any strategic logics structured around singular control over the use of intellectual properties.
3. In contrast to prohibitive top-down controls, open and heterogeneous creative experimentation can be relied upon to renew and regenerate existing intellectual property production resources.
4. In developing collaborative productive models, industry professionals should develop greater appreciation of contributions that emerge from outside the top echelons of power. By thinking of licensed creators and fans alike as “franchisees,” license holders can recognize vital stakeholders in the ongoing production of media properties.
Derek Johnson is an Assistant Professor, University of North Texas, Department of Radio, Television, and Film. His dissertation examined the historical development of the media "franchise" as a form based on shared intellectual property networks, as a specific set of production and consumption practices, and as a discourse used to make sense of media culture. Interested in the organization of culture across media platforms, his research spans a wide range of industries (including film, television, video games, comics, and licensed merchandising) and encompasses issues of narrative theory, audience reception, public sphere discourse, as well as media economics and policy. His recent publications include "Inviting Audiences In: The Spatial Reorganization of Production and Consumption in 'TVIII'" (New Review of Film and Television, 2007), "Fan-tagonism: Factions, Institutions, and Constitutive Hegemonies of Fandom" (Fandom: Identities and Communities in Mediated Culture, edited by Gray, Harrington, and Sandvoss, 2007), and "Will the Real Wolverine Please Stand Up?: Marvel's Mutation from Monthlies to Movies" (Film and Comic Books, edited by Gordon, Jancovich, and McAllister, 2007).
Derek can be reached directly at Derek.Johnson@unt.edu.
Thursday March 3, 2011 | 7:00pm | 34-101On the whole, Invisible Children looks to provide humanitarian aid to displaced persons in northern, war-torn Uganda who have suffered from Africa's longest-running civil war. Moreover, they aim to provide shelter, safety, and education to children who were or would otherwise be child soldiers in the rebel army (the LRA, or the Lord's Resistance Army.)
This next chapter of Invisible Children's Bracelet Campaign is about Tony, and the struggles he faces as a child in this harsh region of the world.
The trailer for the film is embedded below.
For more information, visit the Invisible Children website.
This event is sponsored by the MIT UA funding board.
Also this spring, Nancy contributed one of the first C3 Research Memos distributed to C3 Consortium Members. This C3 Research will be made publicly available via the C3 blog in late November of this year.
While here in Cambridge, Nancy was asked to speak at the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School. Her talk (in the embedded video below) entitled "Changing Relationships, Changing Industries" addresses her thinking on notions of exchange (economic and social) between fans, audiences, the music industry and the independent music scene - specifically in the case of independent Swedish artists and music labels.
Nancy's insights into how the independent music scene by necessity has embraced new media distribution channels and the audience embrace of these new channels, as well as her insights and metrics on the major label music industry as an inadvertent 'loss leader' in the swift dismantling of the top down corporate music hierarchy (which we are now seeing manifest in film and television) were an early influence on what became 2008 - 2009 C3 research on new consumption patterns, new patterns of value exchange, along with innovative ideas surrounding value and worth - specifically the 2008 C3 White Paper on Spreadability, Xiaochang Li's 2009 C3 White Paper More Than Money Can Buy: Locating Value in Spreadable Media, Ana Domb's 2009 White Paper Tacky and Proud: Exploring Technobrega's Value Network and the CMS C3 FOE4 Panel, Moderated by Prof. Jenkins entitled "Consumption, Value and Worth" (panel video here, liveblogging archive here).
What Prof. Jenkins Did This Summer (Comic-Con and Transmedia Brazil)
Both the MIT and USC 2010-2011 academic year are now well underway, allowing the C3 founders, consulting researchers and practitioners (as well the CMS C3 team here @ MIT) time to finally get back to the C3 blog (after our usual summer hiatus).
Our last entry was on May 14, 2010, so let's get right to our first blog entry of this academic year.
In a variation on the traditional "What I Did This Summer" essay schoolchildren are usually asked to write on their first day of school, we feature a video assemblage of what Prof. Jenkins did this summer.
To start: a panel he moderated at Comic-Con in July of this year.
The panel, entitled Red Faction Armageddon: How to Build a Transmedia Universe features Prof. Jenkins moderating, with panelists Danny Bilson (EVP Core Games, THQ), Lenny Brown (director IP development, THQ), Hollywood's leading Transmedia producer Jeff Gomez (Avatar, Transformers, Tron Legacy, Men In Black 3D), Alan Seiffert (SVP, Syfy Ventures), and Erika Kennair (director, development, Syfy).
A written recap of the panel can also be found here.
(NOTE: the sound recording on this video is a bit faint, but turn up the volume and it should be fine).
In May, Prof. Jenkins was the guest of The Alchemists, a C3 sponsor company, at a series of events and speaking engagements in Rio de Janeiro. Below you will find a series of interviews with Prof. Jenkins (in English with Portuguese subtitles) which were first posted at the Brazilian site Rede Globo (Prof. Jenkins also provided his own blog entry on his time in Brazil entitled My Brazilian Adventure which we will cross post here at the C3 site in the weeks ahead, but if you are anxious to read it can be found here at Prof. Jenkins blog).
Fan Edits: Improving the Original (Without Changing the Original?)
A fan edit is a production in which (what would have been considered) an ordinary viewer makes changes to an original film (or films) to create "a new interpretation of the source material" (Wikipedia; link above).
Edits of films ("cuts") have been around for decades, and director's cuts have long been an additional supplement to many film releases (or releases unto themselves). But as digital production technology became more widespread, cheaper, and easier to use, ordinary consumers began to take commercially-distributed films (which also became cheaper and of higher quality for consumer purchase) and edit them in their own homes: essentially creating "director's critic's edits."
One of the most popular early fan edits (and still to this day one of the most popular) is The Phantom Edit, which took George Lucas's fourth Star Wars film, The Phantom Menace, and reorganized the footage to create a different, "better" film (the story of which is chronicled in this Salon.com article).
There are vibrant politics around fan edits, from issues of fair use to questions of aesthetics and vision. More on these issues follow after the jump.
When Fans Become Advertisers: Smallville Becomes Legendary
When we hear that fans are rallying support behind a favorite television series, we might imagine the letter writing campaign in the late 1960s which kept Star Trek on the air; we might imagine fans of Jericho sending crates of peanuts to network executives; we might even picture fans of Chuck organizing a large scale "buycot," getting people to purchase foot long sandwiches at Subways to show their enthusiasm for the series. What we probably do not picture is fans raising the money to support and air their own commercial paying tribute to the star of their favorite series. So, I was impressed when I received this press release the other week:
Smallville fans have funded a professionally-filmed tribute commercial for the CW leading lady Allison Mack and her tv character, Chloe Sullivan, to air this Spring in Los Angeles before this season concludes. Starring on Smallville since 2001, Ms. Mack has gained a large and devoted fan base as one of the CW's most beloved stars. For the completion of her 9th year on the series, Smallville fans decided to celebrate Allison Mack and her tv character, Chloe Sullivan, with a commercial project entitled Legendary. Scripted and funded entirely by fans, this first of its kind tribute ad was filmed in Los Angeles in late February. In the capable hands of the director, Jon Michael Kondrath, cast and crew created a tribute ad focusing on who Chloe Sullivan is and what she means to Smallville fans. The ad highlights milestones in Chloe Sullivan's journey from her introduction as a high school student in Smallville to being hired at the Daily Planet as well as becoming Clark Kent's confidante
I wanted to know more of the story behind this project and reached out to Maggie Bridger, who is one of the organizers, to learn more about how fans have been able to mount such an ambitious undertaking and to explore with her what it's implications might be for future forms of fan activism.
Bowing and Begging: Resisting Industry Failure Through Fan Loyalty
The Japanese popular culture industry, especially for anime and manga, is an interesting case study for global fandom, but also for global industry. The comics, television, and film industry for animated popular culture in Japan has its own history, structure, and approaches, but over the past five decades, as it has reached millions of new, international viewers, new industries have risen to cater to these fans. Still, with the rise of the Internet and the economic troubles that most industries have gone through over the past decade, both the domestic and international manga and anime industries have been hurting for money, even with a surfeit of fans.
The anime and manga industry is especially volatile, because its domestic and international audiences have utilized the Internet to spread and consume the media at the expense of industrial and commercial models that cannot keep up with the audiences' changing tastes, modes of consumption, and cultural behaviors of media consumption (sharing with friends, international online distribution, the culture of collectors versus mere viewers, etc.). The industries, both in Japan and elsewhere, must change: however, the success that anime and manga brought a decade ago have influenced the producers of these media to stick with old models that are no longer fully applicable to the current fan cultures that drive the markets.
Today, I want to discuss two very recent issues of the manga and anime industries -- in Japan and in America -- publicizing comments to fans in a way that might be seen by many as "giving up": without adapting to technological, cultural, and commercial changes, the industries representatives have voiced concerns to fans by pleading with them to stop behaving as they current are -- mostly by using the Internet to circumvent commercial models for their media consumption -- and to think ethically about how these behaviors are affecting the respective industries.
Several years ago, I met a remarkable young man named Lucifer Chu in Shanghai. Chu had been the person who first translated the works of J.R.R. Tolkien into Chinese, after a considerable push to convince publishers that there was a market for fantasy and science fiction in China. He took the proceeds from the sales of the Lord of the Rings to launch a fantasy foundation, which promoted fantastical literature in Taiwan and mainland China, and he translated more than 30 fantasy novels for the Chinese market. As of a few years ago, almost all of the fantasy novels and role playing games available in Taiwan were translated by Chu and he was making in roads into getting these same works published for the mainland. He argued that the fantastic played crucial roles in Chinese folk and literary traditions but the genre had largely been eradicated there as a consequence of Maoist policies during the Cultural Revolution which promoted socialist realism and saw fantasy as western and decadent. Chu argued that bringing fantasy literature back into China was a way of helping his people rediscover their dreams and reimagine their future.
As I have been speaking with my USC student Lifang He about her work on the fan cultures which have quickly grown up around Avatar in China, I've wondered what connections, if any, exist between these two efforts to promote the fantastical imagination in that country. Are the young men and women we read about here the offspring of Chu's efforts? Are they connecting with western fan culture on line? This piece offers us some tantalizing glimpses into the many different ways Chinese fans have mobilized around and fantasized about James Cameron's blockbuster.
The American press has been following the commercial success of Avatar in China primarily as a business issue -- exploring what it might tell us about other opportunities for selling media in this country, using it to shadow Google's turmoil in the country, and marginally exploring why China was pushing the film from many of the nation's movie theaters. Yet, this piece takes us inside the world of Chinese Avatar fans, helping us to better understand what the film looks like from their perspective.
From time to time, I use this space to showcase the global dimensions of the kinds of participatory culture which so often concern us here. When I first started to write about fan culture, for example, the circuit along which fan produced works traveled did not extend much beyond the borders of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and perhaps Australia. American fans knew little about fan culture in other parts of the world and indeed, there was often speculation about why fandom was such a distinctly American phenomenon.
Now, fans online connect with others all over the world, often responding in real time to the same texts, conspiring to spread compelling media content from one culture to the other, and we are seeing a corresponding globalization of fan studies. Yet, some countries remain largely outside of field of view, because of language barriers, cultural differences, political policies, and alternative tech platforms.
Consequently, most of us know very little about how fan production practices have spread to China -- which is too often described in terms of its piracy of American content and too little discussed in terms of its creative repurposing of that content to reflect their own cultural interests. So, I am really excited over these next two installments to share some glimpses into fan culture in China -- specifically focusing on the vidding community there (but also discussing other forms of fan participation.)
These two posts were created by Lifang He, an Annenberg student who took my transmedia entertainment class in the fall and who is doing an independent study with me this term to expand her understanding of the concept of participatory culture. Here, she talks about how Kung Fu Panda got read in relation to the economic crisis in China, and next time, she will tackle the array of different fan responses to Avatar.
Back in January, Sheila wrote a solid post about the Conan O'Brien v. Jay Leno controversy taking place on NBC. Her third point, about the rallying of fans behind Conan, known as the "Team Coco" movement, has interestingly taken a turn for the best: Conan will be touring the States and putting on live events for his newly-optimistic fanbase.
The Facebook group acted as a space for anti-fan (Leno) and fan activity, even spurring massive rallies in major cities across America.
The fan support has been so astounding that Conan O'Brien teamed up with American Express to produce live shows in thirty cities across the country, which Conan is calling "The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour" (the details of which can be viewed at http://teamcoco.com/).
Fan support for media or celebrities is not a new phenomenon: it's one of many examples of engagement that has produced beneficial results for television series, movies, etc. (such as Firefly, which saw a DVD release and a movie, Serenity, after the show's cancellation on FOX).
But Team Coco, having increased in size due to rapid communication platforms like Twitter and Facebook, seems to be the first that achieved results in such a short period of time. Will this expeditious trend continue with other fandoms as the Internet slowly connects people with similar interests online? And will we see similar trends with future examples of civic engagement and fan activism?
Henry Jenkins and Camille Bacon-Smith at Gaylaxicon 1992
This week, I am sharing a piece from the historic archives of the Aca-Fan world: an exchange between Camille Bacon-Smith and myself at Gaylaxicon 1992. You should know that both Enterprising Women and Textual Poachers were very new books at the time this exchange took place, having appeared just a few months apart, and that the fan world was still trying to process what it meant to be the object of academic study. I would later, in fact, write an essay on the Gaylaxians themselves which appeared in my book (written with John Tulloch), Science Fiction Audiences, and was reprinted in an edited form in Fans, Bloggers and Gamers. I am hoping that these documents may be a source of nostalgia for some and a historical resource for others. In this segment, the two authors introduce themselves, their relations to fandom, and the central arguments of their books, and then instantly get pulled into a discussion of copyright and authorial rights, issues never far from the surface when fandom is concerned.
Transcript of a panel discussion between Henry Jenkins and Camille Bacon-Smith, moderated by Shoshanna, at Gaylaxicon 92, a science fiction convention by and for gay fandom and its friends, on 18 July 1992. At that time Henry was about to publish Textual poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture (Routledge, 1992); Camille had published Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and Popular Culture (U. of Penn. Press, 1992). Shoshanna is a fan. All fans identified here are identified with the name/pseud they requested.
C3 White Paper: More Than Money Can Buy: Locating Value in Spreadable Media
The next installment of our 2009 C3 white paper releases.
My white paper extends the work I began with If It Doesn't Spread, it's Dead in 2008. It digs deeper into how the social principles that shape the flow "free" goods and services online shape concepts of value.
Through theoretical analysis and practical case studies, the paper:
Explains why "free" things aren't really free, and the social contracts that regulate these exchanges
Outlines the key differences between socially-driven exchanges and market-driven ones, with an eye towards how to develop online monetization models that can bridge the two systems.
Breaks down examples of best (and worst) practices
Proposes general principles for understanding online communities and socially-motivated content creators, and how to build business models around their activities.
The Last Airbender or The Last Straw?, or How Loraine Became a Fan Activist
This is another installment in our ongoing series about fan-activism and the ways certain kinds of groups are bridging between our experiences with interest-driven networks in participatory culture and public participation. This chapter tells the story of Loraine Sammy and the Racebender campaign, which challenged the white-washed casting of the feature film version of The Last Airbender. Thanks to the production chops of Anna Van Someren, we are able to share much of Sammy's story in her own words, so do take time to watch the video segments attached to this piece.
As I have been working with Van Someren and Shesthova, two members of our research team, to prepare this piece for publication, I am reminded of work I did more than a decade ago around the Gaylaxians, a gay-lesbian-bi-trans science fiction fan group which made a concerted effort to get a sympathetic queer character on Star Trek: The Next Generation. The campaign failed in the short run in that the producers ultimately deflected or misdirected their requests, continually rephrasing them into how Star Trek might deal with the "issue" of gay rights, while the group wanted to show a future where being gay was not an issue. I am struck now by the growing number of science fiction series, British and American, which have matter of fact portrayals of same sex relationships, including Battlestar Galactica (whose show runner Ron Moore cut his teeth working on the Star Trek franchise.) I've never seen any one directly trace these shifts in the representation of sexuality in science fiction back to the Gaylaxians, but I have a sense that in the end, the campaign had some impact on our culture, even when its initial goal was lost. I hope the same can be said for the efforts of the Racebending efforts -- they have lost the battle but will they win the war? (For more on the Gaylaxians, see Science Fiction Audiences or Fans, Bloggers and Gamers.)
Our connection to Racebending and Loraine Sammy came through a member of the research group Lori Kido Lopez, a doctoral student at Annenberg.... who is including Racebending in her Ph.D. research.
Will New Law Block Many Slash, Anime, Manga Sites in Australia?
The following guest blog post came about as a result of some e-mail correspondence with Australian researcher Mark McLelland, who described to me some significant shifts in media policy in his home country, Australia, which we both felt should be better understood not only by fans there but around the world. Certainly, the issues around this new internet filter policy have cropped up in many other parts of the world and serve as a helpful reminder that fans need to understand how local, national, and international laws may impact their fan writing practices -- especially those writing and circulating controversial or risky stories. The issues raised here are important ones, especially in the context of an increasingly globalized fan culture.
(Mark McLelland's article continues after the jump.)
Fandom, Participatory Culture, and Web 2.0 -- A Syllabus
I'm back at my desk after what was far too short a break! MIT gave us all of January off to focus on our own research as well as to participate in their Independent Activities Period. USC's semester starts, gulp, today, so my rhythms felt all wrong through late December and early January. But here we are -- once more into the breech.
Today, I am going to be teaching the first session of a graduate seminar on "Fandom, Participatory Culture, and Web 2.0," and so I wanted to share the syllabus with my readers here, given the level of unexpected interest I received when I posted my syllabi last fall for the Transmedia Storytelling and Entertainment and New Media Literacies classes. I am in a very happy place right now with my teaching -- starting over at USC is freeing me to form new kinds of classes which grow more from my own research interests rather than the institutional needs of sustaining an under-staffed program. I am thus developing classes around key concepts in my own work which are allowing me to introduce myself and my thinking to this new community. Surprisingly, given how central the study of fans has been to the trajectory of my research from graduate school forward, this is the first time I have ever taught a full class around this topic.
There are many ways you could conceptualize such a subject. A key choice I faced was between a course on fan culture, which would be centrally about what fans do and think, and a course in fan studies, which would map the emergence of and influence of a new academic field focused on the study of fandom and other forms of participatory culture. On the undergraduate level, I would have taken the first approach but on the graduate level, I opted for the second -- trying to map the evolution of a field of research centered around the study of fan communities and showing how it has spoken to a broader range of debates in media and cultural studies over the past two decades. As you will see, teaching a course right now, I found it impossible to separate out the discussion of fan culture from contemporary debates about web 2.0 and so I made that problematic, contradictory, and evolving relationship a key theme for the students to investigate. Do not misunderstand me -- I am not assuming an easy match between the three terms in my title. The shifting relations between those three terms is a central concern in the class.
I think it speaks to the richness of the space of fan research that I have included as many works as I have and I still feel inadequate because it is easy to identify gaps and omissions here -- key writers (many of them friends, some of them readers of this blog) that I could not include. Some of the topics I am focusing on are over-crowded with research and some are just emerging. I opted to cover a broader range of topics rather than focusing only on works which are canonical to the space of fan studies. All I can say is that I am sorry about the gaps but rest assured that this other work will surface in class discussion and no doubt play key roles in student papers.
I am hoping that in publishing this syllabus here, I can introduce some of the lesser known texts here (as well as the overall framework) to others teaching classes in this area and to researchers around the world who often write me trying to identify work on fan cultures. I'd love to hear from either groups here and happy to share more of what you are doing. Regular readers may anticipate more posts this semester in the fan studies space, just as last term saw more posts on transmedia topics.
Singing in the Living Room: Fueling the Business Model of FOX's Glee
Warning: This article on Glee might tend toward the meta, as while I write this article, I will be listening to the first Glee Soundtrack*: seventeen songs from Ryan Murphy's hit show on FOX. And the songs are exactly what I wish to discuss: the transmedia of music.
* The second soundtrack was actually released for sale two days ago on December 8th. If you want to listen to and/or purchase the first soundtrack, you can find it on iTunes or Amazon.
During the Futures of Entertainment 4 conference, as Henry Jenkins comments on his blog, "Nancy Baym asked us to think about when and how music has gone transmedia. We struggled to come up with examples - everyone of course immediately latched onto the ARG created around the Nine Inch Nails; I proposed the comic book Tattoo where artists and writers used Tori Amos songs as their inspiration." What I wish to bring into the limelight is that we've been participating in a musical transmedia experience of epic proportions for the past few months, on TV, on Hulu, on our iPods, and even in our living rooms: the rockin' music of Glee.
Before I continue to discuss how exactly Glee works as transmedia, let me discuss the concept of the fan experience. Henry also writes in the same paragraph, "The question looks different, though, if we ask about transmedia performance, because most contemporary musical artists perform across multiple media - minimally live and recorded performance, but also video and social network sites and Twitter..." Back in October, I wrote an article for the Consortium blog, Performing with Glee, which examines the fan (re-)production that has emerged on YouTube from reenacting scenes from Glee's television episodes. While this fan performance has pushed the Glee experience into a transmedial mode -- the total experience of interacting with the Glee "franchise" spreads across mediums, regardless of its production origins -- the fan activity obviously is not the same as the actual artists or content producers performing across mediums. I try to make the distinction obvious, especially by putting quotation marks around franchise, above, because when we consider transmedia, usually we apply the term franchise to the complete production consumed by the audience without taking into account the extensive continual experience that moves beyond the original production (think: Star Trek conventions, anime cosplayers, or even Superbowl celebration parades).
So I wish, in examining why Glee's business model has been so successful, to explain how Glee's business model has been so successful. And this is due to the fan experience.
Convergence of Industry and Fandom: The Japanese Musical Character as Production Platform
Once per month, the Comparative Media Studies department holds a general staff meeting, after which one member from the department gives a presentation. For November's assembly, Philip Tan from GAMBIT gave a presentation entitled "Hatsune Miku & Nico Nico Douga: Remixes, Media Production, and File Sharing."
Hatsune Miku (her name means "first sound / future") is a 16-year-old character from Vocaloid, "a singing synthesizer application software developed by the Yamaha Corporation that enables users to synthesize singing by typing in lyrics and melody" (Wikipedia). The software allows anyone to create a song with synthetic vocals, allowing for creative new melodies, recreations of old harmonies, and the imagination of improbable or impossible music.
Hatsune Miku Live Concert, Japan
In commercial terms, Miku-chan met wild success, finding a strong fanbase in the otaku subculture of Japan. These fans have created thousands of permutations of original videos, fan comics (doujinshi), mashups, fan art, and cosplay. Even in America, Miku has spread across the online American anime fandom like wildfire, and her image is noticeable to even young fans.
Below, I've embedded a video recording (excuse me for the not-so-great audio quality) of Phil's 15-minute presentation on the progress Hatsune Miku has made for fan production in Japan. It's the perfect example of an industry-produced piece of media that has been utilized by audiences in ways unimaginable to its producers. Amazingly, as Phil will explain, the industry actually celebrates the fan production and honors it in new productions.
Philip Tan is the executive director for the US operations of the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, a game research initiative hosted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is concurrently a project manager for the Media Development Authority (MDA) of Singapore.
He has served as a member of the steering committee of the Singapore chapter of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) and worked closely with Singapore game developers to launch industry-wide initiatives and administer content development grants as an assistant manager in the Animation & Games Industry Development section of MDA. He has produced and designed PC online games at The Education Arcade, a research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that studied and created educational games. He complements a Master's degree in Comparative Media Studies with work in Boston's School of Museum of Fine Arts, the MIT Media Lab, WMBR 88.1FM and the MIT Assassins' Guild, the latter awarding him the title of "Master Assassin" for his live-action roleplaying game designs. He also founded a DJ crew at MIT.
Specialties: digital, live-action and tabletop game design, production and management
Skinny Jeans and Fruity Loops: The Networked Publics of Global Youth Culture
Back in November, I was lucky to attend an excellent lecture/presentation by Wayne Marshall, who is currently a Mellon Fellow in the Foreign Languages and Literatures department here at MIT. His talk, entitled Skinny Jeans and Fruity Loops, explores dance subcultures across the globe and examines how technology is impacting these networked communities:
What can we learn about contemporary culture from watching dayglo-clad teenagers dancing geekily in front of their computers in such disparate sites as Brooklyn, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, and Mexico City? How has the embrace of "new media" by so-called "digital natives" facilitated the formation of transnational, digital publics? More important, what are the local effects of such practices, and why do they seem to generate such hostile responses and anxiety about the future?
Wayne's talk is available via audio below (with a direct link to the mp3 here).
Of course, the presentation relied heavily on audiovisuals, so I've embedded some relevant dance videos below. Please enjoy the talk, or dance along!
Finally, if you're interested, I've appended my own notes from the talk in this post, after the jump.
Wayne Marshall is an ethnomusicologist, blogger, DJ, and, beginning this year, a Mellon Fellow in Foreign Languages and Literatures at MIT. His research focuses on the production and circulation of popular music, especially across the Americas and in the wider world, and the role that digital technologies are playing in the formation of new notions of community, selfhood, and nationhood.
Kompare argues that while US television was once organized around textual reception, it now functions on a logic of versioning, which is based on mobility, scalability, and creativity. Media texts, like Star Trek and Doctor Who, are released in as many versions as the market will tolerate. Versioning does not refer to remakes or adaptations of original series, but instead refers to the ways a single text is remastered, repackaged, and ultimately re-sold to fans.
Wrapping up SXSW: Jenkins, De Kosnik, and Askwith on Fans
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend South by Southwest Interactive in Austin. Between panels, parties, and the constant stream of Tweets, I'm still processing everything I took in at the conference.
For those of you who couldn't make it to Austin last month--and even for those of you who could--I wanted to share the slides from one of the best panels I attended: "Engagement 1.0: Understanding the History of Fan Interactivity," featuring Ivan Askwith, Henry Jenkins and Abigail De Kosnik. Since these three are affiliated with C3, I may be a little biased, but I am sincere when I say that this panel was the most useful discussion fan practices saw at SXSW. I left the presentation with a basic but broad understanding of how fan communities create value and worth. The slides:
The Many Lives of The Batman (Revisited): Multiplicity, Anime, and Manga by Henry Jenkins
Writing in 1991, Roberta Pearson and William Uricchio (the co-Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program) used the Batman as an example of the kinds of pressures being exerted on the superhero genre at a moment when older texts were continuing to circulate (and in fact, were recirculated in response to renewed interests in the characters), newer versions operated according to very different ideological and narratalogical principles, a range of auteur creators were being allowed to experiment with the character, and the character was assuming new shapes and forms to reflect the demands of different entertainment sectors and their consumers:
Whereas broad shifts in emphasis had occurred since 1939, these changes had been, for the most part, consecutive and consensual. Now, newly created Batmen, existing simultaneously with the older Batmen of the television series and comic reprints and back issues, all struggled for recognition and a share of the market. But the contradictions amongst them may threaten both the integrity of the commodity form and the coherence of the fans' lived experience of the character necessary to the Batman's continued success.
(See The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and His Media)
The superhero comic, they suggest, may not be able to withstand "the tension between, on the one hand, the essential maintenance of a recognizable set of key character components and, on the other hand, the increasingly necessary centrifugal dispersion of those components."
Retrospectively, we can see Pearson and Uricchio as describing a moment of transition from continuity to multiplicity as the governing logic of the superhero comics realm. Rather than fragmenting or confusing the audience, this multiplicity of Batmen helped fans learn to live in a universe where there were diverse, competing images of their favorite characters and indeed, to appreciate the pleasures of seeing familiar fictions transformed in unpredicted ways.
In my last post, I introduced Gawker and New York Magazine's coverage of the TV show Gossip Girl. I'll continue the discussion in this post and consider the value of non-network sites of TV fandom.
New York Magazine and Gawker both include a lot of non-Gossip Girl content, so it's likely that some readers who come for the Gossip will stay to browse the site. It's also possible that readers who go to New York Magazine or Gawker for other reasons will stumble across Gossip Girl coverage. The entertaining material on both these sites should make the people at the CW, which broadcasts Gossip Girl, very pleased because reading recaps and participating in discussions encourages viewers to stay involved with Gossip Girl long after it airs. Further, Gossip Girl is frequently among the top time-shifted TV shows and in light of these communities that makes sense: viewers who are immersed in the culture of recaps and forums are likely to watch the show early and often.
Our work at C3 has focused a lot lately on online video platforms as recent blog posts indicate. We also think a lot about fans and the communities they create. But we rarely examine how these two things relate--probably because in most cases they don't. The discussion boards on most streaming video sites are relative ghost towns while hoards of television fans congregate in online spaces that don't stream content (like Television Without Pity ). What can producers, networks, and advertisers learn about their audiences from these online spaces? A particularly rich example of an active non-network fan site lives at New York Magazine's website and is dedicated to none other than The Greatest Show of Our Time: Gossip Girl.
FOE3 Liveblog: Session 2 - Making Audiences Matter
Coming out of Henry and Yochai's conversation about networked media spaces and participatory culture, we headed into a discussion of value around audience, with liveblogging by CMS graduate student Flourish Klink.
Moderator Joshua Green: I want to address topics that have been brewing all day to discuss what the audience may be becoming - "the audience ain't what it used to be." So intro's...
Kim Moses: Exec producer of Ghost Whisperer.
Gail De Kosnik: Ass't prof in UC Berkeley Center for New Media
Vu Nguyen: Crunchyroll.com
Kevin Slavin: Area/Code - "games that have computers in them"
JG: In a transmedia world, what does the audience look like?
KM: I come from a very traditional place, a network television show - needs to have a v. broad appeal. So my goal is to "take back Friday nights" - took different media platforms in addition to TV to reach multiple groups.
GDK: Audiences today aren't just audiences, they think of themselves as makers. Are audiences also workers in the media industry?
VN: Audience more empowered & therefore demanding than ever. Crunchyroll's audience consumes media online primarily. Skews young because tech-savvy, less money, more time to invest.
KS: The conventional idea of "mass" is actually really constrained by the geography, distribution of a TV signal, at a certain time... assumptions are made in the production of conventional media because it is locationally, temporally situated. When those things go away that's REALLY mass - it can be to anyone anywhere at any time. That's a totally different thing. Part of the value of a conventional model is that there are those geographic, locational constraints. But now ad value goes down because it could be anyone, targeted ads are harder.
FOE3 Liveblog: Conversation -- Wealth, Value, and Social Production
Henry Jenkins and Yochai Benkler see themselves as a closely related, which that they had read each other's book in terms of thinking about differentially motivated players.
Nonprofit distribution of content - now we can begin there. In this moment of peer production, what are the nonprofit, public television.
YB: implications that I see are - 1. A change of role. In an environment where communicating with large groups, public media was uncorrelated with market flows of cultural production. That cost barrier isn't there anymore, so the necessity of sufficient level of ____ isn't there anymore. So is it the elite aspect of it? When you look at free software and open access books and the role of foundations that harness work of peers into whole. Nonprofits are becoming helping groups become more effective in what they do. Public media needs to
instead of producing educational materials that are stable good but to provide ways in which teachers can produce content. WGBH - Nova - convert content into spreadable media in ways that are pitched from a different perspective. Understanding the need for a locus of high capital production has become less important. What little public funds there are can go further if they're oriented toward provided opportunities for generating content rather than created fixed content. Mentione - sunlight foundation, apache software
HJ: Public tv used to provide diversity, but it couldn't provide the social network, the passion for diversity. In an era of social networks, PBS plays a role as a digital network. Very good at soliciting us as contributors but stops once pledge week ends. Function it plays in joining people into a real network
YB - not a non seq - WSJ creating a network of paid subscribers. A signal about what kind of person they are. Same thing possible with public television, except not an issue of payment but participation. Not sure if it would capture young people.
HJ: what;s your research showing about what motivates people to join social networks?
YB: not just social networks-- we're slowly coming to accept (loosely defined "we") that academia is dominated by a view of selfish rationality. Shared perception that this is largest modality of perception in social sciences. Image of Alan Greenspan - I relied on self-interest and it failed me. Not to be sneezed at. For me, free software as been particularly powerful in making this argument. Someone who relies on markets
renewed interest in mapping
catalog in an organized way what are human motivations
object is to come up with a sufficient usable set of clusters of human motivators, and then, what do I need to think about - using the terms of gift and worth and the gift economy. Tends to think in terms that are useful but partial. Examples - status, atomistic giving, reputation,
function of social capital - also interpersonal relatedness - a sense of identity
fascinating surveys of free software - why- reputation, expectation of future work, solving a particular problem - easily convertible into a self-interested problem. But, it turns about that people say 75% as a central aspect of their identity, of who they are, fairness, giving back, sheer pleasure, then reputations, etc. need to be part of sociality is important, what's right, fair, reciprocal, etc. Though guilt and shame can be part of it.
