February 25, 2010

Grant McCracken's Chief Culture Officer

A few weeks ago I attended C3 affiliate Grant McCracken's Chief Culture Officer Boot Camp in New York. The boot camp was a day long session on McCracken's new book Chief Culture Officer, which you should definitely check out.


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May 6, 2008

Transformations: Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture

The final C3-related publication I want to highlight this afternoon is the recent release of Grant McCracken's latest book, Transformations: Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture. The book, from Indiana University Press, has a May 2008 release date and is already available through Amazon.

According to the official description:

Self reinvention has become a preoccupation of contemporary culture. In the last decade, Hollywood made a 500-million-dollar bet on this idea with movies such as Multiplicity, Fight Club, eXistenZ, and Catch Me If You Can. Self reinvention marks the careers of Madonna, Ani DiFranco, Martha Stewart, and Robin Williams. The Nike ads of LeBron James, the experiments of New Age spirituality, the mores of contemporary teen culture, and the obsession with "extreme makeovers" are all examples of our culture's fixation with change. In a time marked by plenitude, transformation is one of the few things these parties have in common.

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The Television Will Be Revolutionized

Another recent book from a Convergence Culture Consortium consulting researcher that might be of interest to a variety of the blog readers is Amanda Lotz' The Television Will Be Revolutionized, from NYU Press. According to the official description:

After occupying a central space in American living rooms for the past fifty years, is television, as we've known it, dead? The capabilities and features of that simple box have been so radically redefined that it's now nearly unrecognizable. Today, viewers with digital video recorders such as TiVo may elect to circumvent scheduling constraints and commercials. Owners of iPods and other portable viewing devices are able to download the latest episodes of their favorite shows and watch them whenever and wherever they want. Still others rent television shows on DVD, or download them through legal and illegal sources online. But these changes have not been hastening the demise of the medium. They are revolutionizing it.

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May 5, 2008

Kevin Sandler's The Naked Truth

A couple more book projects I wanted to point everyone toward from around the Consortium this week. C3 Consulting Researcher Kevin Sandler's 2007 book through Rutgers is The Naked Truth: Why Hollywood Doesn't Make X-Rated Movies.

According to the official description:

From parents and teachers to politicians and policymakers, there is a din of voices participating in the debate over how young people are affected by violence, strong language, and explicit sexual activity in films. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) responded to this concern in 1968 when it introduced a classification and rating system based on the now well-known labels: "G," "PG," PG-13," "R," and "X."

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Grant McCracken's Flock and Flow

Among the C3-related books I'm noting on the blog at the beginning of this week, I also wanted to point everyone's attention toward Grant McCracken's 2006 book Flock and Flow.

According to the description:

Is it possible any longer to "read" markets fast enough to respond to them? A world of discrete parts is now one interconnected web of ceaseless calculation and response. Marketing has become a thing of speed and turbulence, with all the players moving simultaneously.

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Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World

While spending a little time this week pointing toward recent books from Convergence Culture Consortium members, I thought I'd also mention another book from the past year that might be of interest to C3 blog readers:

Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World: C3 Consulting Researchers Jonathan Gray and C. Lee Harrington are joined by co-editor Cornel Sandvoss in this 2007 volume about fandom.

According to the description:

We are all fans. Whether we log on to Web sites to scrutinize the latest plot turns in Lost, "stalk" our favorite celebrities on Gawker, attend gaming conventions, or simply wait with bated breath for the newest Harry Potter novel-each of us is a fan. Fandom extends beyond television and film to literature, opera, sports, and pop music, and encompasses both high and low culture.

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Rob Kozinets' Consumer Tribes

Speaking of recent books from C3 Consulting Researchers, I thought C3 blog readers might be interested in knowing more about the latest book edited by C3 Consulting Researcher Robert V. Kozinets, along with Bernard Cova and Avi Shankar.

The book, entitled Consumer Tribtes, is a collection of essays on understanding consumption in social rather than individual terms.

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C3 Consulting Researcher Parmesh Shahani's Gay Bombay

Former C3 Research Manager Parmesh Shahani has recently released his new book, Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love and (Be)longing in Contemporary India, through Sage Publications.