HJ: Web 2.0 includes economic motivations on one side and ---- on the other. How might it scrambled?
Kpop Goes Global (part 2): SM Global auditions and transnational fan culture
In my previous post on the SM Global auditions, I talked about the complications within the very idea of "global" in the contexts of national markets and the anxieties or tensions surrounding the what is meant by the "global" stage, especially when "globalization" is used not simply as a euphemism for westernization.
In this part, I would like to draw out another, perhaps related, component, which was the function of the SM Global auditions as a transnational fan space. Rather than functioning as straight talent gathering, the auditions in fact worked as a sort of fan-relations event that not only did not require the presence of celebrities, but also worked to direct fan energy from the individual artists towards the larger company brand as a whole, a critical strategy in the development of new artists.
Registration information will be soon to follow, and be sure to check in for updates to speaker lists as we start to finalize our panels in the upcoming weeks. This year promises to be exciting and provocative, as we push our themes of convergence and media spreadability onto the global stage, while not losing sight of central C3 issues such as transmedia storytelling and audience value.
To get an idea of what the Futures of Entertainment conference is like, check out last year's site and listen or view the podcasts.
Kpop goes global: notes from the SM Global Auditions (part 1)
Since much of C3's research this year, as well as my individual work, seeks to examine how the principles of cultural convergence and media spreadability play out on a global scale, it was with great enthusiasm that I set out to do ethnographic fieldwork at this year's SM Global Auditions in New York (Flushing, Queens, to be exact).
SM Entertainment is one of the biggest and most elite talent stables in Korea and, thanks to growing prominence of "the Korean Wave," across much of Asia. Known for their pop music talent, in particular well-groomed and intensely professional girl groups and boybands with up to over a dozen members per group. Their strategy, like many successful talent agencies throughout Asia, is to recruit extremely young, usually pre-teens and teenagers, and then put their recruits through extensive training and often, not insignificant amounts of plastic surgery, before choosing the most promising ones to "debut," or launch officially, as "idols." Once most of these "trainees" debut, the press accepts them directly as celebrities, and fans are often carried over based on the SM Entertainment name, as opposed to the group's individual talents.
Their Global Auditions, according to SM's website, are an effort to discover talent that can "stand on the stages of Asia and the world." Despite the name, the auditions were only held in the US and Canada, in 8 major cities, like New York, SF, LA, and Toronto, that are known to be centers of the East Asian diaspora. News of the auditions were spread online, via blogs, message boards, and SM's own website. SM also made recruitment videos featuring all their biggest acts, which got uploaded onto Youtube, Veoh, Dailymotion, Crunchyroll, and a number of video-sharing sites. These circulated mostly amongst fans of the groups, acting both as recruitment and promotional footage for SM Entertainment, but it also ensured that a significant portion of the people at the auditions were fans, rather than people seeking to seriously pursue entertainment careers.
As such, the auditions were an interesting site in which certain tensions between concepts of global and national, fan and "professional" surfaced. This first part will discuss the tensions of national origin and "global" media reach, while part 2 will deal with the auditions as simultaneously a site of professional development, but also fan participation.
I posted this recently on my blog and thought it would likewise be of interest to C3 blog readers.
One of the most powerful tools in the Karl Rove arsenal was a form of political Judo: take your opponent's strengths and turn them into vulnerabilities. For example, coming into the 2004 convention, Democrats had seen war hero John Kerry as pretty much unassailable on issues of patriotism and they made it a central theme of their event. Within a week or two, the Swift Boat Campaign made Kerry's service record an uncomfortable topic to discuss, flipping Kerry's advantage (that he had served in Vietnam and neither George W. Bush nor Dick Cheney had done so) on its head. This added the phrase, "Swiftboating," to the language of American politics.
Coming into the Primary season, several things stood out about Barack Obama: First, he had developed a reputation as the Democrat who was most comfortable talking about his faith in the public arena; many Democrats felt that he gave them a shot at attracting some more independent-minded evangelical Christians, especially given the emergence of more progressive voices that linked Christianity to serving the poor, combating AIDS, and protecting the environment. (Indeed, we saw signs of that pitch during Obama's appearance at the Saddleback Church Forum last week, when he clearly knew and deployed evangelical language better than McCain). Yet, the circulation of the Rev. Wright videos -- not to mention the whisper campaigns charging that he is secretly Islamic -- blunted his ability to use faith as a primary part of his pitch to voters. Similarly, the Obama campaign showed an early comfort with talking about American traditions in lofty and inspirational values, so he has been confronted with attacks from reactionary talk radio questioning his patriotism.
Over the past three weeks, we've seen the McCain campaign take aim at a third of Obama's strengths -- the so-called "enthusiasm gap." Basically, pundits have been talking a good deal about the lack of enthusiasm for the Republican nominee among his rank and file in comparison with the extraordinary passion Obama has generated, especially among young and minority voters. To confront this "enthusiasm gap," the McCain campaign has clearly decided that it needs to pathologize enthusiasm itself, suggesting that emotional investments in candidates are dangerous, and thus positioning himself as the only "rational" choice. In doing so, he has tapped deeply rooted anxieties about popular culture and its fans.
This is not the old culture war rhetoric where candidates accused each other of being soft on "popular culture," a tactic which Joseph Lieberman has turned into an art form. No, this time, the attack is on politics as popular culture. Both tactics strike me as profoundly anti-democratic. After all, how do you found a democratic society on the assumption that the public is stupid and has bad judgment?
Looking at the Convergence Culture Consortium with a Critical Eye
Being part of the team that helped launch what became the Convergence Culture Consortium and being at the center of the group's work for the past few years, I am interested in how C3's work is situated at an intersection amongst fandom, media companies and brands, and the academy. I feel that positioning is what energizes the group's work, but it can likewise lead to skepticism and scrutiny, especially as the perspective here on the blog and elsewhere balances positions that are sometimes oppositional or more often of little interest to one another.
Some industry folks who attend C3 events or read this blog might find it "a little too academic for them," while some academics might find it "a little too corporate." Likewise, C3 may see itself as advocating the interests of the audience to corporate partners, but that doesn't mean there can't (or shouldn't) be skepticism from fans and scholars alike as to what such a dialogue means, what's left out of the conversation, etc. After all, this is media studies: while cynicism is often unhelpful, where would we be without a healthy dose of skepticism?
I've written in the past about criticisms of the Consortium that I felt were somewhat off-base (look here and in the comments here for more). As the Consortium's PI Henry Jenkins often does over on his blog, I've attempted to describe the philosophy and approach our group takes toward talking with industry and other constituencies (such as here).
But the most thorough and thought-provoking critique (and by that I don't mean critical in the pejorative but rather as reasoned and thought-out) of the Consortium's position I've seen came recently from cryptoxin on LiveJournal. Anyone interested in these issues should read cryptoxin's post and the intelligent debate that follows it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent the weekend in Santa Barbara at the 2008 Console-ing Passions conference. My role in the conference was to participate in a workshop to reflect upon how to build off of the series of discussions about gender amongst those participated in fan studies last summer on Henry Jenkins' blog and on LiveJournal.
Each of the five panelists for the workshop began the session by talking about some of our individual research and how we might build that research from an awareness of issues raised in that discussion last summer, which brought together 44 fan studies academics and a variety of other interested commenters to talk about gender divides in academia and in the fan cultures we study.
I posted the short paper I presented at Console-ing Passions here on the blog last week, and each of us involved in the workshop posted our papers to the LiveJournal Fandebate site that hosted the academic dialogue last year.
The workshop was entitled "Gendered Fan Labor in New Media and Old." In addition to my provocation--entilted "Outside the Target Demographic: Surplus Audiences in Wrestling and Soaps"--Bob Rehak presented "Boys, Blueprints, and Boundaries;" Julie Levin Russo presented "The L Word: Labors of Love;" Suzanne Scott presented "From Filk to Wrock: Performane, Professionalism, and Power in Harry Potter Wizard Rock;" and Louisa Stein presented "Vidding as Cultural Narrative."
Outside the Target Demographic: Surplus Audiences in Wrestling and Soaps (3 of 3)
Perhaps even more frustrated, then, are soap opera fans. Soap opera producers sell the 18-49 female demographic more broadly, and the 18-34 female demographic in particular, to advertisers. Further, since soap operas primarily only exist as a daily television show, there are few economic forces counterbalancing the pervading "logic" of the target demographic, thus leading "the powers that be" (or "the idiots in charge," as soap opera fans more often refer to them) to constantly try to develop stories, and feature characters most prominently, that they believe will play well to the target demo. Since soap opera ratings have been falling steadily for the past 15-20 years, soaps have responded by trying to even more expressly target the target demo. However, the problem with that logic is that it directly defies the transgenerational nature of the narrative itself.
I have found anecdotally that almost all longtime soap opera fans began their relationship with the text of these shows through relationships with other fans. Often, this has been a transgenerational relationship. A grandmother, a mother, an uncle, or a babysitter watched soaps regularly, and the fan grew up with these same soap operas on. Thus, it is the longtime characters that have remained the glue holding them to the show, and it is the relationships built around the show--or the memories of these relationships, for loved ones who have passed away--that keeps them watching today. For more on this appeal, see Lee Harrington and Denise Brothers-McPhail's latest project on aging in soaps, as well as some of the work from Barbara Irwin and Mary Cassata at Project Daytime.
Outside the Target Demographic: Surplus Audiences in Wrestling and Soaps (2 of 3)
In the case of pro wrestling, the WWE's popular television shows--Monday Night Raw, ECW, and Friday Night Smackdown target a young adult male and teenage audience.
Advertisers expect this audience, and the shows position their texts to presumably appeal to heterosexual U.S. young men in particular, despite the fact that some estimates have WWE audiences at 30 percent to 40 percent female, the average age of the WWE's fan base is older than the target demographic, and WWE's international popularity often helps bolster flagging enthusiasm in this country.
This economic marginalization can lead to great creativity among pro wrestling fans excluded from the debate--see scholarship, for instance, about how Latino-American children interpret the WWE narrative from Ellen Seiter, Sue Clerc and Catherine Salmon's work on pro wrestling slash, and Brian Pronger's writing about pro wrestling from the standpoint of a gay spectator.
Outside the Target Demographic: Surplus Audiences in Wrestling and Soaps (1 of 3)
I came to the Gender and Fan Studies/Culture dialogue on LiveJournal and Henry Jenkins' blog from both ends of the producer/consumer scholarship binaries often posed in the discussion. On the one hand, I work for a group called the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium, which converses with media corporations to look at the intersection between media producers and audiences. On the other, my primary areas of research interest have come from studying the ways in which fans reappropriate media texts in their own performances and discussions, often in ways that run counter to the interests, or at least irrelevant of the interests, of bottom-line driven corporate endeavors.
I also felt some kinship to both sides of the gender divisions being discussed in the debate. On the one hand, my work on professional wrestling occupies a place between sports fandom and media fandom--two worlds that have strangely been separated in academic discourse, as Kimberly Schimmel, Lee Harrington, and Denise Bielby have researched recently. Pro wrestling has often been criticized as "hypermasculine," while my other research interest--soap operas--has often been derided and ghettoized in popular culture in many ways because of its rich history of primarily female authorship, a feminine narrative perspective, and a largely female fan base. For me--as a lifelong fan of both professional wrestling and soaps--I saw great connections between the two, connections I have written about as dealing with the immersiveness of the narrative worlds of both texts.
Indiana Jones is back, well, he probable never left, but right now he's generating much buzz with The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull which will be in theaters on May 22. But as old and new fans get ready to enjoy the latest installment of this 27 year-old saga, Xiaochang Li, my colleague here at C3 reminded me of one of the greatest Indiana Jones fan stories that is as current today as when it was produced.
In 1982, after seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark, three 12 year-olds set on a mission that would last all of their teenage years: a shot-by-shot reenactment of the first Indiana Jones movie. Seven years and $5000 later, Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb finished their movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.
J.D. Lasica's book Darknet: Hollywood's War Against the Digital Generation retells the boys' adventure in a lively and intelligent manner. 'In the teenagers' version of Raiders, the actors grow older in the span of a few minutes. Voices deepen. Chris sprouts chin whiskers and grows six inches. He gets his first-ever kiss by a girl, captured onscreen.' he describes, but later on he also gets at the heart of why this is still a tremendously current story: the tension between creativity, collaboration and current applications of copyright law.
Our World Digitized: Henry Jenkins, Yochai Benkler, and Cass Sunstein
As we've mentioned a few times on the blog lately, the Program in Comparative Media Studies featured the latest version of the MIT Communications Forum last week, an event particularly of potential interest to Consortium readers.
C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins moderated a conversation between University of Chicago law and political science professor Cass Sunstein and Yochai Benkler of Harvard University's Berkman Center, in an event called "Our World Digitized: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly."
Sustein is the author of Republic.com 2.0 and Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge, while Benkler wrote The Wealth of Networks.
According to the abstract:
Much discussion of our impending digital future is insular and without nuance. Skeptics talk mainly among themselves, while utopians and optimists also keep company mainly within their own tribal cultures. Today's forum challenges this unhelpful division, staging a conversation between two of our country's most thoughtful and influential writers on the promise and the perils of the Internet Age.
The audiocast of the event is already available here, and video will be available soon.
PCA/ACA: Bryce McNeil and Shane Toepfer on Wrestling Morality and Fandom
There may be no session I was more disappointed in missing than Bryce McNeil's presentation on Wednesday afternoon with fellow Georgia State University scholar Shane Toepfer, entitled "'He's a Rattlesnake but He's One Tough S.O.B.': Establishing the Fluidity of Professional Wrestling Character Types." My interest in the subject's no secret: one only has to look at the course I taught on the subject last spring. (See more on the course from the class blog, the OpenCourseWare site for the class here at MIT, and Emily Sweeney's Boston Globe article on the class.)
Bryce and I first started corresponding based on his Master's thesis work on pro wrestling, looking at the rhetoric of WWE owner Vince McMahon in situations in which his company was in some form of public controversy. He ended up coming up here and spending some time with my class last spring, and we keep up, especially as we both have a continued research interest in the world of pro wrestling.
Bryce was nice enough to give me a copy of his and Shane's remarks, and we had corresponded a few times as they planned the paper. In short, their central proposition is that it has been a mistake to look at pro wrestling as "good vs. evil," but it is likewise a mistake to throw the "face/heel" dichotomy in pro wrestling out completely as well. Rather than wrestling characters "being" babyfaces or heels, in a static way, it's easier to understand actions as face or heel actions, thus acknowledging a greater degree of moral ambiguity not only in today's pro wrestling but arguably that has always existed.
More on LiveJournal Activism Through Strike/Boycott
Last time, I wrote about LiveJournal's recent fiasco over not informing their users of large-scale policy changes on the site. After much debate back and forth between users and administrators, and the (fairly brief, due to protest) temporary reinstatement of an interest search filter, a call spread on LiveJournal for users not to post any content on Friday, March 21st, in protest. The discussion around the move, intended to show that LiveJournal's value was content-driven, and therefore user-generated, raises some fairly interesting issues regarding the growing pains of large, for-profit user-generated content sites.
What was immediately notable was that there was a lack of consensus over what a large-scale, one-day disruption to posting constitutes: content strike or content boycott? The terms seemed to be used interchangeably, varying from announcement to announcement (the woman cited as the originator of the idea uses the term "strike"). At the most basic level, a "boycott" would suggest action by consumers, which strike implies action taken by a labor force against the corporations or institutions that profit from their production. There appears here a certain ambiguity over the role of LiveJournal users, wherein they feel responsible for the creation of content and networks that makes LiveJournal a viable business, but also recognize the role of LiveJournal as a service provider.
One of the more intriguing panels at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies dealt with paratextual material--that material outside the "main text" or "primary text" of the show--from a variety of perspectives. The idea of paratext is that it is anything surrounding the text that isn't considered the text itself, and it is most often used to give us better understanding of the primary text.
This panel featured two of the Consortium's consulting researchers--Jonathan Gray and Jason Mittell--as well as two academics I've had the pleasure of increasingly collaborating with--Louisa Stein and Kristina Busse. Kristina was responsible for helping spearhead the Gender and Fan Studies/Culture discussions that took place in LiveJournal and on Henry Jenkins' blog last year, and Louisa and I are participating in a workshop with others at Console-ing Passions next month to discuss that series of discussions in greater detail.
This panel was directly informed by the Gender and Fan Studies/Culture discussion as well. All four participants were part of that discussion, and all four are involved with the new journal Transformative Works and Culture, whose first issue is coming out this fall. Here, the way the panel was laid out was in response to many of the issues raised as part of that Gender and Fan Studies/Culture discussion and the ongoing dialogue that came out of that series. In particular, the four presentations at SCMS in this session were organized based on their relativity to the source text itself.
The first three parts of this series are available here, here, and here. I have been running this series over at my blog as well. This series, which concludes with this piece, is co-authored by myself and Dr. Joshua Green, the Consortium's Research Manager.
Prohibitionists and The Moral Economy
"The world of Web 2.0 is also the world of what Dan Gillmor calls "we, the media," a world in which "the former audience", not a few people in a back room, decides what's important." - Tim O'Reilly (2005)
"Our entire cultural economy is in dire straights....We will live to see the bulk of our music coming from amateur garage bands, our movies and television from glorified YouTubes, and our news made up of hyperactive celebrity gossip, served up as mere dressing for advertising." -- Andrew Keen (2007)
See the first two parts of this series here and here. I have been running this over on my blog. This series is co-authored between myself and Dr. Joshua Green, C3's Research Manager.
The Value of Engagement and Participation
"Corporations will allow the public to participate in the construction and representation of their creations or they will, eventually, compromise the commercial value of their properties. The new consumer will help to create value or they will refuse it... Corporations have a right to keep copyright but they have an interest in releasing it." --Grant McCracken (1997)
At the most basic level, the distribution and publicity mechanisms of networked computing renders visible the often "invisible" labor fans perform in supporting their favorite properties.
As a variety of people who read our blog know, the Consortium has been engaged since its launch in researching the ways in which the audience is constructed. While the media industries, and business parlance in general, often discuss what is known as "the consumer," discussion of those who access digital tools often refer to people as "users." We often discuss "audiences" and use the term "fans" in particular to describe the more engaged of those audience members as a way to insert agency back into the discussion of relationships between media producers and brands and those who support their products, rather than a construction in which the power is presumed to lie primarily in the hands of those who make the products, be they cultural products or goods and services.
This motivation and concern, along with our increased interest in studying online video, were the motivations behind C3 Research Manager Joshua Green's presentation at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference earlier this month. Joshua joined alongside other scholars studying YouTube, in light of our own work inside the Consortium at present on the video sharing site, not to present the particulars of what we've found in our early analysis of Youtube content but rather to talk about how to approach these new venues, and how to understand those who use these tools to consume and create content.
Joshua's presentation was entitled "The People Formerly Known As: What Happens to the Audience When We're All 'Users'?"
See the first part of this series here. I have been running this over on my blog. This series is co-authored between myself and Dr. Joshua Green, C3's Research Manager.
"The historic role of the consumer has been nothing more than a giant maw at the end of the mass media's long conveyer belt, the all-absorbing Yin to the mass media's all-producing Yang....In the age of the internet, no one is a passive consumer anymore because everyone is a media outlet." -- Clay Shirkey (2000)
Push-button publishing, citizen journalism, and pro-amateur creative activities dominated early conceptions of the ways digitization would change media production. Newer, so-called "Web 2.0" companies integrate participatory components into their business plans. These activities run from feedback forums and beta-tests to inviting audiences to produce, tag, or remix content. Online services regularly collected under the banner of 'Web 2.0' such as photo sharing site flickr, social networking sites MySpace and Facebook, and video uploading sites such as YouTube and Veoh, have built entire business plans on the back of user-generated content. Software companies engage users as beta-testers and co-creators of content (Banks 2002). Marketing departments build puzzles, scavenger hunts, and interactive components into websites and mixed-media campaigns to generate buzz around branded entertainment properties. Technological, cultural, and marketplace changes make such tactics a necessity.
I wrote the following essay on the cultural politics around web 2.0 with Joshua Green, a post-doc in the CMS program, who is speerheading the Convergence Culture Consortium and who is my partner in crime in organizing the Futures of Entertainment conferences. Green came to us from the Creative Industries program at Queensland University of Technology. This paper blends work out of Queensland on creative industries with work out of MIT on convergence culture. Green is currently completing a book manuscript about YouTube with Jean Burgess, who was interviewed over at my blog earlier this year. I am running this series on my blog but also wanted to cross-post it here, considering its relationship to the work we do here in the Consortium.
The call for papers is currently open for the inaugural edition of Transformative Works and Cultures, the international peer-reviewed journal coming out of The Organization for Transformative Works. For more information, see the CFP.
We spend quite a bit of time here on the Consortium's blog writing about and thinking about the relationship between producers and consumers, particularly in the media and entertainment space. As regular readers know, my own Master's thesis work at MIT dealt with how this relationship manifests itself today in the soap opera industry in particular (see here, for instance), and the energy of the Consortium and many people surrounding the CMS program here at MIT are often dedicated to these questions.
While I hold fast to the idea that companies must treat their fan communities with some esteem and pay attention to the discussion taking place around their product, perhaps even communicate directly with those fans, we also see that this desire to get closer to fan communities can quickly become a desire to control communities in many cases. It's quite a mistake to think that all fans want, through the social connections they form online around brands and media properties, is to get closer to the official productions of these shows. After all, that's one of the biggest misconceptions that caused some of the controversy surrounding Fanlib.com, which we wrote about several times in the past year (see, for instance, here).
Online Buzz as a Catalyst and a Symptom of Popularity
Perhaps it is intuitive, but it's always helpful to have some bolstering studies out there. News came out earlier this month of the results of a study from the Stern Business School at NYU that, among a variety of factors studied surrounding the success of album sales, blogs and social networks are particular indicators of successful album sales.
According to Jacqui Cheng with Ars Technica, the study found that albums with 40 or more posts made about them before their release received three times the average sales; for albums with 250 or more blog posts about them, the sales were six time the average.
Light Bulbs and Eye Drops: FNL Fan Care Packages for NBC
In my previous post, I wrote about the fan campaign surrounding the effort to keep FNL on the air. With some further searching this afternoon, I've found a couple of other campaigns focusing on keeping this NBC drama on the air.
While the group I wrote about earlier are focusing on sending mini-footballs to the network, other groups are sending related household and health items related to the show.
Considering the writing we've done here at the Consortium of late about Friday Night Lights (see here, here, and here), as well as fan campaigns (see here and here), I wanted to spend some time looking at the rise of fan energy surrounding attempts to get NBC to renew or find a new home for one of the best American primetime dramas I've seen.
Fans, Producers, and when Real Person Fic actually becomes about Real People
As indicated by the recent piece for the C3 Weekly Update newsletter we distribute within the Consortium on Fanlib and my previous posts (here and here) about Friday Night Lights and fandom, I've been thinking quite a bit recently about the relationship between fans and media producers that results from fan production in general and fanfiction in particular.
Two recent personal incidents around this issue come to mind, the first regarding the discovery a couple of weeks back, of RPF (Real Person Fic, or fanfic about celebrities) about people that I actually know. It wasn't tongue-in-cheek meta-RPS like the infamous Henry Jenkins/Chris Williams, but unironic fan work about a couple of guys in a band who used to live around the corner from me in Brooklyn.
I found myself disconcerted and even a bit scandalized.
As part of some blog catch-up this Sunday, I wanted to pick back up on a story I wrote about last month about fan response to the firing of actor Scott Bryce on As the World Turns. Fan campaigns have launched Web sites, petitions, and mailing campaigns, as soap fans are so quick to do when they dislike a decisions made by soap opera producers.
Now, with Bryce doing a fairly candid interview with well-known soap opera columnist Michael Logan about the situation for TV Guide, fans have had much of their sentiment confirmed by the actor himself.
In my previous post on the topic, I voiced my frustration about Virginia Heffernan's combining a variety of "convergence culture" activities that I feel can't be so easily conflated in her recent piece on Friday Night Lights for The New York Times Magazine. Heffernan devotes a lot of attention to the lack of fanfiction in particular, and her take has been both praised and derided in fanfiction communities. While I think that some of her speculations on why Friday Night Lights doesn't have a lot of fanfiction do make sense, the way they are presented, and the reasonings behind them, are somewhat flawed and speak to a somewhat shaky grasp of fanfiction as both a social and artistic practice.
I finally started watching Friday Night Lights over Thanksgiving. Several people, including C3's own Sam Ford (see his post on FNL) had been hounding me to give the show a shot for months, but I had been resolute in my resistance. I had so little time for TV as it was, so why would I spend it on a show about high school sports? What did I know about football, or even Texas, for that matter? It wasn't until someone literally shoved the DVDs in front of me that I gave it a chance and immediately fell for the way it's able to convey with such astute, human tenderness a culture that had once seemed to me so alien and unwelcoming.
So I count myself amongst the "fans, critics, and even network suits" Virginia Hefferman mentioned in her New York Times Magazine article who had come to think of Friday Night Lights as necessary television. And, as a member of C3, a fan of many media properties, a consumer of transmedia content, a blogger, and a once-reader of fanfiction (back when I had time to read any form of fiction), I agree in general that entertainment and art are becoming increasingly collaborative and that fan engagement is gaining greater prominence as a marker for success.
Soap Fans and Veteran Actors: Jesse & Angie, Scott Bryce
For those of you who have followed my writing about soaps here on the C3 blog, you likely know that I feel one of the strongest thing the current daytime serial dramas have on their side is their history. As such, historical characters on the show today provide those contemporary ties to that deep history which I believe helps strengthen the transgenerational viewing patterns necessary to gain and maintain viewership for these shows in the long term.
ABC seems to hope this is the case, especially with the sagging ratings of longtime ABC Daytime fixture All My Children has been experiencing. Racquel Gonzales, one of the contributors to the book Abigail Derecho at Columbia College Chicago and I are putting together on the current state of soap operas, wrote me recently about how ABC Daytime is using the SOAPnet channel in a strategic way for both AMC and General Hospital. For GH, the cable network has planned to air a "Robin Unwrapped" episode marathon which helps catch viewers up on the history that more fully explains a pivotal story on the show, which is the first HIV pregnancy storyline in television, according to the promotion.
I have been publishing a variety of notes from the time I spent in Shanghai earlier this month for my blog earlier this month. I thought C3 readers might be particularly interested in this piece. You can find other notes from my visit to Shanghai here, here, and here.
I had dinner on my last night in Shanghai with Yu Liu, a reporter who covers digital culture for Lifeweek Magazine, which is roughly the equivalent of Time. She shared with me a story she had written about the growing fan culture around Prison Break in China. As she notes, Prison Break's focus on strong filial bonds resonate powerfully with Chinese cultural tradition.
(This left me wondering about the popularity of Supernatural in China -- which has the strong brotherly affection coupled with ghost stories and would seem ready made for this market, but I didn't see any signs of it.)
Prison Break had already been mentioned to me several times during the visit as a series which was sparking strong fan response here. Yu Liu's report describes the elaborate collaborative network which has emerged to allow Chinese fans to translate and recirculate Prison Break episodes within twelve hours of their airing in the United States. As we spoke, she drew strong parallels to the fan subbing practices around anime in the western world, which I have discussed here in the blog in the past.
She said that during the first season, the Chinese fans had discovered the series on dvds sold on street corners as part of the black market in entertainment properties here. By the second season, the fans primarily relied on the internet to access content, impatient with the longer turnaround time of dvd production. Like American anime fans, they took the media in their own hands.
As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part IV: Understanding Online Fan Communities
Online fans are more active than the casual viewer model the Nielsen ratings system is based on, with its focus on impressions without relation to the level of engagement. The shift to balancing quantitative measurements with qualitative ones requires acknowledging and valuing that active engagement, however, as I explain in further detail in the third chapter of my thesis.
Further, many of the "unique" and "niche" aspects of online fan communities actually echo offline modes of engagement with the text as well, albeit on a much larger scale and in published form. These discussion boards can often seem full of noise, especially for the television executive approaching these fan forums with no history in the fan community.
It is important for those exploring the reaction of these fans to be a part of that fan community in an active way and to understand it not as an outsider but as a native. Generally, this means that researchers are best recruited from the fan community rather than trying to become anthropologists studying that community from a distance.
As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part III: The History of Fan Discussion
Soaps do not exist in a vacuum, and a show's daily texts can only be completely understood in the context of the community of fans surrounding them. Instead of imagining the audience as a passive sea of eyeballs measured through impressions, this approach views soaps as the gathering place for a social network. Acting as dynamic social texts, soap operas are created as much by the audience that debates, critiques, and interprets them than through the production team itself. Here are the various ways fans have interacted with and around soap opera texts through the years, as described in detail in the second chapter of my thesis:
The Internet is abuzz with politics. And it's that time every four years when suddenly everyone cares about civic engagement and democracy and all that. I'd like to see more of that type of engagement on a local level, including form myself, but nevertheless we're swept up in the frenzy of national politics.
This year, with so many candidates in the mix, it seems as if every election is a surprise. Online, it's been quite interesting as well. There's no doubt that Barack Obama is carrying unprecedented amounts of interest from young voters, and there's a corresponding amount of buzz in the blogosphere, on YouTube, and elsewhere.
For those of you who follow these spaces regularly, it will come as no surprise that there's a comparable amount of buzz from a much more unsuspecting candidate, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. As opposed to Obama, who is the youngest candidate in this year's election, Paul is the second-oldest, following only Mike Gravel. Further, Paul is a Republican fiscal conservative to an extreme, a fairly strict libertarian at heart.
I originally posted this entry on my blog last month. While my blog remains inactive during our transition to a new server, I wanted to cross-post this over at C3 now that the Consortium blog is back up and running.
When I heard several months ago that some of my MIT colleagues and students were helping to stage a performance of Live Action Anime, I knew I had to be there. I anticipated the experience with a kind of "only at MIT" amusement -- not sure what to expect but knowing that the results would be dazzling.
The performance, Madness at Mokuba, opened with a spectacular battle between two giant robots (see the image above) staged against the backdrop of projected anime images and accompanied by an awe-inspiring soundtrack of metallic clanks and engine sounds which instantly reminded me of my first experience watching RoboTech and Star Blazers several decades ago. I didn't know what live action would look like but as the performance continued, I was more and more impressed with the craft and research which went into this performance.
Surrounded by Smart Folks: Fanscape and Communispace
While we've been working on rounding out the semester here at MIT and pushing several projects forward, I've had the chance to cross paths with quite a few interesting people. Of course, FoE2 brought all sorts of fascinating people through our doors, and I've been fortunate enough to follow up with more than a few of them.
One of those folks is Natalie Lent, who is coordinator of business development for Fanscape. Natalie, a Harvard grad who previously worked for Creative Artists, "works to determine how potential and existing clients can creatively utilize a multitude of non-traditional online marketing strategies to connect to their target audience in ways that are engaging, personalized and seamlessly integrated into their preferred online properties and communities."
This is the final part of the series from my blog, rounding up the Gender and Fan Culture series I hosted there for the past several months. Since comments have been disabled off-and-on here of late in preparation to switch servers, please e-mail me or Sam Ford your thoughts.
This conversation series has been very enjoyable and interesting and even, at times, fascinating, and I would like to thank everyone who participated and Henry Jenkins for hosting it.
It felt very much like a virtual conference and, as with most academic conferences I attend, I came away feeling both exhilarated but also overwhelmed. Indeed, I've been spending the last few days reviewing each of the conversations and making notes so I can remember the participants and their areas of expertise for future reference.
This is the third part of the series I ran the past couple of weeks over on my blog, as a look back at the Gender and Fan Culture series I hosted there for the past several months. Since comments have been disabled off-and-on here of late in preparation to switch servers, please e-mail me or Sam Ford your thoughts.
First of all, many many thanks to Kristina Busse for inspiring this wonderful series of
conversations, and to Henry Jenkins for organizing the exchanges and hosting them on his
Although I had read the existing literature on gender and fan studies, and had gotten to know some of the emerging scholars in the field, this exchange made me understand just how much more there is to be done, and also gave me hope that so many excellent scholars are interested in this field and willing to do new and urgently important work. Through these conversations, I have found a terrific intellectual partner in Sam Ford, and we are now in the process of co- editing a new volume on soap operas. We hope to bring "soap studies" into the digital age, and aim to address the role of gender, and the role that fans play, in the production, circulation, and distribution of daytime soaps and soap-related texts. Two great university presses have already expressed interest in this project. We think our volume will be a strong contribution to the fields of media (especially new media and television) studies and fan studies, and it would never have come into being without the conversations that took place this summer and fall on this blog. (And at least a couple of the authors whose essays we will include also participated in the Gender and Fan Culture exchanges!)