According to the official description:

Using a combination of multi-sited ethnography, textual analysis, historical documentation analysis, and memoir writing, the author provides macro and micro perspectives on what it means to be a gay man located in Gay Bombay at a particular point in time. Specifically, he explores what being gay means to members of Gay Bombay and how they negotiate locality and globalization, their sense of identity as well as a feeling of community within its online/offline world. On a broader level, he critically examines the formulation and reconfiguration of contemporary Indian gayness in the light of its emergent cultural, media, and political alliances.

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November 1, 2007

MIT Center for Future Civic Media Blog

Our cohorts over at MIT's new Center for Future Civic Media have been providing a lot of interesting and insightful pieces over on their new blog for the center, which is located here. The center is a collaboration between the Program in Comparative Media Studies and the Media Lab here at MIT, through a grant from the Knight Foundation. According to their Web site, the group will focus on creating the "technical and social systems for sharing, prioritizing, organizing, and acting on information. These include developing new technologies that support and foster civic media and political action; serving as an international resource for the study and analysis of civic media; and coordinating community-based test beds both in the United States and internationally."

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September 26, 2007

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.

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September 16, 2007

A New C3-Related Blog: The Extratextuals

We're in the process of adding a blog roll here at the Consortium's site, primarily to highlight all of our alum, partners, and consulting researchers who have interesting blogs of their own. I link to relevant stories from them from time-to-time, but a recent C3 graduate now launching a blog of his own might have quite a few stories that will be of interest to C3 readers.

Ivan Askwith, who was until recently a graduate student researcher here, has just launched a new blog with Jonathan Gray, an assistant professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University in NYC, and Derek Johnson, a Ph.D. candidate in media in cultural studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison's Communication Arts Department. Askwith is a creative strategist at Big Spaceship in NYC, and he's going to be speaking on a panel at the Producer's Guild of America seminar on Sept. 26 called "Creating Blockbuster Worlds: Transmedia Development and Production." The blog is called The Extratextuals.

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September 1, 2007

Two New Aca-Fen Blogs

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.

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July 12, 2007

A Look at Recent Writing from Affiliated C3 Thinkers

I wanted to point the way to some interesting posts from various Consulting Researchers with the Convergence Culture Consortium. A variety of our affiliated thinkers maintain regular blogs regarding their opinion of the latest developments in the media industries, and a wide variety of other subjects.

Henry Jenkins posted a piece on his blog last week emphasizing his own interest and respect with NBC's Heroes and his reading of a recent interview with Heroes executive producer Jesse Alexander, in which he brought up reading Jenkins' book Convergence Culture. Henry links his look at fan communities with Rob Kozinets' recent writing on wiki-media.

Jason Mittell writes about the contest among the different cities of Springfield across the country to claim The Simpsons and to host the premiere for the upcoming Simpsons Movie. The state Mittell calls home, Vermont, won the contest.

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May 27, 2007

Cultural Biases and Academic Research: Housel's Review of The Toothpaste of Immortality

Earlier today, I wrote about a piece from the last issue of The Journal of Popular Culture which focuses particularly on how the image of the celebrity endorser is constructed, a question which I think is particularly interesting in an age where a larger number of people than ever might be considered a celebrity of sorts and in which well-known fans within fan communities serve a pivotal role as either grassroots marketers or grassroots critics of one's product or brand.

In this vein, a review toward the back of the current issue caught my eye as well. The Rochester Institute of Technology's Rebecca Housel provides a look at an interesting book that hadn't yet crossed my radar: Elemér Hankiss' 2006 book from The Johns Hopkins University Press, entitled The Toothpaste of Immortality: Self-Construction in the Consumer Age. Hankiss, a sociologist, looks at what patterns of consumption in advertising means in American culture.

But what I found so fascinating was much less the book but rather the review.

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March 12, 2007

Fashion Brands and Branding Style: Looking at Reviews for Mark Tungate's Book

I've pointed out in the past that, whether one is interested in fashion or not, studies of clothing brands can identify some very astute observations about brand meaning and brand communities in general.