I ran this series over the past couple of weeks over on my blog, as a look back at the Gender and Fan Culture series I hosted there for the past several months. Since comments have been disabled off-and-on here of late in preparation to switch servers, please e-mail me or Sam Ford your thoughts.
I enjoyed reading and taking part in the summer's conversations, in part because I don't consider myself an aca-fan so much as -- if you'll forgive the neo-neologism -- a fan-aca: that is, while fandom definitely informs my research and teaching (it's what led me to graduate school in the first place), my projects tend not to center on fandom "as such." So while I engaged with the dialogues most immediately for moments of fellow-fan-recognition ("Hey, she likes Battlestar Galactica too!"), I spent more time reflecting on the strange phenomenon of acafandom: this group of exceptionally smart and articulate people positioning ourselves -- with varying degrees of forthrightness, self-critique, pride, and disavowal -- around not just the texts and objects that we love/hate, but the potent essence of love/hate itself. In short, it was interesting to watch ourselves wrestling with our own jouissance, a collective (if variegated) upwelling passion that functioned both to disrupt and drive our interactions.
I ran this series over the past couple of weeks over on my blog, as a look back at the Gender and Fan Culture series I ran on my blog throughout the past several months. I know that the C3 blog has kept continued updates of this series for me and has ran a few of the rounds which included C3 team members, alum, and consulting researchers in the past, so I wanted to cross-post the four parts of the wrap-up comments from this series here as well.
We have been in the process of preparing to switch over to a new server, to deal with spam comments and server traffic, so comments may not be activated at certain points over the next few days. Please feel free to e-mail me or Sam Ford with any thoughts you have on the series.
Last May, I announced my plan to host an ongoing conversation between male and female scholars around the topic of gender and fan culture. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect when I made that announcement. I felt like the moment was right to celebrate a generation of younger scholars -- male and female -- who were doing groundbreaking work in the areas of fan studies and cult media. I was hoping that the series would give me a chance to get to know these researchers and their work better. While I had read some of the recent scholarship, it had been hard to sort out the emerging players on the basis of one or two essays. I knew, however, that the field was now more methodologically and theoretically diverse than any one had yet acknowledged and I also knew that many of these people, working in different disciplines and operating with different social networks, did not know each other.
I had been distressed by suggestions that there was a growing disconnect between the work male and female scholars were doing in this space and concerned that the roots of fan studies in feminist scholarship and female cultural practice might get lost. I was interested in the ways that the entertainment industry was embracing new models of audience participation but often with unequal and differential treatment of forms of participation that were historically coded as masculine or feminine (an issue I raised in Convergence Culture in relation to the Star Wars fan cinema competitions.) I felt then that the best way to break down some of the walls was to pair up male and female scholars, who shared similar interests but who might not have known each other, for the purpose of a public conversation. My hope had been that if we chose a sufficiently diverse set of scholars, we would complicate existing assumptions about how gender impacted fan culture, suggesting some overlap as well as some differences in cultural preferences, interpretive practices, cultural activities, and social communities.
Bluegrass Music and Fan Tourism at Jerusalem Ridge
I wanted to start out this morning by writing about something close to my heart: bluegrass music, bourbon, and The Bluegrass State. I was reading an article from today's New York Times that dealt with a reporter's excursion for a tour of Kentucky, which ended up being on the front page of the travel section. And right there at the top of the story, by Steven Kurutz, was The Rosine Barn Jamboree, a landmark of my home county: Ohio County, Ky., "The Birthplace of Bluegrass Music," as it commonly called itself, and home to about 23,000 people.
The article chronicles a journey through bourbon country and distilleries throughout the state, which are mostly east of where bluegrass music was berthed. But the final piece of the article looks at their journey to the big Jerusalem Ridge bluegrass music festival and the many ways it tries to recreate the authenticity of yesteryear in celebrating the music, and the culture that inspired the music, of Bill Monroe and other bluegrass legends.
A Transformation of Our Own: Fanfiction Communities and the Organization for Transformative Works
I started reading fanfiction relatively recently, starting in the mid-to-late 90s with the rise of fandom on the internet. And in just the time that I've been watching and participating in fanfiction communities online, it has shifted through a number of technologies, spreading over newsgroups, bulletin boards, and blogging networks.
In the divide between the centralized mega-archives and the segmented, and in some ways more difficult to penetrate, LiveJournal fanfic community, I saw what appeared to be a tension in the dual nature of fanfiction as both a social practice and a body of creative work. While the archives worked to provide, to varying degrees of success, a place to store and aggregate fanfiction as a form of user-generated content, livejournal provided a place that could foreground the development, writing and sharing fanfiction as a social process.
Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (4 of 4)
This is the final section of a four-part series featuring an interview with Damon Taylor and Daniel Krueger from Electric Sheep, who helped produce tonight's launch of the CSI:NY television series crossover into Second Life.
Sam Ford: Electric Sheep is using this collaboration for the launch of OnRez, your viewer of the Second Life universe. What is it about the CSI:NY/Second Life collaboration you all are producing that made this the best opportunity to launch OnRez?
Daniel Krueger: I can't speak for our software development team, but I think that it's always been something that Electric Sheep wanted to do, as far as making an easier interface for navigating Second Life. It's not traditionally a very intuitive space for new users, so we wanted to make something simple for new users to come in with. We launched it with this project because we wanted to provide the easiest way for CSI:NY viewers who have never used Second Life to be able to come into the virtual world. It's really a perfect opportunity to launch OnRez.
Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (3 of 4)
The following is the third part of an interview series being published today regarding tonight's launch of the CSI:NY television series crossover into Second Life. This interview, with Damon Taylor and Daniel Krueger from Electric Sheep, looks at the motivations, implementation, and plans for extending the popular crime drama series into a virtual world.
Sam Ford: What is Electric Sheep Company's involvement in this project?
Damon Taylor: We are the vendor working with CBS to develop this, and it all started out as a relationship between Electric Sheep and CBS, working with Anthony E. Zuiker, who has become convinced that virtual worlds provide an opportunity for television companies or entertainment companies in general to create and provide content in ways that has never been done before. This has been a six-month planning process, culminating today. Our contract with CBS is to do this for six months, so we will be operating this experience for the next half-year. With content being updated every four weeks, we will be moving this story forward, along with a second television show next year that will tie back into the whole storyline.
Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (2 of 4)
What follows is an interview with Electric Sheep Company producers Daniel Krueger and Damon Taylor about their involvement in the CSI:NY/Second Life collaboration that launches with tonight's episode of the crime scene investigation drama on CBS. For a background on the crossover, look at this post from earlier today.
Sam Ford: To start off with, what do the two of you believe are some of the most compelling aspects of the CSI:NY/Second Life crossover that's taking place tonight, and what are the benefits for CBS and CSI:NY, on the one hand, and for Second Life other other?
Damon Taylor: This experience is compelling for users from two different perspectives. One of those perspectives is new users of Second Life, who are new to virtual worlds in general. The other perspective is for existing Second Life users. Potential new users who are fans of CSI:NY will care about this crossover because it will give them the opportunity to wrestle with CSI content in a way that has never been made available to them before. We have endeavored and achieved a true cross-platform experience where these fans can watch the television show, see the storyline that began on the TV show continued in-world, and then see the storyline jump back to the TV show next February when there is a sequel show that wraps up the storyline that starts tonight.
Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (1 of 4)
For those who haven't heard, tonight is the launch of a particularly compelling transmedia experience, the first time a major television franchise has driven its viewers into a virtual world to fill in the gap of a cliffhanger mystery that will not be resolved until next February.
CSI:NY, the New York version of the Anthony E. Zuiker television franchise, will feature an episode tonight in which a murder mystery takes the crime scene investigation team deep into Linden Lab's Second Life, with the mystery not being resolved until the concluding episode next year. The activities that take place in SL will build off what happens on the show and are planned to give fans the opportunity to get acquainted with a virtual world and also to have a new place to interact with and around the television franchise.
"Meet me at my crib . . .": Reading the official "Crank That" video
Last week, I brought up the phenomenon surrounding Soulja Boy and the "Crank Dat" dance craze that propelled him to success and touched upon a few of the things that drew my attention to this particular case. This week I thought I'd dig in a little further, and try to tease out some of the things that Soulja Boy really embodies for me (as a concept more than as a musician or performer) through a closer examination of his official music video, which touches upon a lot of these themes of production, participation, and distribution in the age of convergence.
Jericho Fans in Waiting to See How Season Plays Out
When are we going to see the next chapter in the Jericho saga? As most of you know, Jericho was the CBS serial primetime drama cancelled at the end of last season that raised substantial fan outrage, which manifested itself in fans sending a large amount of peanuts to the CBS offices, among other things. CBS has decided to bring the series back for a seven-episode run in its second season. The only question is when that mini-season will run.
Jericho was planned as a replacement series once one of the newcomers to the CBS lineup fails, with the idea that it would launch after the first several weeks and give viewers either a chance to support the show for a longer run or to get a better resolution of the plot with seven episodes to wrap up lingering questions.
The Consortium is always interested in ARG-esque promotions for content, as regular readers of the blog and some of our other work know, and I am always keeping a close eye on the world of professional wrestling. That's why a recent WWE campaign caught my eye in particular. It has the fans talking and speculating about the potential impending return of one of the biggest wrestling stars of the last decade, "Y2J" Chris Jericho, or perhaps the impending return of "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels, who was injured earlier this year.
Jericho, who took a sabbatical from wrestling in 2005, has not returned to the ring since. But a short clip that aired during World Wrestling Entertainment, starting a couple of weeks ago, has gotten people talking about his potential return. The video, available here and in various versions, features streaming numbers and letters, Matrix-style, with the only major repeated text being flashes of a message: "Save_us.222."
Gender and Fan Culture (Round Seventeen, Part Two): Melissa Click and Joshua Green
MC: How do we proceed in fan studies--what do we agree belongs in this category, and what should be left out? There seems to be an agreement (if only a reluctant one) among folks in this discussion on the idea that the category "fan" should be broadened. Concern has been expressed, however, that if we make it too broad, it will lose its meaning. Could we begin to try to nail it down by suggesting the ways "audience" and "fans" might be different?
JG: I'm really interested in this question as I think complicating the term "fan", and its use, can help us to start to understand how ideas about the audience itself is being transformed by the participatory moment that has arisen. This discussion has offered up a good range of ways to account for fandom that run the gamut from structures of feeling to productive consumption via a spectrum of viewing intensity (and the comments even offered up "fanatic" at one point). Theoretically pragmatic personally, I drew a lot from Anne Kustritz and Derek Johnson's deconstruction of fans as an object of study that can be generalized about, challenging the notion of the fan as necessarily determined by community, socialization, productivity, consumption, engagement, or outsider status. Their ultimate conclusion seemed to be that the fan as an object of study needs to be understood as a multiplicitous social construction and contextualized within historical and cultural specificity. That said, they also draw upon the notion of the fan as a sort of cultural logic used to describe particular categories of consumption for the purposes of patrolling 'normal' behavior. This is a classic position for the fan, historically positioned as atypical or anomalous in ways that permit the delimitation of acceptable media consumption and engagement habits.
In the current moment, however, where non-fan audiences (apologies for the clunky language) are bring increasingly described if not constructed through discourses of production, the fan seems to have been drawn back in somewhat from the edge. As the television industry, especially, attempts to make sense of the impact of inviting viewers to participate, losing control over the contexts of consumption, and realigns itself in an environment that seems likely to privilege multiple separate opportunities to view content, certain elements of the fandom look very tantalizing as models of audience practice worth encouraging. Of course, this is not unproblematic, and the industry seems mostly interested in promoting the depth of engagement and what I would characterize as the structures of feeling of fan engagement and hopefully not having to deal with the politics of ownership and production that emerge from fandom. But the fan as a model of a passionate consumer, a loyal consumer, a willing participant, a word-of-mouth marketer (or what Sam Ford regularly refers to as a proselytizer), an active participant in expansive storyworlds, and even a producer of additional textual elements (whatever sanctioned or tolerated form they might take), seems to be having an impact on the model of 'regular' audienceship, particularly as the behaviors once considered anomalous (such as archiving content, to pick up on Derek's own example) are wrapped into revenue models or normalized through cultural practice.
MC: I should confess (in case it's not yet obvious) that I'm in agreement with the folks who keep saying that they think there's something useful in studying audience members who do not behave as fans have typically been defined--as communal producers of materials that "rewrite" media texts. I support this perspective because it speaks to my experiences as a fan--and I find it useful in terms of understanding the activity I have seen in my study of Martha Stewart fans.
MC: Hi, I'm Melissa Click and I'm completing my dissertation on Martha Stewart fans (at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst), teaching at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and am just catching up on my sleep after the wonderfully overwhelming experience of having my first child. Having one foot in the East Coast and the other foot in the Mid-West, being in the midst of completing my Ph.D. while developing my professional identity as a scholar, and trying to figure out how to balance my work life and newly changed homelife, means that I'm still catching up on my TV viewing (I heart Tivo), I don't usually blog, and I'm a bit more behind on academic reading than I'd prefer.
As a scholar writing about Martha Stewart fans, I have argued that the women and men I interviewed were not simply audience members, they are fans (and anti-fans, for that matter). However, the types of fandom they demonstrated were different than many of the types of fandom discussed here: they didn't write Martha fan-fic, create Martha fan-vids, etc. My interest in their fandom overlapped with my own interest in/repulsion by Stewart's texts, and my allegiance with their behaviors as fans--my expressions of fandom mirror the behaviors gendered "masculine" in this discussion.
JG: Hello all, my name is Joshua Green. I'm a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT where I also run the Convergence Culture Consortium. At the Consortium we do a lot of work about the changing patterns of relationships between media producers - big and small, professional and amateur - media content and various audience formulations. We work with some "big media" companies (though not exclusively) to come to understand the changing environment in which their content circulates and the changing logics of the media space when you factor in participatory culture and the changing constitution of the audience experience.
Before I transplanted from Australia to the States, I was working on the recent history Australian television, particularly looking at the way the Australian television system resolved the presence of international, and specifically American, programming with discourses of nationalism. My (I suppose still recently completed) dissertation looked at the way Dawson's Creek was nationalized by industrial promotional strategies and received by a range of Australian viewers. I'm currently really, very interested in the ways we can understand the constitution and composition of television audiences as they're imagined more and more as media producers, or at least, as the role of media production is increasingly prescribed for those we used to understand as audiences.
The Fall Season Approaches: Pimp Your New Favorites
Last Fall, I asked readers of my blog to "pimp their favorite television show," and we had a truly inspiring set of responses. Indeed, I discovered Supernatural through a groundswell of responses I received there, and it has emerged as one of my very favorite programs and belatedly, this summer, I finally have started to catch up with Battlestar Galactica (I'm now half way through Season 2), another series which was a favorite among readers of my blog.
Since this topic is of interest to the Convergence Culture Consortium as well, and since Sam Ford wrote about the Extratextuals recently, I thought I would cross-post this entry to the C3 blog as well.
This year, I want to start the process earlier. Many of us are checking out the new fall line-up which is starting in earnest this week. So I thought I'd invite you to share with other blog readers your impressions of the new series, over at my site or here.
An Interview with the Organizers of Fandom Rocks (4 of 4)
This is the final part of a four-part interview with the creators of a fan-led grassroots movement to raise money for charities within the Supernatural fan community. I have been publishing my e-mail discussion with three organizers for the group: Dana Stodgel, Brande Ruiz, and Rebecca Mawhinney.
Sam: What has been the impact of using various social networking sites to help spread the word of Fandom Rocks?
Dana: Utilizing as many networking sites as we are familiar with has been important because we know each site has a subsection of the viewing audience. Some people participate in more than one site, but often there is a specific site you spend more time at than others. We wanted to make sure we were reaching as many Supernatural fans as possible. However, we know it is also important to reach fans away from networking sites - potential fans on other forums and especially offline. We have plenty of work ahead of us to reach new fans. Recently, a fan on the CW Lounge forum responded to my post that she hadn't heard of Fandom Rocks before that moment, despite my posting there three times prior. This showed me we still needed to work hard at spreading the news of Fandom Rocks if we were missing fans who participated regularly at the network's Web site.
An Interview with the Organizers of Fandom Rocks (3 of 4)
This is the third part of a four-part interview with the organizers of Fandom Rocks, a fan organized grassroots initiative within the Supernatural fan community which sponsors a variety of charities. This interview is conducted with three organizers for the group, Dana Stodgel, Brande Ruiz, and Rebecca Mawhinney.
Sam: What activities have you all engaged with so far?
Dana: We just completed our first campaign. Just over $2,000 was raised via fan donations and Cafe Press purchases. I traveled to Lawrence to visit the community shelter and give them our donation in person. While there, I also visited the soup kitchen across the street where shelter guests often receive their meals if the shelter is not serving. I also visited the humane society anticipating they would be one of the charities fans chose for the next campaign.
An Interview with the Organizers of Fandom Rocks (2 of 4)
This is the second part of an interview with Dana Stodgel, Brande Ruiz, and Rebecca Mawhinney, the three creators of Fandom Rocks, a fan-led organization from the Supernatural fan community dedicated to raising money for charities.
Sam: Why Supernatural? What is it about this show and this fandom in particular that encourages this type of initiative?
Dana: I think Supernatural falls into that category of show where it has an extremely loyal fan following, but it is on a lesser-known network with an imminent threat of cancellation. Fans want to keep their show, but they also want other people to learn about it and enjoy it as much as they do. Starting campaigns for charity accomplishes the goal of making more potential viewers aware of Supernatural, and it has the added benefit of making a difference in the world. It shows the "offline" world that online communities are formed by caring, intelligent individuals, much like themselves.
An Interview with the Organizers of Fandom Rocks (1 of 4)
A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Dana Stodgel, representing an interesting group called "Fandom Rocks," which Stodgel described as "a fan-created initiative to support charities and raise interest in the CW show Supernatural." She thought that the work they were doing might be of interest to the type of issues we look into here at the Convergence Culture Consortium.
As I examined the work of Fandom Rocks further through their Web site, I thought that the best approach might just be to do a multi-part interview with the organizers of Fandom Rocks here on the C3 blog, to get a better idea of the work they do, what motivates them, and how the activities a group like Fandom Rocks participate in can be understood in relation to the show, the network, the fan community, and the charities they work with.
This interview is conducted with Stodgel, Brande Ruiz, and Rebecca Mawhinney.
Sam: What are each of your backgrounds, both in relation to the fan community, the network, and the pro-social purpose of Fandom Rocks?
Dana: I am a fairly quiet member of the fan community, contributing mostly to discussions with fellow fans on LiveJournal and some graphics. I do not have any connection to the CW network. As for the pro-social purpose of Fandom Rocks, I have been involved in other fandom charity events and participated as a volunteer and fundraiser for organizations offline as well, so it was another opportunity to give back.
The Blogging Bug seems to be taking root across the Aca-Fan universe. On my blog recently, I gave a shout out to two recently launched blogs, both created by participants in this summer's Gender and Fan Culture conversations, both dealing with topics which will be of interest to a fair cross section of my readers. I thought I would post them here on the C3 blog as well, since the topics of these blogs might be of interest to those who read this blog as well.
The first is Graphic Engine, which describes itself as a blog about "special effects, videogames, film and television." Graphic Engine reflects the ruminations and speculations of Bob Rehak, an assistant professor of film and media studies at Swarthmore College. I have known Rehak since he was a masters student at the University of North Carolina doing work on avatars, first person shooters, and psychoanalysis. He recently finished up a Ph.D in Communication and Culture at Indiana University, where his research centered around special effects. I had the pleasure of featuring some of his work on special effects, the Star Trek blueprints, and early fan culture as part of a panel I put together on Convergence and Science Fiction for last year's Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference. (This panel also featured Beth Coleman on Machinima and A Scatter Darkly; Geoffrey Long on transmedia storytelling, negative capability, and the Hensons; and Robert Kozinets on Star Trek fan cinema and branding cultures). We've long known that there was a male technically oriented fandom around Star Trek whose history parallels that of the female fanzine community; I touched on some aspects of this fan culture in my chapter on Star Trek at MIT in Science Fiction Audiences, but Rehak's work really takes us deep inside that world.
Those who follow the blog even with casual interest probably know that the world of soap opera is the site of a significant amount of my research and writing. I'm currently in the early stages of preparing a course here at MIT in the spring on soap operas, and my Master's thesis work was on the subject as well.
I'm also really interested in the topic of surplus audiences, those that rest outside the "target demographic" but who still create a valid and significant audience portion. The fact that pro wrestling is sometimes among the most popular content for young adult women, according to some numbers I've seen, or that 25 percent of gamers are over 50, as I wrote about earlier today, are key examples of this.
Perhaps most interesting to me, then, is male soap opera fans, a group I fit into. There are many male soap opera fans, and that's nothing new, but soaps have always been about the 18-49 female demo. Some have gone so far as to say that anyone else simply doesn't matter or doesn't exist, since that's not who shows are selling to advertisers.
As some blog readers may know and those within C3 who follow my work more in-depth, I am quite interested in surplus audiences. For anyone interested in my thesis work on soap opera fandom, you will see that come out even more. (A copy of my thesis is available here; thanks for the plug, Boing Boing.)
My work has focused in the past on female fans of professional wrestling, for instance, or in my thesis work on male viewers of soaps, or viewers over the age of the target demographic. No matter what the lies of target demos might tell us, these people still add significant value to the properties and often are engaged consumers/fans.
C3 Alum Geoffrey Long sent me this piece a little while back on Wii players 50 and older.
C3 Team: DRM, Hypermasculine Soaps, and Gender and Fan Studies
In addition to all that we've been covering here on the Convergence Culture Consortium blog, there have been some interesting pieces written recently on the blogs of some of our consulting researchers as well that I'd like to point the way toward.
First is a recent post from C3 Consulting Researcher Rob Kozinets, over at Brandthroposophy, his blog on "marketing, media, and technoculture." In a post entitled What Does DRM Really Stand For? Whack-a-Mole!, Kozinets thinks back to a conversation with an executive from the music industry in a class he taught back in 1999, talking about early MP3 players, and his own conversations with students over the years about file sharing and digital rights management, for both music and movies. He concludes that "entertainment companies haven't even come close to getting it. When they do, they'll learn to work with the trends and not against them. That's going to be an interesting day."
C3 Updates: Flash Gordon, ATWT Inturn, and Ten Day Take
Hope the C3 readers got something valuable out of the interview with Parry Aftab. It's Wednesday morning now, and I wanted to update everyone on a few extensions of issues we've been following here at the C3 blog over the past year.
1.) Flash Gordon. I first wrote about Flash Gordon in a post from January on fan communities based on historical comic strips, such as Dick Tracy and Flash Gordon, as well as the historical Yellow Kid of much older fame. Some fans wrote in response to me, questioning whether Tracy and Gordon could really be considered historical properties, and the scope of this changed when I learned through Warren Ellis' blog that Sci Fi was planning on making a television movie featuring Gordon.
CBS' Schizophrenic Response to the Jericho Situation
Seems like CBS has been sending a lot of mixed messages lately. Or else just demonstrating the confused nature across the television landscape. CBS is just a particularly good example, given all the fervor surrounding the cancellation, then renewal of Jericho. (See Nancy Baym's following of the Jericho phenomenon; I link to her here and here.
I've been e-mailing with Lynn Liccardo lately, who pointed out an interesting distinction in the CBS timeline. It was back on June 07 when CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler told The New York Times, "We want them to watch on Wednesday at 8 o'clock, and we need them to recruit viewers who are going to watch the broadcast."
Gender and Fan Studies, Facebook, and The Death of Marketing
Over the weekend, I thought it might be helpful to point the way to a few recent posts from the blogs of some C3 Consulting Researchers and corporate partners.
First, the ninth round of Henry Jenkins' continuing Gender and Fan Studies series posted late this past week. This round features Cynthia Walker and Derek Kompare. It can be found here and here.
I continue to do a lot of thinking about virtual networks and how they are transforming social and professional relationships, as I've written about several times here on the C3 blog. For instance, see my post from back in June on personal questions on maintaining personal relationships raised by social networks.
That takes me to this interesting post from the Idea City blog from our partners over at GSD&M. This focuses on how Facebook is being heralded as the next big breakout star of online networks, based particularly on its surge of popularity since going public and away from high school and college registration.
Pirates vs. Ninjas: Valuing Fans and YouTube Users
Is copyright infringement enforcement across the board the best strategy for content producers? Or, would enabling some illegal sharing actually provide a benefit? The developments in the last week or two in the various lawsuits are indicating to me that a desire to stamp out and punish piracy is trumping the potential benefits letting users push content quickly and unfettered through social networks and other "web 2.0" sites, the most compelling benefit of these sites and a key means for fans to add value to media properties. The desire to adhere to traditional revenue models, boilerplate rights agreements and, perhaps most of all, an inability to qualify the value added by YouTube users, may ultimately be more of a hindrance than a help to producers in promoting their product.
Startling revelation? Perhaps not, but it's worth considering in the context of this week's developments.
Marketing movies was never much of a "long term" activity for movie studios, and most historically have used broadcast to quickly hype an upcoming release. It's just how things typically worked, particularly when the financial success of a film is all about the opening weekend. As the years have passed though, this approach hasn't yielded the kind of box office receipts that a studio craves. With their young, key audience harder to reach, it's interesting to see how these marketers are getting much more inventive.
This "inventiveness", in keeping with Henry's observations of fan culture, was arguably first tinkered with when Hollywood took a mediocre, kitschy movie like Snakes on a Plane and decided to work slowly on building a fan base before the movie's release. Not all agree that this movie was truly a success and it's doubtful that it will become a cult classic. But this type of fan marketing hasn't been jettisoned, and recent activity to promote The Dark Knight demonstrates what appears to be a great case study of how to apply fan marketing to the film business.
Of course it's easier with a property as perfect as this, particularly with its enormous cult following. But kudos to Warner Brothers as they incorporate unique fan marketing, and engaging alternate reality gaming techniques into its promotional mix.
Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (V of V)
Pro wrestling is an appropriate avenue for researching broader themes in American culture because wrestling allows its fans a close involvement in writing and defining the text. Through the instant feedback available in wrestling shows, fans can directly influence the pacing of a show and can rewrite its meaning. Those viewing televised wrestling can mediate its meaning through their own interpretation of wrestling's often ambiguous messages and through their viewing patterns, around which the shows are written. Promoters and performers alter their fictional characters to change the character's meaning, similar to how musicians such as Prince, Pat Boone, and David Bowie "redefine" themselves for a new generation.
Meanwhile, fans alter fictional characters through their perceptions and interpretations, similar to the ways that another liminal star, Elvis Presley, has been appropriated to represent a variety of American values. As Doss (1999: 259) concludes in her study of Elvis, "Elvis, after all, is an American emblem, and debates and conflicts over who Elvis is and what he means are comparable to the debates and conflicts over what America is and what America means." Rodman (1996: 1) writes that Elvis surfaces "in ways that defy common-sense notions of how dead stars are supposed to behave," popping up not only in for-profit creations but in very personal ways in fans' lives--such as my editor at the Ohio County Times-News newspaper in Hartford, Ky., who jokingly refers to his former "Skinny Elvis" days and his current "Fat Elvis" days, in which Elvis' personal trajectory becomes a metaphor for my editor's own aging and physical change.
Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (IV of V)
Gender/Masculinity: Brains vs. Brawn
The criticism of wrestling's narrow definition of manhood and its vilifying of any opposing views of what constitutes manliness has been covered by many critics (i.e., Lincoln 1989, Berger 1990). The critical concern about the effects of such confining representations of masculinity has been waged most broadly by Jhally and Katz (2002), who indict WWE as purveyors of damaging stereotypes and narrow codes of masculine behavior. Jhally and Katz attempt to connect wrestling's definition of gender roles with broad social problems relating to domestic violence. Jenkins (2005: 306-307) refutes these arguments by claiming that by oversimplifying their subjects, such narrow readings of wrestling participate in the very "anti-intellectualism" for which these critics often condemn wrestling. He particularly attacks their unsubstantiated attempts to liken the ignoring of wrestling's ill effects to the ignoring of Adolf Hitler's rise in Germany.
Wrestling has become a battleground for an argument that involves methodology (whether an examination of wrestling content can have only one possible reading), mediation (a singular writing of wrestling shows by Vince McMahon and his writing team or a communal definition of the product mediated by writers, performers, and fans), and gender roles (wrestling as one definition of masculinity or wrestling as a battle among conflicting masculinities). While wrestling glorifies certain aspects of the traditional hero, its treatment of masculinity is more nuanced than a simplistic reading would find. For instance, Jhally and Katz, in their analysis, do not consider the context of scenes they analyze in the overall narrative or whether the person perpetrating a certain action is a hero or a villain. The contradictions in Foley's character and its affirming and denying of traditional masculine attributes are a fitting example for Jenkins' argument of a more layered reading of pro wrestling. A reading of a character such as Foley's in unambiguous terms ignores the importance of his many contradictions.
Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (III of V)
The Star Image of Mick Foley
Mick Foley's character developed over the course of twenty years in pro wrestling. Following the definition provided by Ellis (1999: 539) of the star as "a performer in a particular medium whose figure enters into subsidiary forms of circulation, and then feeds back into future performances," Foley's star image emerges out of his various fictional personas and the public dissemination of information about his private life that is incorporated into his star image. The image in wrestling is the fictional character depicted on the screen. These fictional characters are usually either heroes or villains, although they may change freely between the two extremes. Pro wrestling thrives on the relationship between these heroes and villains to build toward eventual grudge matches that fans want to see. Wrestling heroes and villains are defined chiefly through their opposition, as a villain can become a hero by engaging in a feud with one even more villainous than he or she. Similarly, a hero can become a villain by coming into conflict with a hero more popular than he or she. In the case of a change, the star image usually only alters slightly, as wrestlers generally retain their same basic characters. The chief difference is their view of the fans, as the hero-turned-villain usually abandons his or her supporters, while the villain-turned-hero embraces the fans he or she once despised.
In pro wrestling, the wrestler is the commodity. As Birrell and Turowetz (1979: 220) point out, then, every appearance is an opportunity to sell his or her character identity. This commodification process likens wrestling to another form of public discourse, politics. For instance, as Roper (2004) analyzes, the selling of President George W. Bush's heroic persona during his "War on Terror" led to the cultivation of a protector-figure to respond to the terrorist attacks on America. Wrestling's connection to political life has often been articulated by former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura (2004), who admitted that his understanding of marketing himself as a pro wrestler greatly informed his successful campaign for the governorship in 1998.
Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (II of V)
A growing body of scholarship has formed to analyze professional wrestling; however, this preliminary collection of work into wrestling's close connection with American society, past and present, has only scratched the surface of an art form that provides an inexhaustible wealth of research material. Wrestling is a particularly apt way to study the culture of a particular time and place and an exaggerated visual text that provides many potential avenues to study the hero-making process in American culture. Pro wrestling is liminal, existing both as sport and drama, fact and fiction, all mediated through a web of complex relationships within the larger construct of the promoter, the media, the actors, and the fans. Furthermore, wrestling is a text that draws on a variety of dramatic conventions and a unique blending of "high" and "low" culture, reflecting what Levine (1988) identifies as a contemporary questioning of distinctions between "highbrow" and "lowbrow" in American art.
Wrestling has been examined from a myriad of critical perspectives because of the rich possibilities its complicated narrative structure offers for various disciplines. Barthes (1972: 21) claims that pro wrestling is "a spectacle of excess" involving a symbolic show of suffering and justice through the hero's struggle with the rule-breaking villain. Goffman (1974) further identifies this spectacular element of wrestling's central narrative, the hero's appropriation of rule-breaking to retaliate against an opponent who has broken the agreement of a fair fight between the two. Goffman (1974: 418) claims wrestling's excitement comes through this breaking of the audience's perceived frame of fair play in sports.
Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (I of V)
I am finishing up the final version of an essay about three years in the making, that I actually got accepted for publication in my final days as an undergraduate back at Western Kentucky University. After a few holdups here and there, the piece will be going into a collection edited by Cornel Sandvoss, Michael Real, and Alina Bernstein called Bodies of Discourse: Sport Stars, Globalization, and the Public Sphere. As I am tidying the essay up, I wanted to see if there were any relevant thoughts from C3 readers on the implications "real" characters like those in pro wrestling have on the meaning of masculinity in the modern media.
When professional wrestler Mick Foley won the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE, formerly WWF) World Heavyweight Title on Monday Night RAW at the end of 1998, he became a heroic character in the realm of pro wrestling, then at its height of popularity on cable television. Many considered Foley an unusual hero. His character blended masculine heroic qualities of tenacity, endurance, and hard work with characteristics not usually seen in the American hero: a need for communal acceptance, a desire for intellectual growth, and an unattractive aesthetic, with Foley's missing teeth, severed ear, unkempt hair, pear-shaped figure, and lack of the muscular definition usually expected in the wrestling hero.