That's why I was particularly interested when I saw a review for Mark Tungate's Fashion Brands: Branding Style from Armani to Zara in the October 2006 version of The Journal of Popular Culture. The reviewer, Joseph Hancock from Drexel University, provides some nice details about Tungate's book, which I haven't read.

The book, published in London, focuses particularly on European brands and is written by a former journalist for the World Global Style Network. Hancock writes that the book provides "original insights into the world of trends, haute couture fashion, photography, modeling, and popular culture" (905).

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March 1, 2007

Hip-Hop Japan

For some time, I've been meaning to draw attention to the work of C3 Affiliated Faculty member Dr. Ian Condry, who published a book in the fall entitled Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization. Even though we've worked with Ian as part of C3, I actually read the book as part of a study on globalization in Dr. James L. Watson's globalization and culture class at Harvard.

Bringing this up is especially timely, considering the cover appears on the front page, in the left bottom corner, of today's Metro here in Boston. The article by Brian Coleman, featured on page 18, focuses on two of the artists discussed in Condry's ethnography of Japanese artists and the appropriation and cultural remixing of the hip-hop/rap genre by Japanese artists in the Tokyo clubs he visited. Those two artists, Miss Monday, and DJ Umedy, are going to be appearing at The Middle East Upstairs tonight, as part of the "Cool Japan" conference Ian is hosting here at MIT throughout the week and weekend.

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January 3, 2007

Boston Globe Summary of 2006 and Complex Television

Regular C3 blog reader Lynn Liccardo forwarded me an article from Sunday's Boston Globe that focuses on the trajectory of the fall television season now that we are moving into the second half of the television year. Author Matthew Gilbert gives an admirable quick glance at the television industry and where various networks stand in regard to serial program.

The piece discusses both the failures of many of the complex television shows to connect with audiences this fall, particularly because of the launch of too many of them and hints at the need for new business models that take into account more than just the initial broadcast of the shows, as we've been discussing for some time. Look here, here, and here for previous C3 discussions about this issue, and look here for Jason Mittell's piece about The Nine and "unmotivated complexity," as well as my response.

Gilbert calls the year "an embarrassment of riches" for viewers, writing:

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December 29, 2006

Craig Jacobsen and the Conflict Between Episodic Storytelling and Broadcasting Nature

Another interesting piece from Flow that I wanted to bring to everyone's attention is an essay by Craig Jacobsen from Mesa Community College. Jacobsen, in an essay entitled "The Simultaneous Dawning and Twilight of Broadcast Network Narrative", builds on his previous piece on "How TV Met Narrative Sophistication."

Throughout the fall, we have been documenting the debate about the future of complex television. I have written in response to Jeremy Dauber's column in the Christian Science Monitor depicting the ways in which culture has shifted with the rise of DVD viewings and how the broadcast system is not as good at supporting many complex narratives in primetime simultaneously. I wrote about the cancellation of Smith and how "the middle ground gets you cancelled," as well, concluding that:

In this case, what is said about Hollywood makes sense for television as well, and one has to wonder, as show after show falls off network lineups this fall, which of them could have gone on to be major successes in the long-term. But, until there is a monetized way to value the shows that take the middle ground, and until there is more economic incentive on the network's part to care about the success of shows long-term, then would-be fans of Smith and many other shows will have to just keep guessing what might have been.

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Ray Cha and the Definition of Television

Independent scholar Ray Cha has been writing an illuminating series of articles for the online scholarly journal Flow. For those not familiar with Flow, it defines itself as "a critical forum on television and media culture published biweekly by the department of Radio, Television, and Film at the University of Texas at Austin."

In his first article, Cha examines the traditional definition of television and the way the idea is being redefined. He finds that the three dictionary definitions currently in existence for television is each rooted in a particular time and a technological understanding of the medium. The first essay takes the first definition of television, looking at how the VCR/DVR and online streaming of television has changed the initial understanding of television as transmission.

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November 29, 2006

Yahoo! TV Relaunch Jazzes Up Graphics--But Some Question Whether It Fully Utilizes the Power of Web 2.0

Yahoo! is attempting to improve and expand the reach of its television content amidst an increasingly heated Internet television distribution market, as the company launched a new design for its TV section of the Yahoo! search engine this week. This marks the first effort to improve the design of Yahoo!'s TV services in five years, according to Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek, who cited the reason for the design change as "part of its effort to keep pace with new ways of consuming television online" which "follows efforts by small and large video sites in the last several months to introduce new features in what's becoming the increasingly competitive online video business."

What are these changes? They include an embedded video player for Yahoo! TV that allows viewers to navigate around the page while the video is playing on the page, rather than having to be static in searching for content while the video is playing. The product also includes links to the most popular show on Yahoo! at any particular moment, as well as videos grouped by themes and "a personalized TV grid that follows users as they navigate the site."

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November 15, 2006

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.

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November 12, 2006

Review: George Gerbner and the Media Education Foundation

A few weeks ago, I wrote about watching a Media Education Foundation video called The Ad and the Ego on the evils of the advertising industry. This week, I watched another two more of their productions, this time both documentaries featuring the late researcher George Gerbner. This time, the videos focused on the commercialism and conglomeration of the major television industries and how they limit the ability of the networks to tell good stories.

While I do not agree with many of the premises of the video, there are, of course, some effective arguments made as well. I usually dislike the simple-mindedness and lack of nuance of most of the MEF offerings in their unequivocal attacks on television content, advertising, etc., but I do try to at least pick out some of the best points made in such works.

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Friends with Benefit from One Tree Hill a Great Example of Transmedia Product Used for a Fundraiser

A little over a year ago, I wrote about the public service announcement for As the World Turns that was woven into the dialogue of a show. While programming was becoming more adept with making sure that viewers didn't skip ads with DVRs by working product placements into the show, this did the same with the PSA, as longtime characters Dr. Bob Hughes and his wife, Kim, had a discussion about AIDS in Africa and the need to do something about it while at the hospital, in a way that would have made it hard to skip through.

I haven't seen shows develop more of those in-dialogue PSAs in quite the same way, but One Tree Hill took it a step further earlier this year. Just as All My Children sold perfume from the show in stores and Katie Peretti's book Oakdale Confidential made it onto real bookstore shelves, a soundtrack that was organized and put together online was released in the consumer's world. And, what's better, the album--a benefit for breast cancer on the show--is an actual benefit for breast cancer as well, with a portion of the proceeds for this, the show's second soundtrack, going to breast cancer research and awareness.

The soundtrack was a joint venture for One Tree Hill and The WB Network (now merged into the CW Network), the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and sponsor Sunkist. The goal of the project, according to a press release from the National Breast Cancer Foundation, "is part of an ongoing project for awareness and early detection" to help promote breast cancer awareness to fans.

Called Friends with Benefit, the soundtrack was released back in February.

Erin McMaster with Blogcritics Magazine writes that "those who watch the show will definitely enjoy it, as the album is put together by artists who are heard, and sometimes appear as guest stars, on One Tree Hill. And unlike so many TV soundtracks out there, every track reflects the emotions and feel of One Tree Hill in such a way that it truly is a successful soundtrack."

She also points out that one of the character's clothing lines on the show, Clothes Over Bros, was really selling pink T-shirts with the Friends with Benefit logo on it as well. The promotion also included a tour of major cities.

October 29, 2006

The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness

In a research group that consistently publishes on the ways in which new media technologies are impacting the way that users are interacting with content, the ways in which producers are making that content available, and the new financial models that companies are able to/forced to create to accommodate for these new technologies, few innovative products have had more of an impact on our society than the iPod.

The iPod innovated the music industry, distribution of music videos, the television industry, and now movies and casual games.

To commemorate this massive cultural reach, Newsweek journalist Steven Levy has published The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness.

I was impressed with the the book's design to look like a video iPod, as well as the fact that the book is written in shuffle mode, with the chapters being arranged in different order depending on which version you purchase. Gimmicky? Sure. But it's a pretty darn creative gimmick.