Mick Foley is a paradox, as his character both embraces and defies elements of the traditional masculine hero. This redefinition of the heroic figure in wrestling, according to Dalbir Singh Sehmby (2000: 202), stems from wrestling's complex relationship among fans, promoters, the media, and Foley himself. Sammond (2005) writes that "whether professional wrestling is progressive, transgressive, or regressive (or all these at different moments) depends on how it serves the social goals of its producers, performers, audiences, and its critics." Because of wrestling's participatory nature, allowing fans to directly influence the product, wrestling heroes may perhaps be more indicative of the paradoxes in defining masculinity and American heroism than the heroes created through many other media products. The construction of Foley as hero reveals America's changing and conflicting values regarding its traditions and its definition of masculinity.
In my view, there are a few observations, some echoing those made in Sam Ford's post last week that we can draw from the NY Times incident and fan behavior around the HP7 release more generally:
Reaction against spoilers aren't so much about the story as they are about community "codes." Looking at some of the fan sites and comments, I was struck by how often it was suggested that people who had a spoiler needed to warn others if they were going to share it. Even though some fans see spoilers as abhorrent, they seem to be acceptable if they are properly marked and the risk of stumbling upon them therefore reduced. That said, a great deal of objection also came from the "premature" presence of spoilers, before the book was officially released. And if the alleged copies of the book's text that were floating around the Internet were actually fan fiction, fan writing in the context of an impending and high-profile release does not seem to be acceptable. In this case, adherence and "respect" for the official release date was explained as what defined a "true" Harry Potter fan.
The teaser-spoiler distinction is one of perception. I have not read the book yet, so I am purposely staying away from reading reviews. However, as the debate on the NY Times blog demonstrated, any mention of a plot point could potentially be seen as a spoiler by some, a teaser by others.
**NOTE: THIS POST DOES NOT CONTAIN HARRY POTTER SPOILERS, DOES CONTAIN A STAR WARS SPOILER, MAY PROVIDE FURTHER INSIGHT INTO FAN COMMUNITIES**
Behind every wildly popular, episodic narrative stands the treat of of a spoiler. Harry Potter is definitely proof of the rule. Some of the reports and commentary online around the book's release and the presence of spoilers of various types provides some insight into fan culture.
The other day, I found a short blog entry on the New York Times website about Harry Potter fans who were camping out in front of a bookstore in Picadilly Circus. Curious about what would drive someone to voluntarily sleep on the pavement in downtown London, I read on. But what really caught my attention was not the post, but the comments after it. They weren't really about the story at all, but a debate about whether or not the New York Times review of the seventh Harry Potter Book, The Deathly Hallows, was a plot spoiler.
Reverse Product Placement, The Simpsons, and the Value of the 7-Eleven Brand
Over the past few days, there have been a couple of interesting ideas batted around by C3 consulting researchers and alumni on a couple of issues that I thought might be of direct interest to the wider C3 readership. With all that is happening in the fan fallout from Harry Potter, the repercussions and new business deals stemming from the upfronts, and all the issues we've been covering more regularly, I thought that pointing the way toward a couple of those pieces might be beneficial.
One is an issue that I've been following from afar. I've never been an avid Simpsons viewer, although I appreciate its place in popular culture. It's not even that I have any aversion to The Simpsons, but I've just never become a regular viewer. Nevertheless, I've been paying attention to the promotion of The Simpsons Movie, both in the transformation of 7-Eleven Stores to Kwik-E Marts and in the competition for deciding which Springfield is the home of the Simpson family.
C3 Team Continues Analysis of Harry Potter Spoiler Controversy
Tuesday afternoon, and it's time to catch up on some relevant issues here on the C3 blog. One thing that has C3 and its consulting researchers talking is all the discussion flowing out the Harry Potter book release and concerns about spoilers related to it.
The release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has gotten a lot of people up in a stir. There are all the people who crowded Harvard Square on Friday night, or sites all across the country, although that created a fervor I've encountered before back in Kentucky and that echoed the recent "happening" that was the iPhone release. This is all about event-based marketing and the importance of the release in an experience economy.
But people online are talking almost as much about the unofficial releases as they are about the official ones, including the New York Times review that some people felt provided too much information, as well as online leaks of the book before the official midnight book release.
Spoilers and Special Release Events: The Case of Harry Potter
C3 Director Joshua Green clued me in to a fascinating conversation taking place over on Bruce Schneier's blog regarding the leak of the final Harry Potter book online, with digital photographs of each page.
The debate is going in both directions. Schneier's take is that this is no big deal and that it does not really equal much of a profit loss. This perspective is that, since the people obsessed with finding a copy just to read it online a few days before it comes out in print will likely buy a copy anyway, and anyone particularly adamant with finding a free copy would have either not read it at all otherwise or borrowed a copy from someone else.
But, of course, this is also about scheduling and real-time deployment of content. The same question gets raised for television as we move more toward a non-linear method of television watching, with DVRs and television shows on DVD. As I wrote about last October, television is no longer the consensus narrative it once was because even if people watch the same series, they may be on a different season.
Collective Coping: Fan Communities Deal with Tragedy
I have written here on the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium blog (see here and here) about issues surrounding Chris Benoit's shocking double-murder and suicide last month and the continued fallout from his horrendous actions.
One aspect of the story that has amazed me is the way that fans banded together to help one another through several stages of grief, first at the knowledge of losing a performer who most fans greatly respected and had always heard good things about, only to find out hours later that this heralded athlete had murdered his family and then killed himself. The conflicted feelings fans had of not only losing one of their favorite performers, but also finding out the awful truth about the man's final actions, have been hard for fans to handle, as well as the aftermath of this tragedy, leaving fans with a lot of soul-searching themselves in many cases.
As the issue continues to pervade media coverage and get tied into larger conversations that extend beyond the Benoit tragedy, wrestling fans continue to process and cope with how to move past this tragic news, especially when many wrestling fans have friendship built around the shared media text.
Dr. Laury Silvers directed me toward this conversation which follows, in real-time, one particular wrestling community's attempt to cope with this news as it slowly progressed. An in-depth case study could probably glean a lot of insight on the nature of these communities and how they are useful in times of tragedy.
Immersive Story Worlds and "How Not to Wreck a Show"
In my work on soap opera fandom, I keep encountering a document that I think deals with some questions that are at the heart of much of what we are talking about in working with fandoms, especially in thinking toward longstanding media properties with long and complicated histories.
I have written quite a bit lately about a particular form of narrative universe of this type, which I call immersive story worlds. As I have written about here on the blog before (see here and here), immersive story worlds are fictional universes whose characteristics include seriality, multiple creators, long-term continuity, a character backlog, contemporary ties to a deep history, and a sense of permanence.
In my own research, I have identified soap opera narratives (once a show has passed a certain number of years), comic books, and professional wrestling texts as being the best examples of these sorts of narratives, but the principles--and potential benefits of thinking toward developing and maintaining immersive story worlds--apply to a wide range of products which have some similar characteristics to these massive serial (social) texts.
To return to my point, however, I think that my writing about serial texts is underpinned by a set of creative criteria and an industry perspective perhaps best articulated by the late Douglas Marland, known by a variety of soap opera fan communities as one of the best soaps creators of all time, in particular in his relationship to the fan community and in respecting the continuity and history of soaps, and the nature of serialized storytelling for an immersive story world.
Sam Ford: I know that a lot of the people following this debate might not be that interested in soaps in particular, but I am interested in the differences in discussing fan culture when it shifts from being a conversation primarily about fan fiction, which many of the back-and-forths have so far. How do we measure creativity in relation to fan communities? My understanding is that most people would agree that fan fiction only retains its full meaning and resonance within the community that it is produced in, and the social specificity of creative output is no different in the soap opera fan communities we have been discussing, but the output is often much different--criticism, debate, parody, discussion, continuity-maintenance, historical perspective...these are very creative processes that seem to be the prevalent forms of fan output for soap opera fandom.
To move toward your discussion of sports and media fans, I think the question you pose is one relevant to this series as a whole and one which various contributors have touched on in one way or another. Are we looking at the difference in male and female fan responses or in the responses of scholarship on fans, or can you really separate the two? As you imply in your question, there is some difficulty in separating the two, and perhaps the body of academic work on soap opera fandom, television fandom, fan fiction communities, sports fandom, and so on are shaped greatly by the gendered perspectives, and the respective genders, of those who have been most prevalent in those fields. It is important to realize this may be the case, while not making that the totalizing explanation for differences in sports fandom and sports fan studies, when compared to media fandom.
Gender and Fan Studies (Round Six, Part One): C. Lee Harrington and Sam Ford
This is the first of a two-part series being posted on Henry Jenkins' blog and discussed through a LiveJournal community site, the latest in the rounds of posts featuring a male and female fan studies scholar looking at issues of gender in relation to the study of fan communities. This round features my discussion with C. Lee Harrington, who has been a key scholar in the history of the study of soap opera fandom. Both parts will be posted here on the C3 blog as well.
C. Lee Harrington: Hi everyone. This has been an interesting set of discussions thus far -- Sam and I are happy to contribute. We'll follow the general norm by beginning with introductions. I've been engaged in audience/fan studies since the early 1990s, with most of my work co-authored with Denise Bielby.
Our interest in fan studies grew out of our long term soap opera-watching habit. I don't remember how long Denise has been watching, but I started watching soaps in the late 1970s and have been an enthusiastic follower ever since (mostly ABC soaps, with some years watching DOOL).
When I was in grad school at UCSB in the late 1980s (Denise is on the faculty there), we went to a General Hospital fan club luncheon, were fascinated by the entire experience, and decided to study the soap fan culture. Our book Soap Fans was published a few years after Henry Jenkins' Textual Poachers and Camille Bacon- Smith's Enterprising Women, among other important work of the late 80s/early 90s, which heavily influenced the way I thought about audience/fans.
Gender and Fan Studies (Round Five, Part Two): Geoffrey Long and Catherine Tosenberger
Where the Wind Blows: The Matter of Authorship
Geoffrey: Ah, so we've arrived at the point in this academic conversation when we both devolve into real, true fanboy/fangirl engagement -- what the hell is up with that Supernatural "prequel" comic anyway? The art is horrible and the writing isn't much better! I swear to God, I was so stoked when I found the first issue at my comic shop, but when I got it home and cracked it open I was so disappointed that I didn't even bother to finish reading it. Ugh.
A-hem. Back to the topic at hand...
I think this is one area where my own experience as a storyteller colors my attitude towards hierarchies of canon and authorship. When I tell a story, I'm creating a group of characters, a world in which they'll exist, and the series of events that will happen to them. I am the author of that story, and these are my creations. If someone else wants to tell a story featuring my characters, it feels like it should be up to me to determine whether or not the events they describe are actually 'canon' or not. If I accept those events as canon, I'm also granting that person the right to be considered an author of this narrative -- literally 'authorizing' them. If I don't, then I have options. I can sue, in an attempt to make sure that no one else plays with my toys, but I personally firmly believe that this is a bad way to go unless someone's making money off of my work illegally or that they're passing off what they're creating as official canon. A better option is to acknowledge the existence of that story as fan fiction, and recognize that it exists in a sort of orbit around the original creation. This is where things get particularly messy -- is it "equally viable as literature", or is it permanently tainted as a 'lesser' creation, since that person didn't invent that story from whole cloth? How much distance from the original creation is required for something to be considered viable as literature?
Gender and Fan Studies (Round Five, Part One):Geoffrey Long and Catherine Tosenberger
As Sam has noted here on the C3 blog, there has been a series on my blog for the past five weeks focusing on gender issues in relation to the study of fan culture, drawing on a variety of male and female scholars who examine fans. C3 Consulting Researcher Jason Mittell has participated in this dialogue, and C3 Alum Geoffrey Long participated in the latest round this past Thursday and Friday. I thought that Geoff's con versation with Catherine Tosenberger might be of particular interest to C3 readers, so I will post the two parts of that conversation here on the C3 blog as well.
Introducing Our Protagonists
Geoffrey: Hi, I'm Geoffrey Long, and I recently completed my Master's degree from the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. Back in 2003 I read this article in the Technology Review about something called transmedia storytelling, written by some guy named Henry Jenkins. The piece really resonated with me, so I sent Henry an email to ask him some more about it -- never imagining that the resulting conversation would last for over four years and culminate in Henry being the advisor for my Master's thesis, which wound up being about, surprise surprise, transmedia storytelling.
For anyone who hasn't read Convergence Culture yet, transmedia storytelling is the crafting of a narrative that spans multiple media types. Chapter one might be told in a book, chapter two might unfold in a film, chapter three might be done as a video game, and so on. Telling a character's adventures in multiple media is nothing new, but until recently most cross-media storytelling was done either as adaptation or as franchising, and most of these extensions weren't considered officially in canon. Contemporary transmedia storytellers like the Wachowski Brothers or Joss Whedon are telling stories that were designed from the start as cross-media narratives, and are deliberately taking advantage of the strengths of each media type to enrich each project. The Enter the Matrix video game, for example, wasn't created just as a cheap grab for more money but as an actual chapter in the larger narrative of The Matrix, and the second and third Matrix films only truly made sense if you'd played the video game.
WWE Fans, Transmedia Storytelling, and The Death of Mr. McMahon
One thing that I haven't written about yet but which certainly has gotten my attention, and a lot of correspondence, is WWE's big storyline over the past couple of weeks of the death of real-life owner Vince McMahon's on-air character, Mr. McMahon.
On a Monday Night Raw two weeks ago, McMahon stepped into his limousine, only to have it blow up on him, on a three-hour special that had been intended to be "Mr. McMahon Appreciation Night," but which primarily consisted of wrestlers and WWE personalities ripping on Vince. McMahon had been having premonitions of his own demise previous to the explosion, and television for the past two weeks has focused on getting to the bottom of Vince's death.
Reaction has been interesting and split. On the one hand, there has been a great amount of fan interests. Previous posts on this site which mention the name Vince McMahon have gotten a lot of extra hits, for instance.
Further, when I was visiting WWE headquarters last Tuesday for a series of meetings, I was amazed at a fair amount of wreaths and memorabilia that had been left in front of the main entrance to the building, presumably by interested fans. There were tributes and posters to the memory of the Mr. McMahon character, and the company left them all in place and on display. From the accounts I got, everyone went home last Friday with a clear front entrance and then fans started leaving things over the weekend.
Fantasia Film Festival Programming Director Hired To Scout for Paramount
Fellow Convergence Culture Consortium Media Analyst Geoffrey Long recently passed some news my way that I found quite interesting. For those of you who might not have heard, the programming director of the Fantasia Film Festival has been hired by Paramount's Blumhouse Productions and its partner ROOM 101 to serve as a scout for international films that might be particularly ripe for Hollywood remakes.
Mitch Davis, the Fantasia director, is also a celebrated filmmaker in his own right and has served in a variety of capacities on the independent level.
The deal signals a continued and interesting shift in how films are sought out and produced, and Davis seems the perfect candidate, as he is directly poised in the international genre film community, particularly in regard to horror films. Mack at Twitch posted the release, which stated that "Fantasia Film Festival has been regularly cited as the place where the Western J-horror craze began. It was the first film festival in North America to screen a film by Takashi Miike (Audition), the original Ringu, and others.
For the final post in wrapping up a look at the body of work the C3 team has aided me with in putting up here on the site, I wanted to point the way toward a few concepts that have been articulated publicly here on the Convergence Culture Consortium site through the blog in the past year to direct people to the posts explaining them in further detail, as well as terms or concepts from Henry Jenkins' work, and those of us at the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, that have made their way into our posts from time-to-time.
1.) Immersive Story Worlds. This is a concept that I developed in conjunction with my thesis work on looking at the current state and the future of the soap opera industry. The idea was to outline a category that explains narratives which are serial by nature, which have multiple creators, a sense of long-term continuity, a character backlog, contemporary ties to a deep history, and a sense of permanence. I included portions of my thesis outlining this concept--and how it relates to the Marvel and DC Comic Universes, the world of pro wrestling, and daytime serial dramas--here and here.
2.) Transmedia Storytelling. Transmedia storytelling is meant to indicate texts in which the story develops through multiple media platforms and in which new content in another platform is not simply a redistribution of the same content that has already appeared elsewhere. We have a whole category of posts about the topic here.
3.) Cross-Platform Distribution. As opposed to transmedia storytelling, cross-platform distribution is simply the reappearance of content from one platform in another, such as making broadcast television shows available in VOD, cable shows available on YouTube, etc. We also have a whole category of posts on this topic available here.
I was interested by the recent news that Lucasfilm wants to empower fan proselytism of its forthcoming animated television series by making some of its copyrighted material available for fans to create their own videos about the show, through Eyespot.
In short, the company has made the tools available on its Star Wars Web site, which features "a Web browser-based, drag and drop editing application that allows fans to play with copyright media without having to download additional software to their computers," according to TelevisionWeek's Alex Romanelli.
Since Lucasfilm hopes to create 100 episodes of the series before it ever shops it around, the company would benefit greatly from creating as much goodwill from its fans as possible during this process, so that there will be as much demand for the product as possible once the 100 episodes are "in the can" (in a metaphorical sense, of course).
What fascinated me most is Romanelli's linking this to Sci Fi's decision to make an online library of clips available, as well as tools for sound and visual effects and editing to enable the production of fan films.
Transforming Fan Culture into User-Generated Content: The Case of FanLib
You say "User-Generated Content."
We say "Fan Culture."
Let's call the whole thing off!
The differences between the ways corporations and fans understand the value of grassroots creativity has never been clearer than the battle lines which have been drawn this weekend over a new venture called FanLib.
FanLib -- "Where the Stories Continue"
This was originally posted on my blog, but I wanted to cross-post it to our consortium blog as well, since it pertained to previous posts here. For instance, back in August, Sam Ford posted about the FanLib fan fiction contest with HarperCollins, allowing readers and writers to work together to create a romance novel. I first learned about FanLib's latest plans about a week ago, when Convergence Culture Consortium analyst Ivan Askwith reported on their efforts here on the blog:
FanLib.com launched as hub for "fan fiction" writers. The idea is to provide a home for creators of one of the first "user generated" genres, fan stories written using popular movie and TV characters and storylines. Members can upload stories, embed promos and build communities around their favorite shows. FanLib, founded by Titanic producer Jon Landau, Jon Moonves and former Yahoo CMO Anil Singh, is also currently sponsoring the Ghost Whisperer Fan Finale Challenge on the site asking fans to write their own conclusion to the show's two-part finale.
Several of the researchers in C3 have just finished or are in the process of finishing their Master's thesis projects, which means many of us now have the prospect of graduation staring us in the face. Here at C3, we have had the great opportunity to not only work academically as researchers while graduate students but also to interact with the media industry and work with folks at our corporate partners on a variety of initiatives, meaning that a majority of the people coming out of C3 are interested in maintaining a relationship to both academia and the media industry moving forward.
But, as job hunts loom on the horizons and as colleagues start to land jobs elsewhere, we all have to consider what it means, in both the industry and academia, to come away with expertise in issues such as understanding fan communities, transmedia storytelling, new advertising models, and the variety of other focuses that C3 research has taken.
Wrestling Fans Can't Benefit from HD?: Cultural Biases and WWE to HD
Considering my continued interesting in pro wrestling and its fan community, and the class I just wrapped up teaching on American pro wrestling here at MIT that WWE had some official involvement with (class blog here), I was interested in Stephanie Robbins' piece in TelevisionWeek back on Thursday regarding WWE's plans to start taping all its weekly shows in high-definition sometime next year.
Robbins writes that investors were told that the company had delayed the switch because of a variety of technical issues but that, now that CW has become increasingly serious about high-definition programming and USA is switching to the format by the end of the year, the WWE has decided to make sure its product stays up-to-date.
What caught my attention, though, was the comments from Bruce Leichtman of Leichtman Research, one of those people who seem to creep into many TVWeek stories on HD. Leichtman was attributed as saying that the programming might not immediately benefit WWE fans and that, while many initial offerings appeal to an upscale audience, the WWE "has more of a downscale appeal." This was not a direct quote to Leicthman, but I'm assuming it isn't too far off the mark.
New Ways of Reaching Audiences, Maintaining Identity, and Proselytizing and Evangelism
Since my research on fan proselytizing has made its way onto the blog from time-to-time, and since these issues cropped up just yesterday in the responses from Nancy Baym to my research on wrestling fandom in the arena, I thought it would be good to highlight a couple of things I read recently, or was forwarded, regarding music and viral marketing...or evangelism...by grassroots intermediaries, or else proselytizers, depending on what terminology and specific meaning you want to use.
No matter the terminology, I am fascinated by the process, and particularly by the importance in understanding brands and media texts as inherently social texts. My thesis project on soap opera fandom does just this, situating the soap operas that never end with no off season in relation to a transgenerational fan base for which the relationships built around these shows are key to understanding the consumption. Again, for those interested in that research, feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com.
Lynn Liccardo had sent me a great in-depth piece from Clive Thompson in The New York Times Magazine that I had planned to write about, and then I found that Nancy Baym had already done a great job of pointing to and reacting to some of the points from Thompson's piece. I encourage everyone to check it out.
MySpace Strikes Various New Deals for Branded Content
A couple of interesting business deals were signed with MySpace this week, furthering the development of official deals with content providers and brands and the social networking site.
On Wednesday, news was released that MySpace had signed deals with a wide variety of news outlets and lifestyle brands for content channels through the News Corporation site in the coming months.
These include MySpace Video channels for the likes of The New York Times, National Geographic, IGN Entertainment, and a variety of others. The full list is available in this article from Daisy Whitney at TelevisionWeek.
Surya Yalamanchili and Categorizing Reality Show Fans
In the last two posts, I evoked my list of fan categories and then Rob Kozinets'. While my categories, based on my research of fan behaviors, sought to describe different modes of engagement that fans entered in relation to a media product, Kozinets looks at online communities in particular and four fan types, depending on their relationship to the community and their relationship with the media property or brand.
Since I wrote in the post about my categories about the idea of vernacular theory, however, I thought it would be intriguing to bring up a recent list of fan types from the Weblog of Surya Yalamanchili, brand manager and reality television star.
Fan Types: Robert V. Kozinets and Online Communities
In my previous post, I wrote about a list of five categories or modes of fan engagement that I observed when observing and interacting at live pro wrestling events. These categorizations have been helpful to me in understanding fan behaviors in general, particularly in understanding the performative and communal nature of online fan communities. In relation to this, I thought it might be helpful to include as well here on the blog a list of fan types that one of our affiliated faculty has articulated and which has been of use to me in my research of soap opera fandom in particular.
In his 1999 essay "E-Tribalized Marketing?: The Strategic Implications of Virtual Communities of Consumption," which he wrote for the European Management Journal, Robert V. Kozinets provides a categorization that breaks fans up into four types, based on both their relationship to the brand or media property and their relationship to the fan community itself. I wanted to present those four categories here as well, both to provide for comparison to the modes of engagement from my work but also to bring this categorization into current discussion, since I think it still proves very useful, despite any changes in Internet behaviors and accessibility since it was first published in 1999.
Fan Behaviors: Five Ways of Understanding Modes of Fan Engagement with Media Texts
I am always interested in categorizations of fans, a list breaking down fan "types." I've seen several helpful category lists that help explain and understand fan behaviors. No one list makes perfect sense and explains everything, but this type of research at least provides a framework for understanding and talking about fan behaviors. In some of my recent work, I've been drawing on some of my own previous work on fan communities and categorizations I derived from an ethnography of wrestling fandom.
My own research breaks fan behaviors into five categories, looking at HOW fans engage with a show. This process was based on my observations in the pro wrestling arena, looking at how fans respond and comment on their behavior at live events, but I think this applies particularly well to Internet fandom as well. I wanted to present those categories for C3 readers both for any help it might be but also to see what you might have to challenge them.
Not much time to write at length on this, but I wanted to make sure it made it onto everyone's radar. From last week's Cynopsis:
FanLib.com launched as hub for "fan fiction" writers. The idea is to provide a home for creators of one of the first "user generated" genres, fan stories written using popular movie and TV characters and storylines. Members can upload stories, embed promos and build communities around their favorite shows. FanLib, founded by Titanic producer Jon Landau, Jon Moonves and former Yahoo! CMO Anil Singh, is also currently sponsoring the Ghost Whisperer Fan Finale Challenge on the site asking fans to write their own conclusion to the show's two-part finale.
Particularly interesting, since fan fiction seems to be one of the last traditional forms of fan creativity that hasn't been widely coopted and encouraged (within specific, copyright-friendly parameters) by the entertainment industry. I haven't given this as much thought as I should, but my offhand guess would be that fan fiction, unlike mashup videos, tribute songs, and so on, are harder to 'control,' and leave a lot more room for individual fans to take characters, or narratives, in directions that producers and executives aren't comfortable with.
That said, it's not surprising that FanLib exists; what intrigues me is the second part of the announcement, regarding the collaboration with CBS drama The Ghost Whisperer, asking fans to write their own endings to the season finale. The contest just ended, and the results are online... but I can't find any specific rules or directions anymore. Does anyone happen to know what restrictions, if any, the producers put in place when issuing the challenge?
(The prolific Sam Ford has written about other instances of commercially solicited fan fiction here, and probably in several other posts I can't find just now.)
Just a quick post to highlight a few announcements NBC made during yesterday's upfront presentation to advertisers in NYC. Of particular interest from an audience engagement perspective:
1. Rather than introducing a slate of new shows, NBC is opting for the "more of a good thing" approach. Heroes will get its own six-episode spin-off, Heroes: Origins, with each episode being used to introduce a new character who has not yet appeared on the series. Viewers will get to vote on their favorite, and the character with the most support will then be written into the show as a regular. (Art imitates life: there's an eery resemblance here to Stan Lee's recent reality venture, Who Wants To Be A Superhero? Only in this case, it seems the stakes are a lot higher -- this time, the winner joins the ensemble of one of NBC's biggest hits.)
2. Encouraged by the success of Heroes 360, an expansive transmedia campaign to enable viewer interaction with Heroes (via an "interactive" graphic novel, an ARGesque campaign, and so on), NBC is expanding their 360-approach to television to another of their biggest hits... The Office. There aren't too many details on the specifics yet, but I like what I've heard so far:
In addition to making extra content available on digital platforms, "The Office 360" will allow online users of NBC's Web site to create their own branches of the comedy's fictional Dunder-Mifflin paper company with different challenges to complete. The branches could be integrated into a network episode of the show.
I'll be curious to see how this plays out. I have to admit, I was in the middle of writing yesterday when I got a phone call from Heroes' would-be Senator, Nathan Petrelli, asking me to visit his campaign website... and even though the phone-calls-from-fictional-characters thing will get old soon, it made me smile.
And, while it's not related to NBC, I'll throw in an ABC-related announcement for good measure: starting this summer, ABC has announced, several of their most popular shows will be available for online streaming in full HD resolution (1280x720).
There's always a lot to discuss during the upfronts, so I expect I'll be back several times over the next week with more points of interest. Feel free to post in comments if you catch something interesting, though -- there's a lot to keep up with!
NBC Makes an Effort to Explicitly Embrace a Social Network Around Its Content
The NBC network is launching its own explicitly titled social network for fans of NBC programming, with a site that's gone public but which is expected to pick up steam in its full launch this June.
According to this preview page, the NBC.com social network will include message boards and groups, as well as blogs, a function to maintain buddies through the NBC social network, and personal profiles to manage. Basically, it will try to incorporate many of the popular features of sites like MySpace and Facebook except built specifically around NBC media content.
For now, the site provides links to various blogs, online videos, and message boards that NBC currently has located at various places around its Web site, with the plan for this social network to combine all of these various sites into a centralized space, from the sound of the preview material.
The site includes links to various NBC videos available through the Web, as well as message boards for daytime, primetime, and latenight programming and blogs for NBC producers, actors, and even characters.
Austen 3:16: Jane Austen Fan Communities Active on the Internet
Nancy K. Baym recently wrote a piece pointing the way to a somewhat unique aspect of fan communities that moves into the realm of traditional literature: online fan communities built around Jane Austen's literature.
Baym's piece was inspired by a recent piece in The Times Book Online in the United Kingdom, entitled "Austen Mania.
While I'm not surprised to see fan communities built around WWE performer Stone Cold, this Austen may sound somewhat unlikely for a strong fan community online, but the Internet is a place for people of all sorts of common interest to meet, and those fans of fictional worlds aren't just relegated to the modern media and entertainment landscape. By the way, I know what Austin 3:16 says, but I'm not sure about Austen 3:16.
Having read and watched film adaptations of several of Austen's works, I can understand why it has retained its continued power for generations, so the wealth of Jane Austen fan sites may not be so shocking.
News broke earlier this week that television network Bravo will buy popular recap and fan community forum site Television Without Pity.
The purchase, announced last Tuesday, has not included an abundance of information, other than that Bravo said in its press release that the Web site generates more than 1 million unique visitors each month and that the average time spent on the site by a visitor is 13 minutes, figures the network cited in support of its purchase of Television Without Pity.
The co-founders of the site, Sarah D. Bunting and Tara Ariano, will remain on in an editorial capacity after the sellout. There have been no indications as to whether there will be any noticeable editorial or aesthetic changes with the new Bravo ownership or not.
According to that announcement, "For starters, it means that TWoP will still be TWoP--that is to say, we'll be offering the same no-holds-barred commentary and critique we always have. Our new bosses dig what we do, and after all, they were the ones who launched Brilliant But Cancelled, the mid-season death watch which predicts the early demise of all the networks' new shows."
Panek focuses on the brand communities surrounding gaming platforms, asking some intriguing questions: "Why do these objects mean so much to so many? Is console fandom something like other forms of media fandom? Is it akin to brand fandom, or something more like people's love/hate relationship with televisions?"
We have been doing some internal research here at C3 about the girl gamers sector, so I was interested in reading Suzanne's take. In particular, she writes about her own performances with Guitar Hero. She starts with the premise that "a system has been in place that creates barriers to the inclusion of women and girls from being seen as 'typical' game players by the industry. This has led to a small number of women and girls playing immersive video games," and notes that most games force these women to see the world as heterosexual men would. Socially, she posits that most women come to games through male acquaintances traditionally as well.
However, she has found that games like Guitar Hero have created a new space in which traditional non-gamers can engage with games that appeal to others outside of the core "gamer" crowd. She notes that "two of the six playable characters in Guitar Hero are female and three of the nine playable characters are female in Guitar Hero II.
The Power of Reality Television to Inspire Political Debate in the Blogosphere, Commented on by...A Blogger from The Apprentice
Now here's a surreal moment that could only be provided to us by reality television, and one that reeks of the type of interconnectivity that happens in a convergence culture. Allegations of racism directed toward Shilpa Shetty, an Indian actress appearing on Celebrity Big Brother UK have led to a horde of complaints throughout the blogosphere, including a variety of rumors about language directed toward Shetty during the taping of the reality show. Yet, what fascinates me most is that one of the bloggers who has written a commentary on this incident is brand-manager-turned-reality-television star Surya Yalamanchili of The Apprentice fame.
Yalamanchili, who I've gotten to know through some similar interests in trying to navigate the current media environment, launched his blog not long ago and has already made some astute media-related observations in the short time his blog has been active. But he pointed this post in particular out to me, which piqued my interest because of the mere idea of a reality star commenting on the treatment of another reality star in the blogosphere, while both are still stars on their respective programs. Add to that the fact that both are ethnically South Asian stars appearing on "Western" reality shows and the story gets even more confusing.
These layers of "reality" add an awfully fascinating dimension to their respective shows. The fact that these people, who are both television personas and simultaneously "real," make their public blogs a really interesting source, especially when a character from one reality show becomes a commentator for another.
The Convergence Manifesto I: Convergence--The Buzzword
This is the first part of a piece that originally appeared in the 01 September 2006 edition of the Convergence Culture Consortium's Weekly Update, an internal newsletter for affiliated researchers and corporate members of C3.
The word convergence is getting a lot of buzz. In fact, since I am a researcher for the Convergence Culture Consortium and the primary operator of its blog, I guess I am capitalizing on that buzz quite a bit myself, so this is no criticism of the convergence buzzword. We took our name from the book by the director of our research group, Henry Jenkins, entitled Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.
All of us working within C3 wholeheartedly believe that, with the advent of new media forms and the potential for cross-platform and transmedia storytelling, that we truly are in a drastically altered media environment that both users and content producers are still plumbing and mapping out.
Quoting and Piracy: How the Industry Lumps Together Two Very Different Activities
"It bothers me artistically. Here's this thing where you have no control; they are chopping it up and putting your memories in a blender." -Brian Grazer, producer of 8 Mile.
The quote above, taken from Laura M. Holson's fabulous New York Times article from Monday about Hollywood's response to YouTube, is in response to mash-ups of the Eminiem battle rap flick 8 Mile and the cultish hit Napoleon Dynamite, a video that, as of the writing of the article had received 60,000 hits but also the ire of the moviemakers whose clips were used. The plan now is to create the type of responses to YouTube mash-ups that will eliminate this quotability of their work.
The article addresses two sorts of behaviors of posting copyrighted material, one being short clips or mash-ups and the other being uploading whole chunks of the movie, so that one can watch each chunk and see the whole thing, as a user has done with 8 Mile. The trouble is, in order to resist setting the precedent to allow too active use of its copyrighted material, companies' responses have been to discredit the whole process and instead think of ways they can safely put content up on the Web, where they are in control.
However, these are two very different behaviors--one quoting from a pop culture source and the other just plopping a copy of that source up on the Web in full.
I recently wrote a newsletter piece on 'implied interactivity', i.e. decentralized forms of strategies involving the encouragement and indirect pre-structuring of user-generated content through structural properties of the media artifacts themselves.
Last weekend, I wrote about the fan communities that have kept some long-standing comic strips alive, including longtime hero Flash Gordon. Thanks to some of the readers over on Warren Ellis' site, I learned that rumor had it that Flash Gordon had a movie due soon through the Sci Fi Network.
Instead, Sci Fi announced their plans at the Television Critics Association press tour today, that the network would be launching a new Flash Gordon series instead of just a one-shot film.
The series, produced by Robert Haimi Sr. and Jr., already has a commitment of 22 hour-long episodes for the first season. The series was among several announced projects for the Sci Fi Network, which also has a Darren Star series under consideration about an under-the-radar government agency that covers high-tech crimes.
This has to come as a very pleasant surprise for Flash Gordon enthusiasts. In response to Ellis' post, Chris Arrant had written in the comments section, "The belief is that Sci-Fi will greenlight a 3 to 4 episode mini-series event that will serve as a back door pilot for the potential new series. So while no show runner has been brought aboard, negotiations are currently taking place."
The announcement, then, was for more than fans were expecting.
What Are the Most Popular Hits for "Fan Community?"
How do you measure who the most avid fan community is? Well, to turn the question around a little bit, which fan community do people seek out the most? That was my initial project last January when I wrote a blurb for the C3 Weekly Update asking about the popularity of fan communities themselves. Looking back at that question now, I have found that a few things have changed yet others have not.
In order to find the answer to this question, I am going to enlist the help of one of our partners here in the Convergence Culture Consortium, Yahoo! Well, actually, I'm just using the search engine in this case. And, for the sake of balance, I'm also going to check Google to see what it finds is the top page for a Web search of "fan community."
When I conducted this experiment last year, I joked about how there might be a page from some major conglomerate media property which was trying to create a space for the fan community surrounding that property, or else a picture of Henry Jenkins or some of the other great scholars here in C3 who have engaged in fan studies at one point or another. Instead, I found the Web site for the Glasgow-based alternative rock band Franz Ferdinand was the top hit on Google for "fan community." I will have to say that I'm shocked, but it shows that music communities in particular have appropriated the language "fan community" into its very fiber, especially based on the celebrity involved with individual vocal performers or bands.
Merging WB and UPN into the CW Network: What Did the Fans Have to Say?
For my final look back at some of our early work from the C3 Weekly Updates internal newsletter and where we are now this weekend, I was interested in revisiting this piece I wrote in the first quarter of last year about the formation of the CW Network and what it might mean for the shows then airing on UPN and The WB. I looked in particular to see which shows seemed to have more ardent online followings than others based on fan sites surrounding the media properties and fan discussion groups that I could find that were explicitly for fans of that show.
Writing just days after the announcement that WB and UPN would be merged, I wrote that "fan communities surrounding the various WB and UPN shows have begun writing, wondering what these changes could mean for their shows, whether they will make the cut, and the potential benefits for the amalgamated network if their shows do make it onto the CW.
These Fans Will Follow You...Through Rain and Sleet and Snow and...
don't know if there are very many readers who simultaneously read my posts here on the C3 site and also my column "From Beaver Dam to Boston," in the small weekly Kentucky newspaper The Ohio County Times-News, but, if you are one of those Times-News readers, then you aren't surprised to know my aversion to the U.S. Postal Service. Between a month's worth of my mail being lost when I went back to Kentucky to work as a journalist this summer and the impossible time I had afterward trying to locate that missing mail and start getting mail forwarded to me, I find the post office to often be inefficient and frustrating. Now, I've never blamed the workers but rather the organization of the system as a whole, yet it's a system that's hard to avoid.
When I looked back to the various early short pieces I wrote for the C3 Weekly Update internal newsletter, however, I was interested to find that I had written about the rather surprising number of online fan expressions for this bureaucratic government monopoly, the USPS. Last February, I wrote about this online fan community for the postal service and my surprise to find fan sites or fan posts dedicated to their delivery services.
(Not) Interesting Brand Communities? Fans of the Quotidian
To revisit another piece I wrote for the C3 Weekly Update (the initial piece appeared in our internal newsletter last February), I am interested in the variety of fan sites dedicated to the more commonplace brands and the brand communities that follow around them. While affiliated researcher Rob Kozinets has written at length about brand communities, including some communities that form around the content and products of yesteryear, and affiliated researcher Grant McCracken has encouraged brand managers to encourage greater fan involvement in what may seem some of the most static brands around (such as Mr. Clean), these sites are examples of fans attaching to the most everyday of brands and forming celebratory sites on their own, without explicit coaxing from the company who manages the brand itself.
It may not be surprising that brands like Nike or Abercrombie & Fitch have had semi-religious online followings because they aim to incorporate a whole lifestyle around the products they sell. Nevertheless, there are a lot of other brands which have reached what Grant McCracken would call the commodity basement (not to be confused with my concept of the bottom of the branding barrel), where brands become commodity goods rather than distinguished branded goods. In these cases, however, these commodity goods have fan followings, some for comedy and irony but all celebratory of these brands. These are everyday products that have sometimes ardent fan followings online, extending far beyond Coca-Cola and Starbucks and Apple and Harley-Davidson.
No Actor Left Behind: On Vincent Schiavelli's Legacy Page and Paul Lynde Fan Sites
At this time last year, in our Jan. 06, 2006, newsletter, I focused on two deceased actors who I had recently seen expressions of fan support for that honestly surprised me. My interest in this article was rekindled when I saw one of these two actors yesterday, actually when I was watching some episodes from the second season of Bewitched, which I have on DVD. These two actors, both famous for playing particularly quirky supporting characters, are just the type of character actors who would be much less expected to garner quite as ardent a fan following, but, in both cases, I was struck about just how vocal their fans could be.
This weekend, I plan to write a series of posts based on work I did about a year ago for the Convergence Culture Consortium internal weekly updated. Circulated among affiliated faculty and corporate partners, as well as all of the C3 team here at MIT, the weekly update is one of the perks of being an affiliated researcher or a corporate member of the Convergence Culture Consortium.
When the internal newsletter first launched, I wrote a series of articles looking at some rather unique examples of online fan communities, including fan communities based on historical comic strips. These fan communities have helped keep characters alive and act as historians of sorts. Some of these projects are explicitly based on archiving for historical purposes, while others are more explicitly fans expressing their lovemarks for these strips that have long since stopped producing new work.
Online Intern Contest Providing Extension for The Apprentice
A new online contest will partner Yahoo! with the popular NBC reality show The Apprentice, which is set to debut this month in its sixth season with another contest pitting young and hungry business folks against each other for a final nod of approval from The Donald.
The popular online site will feature a game called The Intern, starting on Sunday. Each week, through The Intern, fans will get the chance to come to Yahoo! and predict what will happen on the next installment of the NBC show. But where does it get the "Intern" title? The eventual contest winner will get the chance to be an intern to the Apprentice winner for two weeks after that new apprentice has started their new job with Trump.
The apprentice and the intern. Definitely a clever idea that feels like an organic contest. It creates an incentive for watching and gives a tangible prize at the end of the contest that makes sense within the framework of the show. However, I don't know how strongly Yahoo! is putting the tools in place for a communicative space for the fan community around the contest, as it seems to make sense that Yahoo! would want to make its game a connected part of the online fan community for The Apprentice.
Surplus Audiences: The Deaf Use YouTube to Communicate Through Signing
When new technologies are created, the initial concern is to reach an intended audience and to fill a particular void. What happens in reality, however, is that many unintended audiences often find and incorporate these products, regardless of how popular the service becomes with the target audience.
This phenomenon of surplus audiences, outside the target demographic but whose use of a product or consumption of some type of media is nevertheless a factor in the popularity of the product, has been of interest to me.
For instance, last June, I wrote about the As the World Turns storyline involving gay character Luke Snyder and how it was being written about regularly on message boards in the gay community, driving interest from a segment of people who were not initially fans of the show but who were particularly into this storyline and who started to become interested in the show in general.
"The thread is a demonstration of how fan communities within a niche audience can begin to proselytize and recruit other members of their social group to watch the show as well," I wrote.
Star Trek, Fan Culture, and Community Building: An Essay from Lincoln Geraghty
Maybe it is an overused example, and I know that at least two C3 affiliated faculty members have written on the fan community in one way or another, but Star Trek fans are likely the most analyzed fan communities in popular culture over the past several years. Both Henry Jenkins (look here and here and here) and Rob Kozinets (look here and here and here) have written several times about Star Trek fandom. But, because it has become a common example used by scholars to debate larger questions about fan communities and fan connections, these conversations have been invaluable for understanding fan communities in general.
One of the latest essays in that continued scholarly conversation is Lincoln Geraghty's piece "A Network of Support: Coping with Trauma Through Star Trek Fan Letters," who uses these fan letters to try and understand the way fans believe membership in some idea of a fan community has "helped them in daily life." Geraghty writes that he intends to try and understand "how far one might regard the Star Trek fanbase as a collective network of support. I believe that those fans who community through writing letters to fan magazines, as well as online chat rooms, are doing so in an attempt to contact fellow enthusiasts and share their own personal experiences, whether they are positive or emotionally traumatic."
Ten Day Take--Contest for Winning User to Develop Pilot Episode
This week, cable giant Comcast announced that it would be working with global television company Endemol to help transform user-generated content solicited by the cable provider into an official television show, launched through a new contest called Ten Day Take.
Ten Day Take will require users to submit ideas for programs to Comcast, with a winning idea being selected to give that person a chance to work with Endemol to produce a pilot. The catch, as the name of the contest implies, is that the winning idea will only have 10 days to produce a pilot, working on a budget of $50,000.
You can probably see where this is heading...The process of creating that pilot will be programming as well, as it will be a reality-style show which follows the production of that pilot.
Think about the wealth of content this creates...a call for user-generated content that builds into a documentary on the making of a show by the winner of the contest. Sounds like a reality version of Nobody's Watching, doesn't it?
Are Interactive Contests Meaningful Communication or Cheap Gimmicks? A Question Posed from a Fan Message Board
Although it was not a major conversation and only created a couple of responses, I was intrigued by a post on the As the World Turns fan message board over at Michael Gill's Media Domain. User Kimberly Walsh asks fellow readers about the variety of promotional programs Procter & Gamble Productions and CBS had been entering over the past several months.
First, there were Daytime Dollars, a promotion that gave a code sometime during each day's episode that viewers could log on and see if they match to win $500. This promotion ran several months, with a different star announcing the day's code at the top of one of the commercial breaks every day, although it was moved throughout the show to keep people from just tuning in to see the code.
The promotion received a little bit of attention outside the soaps press, including Adam Finley's bonehead comments over at AdJab which claims that the money is "almost worth the damage your brain will endure from watching these shows." Sounds like those guys in the Southern Medical Journal I wrote about back in March, doesn't it?
Now, CBS and As the World Turns have a See it, Text it, Win it Sweepstakes in which a trivia question is asked every week for fans to text the answer in for, with the chance to win $5,000.
Both are very loosely involving communication with fan communities, but this type of interaction is much lower on the ladder than even naming the DAYS baby.
A Weird Comic Dialogue: Conan O'Brien, Horny Manatees, and User-Generated Content
Last week, people across our department here at MIT were talking about the situation with the Horny Manatee and Conan O'Brien.
For those who haven't heard the story, here's the synopsis. Conan had a segment on his show, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, in which he was talking about a variety of ludicrous sports mascots for universities that he would like to see, he suggested that F.S.U. create a mascot called the "Webcam Manatee," who it was insinuated would perform various masturbatory acts and tease sexual explicitness while, well, in a manatee costume. The video displayed someone watching the manatee rubbing himself to the tune of the classic (and I use that term loosely here) song, "I Touch Myself."
In itself, not a major story. Sounds like standard late night fare. Raunchy, but still within a safety net, while poking fun at the very real popularity of sexually charged webcams. However, at the end of the skit, and it is still said to e unplanned, O'Brien said that the person watching the Webcam was logged onto HornyManatee.com, a site that didn't exist when this show was taped. Lawyers were quickly afraid that someone would create the site and then create extremely inappropriate content that NBC could then be construed for having promoted, so they bought the license to the site in between the time the show finished taping and its airing time later that night.
Jason Mittell asks the C3 partners how we view Fair Use in our business models.
As an advertising agency, the copyright issue is pretty cut and dried for us: it's our client's copyrights; we follow their lead. We don't create much media on our own, with the exceptions of some books published by GSD&M LP, such as recently published The Amazing Faiths of Texas.
To be honest, there is surprisingly little discussion of copyright outside the realm of "Who owns it; how much do they want for it?" Few at the agency are interested in Lawrence Lessig's books. So, I think it's clear where a typical ad agency stands.
However, there are cracks, specifically around audience participation, because once you entertain the thought of having others incorporate your work into theirs, you have to figure out how to give them permission to do so. Where people tend to net out, though, is shy of a Creative Commons License. They tend to make the acceptable use an exception of "All Rights Reserved," which outlines specifically what other people can do with their content, as opposed to "Some Rights Reserved", which typically does not.
Why? I think primarily for three reasons: 1) defaulting to stringent copyright interpretation is easy, indeed; there's no questioning of your own assumptions involved; 2) doing so lessens your time with the lawyers, and 3) revolutionaries are not rewarded, so there's little incentive to do something different. This, despite that fact that audiences are changing.
Also, for copyright holders, the default answer of "No!" to reuse is easy. It doesn't take thought, and it doesn't take record keeping. Therefore, I think participatory culture will thrive in a parallel universe of Creative Commons licensed content.
Let me try answering one of Mittell's questions directly.
"Why would the industry want to restrict educational practices that primarily teach students how to consume and create the very products that they wish to sell?"
2006: The Year of User-Generated Content, According to Pareles
Another interesting piece from today's New York Times from Jon Pareles. He discusses the business of user-generated content, in which platforms for uploading this content is selling for increasingly large numbers, such as the $580 million for MySpace and the $2 billion for YouTube.
He considers "user-generated content" the "paramount cultural buzz phrase of 2006," although he considers it a more technocratic dressing up of the idea of self-expression.
All that free-flowing self-expression presents a grandly promising anarchy, an assault on established notions of professionalism, a legal morass and a technological remix of the processes of folk culture. And simply unleashing it could be the easy part. Now we have to figure out what to do with it: Ignore it? Sort it? Add more of our own? In utopian terms the great abundance of self-expression puts an end to the old, supposedly wrongheaded gatekeeping mechanisms: hit-driven recording companies, hidebound movie studios, timid broadcast radio stations, trend-seeking media coverage. But toss out those old obstacles to creativity and, lo and behold, people begin to crave a new set of filters.
The Internet Plays Rough: Fan Support in Peter Jackson's Directing The Hobbit
One thing is for sure--fans care about who creates the work they consume. And, when they attribute genius to a creator, they are likely to remain very loyal.
Just ask the folks over at New Line Cinema, who are probably pulling their hair out at the reaction among the fan community and their stand of solidarity behind director Peter Jackson, denouncing support for a Hobbit film based on the Tolkien book if it doesn't involve Jackson. Since he was largely credited as the "auteur" of the initial Lord of the Rings trilogy, fans have given him attribution as genius, it seems. And many people feel that's founded because of his co-scripting of the screenplay and his leadership directing and producing.
In fact, New Line itself benefited from the initial promotion of Jackson as a genius, as the previously little-known director (see his credits at IMDB) became an authoritative voice on all things Tolkien, and his quirky personality and dedication to the film helped drive critical acclaim and fan interest in the three films that snatched numerous awards and a large chuck of box office and DVD success.
Now New Line must be wondering if their empowering of Jackson has been a mistake, as the director has built up a significant following from online fan communities--and, unlike Frodo with the ring, he knows how to control its power. And, as Sharon Waxman points out in her New York Times article last Tuesday, "the Internet plays rough."
Now, here is a group who, I believe, makes their point quite clear from their very title: FCC FU.
The initiative was created by World Wide Wadio, which describes itself as "an All-Star team of radio writers, directors, producers and sound designers" who have "won more than 1000 awards so far."
They write that their goal is to protest through humor but hope to tie their humor substantially with more straightforward and traditional forms of protest as well. According to their statement, "Our dream is to spread our message through the Internet and the Mass Media; to have as many people as possible singing and sharing our song, proudly wearing the message on our merchandise... and taking the first crucial step toward that most American of all activities: political protest in the name of Free Speech."
Their mantra may best be expressed by this video I first saw over at Jeff Jarvis' BuzzMachine. It is the anthem of FCC FU, sung to the tune of "America the Beautiful." The video is also getting widely distributed by Robin Good and WFMU.
Targeting Those Surplus Audiences: Teenage Girls and Graphic Novels
There was an interesting article from George Gene Gustines in yesterday's New York Times about traditional American comics companies trying to reach out to female readers. Especially since manga has opened the door for substantial new female audiences, the long-held presupposition that comic books is the domain of men is being questioned.
We've already crossed the boundary that was placed between comic books and adults, as it's been a longheld myth that comic books--and animation--is strictly children's fare. But it's been a longer road for female readers. The problem is that, even if it is an obvious falsity that women are not interested in a medium like comic books, the majority of content over the years has not written for female audiences in any way, forcing them to be a surplus audience that is not part of the target demographic.
The Power of the Consumer: Viewers and a Public Conscious Vote O.J. Off TV and Shelves
Some people have questioned whether collective intelligence really exists. Some people dispute that the crowds are wise at all. But many people are thankful that public pressure was able to get the News Corporation to cancel the book deal and planned television special for O.J. Simpson, the great piece of speculative writing called If I Did It.
Public pressure, grassroots campaigns...these can be used for good and for bad, and the Internet and other tools have increased the ability people have had to reach companies and voice their displeasure. In this case, even while the O.J. documentary and book may have had decent sales, there was also a lot of damage to reputation for Fox involved, especially as the main network has been able to rehabilitate its legacy of trashy television with some of the most popular and culturally relevant fiction shows on today.
But the O.J. campaign was sure to be a black eye, even if successful. And Rupert Murdoch decided to concede rather than risk losing something more substantial than a little egg on his face.
Biographical information for each panelist is available here.
Diane Nelson, President of Warner Premiere for Warner Brothers. Diane talks about her role with digital content production and her work over the past six years managing the Harry Potter franchise for Warner Brothers and the implications of fan communities on global brand management. She also discussed the fascinating global and cross-platform characters the company deal with like Batman, Superman, and Willie Wonka. "As new as everything going on in media and technology is, it's all very much the same." She said the underlying themes for discussing fan communities is understanding the consumer as people and their motivations in using the brand and the need to respect them. "Respect is the single biggest word I would use in relation to fans or any consumer, for that matter." Using her work with Harry Potter as an example, she said that fans begin to feel a sense of ownership over property once they become involved. "How deeply that shows itself is a wide spectrum," she said, from fanatical expressions or just expression in purely economic forms. "Who they are and what's driving them particularly is important if we want to speak to fans with any relevance and authenticity."
Molly Chase, Executive Producer of New Media Department, Cartoon Network. Molly discussed her work with the Cartoon Network site and its Hispanic equivalent for its Hispanic-American fans. She emphasized that her employees are definitely fans of the media they promote, which they feel sets them aside from some other networks. She said that she feels that respect is a theme in dealing with fans. For Molly, the idea of respecting fans and respecting content is closely intertwined, in language that positions the fans close to the content. By correlating the fans with the content, it creates a distinction where fans seem to have some autonomy and power in relation to understanding and managing content. She also talked about creating a range of experiences for a particular show, that would allow someone to play a simple game for five minutes as content online or a yearlong game that expands over time, depending on how deeply one is a fan of the entertainment property.
danah boyd, UC-Berkeley Ph.D. student and social media researcher for Yahoo! and Annenberg School fellow. She discussed her work in doing ethnographies for social networking sites, most recently with MySpace, through the sites' presences in both U.S. and global spaces. She looks in particular at the types of fan behaviors and how that disrupted what was intended in the beginning to be dating sites, and now what types of teen practices have shocked parents with MySpace in particular. "For me, it's about looking at the way collective processes are happening and the way outsiders get to see this because of the popularity of the phenomenon." danah talked about ownership and the agency that fans have to take entertainment properties and making it part of their own identities. "Why do we go out and shop and play with brands and mix and match and come out with clothing that expresses ourself? One of the cool things you see with digital embodiment, such as the notion of profiles, is to take cultural artifacts that you see as part of your life into a digital form to share something about who you are." She discusses the feeling of empowerment that comes along with mastering this material. For instance, she sees the kitsch blending of various brands and images of MySpace profiles as being much like the average teenager's room. danah's writings are available on her site.
FOE: Joshua Green's "Viscerality and Convergence Culture"
C3 Research Director and MIT Comparative Media Studies post-doc Dr. Joshua Green opened the conference this morning with his presentation of "Viscerality and Convergence Culture." Ignoring the fact that "viscerality" is not a word, and Joshua revealed his blatant disregard for the English status quo, his talk focused on the ways in which people want to internalize and humanize technology, how the average person does not care about these technologies except in ways that they facilitate their desire for expanding and extending human contact.
The talk, inspired by a walk in the rain with his iPod, was fueled by an anecdote Joshua shared with the readers. New to MIT and the country, Joshua spent most of his life in Australia. Now, all that he brought of himself, in many ways, was that iPod. "I'm not a music person before, but now I care about it," he said. "I suck it in now and feel passionate in a way that I didn't before." He points out that, by moving to America for this job, he has left a phase of his life he cannot necessarily return to. "None of my things are there anymore, and that's not a life I can go back to. The place it does exist in now is in my iPod. I no longer have a home in Australia, just a room at my parents' house backed with boxes. And it's not the iPod, but that's the only thing I can pack my social existence into."
He points to a quote about the Zune in which it was called a "software experience." He says, "The sharing that the Zune enables requires you to play by its rules. And, in the conversion environment at the present moment, we don't play by technology's rules. We bash, smash, and hit technology until it plays by our rules." And that's where he sees the distinction between the Zune and the iPod. It's the difference in relationship that's perceived about being about software and one that is about social relations. He points out that his relationship with his iPod and MacBook Pro feels like a relationship because it feels social. "It is a device for sharing culture. The way in which I utilize this device is one to facilitate sharing culture."
On the other hand, he doesn't completely buy into iCult, and he makes the point that these opening remarks are not intended to be a celebration of the brand without reservations. "I enjoy my relationship with this machine more than the other Toshiba box I had before, but iTunes has DRM and now they've cornered the market." He said that it's not the technology but the social interaction that it enables and encourages. He says that these types of social interactions is what companies are starting to get, and he points to Comedy Central's recent assurances at not taking all Comedy Central clips off YouTube as an example.
He points to examples from various Internets as his example of how the technology is used as social relationships. In making fun of the Ted Stevens "tubes" reference to the Internet, Joshua points to the user-generated responses to his idea of tubes. One was very scientific, the type of industrial containers you would see around MIT with those danger hazardous stickers on them. The other model is Fallopian tubes. Hedescribed the top one as being about technology, while the ladder is about organicness and squishiness. He asserts that the increasing acceptance of identity politics and the politics traditionally ascribed to a female domain in consumerism and fandom, etc., makes the Fallopian tubes of the Internet perhaps a better analogy.
In addition to this discussion about tactile relationships and viscerality, Joshua discussed the distinction between impressions and expressions. Impressions, as the old model, is when we send messages out that leave impressions on to users that prompt them to do something. When you understand tactile relationships, though, Joshua said that you encourage audiences to speak in some way. "When the product is transformed from commodity to culture, though, you have to cede control because it's no longer yours," he said, "but it's okay."
Biographical information for each panelist is available here.
Rob Tercek, President and Co-Founder of MultiMedia Networks. He spoke early in the session about the backlash directed toward traditional set up between producers and consumers, pointing particularly to the fact that major companies aren't set up to understand the medium but expects to be able to send everything out in a broad message and for users to just "sit there and listen while we talk." He says that companies aren't great at listening to their audiences, and that has driven this backlash.
Caterina Fake, Director of Tech Development at Yahoo!. Fake says that user-generated content is not only fun but allows people in this era to return to that scene of artistan culture from the 18th century where everyone is producers and everyone is consumers. The scene switches from a concert hall to a group of people setting around in no certain order playing music to each other. Everyone produces, and everyone consumes. And that's what she sees happening in these online spaces, where the division between producer and consumer just isn't quite as important anymore. Look at this point, for instance, about the shrinking distances of communication between producers and consumers, as to how that helps empower an environment for increased user-generated content. She sees this type of content as a way to differentiate from the masses for individuals and also for there to be true choice instead of a corporate producer-driven, limited sense of choice.
Ji Lee, Founder of The Bubble Project Video content has to be viewed just to see some of the great examples of user-generated content from the Bubble Project. The plan was to put an empty comic bubble up on public advertising and for viewers to be able to put their own comments on there. Examples from comments that were written online: (for Michael Douglas) I've had so much plastic surgery it hurts. Or, for Jennifer Lopez, I used to smoke krak on the 6 train.
Kevin Barrett, Director of Design for BioWare. He points out that rolepplaying games are no strangers to user-generated content but were driven by them, were pointless without them. Back decades ago, there may not have been a vibrant computer-driven gaming industry yet, but there was certainly games that thrived on user-generated content. He says that it wasn't something to talk about or discuss but what drove the gaming industry.
Also, see Rachel Clarke's posts about these presentations with more detailed transcripts of the event here and here and here, from her Licence to Roam site.
Dangers of Dialogue?
Ji says that, when corporations talk to consumers, it's almost like talking to a friend of his. "Telling a friend what I want to say is not a dialogue. By creating a dialogue, you're giving up control and listening to what other people have to say."
The following is the C3 team's note from Henry Jenkins' introduction to the C3 Futures of Entertainment conference. For the conference's details, look toward its main page.
To open the conference, Henry Jenkins, the director of the Convergence Culture Consortium, gave some background information on what is being described as "convergence culture," to borrow the term from his book, that sets the stage for the various panels taking place here at Futures of Entertainment over the next two days. Also, see Steve Garfield's links over on Off on a Tangent.
Convergence and Conversion: A Few Interesting Studies on Religion and New Media Technologies
One topic that we've only broached a few times here at C3 is the marriage between faith and convergence (and I'm not trying to get into a discussion of the gender of faith and convergence).
I've written about Fox Faith and the attempt to create a film division to more closely cater to a Christian fan base. For instance, last month, I wrote about a particular example of FoxFaith's product through its first theatrical release, Janette Oke's Love's Abiding Joy. And, back in June, I wrote a post about the book Religion and Cyberspace and particularly my interview with the pastor the small church I attended when younger back in Kentucky and about how religion adapts to multiple media forms.
Now, this month's Convergence Newsletter points to the University of South Carolina's recent Convergence and Society Conference, where a variety of speakers presented research about convergence and its affects on religion in various ways.
The OC Gets Buzz from Acknowledging Competition: The Power of Internet Rumors
Viewers/readers/listeners like referentiality. And, in pop culture, most people really enjoy cross-references. You know, the kind of witty writing that get people talking while not really obstructing their enjoyment of the show, a reward for viewers who are in on the joke but that take nothing away from those who don't. That's what I thought was so clever about the recent campaign by The OC. For those TV junkies who follow ratings and the like, most people know that The OC has been on some people's endangered list after disappointing ratings. The show was programmed against Grey's Anatomy and CSI this season, another sign of Fox's lack of confidence in the show to carry a night, since those two programs carry so much of the audience.
But few shows have been better at referencing across pop culture than The OC, and it has helped make what may have been considered just a standard teen drama series otherwise respected among some circles that would have hated most shows of this sort. By referencing comic book culture and across music and television, the show has tipped its hat to various fan communities throughout the past few seasons. Nevertheless, last Thursday['s mention may have been the most ingenious, and now fan communities are talking.
Earlier this month, the rumors started creeping across the Internet--one of the characters from The OC was leaving the show for another primetime show. What started it all? We can thank The OC's creator Josh Schwartz. In a piece by The Boston Globe's Suzanne C. Ryan, Schwartz announced his plans to have a character leave the show for Seattle Grace, the fictional hospital where its competitor, Grey's Anatomy, is located. Now, the reference, and subsequent references to the doctors he is working with at Seattle Grace, was intended to be humor at making reference to the show that, as one fan put it, "IS KICKING YOUR ASS IN THE RATINGS."
However, it didn't end up being bad publicity for the show, even beyond the reference, because some people started reporting not that they were making references to Grey's Anatomy in The OC but that a character would be leaving The OC for Grey's Anatomy. The rumor started popping up various places, such as here and here.
While it doesn't look like it's going to lead to any more than a reference here and there, it has people talking about The OC. And, when you're talking about a show not currently on an order for a full season, any attention is probably good attention. People are now saying that, by making daring references to taboo subjects like their own competition, the show is regaining some of the edge of its original season. But what will this mean? Either way, it's interesting to watch as this rumor continues to spread across the net.
Major cable and Internet provider Comcast made news on Monday with its announcement of releasing a live beta version of its user-generated Internet video platform.
The product is called Ziddio, and it currently allows users to upload videos related to the content of official participants, which are now the Style Network on Comcast and pay-television channel Cinemax. This allows use of some copyrighted material specifically in response to videos related to shows on these two networks.
Not surprisingly, initial prompts include requests for videos related to Star Wars, which Cinemax is currently re-airing. Since there is a wealth of user-generated content and what seems inexhaustable interest in creating user-generated content for the Star Wars films, this seems to be a safe place to start. There's no doubt that certain programs inspire the creation of user-generated content more than others.
The plan is to bridge this user-generated content cross-platform into video-on-demand for Comcast users as well, picking the best content for VOD. According to intiial press releases, the winner will get a zero-gravity flight at the Kennedy Space Center.
The Clean House show on the Style network requests videos of the messiest homes viewers can find, with the winning videos being picked to be houses to be cleaned up on the program.
The full site will be launched next month after running in its beta version for several weeks.
There are preliminary videos on the site right now for comedy, animation, games, movies, horror/sci-fi, action/drama, music, and reality.
The site is well worth checking out. Also, cross-reference Ivan Askwith's recent post here about FX Fancasting and Henry Jenkins' and Geoffrey Long's recent thoughts on YouTube here as well.
Also, the AP story points out that this comes along with the company's Halloween release of FearNet.
Pete Cashmore points out that the test site has launched alongside news of a Verizon partnership with YouTube, concluding about Comcast's site that "the early version is good, but it's not as compelling as existing video-sharing sites. It's a good idea, though."
MarketingVOX points out that the company is hoping to distinguish itself from YouTube both by offering prizes for the best videos and creating a more slick and cinematic visual feel for the site.
I posted this to my blog this morning but thought it was interesting regarding work here at C3 on fan communities and the global spread of popular culture.
The other week, I was asked to speak about globalization and new media to a delegation of Japanese businessmen who were visiting MIT. In the process of preparing for this talk, I dug back through a few of the things I wrote after a visit I took to Tokyo a few years ago. I thought it might be worth dusting them off and sharing with my readers here. What follows is an excerpt from an essay called "Media Literacy -- Who Needs It?" which builds on my experience of visiting Yoyogi Park on a Sunday afternoon.
I found Yoyogi to be a key location for understanding not simply the varied subcultures of Japan (they all seem to have a niche somewhere in the park's eleborate cultural ecostructure) but also the global exchange of cultural materials. I write here about two things I saw in the park -- the cosplay which takes place around anime and the rockabilly inflected youth culture called Yanquees -- but I could have taken you deeper into the park, where, for example, one could see teens rehearsing elaborately choreographed imitations of boy band music videos, even as a few feet away others are pounding on traditional Japanese drums.
This piece originally appeared in our C3 Weekly Update back in July, a forum for internal communication here within our academic and corporate partners. I wanted to share it with everyone else at this point.