I haven't read the book yet, but I was impressed by the review by Clayton Collins with The Christian Science Monitor. Collins writes, "Both Apple and Jobs, Levy persuades, continue to emit brilliance, navigating the rocks of digital rights management, morphing the product, winning over fans from rock stars to college kids to preteen girls," and he further emphasizes that "his treatment of shuffle also highlights Levy's remarkable depth of access. Recounting one of many private encounters with unrelenting visionary Steve Jobs, Apple's chief, the author describes a heady chat about the "randomizing algorithm" of shuffle."

For anyone wanting a sample of some of Levy's insight, check out his blog on the iPod promoting the book here.

October 24, 2006

Weird Al's Gettin' "White and Nerdy"

Reuters, that print news network that has now expanded into Second Life, had a fascinating story on CNN's Web site yesterday about the immense success of Weird Al Yankovic's newest album, Straight Outta Lynwood.

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.

Thanks to David Edery for passing this story along.

October 15, 2006

Review: The Ad and the Ego

I know that the documentary has been out for a while--almost a decade old by now--but I recently watched Harold Boihem's The Ad and the Ego, an academic piece looking to deconstruct the advertising industry and the impact of advertising on American culture and thought. The moment I saw Sut Jhally, I had to battle the urge to dismiss the piece altogether.

As I wrote about last November with Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers and No Logo, I don't these anti-advertising projects are without merit but rather that they overstep their boundaries in any case. I think it is important to remember the way that advertisements are constructed, the intent of advertisers, the pervasiveness of advertising in our lives, etc. But I think many of these attacks on ads become as simple-minded and as misleading as many of the ads and brands they are attacking.

At the time, I wrote:

Although such approaches may be in many ways antithetical to many of the tenets of our labs and our projects, it is important to remember the concerns of the other side, those worried about the effects of branding on culture.

However, what this study ignores, in many parts, is the active ways in which people interact with brands.

In this case, I felt as if I was watching two different documentaries with The Ad and the Ego, the first half of which was of the worst kind of scare tactics and intellectual posturing against corporate media, the second of which was much more nuanced, for the most part, in looking particularly at the automotive industry and particular ways in which their ads lead to a culture of fuel consumption that would be extremely dangerous if multiplied globally--and is already quite dangerous, not for short-term profits but for long-term sustainability of natural resources. Also, their complaint about personal presentation and P.R. sometimes becoming much more important than actual skill is a point worth noting. I'm sure we've all met a few people who seemed to have gotten where they are by image alone.

Among the things I noticed in this documentary is that so much of its rhetoric was against the 30-second spot, but I wonder how people feel now that the power of that particular form of advertising diminishes? Are forms of organic product placement as dangerous, according to these cultural critics? I can see how they might bring up its pervasiveness, an invisibility that extends far beyond the reach of the 30-second spot, but it is also much less of a direct emotional appeal when compared to 30-second commercials designed to scare someone into thinking they need a product, which tended to be their major critique.

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October 14, 2006

Book Worth Looking At--Global Entertainment Media

For those interested in the global flow of popular culture, I recently read a review of a book that is relevant to the types of issues we write about here at C3, particularly in further examining Henry Jenkins' concept of pop cosmopolitanism and how media properties flow and adapt from culture to culture. Again, since I've not actually read the book, I can't give it my endorsement, but I thought I would pass word along, considering its transnational appeal to understanding mass media and entertainment.

The book, Global Entertainment Media: Content, Audiences, Issues, is edited by Anne Cooper-Chen. American-published, the book nevertheless makes a conscious effort not to include the U.S. as one of the 10 countries studied. Tomoko Shimoda, from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, criticizes the lack of focus on the U.S. in any book that intends to look at global entertainment, considering the U.S.'s dominant place in entertainment production. However, his review in the Journal of Popular Culture is largely positive.

I'm a little dubious about the media effects part of the research, but I think the book's focus on cross-national case studies (looking particularly at international events like the Olympics and international distribution of game shows), as well as an in-depth look at the media profiles of each of the 10 countries focused on--the U.K. Germany, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, India, Japan, China, Brazil, and Mexico--could be a learning experience.