An increasing amount of time, scholarship, and focus has been directed toward fan communities, which manifest themselves most often and in the most easily traceable ways online, through chat rooms, message boards, and e-mail lists.
However, a related phenomenon that has a significant impact on the way many fans experience media properties are through the phenomenon of fans of fans. These fans--although they have no official relationship with the media properties shows are focused on--often make important contributions to the ways other fans enjoy a property, or even whether those fans stick around.
This principle is actually something that crops up in many long-standing types of programs. One of these is sports. I first thought about the phenomenon when conducting an ethnography of pro wrestling fans. When I went to some of the events, I found fans were as often entertained by their fellow fans as with the performers in the ring. Everyone who watches wrestling know that the fan are often as significant or more significant a factor in the success of a show than the writers and wrestlers.
But fans even acknowledge or begin to follow certain members of the crowd. Often, wrestling fans will come to the show dressed as a certain villain and supporting them, to the delight/anger of the rest of the crowd. These type of fan-performers enhance everyone's enjoyment of the show, even as they often take attention away from the focus the writers and performers intend. For instance, see the research of Chad Dell and others on the fans who became famous at local arenas during wrestling's regional days, as audiences would as often watch those fans' reactions to matches as they would what was happening in the ring. Perhaps the most famous of these was Hatpin Mary, who would actually bring a hatpin to the ring and attempt to stick the villain wrestlers who came her way.
The Fans Aren't Laughing: YouTube and Comedy Central
Censorship is still in the air, or clearing up copyright infringement, depending on which side of the coin they are on. The popularity of YouTube and other ways of sharing video and music has proven that fans believe it is their right to share clips (and some even whole episodes or albums). And we've seen varied reactions.
There are musicians like Weird Al, who believe their success stems in part from their popularity on YouTube, or else Keith Olbermann, whose popularity has grown due to the surge in popularity of his work on YouTube as well.
On the other side of the coin, there are journalists like Robert Tur, American companies,and even collective entertainment entities in whole countries like Japan ready to pull content down or file a lawsuit.
There is a different feeling of sympathy, it seems, from sharing one song or clips from a show, versus sharing a full album or full films or shows using these devices. That has been part of the distinction that has led to some of the discussion around Comedy Central clips being pulled from YouTube. This week on The Colbert Report, Stephen mentioned the controversy, attempting to put heat on YouTube/Google itself for making money on user-generated content without giving any of the money made to the creators.
I recently posted this on my blog and thought it would be of interest here at C3 as well. It includes a piece by C3 media analyst Geoffrey Long that he recently included in the C3 internal newsletter about the Google purchase of YouTube.
YouTube, along with Second Life, Flickr, Wikipedia, and MySpace, has emerged as one of the key reference points in contemporary digital culture -- emblematic of the move towards what people are calling web 2.0. As Newsweek aptly put it last year, web 2.0 is "putting the we into the web."
Elsewhere, I have argued that web 2.0 is fan culture writ large, fan culture without the stigma. Nobody is telling these guys to move out of their parent's basement -- though some of them have started multimillion dollar companies out of their parent's basements. What separates these companies from the dotcoms which fueled web 1.0 is the emphasis upon participation, social networking, collective intelligence, call it what you want. What distinguishes them is that their content arises bottom up from the community of users.
One by one, these insurgent companies are being absorbed into the surviving digital giants (as has happened through Yahoo's purchase of Flickr or more recently, Google's purchase of YouTube) or by old media companies (as in Rupert Murdock's takeover of MySpace). With each new buyout, there is renewed speculation about what happens to the "we" --what becomes of the communities that made these activities and services so attractive in the first place.
Today, I wanted to share two really interesting responses to the buyout of YouTube and what they might mean for the future of participatory culture.
Helmore points out the increased visibility of fan fiction by the Internet, particularly in helping the writers gain even more widespread followings and the ability of the net to sustain more developed online relationships and structures for ordering, maintaining, and evaluating the quality of fan fiction. He points to various success stories among fan fiction writers.
However, the article is clearly geared for those who know nothing about fan fiction and its history, and it seems that a lot of the generalities and misconceptions in the piece is glaring and even insulting for people who participate in these universes. For instance, Helmore writes: "Fan fiction may not have originality on its side, but it comes with fewer pretensions and it often has a lot of sex, especially within the subgenre 'slash', in which, for instance, Captain Kirk and Dr Spock find themselves in an intimate, space-based relationship."
Aside from pointing to the tried and true example of Kirk/Spock slash fiction, his argument that fiction based on already established characters is less original is somewhat insulting in several regards, both for writers who take on new iterations of established characters (think comic book writers, soap opera writers, etc.) and for quality user-generated content. There's no doubt that much fan fiction work is derivative, much of it is not interesting...but this is just as true of the commercial publishing industry as well.
Also, Henry Jenkins wrote several of us at MIT in relation to the article to point out that his claims about the stereotypical fan fiction writer traditionally being an adult male living with his mother is not historically accurate. Jenkins pointed out that this is confusing the stereotype of the fan fiction writer (historically female) with the stereotype of the fan in pop culture in general. He finds a reverse trend in fan fiction, in which more and more men are now becoming involved in what was traditionally a female genre.
Back in January, I wrote about The Paratext of Fan Fiction and a recent debate by a fan fiction writer, a fascinating discussion about the ways in which fan fiction is labeled and archived. For those who have not participated in the rather organized world of fan fiction that often exists in these online communities, the debate shows how much thought and detail are put into the organizations of the social structure that produces and ranks the quality of fan fiction.
Is Cancellation of Complex Shows Inevitable: Drop-Happy Networks Run Off Would-Be Fans
Here's an important concept to explain the failure of a lot of complex shows this fall: the cancel-happy networks are making a lot of people afraid to develop a deep investment with new shows that they are afraid aren't going to make it.
I don't know if Bill Carter is aware of it, but the most interesting insight of his piece in Sunday's edition of The New York Times was buried somewhere in the middle.
His essay was about how audiences were not taking to a lot of very developed and highly serialized shows that were being launched this fall, which he sees as proof that people already have enough deep and developed shows. In the first paragraph, for instance, he writes, "This season's lesson was clear within the first weeks of the fall: you can ask people to commit only so many hours to intense, dark, intricately constructed serialized dramas, to sign huge chunks of their lives away to follow every minuscule plot development and character tic both on the air and on Internet sites crowded with similarly addicted fanatics."
I was a little dubious to this claim that America just doesn't have more times for more well-developed television shows than are already on the air, although I think there is an argument that an audience can only follow so many of these series at a time. And one of the problems may be that the majority of these series are all trying to apply the serialized format and intricate plots into action-based scenarios, basically using this television format only chiefly to attract interest from action/adventure addicts.
But I thought Carter hit on an interesting point halfway through, when he writes that "the prospect of devoting time and passion to a show only to see it cut off, like a movie snapping in half in midprojection, has made a lot of viewers feel commitment-phobic this season." The article's continued claimed that only a few serialized shows can be on television at any one time, a perspective I'm definitely not convinced of, is balanced against this much more interesting argument, that viewers do not want to invest because they are afraid to...
Channel One and ABC Working to Increase User-Generated Content for Teens
For those of you who grew up in my generation, you may have had the Channel One experience in school. For those who haven't, Channel One is a short morning program that airs every school morning, giving some basic headlines of current events that may be of interest to middle school and high school students. Some teachers weren't crazy about how it cut into class time, but--the way I understand it, anyway--Channel One provided our high school with television sets in every classroom with the edict that the televisions automatically came on every morning with the news.
Of course, some teachers just covered the television, or muted it, or a variety of other things to recoup that time for our classroom. But other teachers participated in quizzes to ensure that we had been watching the Channel One news that particular week.
Now, Channel One is trying to create a new project that creates some degree of news synergy between their middle school/high school programming and ABC, a program that is being celebrated by those interested in media literacies and proponents of citizen journalism alike.
The new initiative encourages the students watching Channel One to begin creating content for ABC's 24-hour digital news service, ABC News Now, through a weekly program called Be Seen Be Heard. ABC News Now is distributed through some cable programs, as well as wireless platforms and ABC's online site. The content will include text, audio, and video, and Channel One will include how-to segments on how to use webcams, digital video cameras and cameras, and cell phones to record footage that can be submitted to ABC News Now.
Judy Harris, Channel One's CEO, said in the press release that the "partnership with ABC News is crucial in extending our objective of providing teens with the tools to develop a better understanding of today's most pressing world issues. Citizen journalism is a critical component to extending the ideals of the First Amendment and strengthens the voices of students across America. This is yet another example of how Channel One is building alliances and forums beyond the classroom to make certain that teens' opinions can be heard."
The importance of teaching First Amendment rights and the importance of journalism to students may be best served by helping show them ways to participate. In a recent post here, Henry Jenkins wrote, "Those of us who care about this push for a more participatory culture should pay close attention to the legal struggles surrounding student journalists and bloggers. Students are using these new media as they make their first steps towards civic engagement and political participation. How they get treated can have a lasting impact on their future understanding of their roles as citizens. In my case, struggling to defend my rights as a student journalist left me with a deep commitment to free expression. For many others, those hopes can be crushed, leaving them apathetic, cynical, and uninterested."
And we recently discussed many of these issues when Dan Gillmor and Ellen Foley were here. After that meeting, I wrote that "I do agree that papers have to shift their purpose and their focus when new media forms come along. In this case, as Gillmor emphasizes, citizen journalism does not seek to replace professional journalism but rather to augment it."
TBS Wants MySpace Users to Determine Which of Them Knows Funny
Turner Broadcasting, one of our corporate partners here at the Convergence Culture Consortium, made news this week by teaming up with MySpace for a new contest. Anyone who watches TBS know that they are proud of knowing funny, so the network is teaming up with MySpace to create a contest, The Sierra Mist Stand Up or Sit Down Comedy Challenge, for amateur comedians to post videos of their comedy work through MySpace, with the network's users then being able to vote on the finalists, who will appear on a TBS special set to air on Nov. 17. The winer of the contest will not only receive a $50,000 prize but also a developmental contract with TBS.
Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek point out that these types of user-generated contests have also taken place with Comedy Central (a network of another of our partners, MTVN), SoapNet, and the Sci Fi Network. Recently, The Colbert Report garnered some attention for its Green Screen Challenge, organized through fan site Colbert Nation, featuring Colbert doing some Star Wars style maneuvers on a green screen and asking viewers to use the footage for various fan videos, which included a variety of stunning examples he then showed on-the-air.
These type of contests demonstrate the growing understanding by producers that users may make a great talent pool to recruit from. Should it be any surprise that these companies, then, like Netflix, are embracing the wisdom of the crowd?
First noticed this a week ago, and re-noticed it last night while watching this week's episode of Nip/Tuck:
During one of the ad breaks, FX ran a spot to promote what they're referring to as a "fancast," where fans are encouraged to record audio clips of themselves discussing their thoughts about the show and send them in for possible inclusion in (what I assume is a cleverly renamed) Nip/Tuck podcast. Viewers are also encouraged to send in questions for a selected member of the cast, who will (presumably) answer either the questions that are most commonly asked, or that the fancast producers find most interesting.
This strikes me as interesting for a few reasons.
For one, it sets up the content of the podcast (fan discussion and dialogue) as more important than the medium of the communication (an iPod).
More importantly, though, it establishes a clear relationship between audience participants and cultural producers from the outset: we want to hear what you have to say as fans of the show, so long as we're all clear on the fact that you *are* fans of the show.
It's an interesting and subtle clarification to make upfront, given the problems that some creative teams have faced in the past due to the ambiguous and unarticulated boundaries that exist in their online interactions with fans. In some ways, the "fancast" is similar to the use of "intermediary channels" like Ask Ausiello and Watch With Kristin; audience questions and input are still moderated, but in this case, by someone working either inside the show or inside the network... no need to form polite give-and-take relationships with outside writers, and it (potentially) makes the audience feel that much closer to the stars of the show.
I'd actually be quite curious to know how FX is structured, in terms of the division of responsibility on these projects, between the show team and the network's marketing division. I'd also be curious to know whether fancasts are specific to Nip/Tuck, or being produced for several of the network's more popular dramas.
Either way, given the attention that Nip/Tuck got for using a MySpace profile to deepen viewer engagement with last season's narrative arc about the Carver, I'm interested in keeping tabs on whatever they're doing now.
FresHDV had a report recently on the making of 'A Swarm of Angels', allegedly the first truly collaborative instance of indie filmmaking and online distribution using the Creative Commons copyright model, thus encouraging free download and fan 'remixes'.
The film's homepage features plenty of revolutionary rhetoric, from humbly calling this model of filmmaking "Cinema 2.0" to coining the "remixing cinema" slogan for the intended use of their product (which would, first and foremost, require an interesting film in the first place).
According to FresHDV, the film will loosely fit the thriller genre with a splash of Sci-Fi which is probably fitting for a first experiment in collaborative filmmaking. The production team expects to reduce the estimated costs of $3-4 million to roughly $1.75 million which is still an impressive budget for an amateur project. Their goal is to have ~50000 participants for the final film. Slashdot.org displays a healthy dose of scepticism, raising the question of whether the mode of production proposed by "A Swarm of Angels" will develop into a sustainable financial model, too. At least it is already one of the most formalized 'alternatives' to current Hollywood blockbusters and their relatively fixed value chains.
What interests me most about the project is the technological framework used to enable truly "collaborative" filmmaking at every stage. For instance, the script is supposedly created using a WIKI environment and creative & marketing issues are decided by voting which, at least from personal experience, can be useful but does not compensate for all the inherent difficulties of collaborative authoring. With regard to the research focus of my PhD thesis, I would be interested to find out whether the Swarm of Angels team will also be using collaborative media creation tools and which impact these tools might have on the creative outcome. In the case of music production, 'virtual studio' environments are already developed which allow geographically dispersed artists to collaboratively record and arrange music.
All due scepticism aside, it should be interesting to see if the final Swarm of Angels movie will also produce entirely new filmic syntagms and visual effects; after all, current movie or media production in general is already highly 'collaborative' with production units working at different locations and technologies like version management tools 'bridging the gaps'.
According to the story, out of all of Weird Al's famous work over the years, this album is the first to break the top 10, while his new Chamillionaire parody "White and Nerdy" has broken the top 10 singles in the country. What does Weird Al attribute such success to? The Internet. Here's what he said:
"I'd kind of written off the chance of ever having another hit single, since record labels weren't really releasing commercial ones. As much as people are griping about the Internet taking sales away from artists, it's been a huge promotional tool for me."
Although his album is doing well as a whole, it seems to be driven by the "White and Nerdy" single. According to the senior director of marketing for Zomba in the story, the song has been in the top five of iTunes for several weeks now. He was quoted as saying.
"We knew with 'Nerdy' that he'd hit on something incredibly relevant to different generations. Kids were discovering him like a new artist." He goes on to point out that, while many of the artists Weird Al has parodied over the years have come and gone, he remains a cultural icon.
The video for "White and Nerdy" has gotten quite a bit of play on YouTube, and Yankovic doesn't seem interested in suing for any free distribution of his work, instead in spreading his name through his MySpace page. And Chamillionaire loved the parody of the song so much that he posted it on his MySpace page as well.
It's inspired some interesting fan response as well, including this video explaining a math problem with a very strange finale, entitled "Brown and Nerdy." with reference to MIT embedded.
If you want to talk a bout a song poised for success in Internet distribution, it really is no surprise that "White and Nerdy" struck a chord with the Internet crowd. With its references to almost every cult fan activity you can think of (he works in references to Star Trek, Dungeons and Dragons, "first in my class at MIT," html coding, comic book collecting, the chess team, Wikipedia, MySpace, and on and on, in the song and video), the song has hit widespread appeal and has been viewed more than 3 million times.
Because of the standalone nature of parody songs, I think it's important to further consider Weird Al's emphasis on distribution of singles once again made possible through the Internet and the impact that has on his music career and introducing him to a new generation of Weird Al fans.
Celebrated Too Soon? The Harsh Realities of Managing Copyrighted Material
Mama's Family has indeed been released on DVD, but fans have noticed that something is missing.
Since December 2005, I have chronicled the battle for fans of the 1980s situation comedy to finally have the show released on DVD. When I first wrote about it last year, I had stumbled on the Mama's Family online community, which consists of multiple sites that appear to have new communication on a daily basis, I was surprised to find (especially for a sitcom that ended more than 15 years ago and that hasn't exactly enjoyed canonical status by most TV critics, as far as I know). At the time, fans were petitioning to drive the show farther up the TV Shows on DVD listing of shows that people want released on DVD, and it had reached the Top 15 by that point.
Later in December, there were rumors that the show would be released on DVD. Finally, in June, they announced a release date. Then, "Gert Rides Again" that hasn't appeared in syndication for years but just recently started back on the i Network) have found that the episodes contained on the DVDs of the first season are not those that originally aired on NBC but are rather those that are currently used for syndication, meaning that they have about three minutes trimmed out of them.
Can People "Steal" the Word?: Christianity and the File-Sharing Debate
Tuesday's Los Angeles Times featured a great piece about the current state of the Christian music industry and how the "piracy" question has leaked into a genre of music that has long been known for putting importance on proselytizing in a rather literal sense, with less thought given to making money but instead on saving souls. This piece looks at both the Christian music industry's approach to file-sharing and the opinions of listeners as well as to whether there is an ethical obligation to resist file-sharing Christian music.
Geoff Boucher, who wrote the piece, explains the debate succinctly: "Those attitudes, along with the arrival of an edgy and restless new generation of artists and lean times in the usic industry, have created a clash between familiar imperatives: Spread the Word and Thou shalt not steal. It actually raises a pretty fundamental question that doesn't apply as directly to other mass music industries. Similar to the economic arguments of the movie industry, reminding viewers that key grips need to eat on the money that theater tickets and DVD sales provide, there are some religious groups trying to tug on people's heartstrings, especially because the gospel music industry is not as substantially lucrative as some other popular music forms.
But there are organizations within the Christian music industry that have now taken an ethical approach, claiming that it is a sin to engage in file sharing with any type of music, including Christian music. John Styll, president of the Christian Music Trade Association is quoted in the story as saying:
"The RIAA feels it can't address it as a moral issue, but we certainly can, and our audience should be more receptive to that. It's like stealing. You wouldn't walk into a Christian bookstore and steal a Bible off the shelf...some fans say, 'This music is made to spread the Word, and I'm just helping.' Well, this is also about people's livelihoods."
From Viewers for Quality Television to Television Without Pity
Another in a series of outtakes from Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide that originally appeared on my blog, this sidebar takes a look at two very different mechanisms by which audience members expressed their feelings about television programs -- Viewers for Quality Television and Television Without Pity. Each emerged, in part, in response to shifts in the ways the television networks conceptualized their viewership -- TQT reflected a new focus on demographics (and the recognition that middle class consumers were highly desired by advertisers) and TWP reflects a new focus on expressions, that is, on the emotional investments audience members make in the programs they watch. This originally appeared in Chapter Three of the book.
This weekend, I was fortunate(?) enough to watch Bring It On Again, the followup to the popular cheerleading movie from earlier in the decade. The premise of the film was that a renegade group of cheerleaders begin supporting the sports that are not as popular on campus and that no one else is giving attention to, similar to some of those Spartan cheerleader skits from Saturday Night Live a few years ago.
And now there's a product doing something similar for the Atlantic Coast Conference, the college sports organization for schools along the Eastern coast. ACC Select, a new product being offered through Turner Broadcasting (one of our partners here in C3, for the sake of full disclosure), gives voice and public airing to several sports that are not covered elsewhere. Fans of men's and women's soccer, for instance, or field hockey, or volleyball, or wrestling, or track and field, or myriad other sports will be available through this venue.
As the idea of "broadcasting" is further eroded by the popularity of supplying niche programming, situations like this become more and more likely. While most schools with successful sports enterprises might only get basketball or football or perhaps baseball picked up by local affiliates or national cable sports channels, these online spaces become popular distribution mechanisms for other sports.
Does this, in itself, make these other sports more popular? No, but it makes being a fan or the parent or friend of a player a lot more convenient by providing fans a regular place to view their favorite sports and their favorite schools.
The catch phrase for the online network is, "Your sport. Your team. Your games that matter most to you." This idea of programming one's own sports network is particularly appealing to fans who like these types of games that are just all too often brushed over by the major networks.
ACC Select is a good example of the Long Tail theory and the ability of new technologies to meet niche needs that were simply not considered before.
Joel Greenberg from the Austin-based GSD&M advertising firm is one of the fascinating people I am collaborating with on the Convergence Culture Consortium. Greenberg is a true believer in the collaborationist model I describe in my book and discussed here a while back. He's been putting together a series of podcasts called Friends Talking which interview some of the key thinkers in and out of industry on topics such as viral marketing, user-generated content, and community-based innovation. Greenberg brings in guests like The Long Tail's Chris Anderson, Got Game's John Beck, Linden Lab's Philip Rosendale, and others, sits down with them for a substantive conversation about cutting edge issues, and then runs the entire conversation via his podcast .
In the most recent installment, Greenberg focuses attention on the concept of lead users and applies it to examine the development of the new Lego Mindstorms NXT product which is being released in time for Christmas. Lead user innovation is a term most closely associated with my MIT colleague, Eric Von Hippel, who wrote a book, Democratizing Innovation, which should be better known among media scholars than it has been. Von Hippel's focus is innovation in manufacturing -- how companies are tapping insights from their consumers to produce more effective products -- but what he says has many implications for the kinds of fan communities that emerge around popular culture. Indeed, I learned of Von Hippel's work -- not through hallway conversations at MIT but because Robert Kozinets combined Von Hippel's work in management science and my work in fan studies to talk about consumerism around Star Trek in his dissertation.
I originally posted this piece earlier this week on my blog.
This has been my week for dealing with law professors -- having engaged in a conversation with Yale Law Professor Yochai Benkler last week at the MIT Communications Forum, I was pleased to find a review of Convergence Culture over at the blog of the University of Chicago Law School written by Randy Picker. The first and second parts of the review mostly provide a detailed, accurate, and positive summary of the key points from the book, targeting those passages which may be particularly relevant to people interested in the legal implications of participatory culture. The last segment, not surprisingly, gets into the book's discussion of fandom and intellectual property law. I thought I would use my post today to respond to a few of Picker's key points there.
Now let's be clear that I am no expert on the law. My wife happens to have a law degree from the University of Wisconsin and we both take some interest in developments in the area of intellectual property law and regulation of free speech. I suspect I know more than most laymen about these matters as they impact fan culture and the other sites of grassroots participation I have written about. But I would be a fool to try to debate the fine points of the law with a scholar of Picker's stature.
Fan FIction and Fair Use
Jenkins pushes (p.190) for a reformulation of fair use "to legitimate grassroots, not-for-profit circulation of critical essays, and stories that comment on the content of mass media." But he clearly wants more, as he recognizes that most fans aren't that interested in producing work that the law is most likely to protect (parody or critical commentary of the sort seen in The Wind Done Gone), but who want instead to write about Ron and Hermione kissing.
Let me spell out a little more precisely what I argue on page 190 in the book:
Nobody is sure whether fan fiction falls under current fair-use protections. Current copyright law simply doesn't have a category for dealing with amateur creative expression. Where there has been a public interest factored into the legal definition of fair use -- such as the desire to protect the rights of libraries to circulate books or journalists to quote or academics to cite other researchers -- it has been advanced in terms of legitimated classes of users and not a generalized public right to cultural participation. Our current notion of fair use is an artifact of an era when few people had access to the market place of ideas and those who did fell into certain professional classes. It sure demands close reconsideration as we develop technologies that broaden who may produce and circulate cultural materials. Judges know what to do with people who have professional interests in the production and distribution of culture; they don't know what to do with amateurs or people they deem to be amateurs.
For me, the phrase, the public right to cultural participation is a key concept underlying the book's discussion. If I had my way, the right to participate would become as important a legal doctrine for the 21st century as the right to privacy as been in the late 20th century. I argue elsewhere in the book that a right to participate might be abstracted from the combined rights listed in the First Amendment and the right to participate would include the right to respond meaningfully to core materials of your culture. In that sense, I might go beyond our current understanding of fair use.
For the past several months, I've written about the struggle for fans of the 1980s situation comedy Mama's Family to get their show released on DVD. The show was finally released today, with the 13-episode first season hitting shelves.
I grew up watching the show, and it's a nostalgic favorite of mine. Last year, when I was interested in finding out if the show was available on DVD or would be, I stumbled onto a Mama's Family fan community, something I was actually pretty surprised to find. While I enjoyed the show, I never realized that a sitcom from the eighties that has not really been heralded as one that belongs in the all-time classic canon would have such a vibrant following.
Yet, on a variety of fan sites, there were discussion boards on which Mama's Family fans were updating every day, schedules of when the episodes were running in syndication, which episodes they would be, and further discussion about those sitcoms, etc. And there was a vibrant campaign to get those shows released on DVD. One fan had all of the episodes transferred to DVD from recording the shows every day off television and offered to share with others, but the fans as a whole wanted an official DVD set.
It makes a fascinating case study for understanding the power of products to reach to fan communities. In this case, it was a user-driven demand for Mama's Family to be released, even though the show was available in syndication every day. What still baffles me, even with my own love for the show, is that there was a connection with this program so strong that it has driven people to maintain a relationship to the content more than 15 years after the show went off the air.
Situation comedies rarely inspire this type of continued ardent support, but even though the Mama's Family fan communities were not as massive as most current shows or as ardent as Star Trek fans or other well-documented fan groups, I'm still amazed that the show has held this type of interest.
I'll be fascinated to see how well sales go for the show. I don't expect it to be one of the major hits, but its success--and fan demand for the release--is indicative of the Long Tail theory...that there remains niche audiences for content like this that it becomes profitable to fill. And these Mama's Family fan sites remain up as continued content for the product, years after the show is over. They are currently following not only the DVD release of the show but also the move of the syndicated run from TBS to the new i Network.
How can companies that own content in the archives and fans who remain active in their proselytizing for their favorite shows long after they have quit producing continue to work together and form active and current relationships surrounding old content? These will be the types of questions that should be considered in the coming years, and the Mama's Family fan community is a fascinating place to look.
I originally posted this on my blog on Monday but thought it would be relevant to all the discussions of user-generated content here on the C3 site.
I am always fascinated when some bit of bottom-up generated "content" starts to get momentum and gain greater public visibility. This past few weeks, I have been observing a ground-swell of interest in a Star Trekfan video set to Nine Inch Nails's "Closer." Many of you will have already seen this video. It has already been featured by Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing, by Susie Bright, and by Salon's VideoDog among others.
As someone who has done work in the past on Star Trek fans, I have received multiple pointers to this video from friends all over the world. Many of the people who sent it to me and certainly many of the bloggers who have pointed to it seem to have little or no awareness that there is a much larger tradition of fan-made videos or that the video makers, T. Jonsey and Killa have produced a larger body of work that circulates within the fanvid community. As artists, they are known for their sophisticated techniques and intelligent use of appropriated materials as well as for their diversity of approaches to their subject matter.
It is the nature of YouTube that the work which appears there could come from almost anywhere and that it is often consumed outside of its originating content: YouTube is the place right now where work travels from one grassroots community or subculture to another. There are real advantages to such a site since it results in cross-influences and more innovation, experimentation, and diversity, yet there are also losses to this process of decoupling amateur media from its original contexts of production and consumption.
Technical Innovation and Grassroots Media
Given that I have been following the development of fan-made music videos for more than fifteen years now, I thought it might be helpful if I spelled out some of what I saw when I looked at this particular segment. Through the years, I have watched dozens of hours of these videos, produced within a broad range of fandoms. In fact, my book, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, published in 1992, already contains a full chapter tracing the aesthetics and production practices surrounding fan music videos.
This month's issue features four journalists' takes on how convergence can empower citizen journalism and bolster smaller papers. For those interested in questions of community interaction and how it affects journalism, former Convergence Newsletter editor Jordan Storm, who is now a doctoral student at Syracuse University, has a very good take on why allowing a community voice in journalism does not diminish the role of the professional journalist but rather extends it.
Storm, who completed a study of the free daily newspaper Bluffton Today in Bluffton, South Carolina, examined the paper, which he describes as "a community newspaper that welcomes citizen engagement and content onto its Web site through registered users' blog pages, photo galleries, and forum discussion boards for the purposes of feeding the print paper."
Storm's piece calls into question earlier claims that such papers lead to "a convergence of content creators" and instead asserts that these experiments at increasing the interaction among the community, with the newspaper as facilitator, leads to "a convergence of conversations." Storm feels that, "rather than reversing the traditional model of gatekeeping, editors and journalists are doing more gatekeeping than ever, as they have an additional source with which to contend."
As Storm writes, though, this is no burden to newspapers to become an extra gatekeeper, as it provides more information about the reader base and what they find to be newsworthy and also provides a check on the quality and accuracy of the journalism, making the initial news story a catalyst for interesting discussion throughout the community that can then be facilitated by the newspaper's own site. I agree with Storm's assertion that this is an example of "just better journalism."
Journalists have to be held accountable, since every newspaper you'll ever pick up has a mistake or a false assertion or something taken out of context within it. (By the way, according to The Louisville Courier-Journal, I'm still Sam Bond as of this moment, although I've sent another e-mail along).
Storm's point addresses the fears of many professional journalists and journalism instructors, that embracing participatory journalism somehow cheapens their importance, that the loss of mystique of the news-gathering process will somehow invalidate them. Quite the contrary. Citizen journalists aren't going to replace professionals but rather help make stories more accurate, help hold journalists more accountable. Convergence isn't aimed to get rid of journalists but rather to give journalists another way to be more accurate. The only journalists that are going to be hurt are the ones who don't do a good job.
The rest of the newsletter is also worth checking out, for Dan Pacheco's reporting on The Bakersfield Californian's use or stories written by readers through their Web site and Doug Fisher's advice for newspapers interested in embracing citizen journalism.
Also, in a piece that has its origins here on the C3 site, when I wrote a few months about about the plight of weekly newspapers, I focus on how weeklies can embrace new models of advertising and interacting with the community in order to flourish, despite the Wal-Martization of small towns that have left many weeklies economically diminished.
Last month's issue featured a controversial piece from David Hazinski, for which I wrote a response about, as did Fisher.
This is the third of a series of out-takes from Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide that originally appeared on my blog which centers on convergence within the comics industry. This segment explores the ways that online communities are altering the ways that comics readers and publishers interact. A small portion of this content found its way into the book's conclusion in a significantly altered form, but the rest of it is appearing here for the first time.
Fan Activism in a Networked Culture: The Case of Stargate SG-1
This is a piece that I originally posted on my blog that I thought would be interesting to the C3 readers as well:
Last week, on the eve of its 200th episode, the Sci-Fi Channel announced that it would not be renewing Stargate SG-1, ending a run that extended across 10 seasons. The series began on Showtime, where it was canceled after five seasons, and then, as the result of fan activism, got picked up by the Sci-Fi Channel, where it ran another five season and spawned a successful sequel, Stargate: Atlantis.
One might imagine that the series was dying a natural death after a run which is far longer than the vast majority of series -- science fiction or otherwise -- in the history of American television or that the network and creative artists are performing a "mercy killing" of a series that might be well past its prime but as far as its most hardcore fans are concerned, the series is "not dead yet." They are seeking to rally the troops one more time and their efforts to do so demonstrate the potentials for audience activism within networked culture.
I am still a little confused by the reaction to Snakes on a Plane's $15 million opening weekend box office. Our director, Henry Jenkins, says that he's eating crow becuase of his inflated projections for the film's financial possibilities, but how is a $15 million profit for opening weekend a disappointment for a film that reportedly cost $35 million to make?
I just don't get it. Samuel L. Jackson's film earlier this year Freedomland had a $5.8 million opening weekend, according to Box Office Mojo, and that was a movie starring a comparable big-name talent in Julianne Moore. What's more, Freedomland's total domestic gross by this fall is $12.5 million, with only a $14.6 million overall worldwide performance. That means that the entire worldwide life of that film didn't match Snakes on a Plane's opening weekend.
The problem is that people fell prey to their own hyperbole and expected a campy B-movie to become a blockbuster, which I don't think it was ever designed to be. At HorsePigCow, Miss Rogue posted some of the major blockbuster opening weekends to discuss the perception of the Snakes falilure. Films like World Trade Center grossed higher, but their budgets were likely far bigger, and films like Talladega Nights, which grossed $47 million in its opening weekend, are much like likely to become long-term cult classics.
Fake Press Release Fuels Sci Fi/Wrestling Fan Clash
The war with Sci Fi Channel fans conflicting with wrestling fans continue, this time with a fake press release making it on PR Web before being taken down.
According to Joel Keller over at TV Squad, the press release, which has already been removed from PR Web, stated that Sci Fi Channel, in keeping with the immense success of the ECW pro wrestling programming thath as been airing on it, will be changing its name to SurgeTV, to distance itself from the science fiction genre.
Keller guesses that it might be an angry sci fi fan who is looking to lash out against the wrestling takeover of Tuesday nights (ECW airs in the 10 p.m. until 11 p.m. timeslot on the Sci Fi Channel. Conversely, pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer indicates it could be the reverse, a wrestling fan looking to anger the sci fi fans who have been less than accomodating about the new programming on the network.
I posted this today on my blog but thought I would cross-post it here as well, considering the entries Jason Mittell has made on the C3 board regarding Lost.
I've been sitting out the conversation that Jason Mittell, Jane McGonigal, and Ian Bogost have been having about Lost, Twin Peaks, serial fiction, and puzzles until now. I have had limited time to write new content the past week or so.
One of the thing that interests me about this conversation is that it suggests what ludologists and narrativists can learn from each other if they actually talked amongst themselves. I am finding myself pulled back and forth as I read this discussion in part because both groups have valid points and a lot rests on how one reads the series. I m learning so much by looking at television through the eyes of game designers like Jane and Ian.
Puzzles or Enigmas?
Lost is a series that works on multiple levels:
1) There are indeed puzzles (defective ones, perhaps, but ones that seem engaging to an awful lot of folks who watch the series): what's inside the hatch, what's the status of the Island (social experiment, purgatory, what have you), what can we learn from deciphering the map, what do those numbers mean, etc.
2) There is all of the well-constructed backstory -- with each character allowing us a point of entry into a slightly different genre and into a different world.
3) there is the unfolding life of the castaways and the world they are building for themselves on the island -- all of the interpersonal politics, the stories of redemption or corruption, the issue of how they are going to deal with the Others, etc.
Lost is very very good at pitting these different pleasures and interests against another, with some new information added at each level in any given episode and the satisfaction of one level of interest being used to defer resolution on another level. Lost is a very well constructed serial fiction in that regard. Some of these pleasures are game-like in their dependence on puzzles, mazes, and ciphers; others are narrative in their dependence on enigmas.
The combination of puzzles and enigmas seems especially effective at motivating fan engagement and participation. This accounts for how Lost can work, in my book's terms, both as a textual attractor (drawing together a community that shares a common interest) and a textual activator (feeding that community something to do, some information to process, some knowledge to gather).
In 1999, a team of professors from Wake Forest University made headlines with a quantitative study that found a correlation between watching professional wrestling and participating in fighting while on dates among teenagers, in a study that also highlighted other potential negative behaviors associated with watching pro wrestling.
While the study was not published at the time, it did receive a substantial amount of attention and was covered by most of the major news outlets. Then, last week, when a written essay based on the study and releasing the full results of the study was published, major media outlets once again reported on it.
That response claimed, among other things, that the study was "junk science" and that the findings were both dated and unsubstantiated. Of course, in true McMahon fashion, Vince went on to say that the study was produced by "some obscure professor who finally got someone to read his paper and is trying to get his name in the media." WWE certainly didn't hide from the issue, even linking to the study on its Web site to bring further attention to the results from fans and engage in a dialogue, although WWE was definitely issuing their response in "wrestling promo" mode.
The WWE site also included an exclusive interview with Dr. Robert Thompson, Director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. Thompson questions what he sees as an insinuation of cause and effect, stating that he sees too many variables that cannot be controlled in trying to prove such a relationship. In the story, Thompson says, "These studies are demonstrating a correlation. For example, if the tree in my backyard gets bigger, the hair on my head gets thinner. There's a direct correlation there, no question about it; one happens, the other happens. But there's certainly no cause there, or I would've chopped down that tree a long time ago."
One of the most talked-about names in the entertainment industry is making news again, but this time Janet Jackson is baring her naked CD cover for her fans.
The popular pop star is hosting a contest for fans to design the cover of her next album release. Actual entry for the competition has now passed, and the pop star and her team are reviewing what they claim are "thousands of covers" that were submitted by fans to decide on a winning design for the CD, entitled 20 Years Old, which will be released on Sept. 26.
According to the contest, "the best cover designs could be used for the actual album release, emphasis being mine. The promotion seems like a great idea to me, unless they kick in the "could" clause and don't end up using any of the fan art, which could really anger a substantial number of people, particularly the "thousands" who submitted art. Even if the art isn't used for the cover, one would think they will use it for some parts of the overall packaging, including the back cover or the enclosed booklet.
Nevertheless, the contest appears to be another opportunity for content creators to engage with fans and find a way for fans to become a permanent part of the official story. For Janet Jackson fans, especially those with an artistic bent, designing the cover of a Janet Jackson CD would make that fan a permanent part of the Janet Jackson story.
It will be interesting to see what kind of goodwill the contest generated for Jackson's CD and also what she might do with the mounds of artwork sent in that will not be used with the CD release. But the contest proved to be a popular one and may help continue to establish Jackson as a major pop star.
The show is done completely tongue-in-cheek, with contestants receiving Flav's signature big clock necklaces instead of a rose if he decides to keep them with him on every episode. Contestants will have to endure a lie detector test for the potential Flav loves, among many other obstacles. This will all be to help "weed out" those who are not true in their love of Flav and who might just be gold-diggers (and they might not be satisfied with just a set of gold teeth).
The show started airing about a week ago amid avid fan response. Not only does this carry the crowd who enjoys parody of the reality television genre, but it also brings with it fans of Public Enemy's, melding the reality television competition genre with the reality television celebrity genre and by building in the music television audience and African-Americans in the target 18-49 demographic.
With a significant degree of social energy behind the program, it will be interesting to see if the second season sustains popularity to launch other future series of the genre. And it seems that VH1 has found its niche in this celebrity reality programming, even while appealing to different audiences from series to series (such as Hogan Knows Best).
I've written substantially this summer about the effects that convergence is having on the journalism industry. The majority of my focus has been on transmedia news empires and my own work at the weekly newspapers here in Kentucky this summer, but there is another aspect of convergence culture that affects journalism substantially that we've only touched on vaguely: the blogosphere and citizen journalism.
The newest development in relation to citizen journalism? CNN Exchange, the viewer-produced content platform available online which launched at the beginning of this month.
CNN's program has gained some momentum over the past week, with Dell Computers signing on as the first sponsor for the site. The computer company will have video advertising on the site, as well as banners and other sponsorship options.
What does this mean for journalism? Citizen journalism has its opponents, but there's no doubt--as Gilmoor argues--that allowing "the masses" to have input on the news process has substantial impact on reporting greater truths becuase those masses have what Henry Jenkins writes about in Convergence Culture as collective intelligence. That doesn't mean professionals aren't needed, and CNN realizes that, but it does give greater veracity and breadth to what CNN produces.
CNN Exchange may not be scooping CNN proper on major news stories, but it also may be a place to publish what happens in the crevices that CNN misses, whether that be eclectic feature stories or what turns out to be major stories, such as the James Frey issue and countless others.
One of my colleagues here at the Times-News office, Dustin Bratcher, pointed me toward a pretty innovative form of marketing for the upcoming release of Snakes on a Plane that shows how just including a limited amount of user control can drastically affect a product.
The site asks both your name and the name of the person you are sending the message to, the numbers of both, and the occupation, hobby, looks, and mode of transportation of the person receiving the message. When you complete the information, the site calls the person in question with a message from Samuel L. Jackson, addressing them by name and telling them to leave their job and hobby behind, pick up the person who made the call and take them to see Snakes on a Plane.
Already, I've sent my wife one of those calls. I've sent messages to my friends from their spouses' phone numbers so they won't know who the messages really came from. And one friend received the message in question from his ex-girlfriend claiming to be his life partner. If you were to visit our office today, you can see the fun this simple calling program has been able to generate.
The site knows most names and can generate these calls. It only has limited choices for occupations, hobbies, and physical attributes, but each one leads to some pretty entertaining Samuel L. Jackson diatribes. And you can preview your message before its sent.
What will this translate to on opening day? Will allowing fans to become such active proselytizers and merely providing them with the tools to do so lead to more fervent response than the movie would have gotten through traditional methods? My insticts say yes, but one of the women here in the office with her desk close to me could be right in that people may enjoy the promotion but still have no interest in seeing the film.
I'd bet against it, but we'll be finding out soon. And, either way, I still have a long list of relatives and friends who can expect a call from their bro Sam Jackson.
HarperCollins Publishers are teaming with FanLib to promote a new fan fiction writing contest called Express Your Desires online for fans of the romance genre. In this contest, readers and writers will work together to create an original novel which will be published as an ebook by HarperCollins.
No one is more passionate about a genre than the fan fiction writers who operate within that genre. These people, often with threats of copyright violation charges looming on the horizon in today's world of mass digital distributon of fan work, often do more to uphold the fundamental features of a genre or a fictional world than the people who manage the "official" works being released. We've written about the intense debates that govern fan fiction communities in the past here and here.
According to an article that appeared in The Wall Street Journal, this product will be one of many coming projects between HarperCollins and FanLib, including plans for a teen fan fiction event potentially similar in exeuction to this one. The reporters, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg and Brian Steinberg, the plan is for the Avon Books division to use the contest to showcase its set of romance writers and bring significant attention to their work. In the meantime, both groups will generate profit by selling ads for the site that will host the project.
For the contest, readers will be given six potential story premises that they will vote on. Then, writers will submit chapters based on the winning story proposal. Every week, a panel of Avon authors will choose the best chapter to add to the mix. In the end, the six-chapter book will be published. Authors will even correspond through e-mail with the fan authors participating in the contest, based on some of their submissions.
According to the WSJ story, the company hopes to boost sales for the flagging romance novel market. Several months ago, FanLib worked with Showtime to create an episode of The L Word, with fans writing sections of the show. Advertisers were a little leary about the implications of such a project, according to the WSJ article, and whether increased viewer engagement with the content of the site necessarily led to increased engagement with the advertisers on that site.
But fans seemed to enjoy the L Word experiment, and it got a lot of attention in the press. Will FanLib, and HarperCollins as well, be able to build on that success with this project?
Two of my major research interests this summer have been fan communities and journalism...never thought I would see the two collide in quite this way!
The Washington Post is providing video content from its political reporter Dana Milbank. In it, he is asking various questions for candidates running for office and providing responses to the types of things these say. Readers are encouraged to download these clips of Milbank and then create their own video content for the responses and send the mash-up videos back to the Post at no more than three minutes in length.
All of the videos that do not violate copyrights, that include at least some of the questions from Milbank, and that meet any othe rules laid out by the paper will be included in an online site wheer other readers can sign on and rate the various videos made by the fan community.
This really caught me off-guard, not that it's a bad idea. It does help to make people feel more involved in the potlical process, to understand the importance of the newspaper's role in that political process, and to increase civic education, as in how politicans are interviewed and how stock a lot of the questions and answers can really be.
And this could provide the tool for som realy fascinating commentary, including some pretty political commentary if the Post is pretty open as to what people are allowed to say and do during these three-minute clips. The newspaper provides all most three-minutes' worth of questions from Dana that can be employed in the mash-ups.
Although Danger Mouse's Grey Album provided quite a bit of discussion about the artistry of mash-ups and the nature of copyright, most mash-ups have been done for fun and some degree of sarcasm. This type of mash-up can also be fun, but it opens up the question--how much can this form of participatory culture allow for legitimate and meaningful political and social commentary? How much freedom does it put in the hands of the fans to express themselves in meaningful ways?
Sure, you're dealing with some stock questions here, but they are open to a wide range of answers. It will be interesting to see what Post readers come up with in response to this call-to-action for mash-ups.
The gist of being a "pop cosmo" kind of person is that you use popular culture to learn more about distant places or to help generate cultural exchange. And that's what is happening with the major American grassroots support of a popular Japanese band...a band who has never had any mainstream media coverage in the country and whose albums are not even available for sale here.
Robert La Franco has written a fascinating piece for Wired about the phenomenal popularity of the Japanese rock band Dir en grey, whose lyrics are all in Japanese but who nevertheless have a strong American following.
He event recounts the travels of one wheelchair-bound fan, Lauran, who has traveled from coast-to-coast to watch the band perform on their first tour of America this week. If they weren't getting any plan in America yet, they will now, as they've had an album released in May, in addition to the four-stop tour, and have now been signed for the band Korn's Family Values upcoming tour.
The band was largely discovered through their MySpace page and through word of mouth among the burgeoning fan community, as fans who were converted by the group's unique sound began to proselytize. Others purchased CDs or DVDs of the band through eBay or discovered them through the world of anime and video games, where Dir en grey's music can be found. The band has been playing sellouts, and La Franco even recounts one incident in which "half the audience hoisted blue glow sticks in unison, a stunt arranged entirely via the online community site LiveJournal."
And is it profitable? Aside from landing the touring deal with Korn, the band has already made more than $80,000 in ticket sales and $65,000 in merchandising.
But this is different, particularly becuase of its grassroots nature. Mark Twain is questionable as popular culture, since the higher arts would claim him as well, and the other two programs are nationally distributed. The popularity of Dir en grey, on the other hand, can only be attributed to the swelling of support for them from the ground level.
Maybe the success of this small Dir en grey tour will help increase awareness of how, in an unparalleled age of social connectedness, culture can cross geogarphic and cultural boundaries or even serve as a way for us to learn more about others in the global community--to broaden our horizons through embracing fandom and popular culture.
The video game industry will be changed fundamentally by the news that broke a few days ago: that the E3 games conference will be downsized significantly. And, according to my colleague here at the Convergence Culture Consortium Alec Austin, the biggest beneficiary appears to be the Penny Arcade. Take a look at this post from them regarding their PAX gamers conference.
Now, reading much from me about the latest in the video game industry is like getting your weather report from a clerk at the BP station...you have to take it with a grain of salt because there's a good chance I don't know what I'm talking about. While I was quite the gamer in my younger days, I hadn't played video games to any great extent for years until I got a PS2 last Christmas from my wife (a wife who wants you to game...yes, I am THAT lucky). And, owning the machine really hasn't increased my gaming any. I've played a total of 10 minutes this summer so far.
But I think any discussion of transmedia would be a shame without looking at the gaming industry, which provides so much innovative thinking for what we're calling convergence culture. Considering the amount of energy prior E3 conferences have generated, it seems to many that the highly exclusive annual event, even if its attendance is restricted, is nevertheless the biggest event of the industry. So many major stories flow out of that conference that it affects all the "unwashed masses" who aren't able to sneak in across the world.
But, with E3 now being downsized, Alec--and the bloggers at Penny Arcade--point out that PAX will be picking up some of the slack, with its emphasis on gamers. How will this affect the gaming industry? PAX won't likely have all the grand theatrics and slickness of the E3 conference, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't have the potential to create an even more charged creative atmosphere if all the energy that once flowed through E3 is transferred to PAX instead.
I'm sure Alec or many others could elaborate on this exponentially, but I just thought it was worthy of highlighting this week, since it could have a fundamental impact on the industry over the next few years.
Loizides Says Self-Expression Powering The Internet
With all the recent talk about official programming being released by cultural producers on the Internet, either in planned marketing campaigns--such as the recent Sci-Fi campaign surrounding its pilot The Amazing Screw-On Head that Jason Mittell wrote about here last week in which Sci-Fi is putting a show they aren't sure about online for fans to help decide the fate of--or in unplanned releases of content--such as with Nobody's Watching, I have to believe that it's important to think in much more detail about the nature of this online communication.
That's why I was thankful that Siddiq Bello passed along a blog entry from Lydia Loizides from earlier this month. Lydia looks at both the positives and the negatives that cultural producers face when allowing people to have such direct early access to their content and cites times in which that seems to have made a major difference--such as the ground-swelling support of Nobody's Watching that has since led the show to be considered once again by NBC. However, on the flip side, she looks at the intense negativity surrounding the release of Blade: The Series from Spike TV.
I've said it before: the only losers in these situations are shows that likely aren't going to do well anyway when they hit the air, so I don't really see that networks have anything to do other than programs being outed for their terrible-ness well before they hit the air. If a program can't even gain grassroots support from a small market, it usually doesn't bode well for its test on a network, and Blade: The Series' negative energy can at least be a lesson in what the show needs to improve on while it is still early in its production series.
Lydia writes that "by tapping into this digital forum, the show's producers will able to gauge, in real-time no less, the response to the program. Take it for what this is worth-but how unbelievably valuable is that?"
Lydia's piece is well worth taking a look at. These are the questions we've been wondering here for some time and one that will carry me over into tomorrow, as I'm planning to write a much lengthier piece on this very topic, based on a recent news commentary from the BBC.
I've previously written about the challenges that The Lost Experience has had in reconciling the demands of the two storytelling modes of serialized television narrative and immersive alternate reality games (ARG). One of the challenges for analysts writing about such serialized storytelling examples is that they are moving targets, evolving and changing as they are created. In looking back at my article, I realize that I discussed only Act I in what is shaping out to be a three act story, as provocatively suggested by Jeff Jensen. Thus, here is my own update on Act II of The Lost Experience (TLE) and how it points to the challenges of transmedia storytelling.
How do you launch a TV show based on an obscure cult comic which itself parodies a fairly obscure cult genre? Let it go viral.
In another example of the emerging trend C3 has been exploring in how online video is changing the nature of television production and distribution, Sci Fi Channel has taken a cue from the online distribution of failed pilots like Global Frequency and Nobody's Watching by pre-empting failure: The Amazing Screw-On Head pilot has debuted on its online video site Sci-Fi Pulse before the channel has decided its televisual fate.
Head is quite a delight - based on a cult comic by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, the show parodies the steampunk genre of sci-fi set in the 19th Century. The hero works at the pleasure of President Lincoln fighting threats to America (and to quote the show, "and by America, I mean the world") from undead zombies and ancient demon technology; for some as-yet-unspecified reason, he is a screw-on head. The animation is vivid and unique in its visual style, and features strong voice acting by established stars like Paul Giamatti and David Hyde Pierce. It's a show that could easily gain a dedicated audience in sufficient numbers for a cable channel - it most reminds me of the classic 1990s cartoon The Tick, which is high praise in my animation canon.
But Sci-Fi recognizes that it will take some doing to build its audience. Fans of Mignola are vocal and passionate, but far too small in number to guarantee success. So they've put the pilot online two weeks before its TV debut. But more importantly, they have attached a viewer survey to the pilot to gauge reactions and help judge the potential for extending the pilot into a series. This design takes advantages of two great opportunities of online video - the video can go viral through blogging and reviews much more quickly and legitimately than other "official" online videos, and instant feedback gives frustrated fans a way to feel like their voices matter. I have no investment in steampunk or Mignola's comics, but reading an online review made me want to watch the show. I liked it, gave my feedback, and now am blogging about it. Someone reading this blog will probably do the same. Thus Sci-Fi has taken their market research out of the shadows, tracking reactions not only through the official survey but by mapping the blogosphere.
The power of TV 2.0 is that your voice matters if you opt-in to the viral stream, while TV 1.0 depends on a woefully inadequate ratings system to estimate viewership. It is especially gratifying that by embracing this model, a vision of the future seems to be coming from a likely suspect: Sci-Fi.
However, fan tourism isn't all that baseball is driving these days. The new interactive reality baseball show that is launching online is yet another example of how America's favorite sport continues to drive innovation. This regards MSN's new interactive reality show based on the sport.
Microsoft will be launching this online series, called Fan Club: Reality Baseball. The series will be interactive, offering users the chance to help manage a minor league baseball team. The series will use real minor league team the Schaumburg Flyers in Illinois. The interactive suggestions from the fans will then be collected and used in the team's decision-making process in practice and during games. The online content for the show will include game highlights and behind-the-scenes footage from the first half of the team's season.
Also connected with the show, family members and players themselves will be blogging on MSN Spaces to help promote both the show and the team. For a minor league team, particpating in the show could be a major boon. If the show's interactivity proves not to be superficial, fans may be attracted to following the team...and, for minor league teams, convincing some of those fans to make the travel to watch their games could be nothing but a help. With tourism dollars awfully tight, minor league baseball teams can often struggle to fill arenas.
What this decision may hinge on, however, is how authentic the interactivity is. Henry Jenkins, our director, has been known to write about the "collective intelligence" of fan communities. Here is a particularly good example to test that theory, with fans helping the team make strategic decisions. But, I am sure many remain fairly dubious as to whether this chance for fans to give advice to the players and coaching staff is anything more than a publicity stunt. Will the fan advice even really be taken into account?
The program will be created by LivePlanet and will be ad-supported. LivePlanet prides itself on creating entertainment properties "that seamlessly integrate traditional media, new media and the physical world."
And, if this show works, that's what it will do. It's the perfect example of the potential of the mass media to interact with direct fan participation. Fans can interact with players, read their blogs, follow their actual games, visit the team and their home field, etc. If the Schaumburg Flyers fully accept the idea...if MSN gets behind marketing the reality show...and if LivePlanet is able to reach and interest baseball fans, it could make a major difference.
Cable television helped change sports, as it developed a chance for fans to regularly follow other teams and somewhat changed the geographic distribution of how local sports teams are supported, although it is still largely based on home areas. The Internet fully integrated these "outlying" fans into the fold through online fan communities. This reality series has a chance to take it one step further. And, if successful, it could provide the precursor to how sports franchises regularly interact with their fan communities.
The husband, Ted Hill, is the current head baseball coach for the local Ohio County High School baseball team in Hartford, Ky. His wife, Amber Hamilton Hill, is a former player for the team. And now, apparently, the thing that brought them together--a love of baseball and a love for each other--has led them to Dyersville, Iowa, where their dreams could come true by saying their nuptuals on the baseball field.
According to reporter Neil Grant, a high school history teacher who writes sports for the local newspaper, "both the bride and groom were dressed appropriately for the wedding--in Ohio County HIgh baseball uniforms." And, apparently, records indicate that they are the second couple to travel out to the Dyersville field to be married and the first to make the trek for wedding vows since 1989, the year the field was opened and the year the film was released.
So, while everyone always talks about flying out to Vegas to be married or drive-thru wedding ceremonies, don't forget that fan affiliations can lead for people to travel for their wedding. For most people, this may seem like a gimmick, something that detracts from the authenticity and reverence of a wedding ceremony in our culture. For this couple, though, they indicated that this ceremony had that reverence for them--mentioning that "its not every day you get to wear your baseball uniform to be married" and repeating a favorite quote from the film--"This field, this game is part of our past. It reminds us of all that was once good, nad it could be good again."
And, as for the tourism industry, maybe the marriage market is something that media properties should consider further. Companies like Disney have long proven the strong correlation between fandom and travel. We've written here various times this summer already about the importance of fans as tourists, such as the focus on the birthplace of Bill Monroe here in Rosine, Ky. and Fenway Park as a tourist attraction. Unfortunately, according to Grant in this article on the couple getting married in Dyersville, the couple was not allowed to reserve the field for a wedding party. Maybe a missed marketing opportunity?
Either way, no one will dispute that marriage is one of the most important events in most people's lives, and that this couple felt such a strong affiliation to baseball culture and to a movie that they wanted to travel to a small town in Iowa to be married indicates something pretty powerful about fan communities. And, in this couple's case, they have taken aspects of the Field of Dreams film and appropriated them for their own purposes, attaching new meaning to them in their own lives and their own story. In a nutshell, that appropriation is what fans do on an every day basis...it's just not always this colorful.
Soap fans were shocked when news began to break last night and became official this morning that daytime television veteran Benjamin Hendrickson, 55, had passed away over the weekend. Hendrickson, who trained at Julliard and won an Emmy for his portrayal of Hal Munson on As the World Turns, has been in the role since 1985, aside from a few brief hiatuses along the way. The cause of death has not been reported, although Hendrickson was rumored to have had health troubles for some time.
However, because many major entertainment outlets rarely report on or are at least slow to report on events that happen in daytime television, the news spread instead through the soap world, primarily via the fan community. Soap Opera Digestbroke the story earlier this afternoon. A few minutes later, fans on the Media Domain message board reacted to the news. Someone had posted a rumor of Hendrickson's death the night before but it had been dismissed on the message boards as "a sick rumor" when no further information was made available.
Around the same time, fans on the official Web site of Procter & Gamble Productions, The Soap Box, posted their response to the news within the hour. Minutes later, a representative of the company issued an official release on the fan board. In the past couple of hours, fan response has filled threads at both message boards, as well as others. At this point, the fan community can do no more than address their disbelief, since he is currently playing a central role in scenes where his on-screen daughter is dying of complications from viral pneumonia. (As an ATWT fan and a Ben Hendrickson fan, I am still in shock myself.) By watching a performer play a character several times a week over decades, an even closer character identification often develops than in primetime shows, especially since soap operas are particularly about character and character relationships.
The show tapes several weeks ahead, and Hendrickson's final air date will be next Wednesday. Hendrickson has had various personal issues and rumored health problems that have taken him from the show in the past, including a year's hiatus in which Randolph Mantooth filled the role. While fans accepted Mantooth in the role as a replacement, Hendrickson was soon welcomed back to the show and received a central supporting role upon his return. The reaction to Mantooth's performance demonstrated how fans often feel about recasts of roles portrayed for such a long time by one portrayer in the soaps world. Recasting is accepted in daytime, but it is less accepted the longer an actor has been in the role. The response to bringing Hendrickson back, even though he was not a young or starring performer by that point, shows the powerful relationships actors develop with fans while portraying a role over decades.
The role of Hal Munson is not planned to be recast this time around, according to a statement from PGP. It's not yet clear how his death will be handled on the show.
In the past two hours, soap Web sites have picked up more information based on PGP press releases and more mainstream news sources are beginning to react as well. However, since mainstream news sources often pay little attention to what happens in the world of daytime television (as I've written about before) daytime fans had to spread the word themselves after it was broke by SOD. As of this posting, neither CBS's main page or even its daytime page had acknowledged the actor's passing.
Hendrickson's performance has an important place in ATWT's 50-year history, as he was among a group of 10 or so performers on that show to have lasted in a role for about 20 years or more and remained an integral part of the show. And, whether the mainstream media take note of his importance or not, the fan community and the soap opera press are mourning the loss of one of the genre's most talented veterans.
Reader Skwid compares the Snakes on a Plane phenomenon with what happened to Serenity. He notes:
I'm looking forward to this movie as much as the next net.geek, but I don't expect as much of a box-office surprise as many seem to be anticipating, because I've seen it before.
What am I referring to? Serenity. It would be hard to beat the online buzz Serenity was getting, and sometimes it seems like it's difficult to find a blogger who isn't a fan of the prematurely cancelled series Firefly, but all of that buzz and a good deal of critical acclaim still couldn't get people into the theaters.
He may well be right--it is very easy living at the hub of digital culture to imagine that all of the buzz we are hearing is generalizable across the population as a whole. But let's look for a moment at what happened with Firefly/Serenity and then, I will try to explain why I think Snakes on a Plane is in a somewhat different situation.
Praise Be the Whedon
Let's be clear that I am a big fan of Firefly and of Joss Whedon's other work in television and in comics. I think he's one of the smartest and most creative people operating within the media industry today. He has enormous respect for his fans and he has earned our respect in return. He had constructed a television series he really believed in.
He was watching a very dedicated, very resourceful fan community form around a television series which either got canceled because a)the ratings were low and it was not seen as having a broad general appeal or b)the ratings were low because the network had not successfully targeted its most likely audiences and given it a chance to develop the word of mouth needed to expand its core viewership. We may never know which of these explanations is the correct one--I suspect some combination of the two.
Whedon still wanted to produce the content; there was a group of people clammering for the content; but the networks didn't think there's a large enough audience to sustain a prime time broadcast series. This is a situation we've seen again and again in the history of broadcast media. I think it's about time we rewrote the rules.
Could They?? Fans Reacting Passionately to Murder Rumor on Soap
A couple of years ago, Days of Our Lives got a lot of people's attention by killing off many members of its main cast, later revealing that these veterans had not died but rather had been sent to a deserted island.
That kind of camp may work on a show like DAYS, but it is not what viewers expect from As the World Turns, the long-running CBS soap I follow closely and have blogged about here several times.
Rumors are circulating quite heavily that Summer 2006 will feature a serial killer storyline, and now word is circulating that the story will lead to the demise of a couple of minor and a couple of major characters on the show. Word has begun to circulate in the online community that TV Guide and Soap Opera Digest are breaking news about the serial killer storyline, although no conclusive word has come out about cast members ending their contract so far, indicating that either word is being suppressed about who is leaving the show for as long as possible or that the characters planned to be killed are not played by contracted stars, making it much harder for word to break out (or, a third option, that fans are taking several unrelated news bits and combining them into something blown out of proportion).
Recently, the show killed off newcomer character Nick Kasnoff, who was murdered in self-defense, and is set to kill off Jennifer Munson, a longtime 20-something character on the show, next week to a bout of viral pneumonia.
Fans were upset about Jennifer's death, as she's been a major featured character on the show for a while, but that pales to the reaction that fans have given over the past day or two on the ATWT Media Domain message board about rumors of the death of character Tom Hughes.
Rumors had been circulating that a veteran on the show was unhappy with their contract, and the star who plays Tom's wife Margo--Ellen Dolan--has also voiced her displeasure with ATWT in a letter written to the fan community that I blogged about a couple of months ago. With news that a beloved character was leaving the show and that Tom was going to be attacked breaking out, longtime fans are angered and feel that portrayer Scott Holmes must be fed up with never getting a storyline. While some fans don't particularly care about the character and others feel that Tom's role has been diminished to the point that his leaving wouldn't be that big of a deal, many fans feel such a move would be a slap in the face of the show's history.
University of Chicago law professor Randy Picker was nice enough to pass along a link to what he has written -- from a legal perspective -- about the potential threat which the RIAA may pose to those folks who want to post lip-sync or karaoke songvids on YouTube:
For the music industry, this is a not-so-golden oldie and the conflict illustrates the persistent gap between actual law and the public's knowledge of that law and, frequently, perceptions of fairness. On these facts, far from being crazy or somehow a misuse of copyright, I think that music copyright holders have a straight-forward action against YouTube.... this is how we pay for music in the real world: different uses, different prices, and until we change the law and come up with a better way to pay for music, you should assume that the music industry is going to show up one day and knock on YouTube's door.
I don't pretend to be a lawyer so my views on the law should be taken with a grain of salt. I am pretty sure though that Picker is correct that the RIAA is almost certainly well within its legal rights to take action to shut down this use of its music via YouTube.
That said, I feel that we should be paying closer attention to that "persistent gap between actual law and the public's knowledge of that law and frequently, perceptions of fairness." True, ignorance of the law is no excuse but a democratic state should always be concerned if the gap between the law and the public's perception of fairness grows too great. (And I would suggest that gap is growing hourly at the present moment).
Ratings-wise, we've gotten our answer. ECW blows away anything else that airs regularly on Sci Fi in the ratings. Before ECW's debut, according to Dave Meltzer, the highest rated show on the network was Ghost Hunters, which regualrly draws about a 1.2 rating. In its first week, ECW drew a 2.8 rating, more than double the highest rated regular Sci Fi program. The second week, in opposition with the NBA finals, the show drew a 2.4, and Sci-Fi and NBC Universal are ecstatic.
But that doesn't mean that ECW is still a particularly good fit on Sci-Fi. The regular Sci Fi fans are resentful. Fans on both sides seem ignorant of any aesthetic value in the other side's entertainment. Wrestling fans have no interest in what they perceive as any "sci-fi" influence creeping onto their show, and the sentiments of the fan who posted here, saying that Sci Fi is a refuge from terrible programming like wrestling, sums up how many sci-fi fans feel about wrestling.
So, let's establish this: neither Sci Fi programming nor pro wrestling is inherently bad, but trying to mix the two could be. The wrestling fans don't particularly care what network a show comes on, as long as it's true to what it's supposed to be: wrestling. But Sci Fi marketing people, according to Dave Meltzer, made suggestions that Martians and vampires appear on the ECW show in the arena and that ECW wrestlers should go into other dimensions. Well, you can imagine how regular ECW fans, and even WWE fans, felt about a suggestion like that. The WWE made fun of the very idea on the initial ECW episode, with a wrestler named The Zombie coming down to the ring, only to get caned by The Sandman, an old ECW regular. From WWE's perspective, Sci Fi probably was not their top choice (I'm sure that would have been USA), but they knew they wanted to launch an ECW show, and their exclusivity deal with NBC Universal dictated that it could only be on one of the conglomerate's networks...Sci Fi was the only network that displayed a strong interest.
While the sci-fi community has been vocally upset about the wrestling influence, wrestling fans were incensed by these suggestions and happy that the Sci Fi Channel got their answer with the caning. It was a joint statement by WWE and Sci Fi to wrestling fans that ECW would not be mired by such silly gimmicks. Consessions to the sci-fi sentiment, at least in the network's eyes, include a set of vampire cultish wrestlers in ECW, as well as pushing Paul Heyman's character as a cultish leader of ECW.
The only thing at this point that's hurting ECW with the wrestling fanbase are the hardcore ECW fans who can't see the new version of ECW as being true to the original, which WWE purchased the rights to. The first episode, while doing "extremely" well in the ratings, was considered a disappointment aesthetically by most fans and many with the company. But the following week introduced some new characters and started to reveal the direction the show will be going. And wrestling fans must realize that ECW can't be a reunion show and remain a vibrant weekly television program, so there has to be a new version that draws in the wider WWE fan base, in addition to the hardcore fans.
USA Network and Sci Fi are working hard to make the two wrestling shows cross-promote each other, but both networks have come to realize something about wrestling fans: they feel little loyalty to the network, so that WWE fans are most likely to tune in when their show comes on and tune back out as soon as the show is over. The only value WWE adds to the network, then, is increasing the ratings of the network substantially, especially since wrestling draws lower advertising rates than many other shows, despite its high ratings, because of the unfair stereotypes against its fanbase. For USA, this means that it more consistently wins its war to top the weekly cable ratings because WWE inflates its numbers. For Sci Fi, this means that they have a show that, ratings-wise, is their biggest hit. And, with ECW and Monday Night RAW cross-promoting each other, the two networks are at least giving wrestling fans more to tune into and trying to keep those flagship shows high.
So, at this point, that appears to be the impasse. If Sci Fi fans will support or at least ignore ECW's presence, it will be a boon to the network's numbers. Conversely, if Sci Fi stays out of ECW's programming, wrestling fans care little what network their show airs on. And it's a win-win...unless the fan communities have to come into contact again; then it turns into another battle royal.
This is another in a series of posts highlighting trends which threaten our rights to participate in our culture.
According to a report published in the Boston Phoenix this week, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) may soon take aim at the amateur lip syncing and Karaoke videos which circulate on YouTube. Spokespeople from the RIAA, which has never been slow to assert the broadest possible claims on intellectual property, have so far not confirmed the claims that they will be using their power to force YouTube to take down such videos.
Participatory Culture's Most Powerful Distribution System YouTube represents perhaps the most powerful distribution channel so far for amateur media content. More than 6 million visitors watch a total of 40 million clips per day and upload another 50,000 more, according to the Phoenix. Some of that traffic is no doubt generated by content grabbed from commercial media -- including a fair number of commercials which are virally circulated, music videos and segments from late night comedy shows, strange clips from reality television, and the like. But a good deal of the content is user generated and this content is generating wide interest.
Many people will have seen the footage of the guy who went a little extreme with his Christmas tree lights last year or, in regards to this current issue, some of the videos of pasty-faced and overweight people singing off key versions of their favorite pop songs -- often with demonstrably limited comprehension of the lyrics. Many of us had argued that earlier file-sharing services such as Napster provided an infrastructure for garage bands and the like to get their music into broader circulation but there, the illegal content swamped the legal and made it hard to support this case. With YouTube, there is no question that some of the most interesting content comes from grassroots creators. Via YouTube, what were once home movies are finding a public -- some coming to appreciate real creativity, some there to gawk.
Henry Jenkins asked that I also pass along this post about Robot Chicken to this blog from his blog promoting his new book, Convergence Culture:
I recently had a chance to catch up with the first season DVD of The Cartoon Network's Robot Chicken series and found it an interesting illustration of some of the trends I discuss in Convergence Culture. For those of you not in the know, Robot Chicken is a fifteen minute long, fast-paced and tightly-edited, stop motion animation series, produced by Seth Green (formerly of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Austin Powers) and Matthew Senreich: think of it as a sketch comedy series where all of the parts of played by action figures. The show spoofs popular culture--vintage and contemporary--mixing and matching characters with the same reckless abandon as a kid playing on the floor with his favorite collectibles.
For example, the first episode I ever saw included a Real World: Metropolis segment where Superman, Aquaman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Cat Woman, the Hulk, and other superheroes share an apartment and deal with real life issues, such as struggles for access to the bathroom or conflicts about who is going to do household chores. The same episode also included an outrageous parody of Kill Bil l, in which Jesus does battle with the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and George Burns (as God). And a spoof of American Idol where the contestants are zombies of dead rock stars and the judges are breakfast cereal icons--Frankenberry (as Randy), Booberry (as Paula) and Count Chocula (as Simon).
The humor is sometimes sophomoric (in the best and worst senses of the word)--lots of jokes about masturbation, farting, vomiting, and random violence--an entire "nutcracker suite" sequence consists of nothing but various characters getting hit or kicked in the groin. Yet, at its best, it manages to force us to look at the familiar icons of popular culture from a fresh perspective: one of my favorite segments features a series of breakfast cereal icons (Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam, Captain Crunch, The Trix Rabbit, and the Lucky Charms Leprechaun) as forming an international drug cartel smuggling "sugar" into the country. Many of the sketches depend on the juxtaposition of toys remembered fondly from childhood with adult realities (such as a segment which restages the violent murders of S7even within the Smurf kingdom): it has all of the transgressive appeal of cross-dressing a G.I. doll or staging a ritual hanging of Barney the Dinosaur, speaking to a generation which has only partially outgrown its childhood obsessions.
Henry Jenkins, Director of the Convergence Culture Consortium, wrote the following on his own blog this past week, which I thought was pretty relevant to the topics covered here on the C3 blog, especially since I have followed the Snakes on a Plane fan following here as well. Henry's blog is in preparation for his new book, aptly titled Convergence Culture:
I am watching with great interest the growing hubbub about the new suspense/disaster film, Snakes on a Plane, scheduled for release later this summer and expected by many to yield some of the strongest opening weekend grosses of the season. In many ways, we can see the ever expanding cult following of this predictably awful movie as an example of the new power audiences are exerting over entertainment content.
Here's what I think is going on here:
Enter the Grassroots Intermediaries.
First, the Snakes on a Planephenomenon has been building momentum for well over a year now. In the old days, the public would never have known about a film this far out of the gate. They might have learned about it when the previews hit the theatre -- a phenomenon which itself is occurring earlier and earlier in the production cycle -- or even given the fairly low-brow aspirations of this particular title -- when the film actually hit the theatre. In the old days, this would have been an exploitation movie of the kind that Roger Corman used to crank out in the 1950s and 1960s and destined to play on the second bill at the local drive-in.
One member of our C3 team, David Edery here at MIT, has published a piece entitled "Games as Lifestyle Brands" on Next Generation on Tuesday.
In this piece, Edery discusses the disputed definitions of the lifestyle brand, which can mean a product that becomes a part of your life, a product that you make part of your self-identity, a marketing campaign launched around a narrowly defined product that expands to all aspects of one's life (such as the Harley), or myriad others. Edery is right in that it's something that we know when it works, but we don't quite know what it is. For instance, I would argue that Target is not (ironically) targeted enough to be a "lifestyle brand" because it's a large retail store that distributes the products of hundreds of companies. It has elements of a lifestyle brand but just is not that concentrated enough.
In Edery's piece, though, he extends this argument to video games, about whether there already is lifestyle brands among video game publishers or not. Is EA Sports or Harmonix a lifestyle brand? It's an interesting discussion to have, and Edery's piece is worth taking a look at.
My take is that it's going to be just as hard for video game publishers to truly be lifestyle brands, just as it seems hard to me for movie production companies to be lifestyle brands--their products are often not concentrated enough to be a single statement and are not immersive enough. Sure, Harmonix has elements of a lifestyle brand, just as you may argue Lion's Gate has a certain feel to its films, but there's a major difference between publishers that release various titles and a store you go to regularly (The New Yorker), or a television network (MTV).
Whether your agree or disagree with me, the point is not that this makes video games less desirable to market. After all, even though I don't see Target, Starbucks, or IKEA as fully being a lifestyle brand, they still have many elements of a lifestyle brand that they incorporate into their marketing strategy that is beneficial to both producers and consumers. And, as David mentions, not every brand is or should be a lifestyle brand.
But incorporating more elements of lifestyle branding for video game production certainly helps labels develop a following. EA Sports comes as close as any video game label I can think of in that their product line is sufficiently limited and has video games at its core but extends to all sorts of ancillary products. But how can other video game developers copy or even build on that success?
According to a press release on the Web site TV Shows on DVD, Warner Home Video has finally announced that they will be releasing the first season of the 1980s sitcom Mama's Family on DVD this September.
Last December, I blogged about this Web site and the potential power it gives for communication between fan communities and content distributors when it comes to the potential market for releasing a product from the archives. On the site, people vote for their favorite shows that have not yet been released on DVD, and fan communities often lobby actively to move their show higher up the rating, with the feeling that companies are taking notice at the popularity shows have on this site.
I had participated actively in getting Mama's Family released on DVD, a childhood favorite. Later that month, I blogged about the potential success we were having.
However, for the past six months, there was no news after Warner first said that it was considering releasing the show. Mama's Family despite last airing 16 years ago, maintains a few active online sites dedicated to discussing the show, still in reruns on TBS, including some that have continued daily postings from fans.
In the press release, WHV VP Rosemary Markson says that, "For years fans have anxiously been asking us to release it on DVD and we are delighted to bring it to consumers at last."
The show only lasted on network television for two yeras before moving to syndication, where it continued to prosper throughout the 1980s. In reruns, the show has gained more continued popularity among the fan community than in its initial airing. For those of us who are in that community, it's a great victory. And we would like to think that our vote on TV Shows on DVD made a difference in showing how the power of fan communities can benefit both fans and producers alike.
Every day brings something new at the offices of The Ohio County Times-News (terrible Web site, but they have no interest in my helping them with it), the weekly newspaper in Kentucky that I'm working at part of the time this summer, in an effort to "get back to my journalism roots." And two surprise guests I had today seemed to have particular relevance with my work at C3--a pair of ham radio enthusiasts.
With all our buzz about new technology, we often forget that there are vibrant fan communities surrounding very old technology. Studies have been done to examine fan communities for outmoded or endangered technologies, such as the Fisher-Price PXL-2000 and the Apple Newton. And I'm sure there have been plenty of people, whether journalists or scholars, who have examined the national fascination with ham radios.
These guys, Felix Miles and Henry Morgan, were dedicating their performance in a nationwide ham radio competition this weekend to a ham contemporary who had died after falling while working on his radio antenna. We got into a discussion of the philosophy of the ham radio operators, and Felix told me that old school ham operators primarily like to communicate in Morse code and don't go for the voice communication that most "newbies" go for.
The fact that there are thousands of people around the country dedicated to what most people would consider a technology of the past, as with "Ten Four, Over and Out" on the CB, the telegraph, and--soon to be, if the massive switch to cell phones is any indication--the landline phone, is fascinating.
We discussed the move away from Morse code and Miles' own anger that modern ham radio operators no longer have to prove their competency with Morse code when getting an operator's license from the FCC.
My emphasis here at the C3 blog has been on content instead of the medium, more often than not, but we can't forget the importance of attachments to old technologies and distribution means. People become fascinated with vinyl records and eight tracks, and a beloved member of our department here at CMS often treks out his Beta player to show us clips of old television shows, even when many of these shows are available on DVD.
What is it about these old technologies that fascinate us? These ham radio operators give part of their life over to keeping this technology alive and vibrant, and it's aided the country substantially during natural disasters, etc., with ham radio operators creating a communication chain. But people are willing to give part of their lives--and even their lives--through maintenance of radios and antennas. As much as any brand, these outmoded technologies seem to connect with people's lives in fundamental ways, and even specific brands develop continued brand communities surrounding them, long after they have outlived their major pragmatic usefulness.
When you are living in Western Kentucky, especially working in the media industry, few days go by without hearing something about bluegrass music, especially since the genre has received such a resurgence in popularity over the past few years, after the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? introduced the music to mainstream America with its outstanding soundtrack.
My home county is considered "the birthplace of bluegrass music," because the man often considered the genre's father, Bill Monroe, and many other founding voices for the style, were born in the small town of Rosine. At least once a month, public debate has popped up in our small town, as the Bill Monroe Foundation hopes to gain control of the county's budget to help increase the drive for tourism traffic through Monroe's home place. (The wars over bluegrass music are more than can be detailed here, but--so far this year--they've included a public battle and debate over a semi-sacred tree on the homeplace between the county government and the BMF director and a current battle over the trailer which houses the BMF director being located on someone's property who wants it removed.)
While bluegrass music may not be the first place most of us think to look for media analysis, this blurring of the producer/fan/analyst line shows how we might be able to rethink and better understand how to frame the relationship between producers and fans. For all of the fans who go down to the barn on Friday night here in Rosine for our bluegrass jamboree, it's pretty hard to distinguish amateur from professional, and the heart of the music seems to lie in the community more than individual performers (save Monroe, of course).
The newest craze in fan-created content circulating on YouTube goes even further the the pieces I've noted over the past several days, in that this involves a parody performance of Bono from U2 that makes the piece even more amazing.
The video editing that transforms this fairly accurate impersonation of Bono singing a tribute to actor Samuel L. Jackson makes what looks very much like a legitimate music video, aside from its obviously comedic aspect.
Jackie Huba at the Church of the Customer blog calls the piece "citizen marketing." Indeed, with such ardent fan support, the producers should realize the powerful marketing opportunities that fans present at no cost. Sure, creator David Coyne has broken some substantial copyright laws with his parody performance of Bono because of all the images of Jackson in the background. However, the producers of Snakes on a Plane and Jackson himself should celebrate such marketing. Even though the piece is clearly parody, it also draws attention to and celebrates Jackson and the upcoming film.
More than almost any other film in recent memory, Snakes on a Plane has a lot of cult buzz behind it. The show's producers capitalized on this through the very title, adopting what became an underground title for the project as the film's public name as well. Further, check out the film's site, particularly the "Fan Site of the Week" option, to see how well the show has integrated the grassroots marketing of the fan community with official marketing.
How much profit will all this cult grassroots marketing have on the film? Time will tell, but the even harder question is how long we have to wait with a cult film to determine its success--will audiences turn out to see it in droves on theatrical release, will DVD sales be substantially higher, or will the film's potential cult status lead to its continued success in DVD sales for years to come?
Thanks to Siddiq Bello with Turner for bringing this piece of fan promotion to my attention.
Slater Just Can't Quit The Preppie: A Brokeback Spoof on Saved by the Bell
After blogging about The Skeletor Show and 10 Things I Hate About Commandments over the past couple of weeks, my cousin and future doctor Steven Ford directed me toward another YouTube phenomenon--the Brokeback Mountain style parody of the relationship between characters Zach Morris and A.C. Slater on that teen situation comedy my generation grew up captivated by, Saved by the Bell.
Apparently, this fan, in true slash fiction fashion, searched out the many scenes of mutual admiration between Slater and Zach in the show's archives and edited together this video, "Saved by the Bell: Brokeback Style," as a tribute to their love, set to the great soundtrack from the award-winning cowboy gay love story. The show, marketed on DVD as nostalgia for those that remembered it fondly but largely unwatchable for anyone who didn't grow up watching it, is considered a marker of childhood for the generation that watched it on a regular basis.
For those who remember the show and the two masculine leads, the tribute video works almost as well as Kirk/Spock slash fiction--(such as the "Perhaps" video tribute to their love aboard the Starship Enterprise). And, considering the constant focus on Slater's body in the show and the rather cheesy dialogue, I believe there was probably a wealth of material that can seem pretty homoerotic once it's strung together.
The tribute is yet another illustration of the degree to which fans have gained the tools necessary to create fairly complex and well-edited videos using texts from the show's archives. In this case, this fan has created, in particular, an alternative reading of the show, so to speak, that largely only has appeal to other fans who will understand the various scenes depicted. In other words, these videos invite fellow fans to deconstruct the editing process.
Of course, in my mind, nothing will top the classic fan-reworked movie trailer for The Shining. If you have never checked it out, it remains a must-see.
While the thread was started and maintained by a few ATWT fans who are also members of the gay community, following the message board's reaction to the show over several weeks shows how the storyline was able to draw non-fans in. Some of them mention that they don't watch the whole show but only the Luke scenes, but they are beginning to get familiar with much of the cast, as Luke interacts with 10 or so other characters on a regular basis.
The thread is a demonstration of how fan communities within a niche audience can begin to proselytize and recruit other members of their social group to watch the show as well. First of all, members of the online gay community may have never become aware of the ATWT storyline if they were not already fans of the show without the active posting of some fans of the show. Further, their continued updated discussions of the show, made friendly for newcomers, has brought several regular posters on the Dreamcaps site to become regular viewers of ATWT as well.
The discussion about the Luke storyline starts morphing into a dicussion of the distinctive elements of the soap opera genre and its emphasis on dialogue and slow-moving action paced out over several days with multiple storylines juggled simultaneously. Posters begin encourgaging each other to not just watch the Luke storyline but also check out other current stories as well. And the thread has now gone to 17 pages over the past few months as people continuously follow ATWT.
A great example of the power of the fan community, particularly when a show taps into a niche "surplus" audience that is not its primary demographic, which is women 18-49.
The piece, called 10 Things I Hate About Commandments, is a trailer for a teen drama featuring Moses and Ramses fighting over the same girl. While a parody of sorts for both the older film and the teen drama form, as well as a parody of movie trailers in general, the piece is more a celebration and send-up spoof than a biting critique and is an example of the ways that fan-generated content can bring new excitement to long-existing pieces of work. When I first watched the trailer early this morning, the trailer already had over 600,000 views. While some Christians may be offended by Samuel L. Jackson's language in his version of The Burning Bush, I don't read this as a criticism of the original film or the biblical story, save its the camp value of some of the acting and costuming.
More than anything else, though, this trailer demonstrates the tremendous power of fans to generate "poached" content in ways that look as professional as a real movie trailer, for the most part. The use of quotes from the actual Ten Commandments shows the time and energy put into conceiving, piecing together, and executing a trailer like this. I can't help but be continually amazed at the expertise and dedication of fans.
The site is a fan-created examination of the album A Piece of Strange, by southern hiphop group Cunninlynguists. The review, written by Rafi Kam, appears on the Oh Word blog and focuses particularly on the site as a blog marketing case study.
Rafi's in-depth discussion of the album and the positives and negatives of the fan site's execution of studying the debut of this new album is interesting and appears in great detail, looking at the strong start for the site that fizzled due to lack of updates and a lack of starting places for nascent fans. However, what I found at the end was far more interesting, with both someone who posted for the site and a member of the band joining in the conversation.
While I'm not personally that familiar with this group or even the genre of music, the Web site is proof of something I wrote about last December, the limits that mainstream taste often put on our understanding of fan communities and transmedia content. People choose not to look very often outside of what is perceived as mainstream taste, for instance at an underground fan marketing campaign for a southern hiphop group, even if this may be an example which gives the rest of much to learn about.
Also, it's proof of what I labeled in February as the most important discussion in the entertainment industry today, that being the relationship betrween fans and producers. As with the example in that post, this blog post by Rafi Kam became a site in which fans, critics and the artists themselves all come together to debate and discuss these issues openly. From the example that the comments to Kam's story provides for us, we see both the rationale for fans working on fan sites, the perceived relationship of performers, and Kam's theories about where fan sites like the one for A Piece of Strange need to be headed in terms of creating the most impact, both for the group and for the fan community.
Fenway Park, Fan Tourism, and The Experience Economy
Few entertainment organizations understand the experience economy and especially the use of tourism among the fan community as well as sports franchises.
In the latest Journal of Popular Culture, Michael Ian Borer writes about the power of the sports arena as a tourist attraction. His essay, entitled "Important Places and Their Public Faces: Understanding Fenway Park as a Public Symbol." The essay, which appeared in the latest JPC (39.2, April 2006, 205-224), focuses on The Boston Red Sox and their beloved Fenway Park. (Well, I'm a Bostonian now, so I guess I should say "our" beloved Fenway Park.)
Borer points out that, since 1912, the park has taken on a sacred meaning, not just for Red Sox fans, but for fans of Major League Baseball in general. The arena's meaning has changed through each season, and it has lasted as a symbol of baseball's history so that it is now one of the greatest tourist attractions of any arena in the country. Borer writes that, as one walks outside the park, "you get the feeling that you are treading on sacred ground, andthat by being there you are doing something important" (205). This is the essential feeling for an experience economy and illustrates the way in which Fenway Park has become a quasi-religious symbol for fans to make a trek to, either to watch a game or for an off-season tour of the park.
Fenway is not only valuable as a tourist attraction but also a symbol in the narrative of the Red Sox. As fans construct and constantly adapt this narrative, the meaning of Fenway may change as well. Borer writes that, when the Red Sox won the final series game in 2004 and became champions again after a winning droubt that had lasted almost 90 years, "in that very moment, the ballpark took on a new meaning or at least a meaning that had not been connected to Fenway Park since 1918: Home of the World Series Champions" (222).
For those of us interested in understanding the experience economy first espoused by Pine and Gilmore and the meaning behind fan-constructed narratives, Borer's essay is illuminating both as a detailed look at the image of Fenway Park and as a reminder of the power and unerstanding the sports world has had for years of fan tourism and the importance of physical spaces in the construction of fan narratives.
I want to thank Siddiq Bello from Turner Broadcasting, one of our partners here in the Convergence Culture Consortium, for passing along this really interesting example of the power of fan-generated content and the abilities of a remix culture--
YouTube has become a vibrant outlet for fan-generated content. (You can even find a video of my managerial services at work in a Universal Championship Wrestling pro wrestling card in Owensboro, Ky., filmed by someone in the audience and posted on YouTube.) A recent example, and this is a real kick of nostalgia for those of you from the He-Man generation like me, but YouTube features The Skeletor Show, which creators describe as "a heartwarming story of the most evil man in the universe" made "in the style of Sealab 2021."
The episodes, usually about three or four minutes in length, use visuals from the original Masters of the Universe cartoons to create a show from the perspective of the antagonist, Skeletor. The series is going to be in line with most fan-generated content, in that it becomes a community of creation based around the original product.
The initial creators say that, "for those of you who have written to me interested in writing, I am developing the show bible now and will have it available by next week (I hope)." I'm going to be interested in following The Skeletor Show over the next few weeks to see both if there is any negative reaction from any copyright holders and also to see if other fans join in on remixing footage from their childhood favorite. Yet another example of the power of the creativity of fan communities and how new tools help facilitate and spread that creativity.
Today's Metro here in Boston had a great story on Channel Frederator, which lists itself as "The World's Original Cartoon Podcast." The site, for "mature audiences only," produces cartoon programming for adults, a market that founder Fred Seibert feels remains unjustly underserved.
What's so interesting about the podcasted cartoons is that they not only produce their own work but also accept work from amateurs, which--if good enough--becomes distributed by Channel Frederator, making it a true community of production where the line between cultural producer and fan becomes a little hard to distinguish. The editorial function remains with the producers, who decide what does and what does not get distributed, but Channel Frederator seems to get that fans want content generated by them to not just be considered ancillary but to be featured as well, at least the best of it.
Amber Ray's story in the Metro, "Fan-cast-ic," mentions that some viewers of the site complains about the sometimes-amateurish quality of some of the fan-generated content, but the founder retorts by pointing out that the drawing quality of great animated series such as Beavis and Butthead and South Park does so on much less "beautiful" pictures as cartoons like Looney Tunes.
The weekend edition of USA Today had an intriguing front-page article about the resurgence of faith-based films specifically targeted at the Christian community in America.
The article, written by Scott Bowles, touches on some of the aspects of grassroots marketing in Christian communities that I have posted about before in relation to Christian marketing and debate surrounding C.S. Lewis, which was utilized effectively in marketing the recent Narnia film.
Christian communities have powerful methods for word-of-mouth, with preachers and outspoken church members spreading the word about products. Christian bookstores are another powerful way to target the Christian community, and products from the Left Behind series to Veggie Tales have had strong support from Christian consumers, not to mention The Passion of the Christ.
The article details moves by companies such as Fox, who have created Fox Faith as a division of the company marketing to the Christian consumer. The site even includes materials for church disucssion on Fox Faith films, serving the all-important Christian literature market that bible bookstores are run on.
Fox Faith serves as an important reminder not to forget about the power of concentrated marketing and the unaparalleled grassroots power of American Christianity.
This is a LiveJournal community for writers of McGriddle Fan Fiction, Breakfast Fan Fiction, and McGriddle Creative Writing. While our primary focus is on Fan Fic involving the McDonald's McGriddle, we extend membership to writers of any sort of breakfast food creative writing (i.e. McMuffins, Bagel Sandwiches, Pancakes, etc).
38 members so far, though -- as BB suggests -- I suspect this community is at least partly satirical. That said: would McGriddle/Croissanwich stories constitute breakfast slash fiction?
Burger King/Xbox FAQ: Poor Security or Viral Marketing?
Joystiq has linked to an FAQ on the partnership between Burger King and Microsoft's Xbox division, which has had rumors swirling around the web. The FAQ has the appearance of an internal document, which led Joystiq to speculate about sloppy security on the part of Equity Marketing's server administration, but it could just as easily be a deliberate leak aimed at promoting online awareness of the upcoming promotion.
Poor 'net security, or deliberate viral campaign? It's so hard to tell these days, and it'll probably only get harder...
Can I make a suggestion? Let's all stop using the phrase "user-generated content." I'm serious. It's a despicable, terrible term. Let's deconstruct it.
User: One who uses. Like, you know, a junkie.
Generated: Like a generator, engine. Like, you know, a robot.
Content: Something that fills a box. Like, you know, packing peanuts.
So what's user-generated content? Junkies robotically filling boxes with packing peanuts. Lovely.
Calling the beautiful, amazing, brilliant things people create online "user-generated content" is like sliding up to your lady, putting your arm around her and whispering, "Hey baby, let's have intercourse."
When I read this opener, I naturally bristled. Much of C3's research this year has been dedicated to user-generated content, so to hear Derek blow it off so easily made me a little annoyed. However, Derek continues:
Lately the notion that the web is about "user-generated content" has been getting more traction. With the success of MySpace and Flickr, pundits are looking for a trend. And they've found one in this hateful phrase. But "user-generated content" is nothing new online. In fact, it's what the network was designed for.
So let's not give in to the buzzphrase du jour. Let's use the real words. Those people posting to Amazon pages? They're writing reviews. Those folks on Flickr? They're making photographs. And if we must have an umbrella term to describe the whole shebang, I have a suggestion. Try this on for size: Authentic Media.
Which, of course, is perfectly correct. However, it's not exactly what we mean when we say 'user-generated content'. To clarify, I shot him the following reponse:
The trouble is, there really is such a thing as user-generated content -- things like people designing furniture for The Sims and clothing in Second Life, which is then circulated online. It's not "authentic media", it's users generating content for a specific system. A user that spends their time replicating IKEA furniture that they'll then upload to the Sims website for other users to download isn't a furniture designer. They're a user generating content for the Sims environment.
I think the problem isn't the term, it's the rampant misuse of the term. Anyone who refers to the photos uploaded to Flickr as "user-generated content" isn't looking at Flickr the right way -- Flickr isn't primarily an art environment like a museum or a visual entertainment system, it's primarily a tool, like Blogger or Movable Type. Users aren't generating content for a system, users ARE the content of the system! Or, more specifically, the USE is the content of the system. To say these photographers are 'generating content' for Flickr is like saying that webloggers are content generators for Blogger, which is utter malarkey; you can navigate weblogs through the "recently posted" list as easily as you could surf Flickr, but no one's going to view Blogger as some kind of massive zine. The same should be asserted when dealing with MySpace, Friendster, and so on.
Ask the person (not user) who is designing furniture for The Sims what they think they're doing. The answer is going to be "designing furniture" - not "generating content." ;-)
Which got me thinking. In a seminar tonight most of the C3 grad student researchers spent some time examining fan fiction, and while watching an interview with someone who writes fan fiction I found myself wondering if she thought of herself as a writer or as something else. Derek's right: studio heads at Paramount would view any fan fiction written about Star Trek to be either a copyright violation or 'user-generated content', and I doubt that the fans who create fan fiction think of themselves would bill their creations as such. So should there be another name for someone who generates IKEA furniture for Second Life or writes slash fiction about Kirk and Spock? Are you a furniture designer if you're just rearranging pixels to resemble existing furniture? Are you an author if you never create your own characters or worlds? Or are you just a user generating content?
Ever since Apple began selling hour-long TV shows on the iTunes store for $1.99, the willingness of customers to buy five-minute music videos for the exact same price dropped off quite a bit. This was understandable, as from the customer's point of view, the prices for music videos were an unconscionable ripoff. (I won't get into the behind-the-scenes realities of pricing structures, except to note that most customers really don't care if a music video cost as much to make as a TV episode.)
While I'd still be a little leery of the perceived value equivalency between a TV show and a "vingle" (a music video bundled with its associated single), the decision to bundle videos with music tracks is definitely a step in the right direction on Apple's part, as are the higher-margin music video bundles they're offering. Sending conflicting messages in media pricing has the potential to undermine the whole business, which is why Apple's move towards sanity in music video prices is a good thing, and the record industry's rent-seeking push to raise song prices to $1.49 (or whatever the market will bear) would almost certainly be bad for business.
Soap Actor Reaches Out to Daytime Fans to Lobby Together
People within almost any industry often debate the value of the online fan community and the fan clubs of a particular show. A few weeks ago, I posted an argument on the Procter & Gamble Productions message board between moderators with PGP and fans on the board regarding the importance of the hardcore fan base versus obtaining general viewer impressions.
One actress that seems to be convinced of the importance of the most ardent fans of a show is Ellen Dolan with As the World Turns. Last week, Ellen sent a letter to the ATWT Fan Club explaining her problems with the way the character had been written and female characters more broadly on the PGP soap over the past year or two. Ellen's letter was quickly posted on message boards dedicated to ATWT across the net and became the talk of the fan community this past week.
In her letter, instead of taking the line others have that active fans represent such a miniscule number (although a number that far outweighs the Nielsen's, eh?) that they don't matter, Dolan points to the prior successes of the fan club. She points out that Trent Dawson, who was one of the favorite recurring actors on ATWT, was given a contract after being cheered on at the last annual fan club gathering.
She also makes the case that her character was originally one of the few female detectives on daytime but her professional duties have been stripped from her character, in a trend she seems to find where daytime, while once progressive with putting women in the workforce, is actually scaling back now that primetime is offering up female detectives and business leaders.
"Do you remember when Margo was a strong, independent woman and not a sniveling,cat fighting, high school girl craving for a football hero?" she asks before further asking why longtime ATWT actor and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit star Tamara Tunie can't seem to get a story of her own and longtime character Lucinda Walsh, a powerful businesswoman in town, never gets any stories about her professional life on the show these days.
"The character is being dismantled. These characters are your characters and I think valuable to the show. I need your support. I need you to help save Margo Hughes! I need you to write and ask for Margo back. I have attached a list of names and addresses for you to write to. Tell them how you feel about this character. Please guys, 'cus I love Margo and I want to keep giving her to you. Not to mention that my kid is only six, I've got many years to go."
ATWT is one of the best written shows on daytime television, but it doesn't mean that Dolan hasn't found one of the points that online fans constantly bring up as their frustration with the soap's content--the lack of workplace stories. While the show's producers can't be happy that what would essentially be a backstage argument has disseminated throughout the fan message boards, the direct plea and the grassroots campaign Dolan is trying to begin shows some recognition of the most active fans having the most power and the most investment in the show.
And Ellen hits on a very powerful message regarding the moral economy surrounding the characters, the feeling on behalf of the fan community that they have ownership of the characters, when she says, "These characters are your characters" and implies a fan duty at protecting the quality of the show by doing their duty and writing in.
Following this situation and the response of PGP should provide an interesting window into where things stand with the company's view of the fan community.
In an article in Next Generation, Chris Weaver of Bethesda Softworks notes that French lawmakers have come up with a plan that may legalize digital file-sharing:
A recent government attempt to impose astronomical penalties of hundreds of thousands of dollars and jail time of up to three years on "Digital Pirates" backfired as lawmakers instead voted to endorse amendments to legalize the online sharing of digital media by anyone who paid a "duty tax" of $8.50. While not the final vote on the issue within the French government, the gauntlet has definitely been thrown down.
The vote was met with a hailstorm of criticism by the entrenched industries[...]
The event would almost be amusing if it were not so serious when viewed in the context of communications technology history. Entrenched industries bar the door and clamor for government protection while technology creates new industries. This problem is not new. It is simply that people forget to pass this information on to new generations, who might otherwise avoid the mistakes of their forebears.
Chris goes on to point out that of the VCR saved the movie industry by creating a profitable aftermarket. While it's not clear that the French "duty tax" would be a magic bullet for the moral panic that's arisen around digital 'piracy', it seems like it would be a step in the right direction. Media producers would realize some revenue, and no longer need to waste astronomical sums of money (and customer goodwill) by lawyering up and pursuing ineffective and damaging DRM schemes.