Such a grand enterprise as writing one book encompassing the international flow of entertainment is impossible, but for anyone interested in a global entertainment market, the book may well be worth a read, especially since the researchers for each country are either from there or were living there during the time the project was put together.

October 10, 2006

Google Video Strikes Music Video Distribution Deals

Google's purchase of YouTube isn't the only thing making the news for the Internet giant this week, as they also have entered into an agreement with two major music labels to release music videos through the Google Video service. In fact, the blog Toby's Space mentions the irony of these deals being struck for Google Video just as YouTube was purchased by Google, pointing out that Google Video is "a destination that has been utterly dwarfed by now-sister site YouTube."

The plan is to provide dual platforms for audience members, one offering the content on-demand in a pay-per-view format, with each video costing $1.99, set by the iTunes price (which seems like a rip-off when compared to getting an hour television show for the same price), while the other is available for free but accompanied by advertisements that the viewer must watch to view the video.

The plan is to provide a lucrative new stream of advertising for Google, while giving customers another choice to sidestep ads. The structure is similar to Websites which provide a "premium site" free from advertisements, as has The Pro Wrestling Torch, which reports industry news on American wrestling.

The partnership is with Sony BMG and Warner Music Group, with the videos debuting later this month. Both Google and the record labels will share in the profits, and the long-term plan is to make this content available through other Web sites as well, sites that features Google AdSense advertisements. The Sony videos had been available for download since January through the Google Video Store.

In addition, according to their recent statement, the company wants to create copyright-safe places for user-generated content, such as a space that would allow them to create videos using footage from the Google music video repository that can be repurposed and then posted to Google Video. In other words, the company is looking to create ways to do what YouTube does without facing the barrage of lawsuits that have been threatened in the past few months.

Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek writes that "the twin agreements underscore the need for online video destinations to work with content owners," while Rhys Blakely with The London Times foregrounds this decision explicitly against the desire to compete with Apple and the rise of many other players in online offerings of professionally produced content ,including plans for a new YouTube-style competitor featuring professionally produced content from the founders of Skype, entitled "The Venice Project."

Check out Search Engine Journal, a site that follows the developments of companies like Google, as the name would imply, for copies of the individual press releases regarding Sony and Warner.

October 7, 2006

Interesting Book--The Commodification of Childhood

This weekend, I read a review for a book that I thought may be of interest for those who follow the aspects of the media industry we study here at the Convergence Culture Consortium. In our initial formulation of this research group, there was a particularly strong emphasis on what we were referring to as "branding cultures," looking at fan communities as they surround entertainment properties and consumer brands. Although our outlook is much broader than just branding at this point, we retain a strong interest at the marketing process and in finding ways that marketers and consumers can work together to create a media environment in which messages about products and brands get to consumers in ways that are neither manipulative to consumers nor intrusive but which still provides a viable financial model for mass entertainment.

This brings me to the review I found, of Daniel Thomas Cook's The Commodification of Childhood: The Children's Clothing Industry and the Rise of the Child Consumer, written by Cord Scott of the Lincoln Technical Institute in the August 2006 edition of The Journal of Popular Culture. Cook's book, published in 2004, is part of an increasing attempt to understand how the children's market has been created over the past century and normalized in the lifestyles of Americans. Of course, this "commodification of childhood" both has its negative aspects, as your anti-corporate and anti-branding folks would be glad to point out, as well as its benefits, such as the autonomy consumerism has granted to children in so many ways.

Cook, a sociologist, focuses on how clothing brands began to be formulated in the 1910s and the subsequent development of the industry. As Scott points out, branded clothing becomes "truly a visual outlet for children's self-expression, as well as what parents convey to the public about the child's (and the parents') social standing. I'm taking a course this semester on globalization at Harvard University by anthropologist James L. Watson, who points out the major differences this consumerism has made in the Chinese market, with the creation of the much-discussed "Little Emperor" phenomenon.

Scott considers this book "merely a starting point" but says that is well worth looking at, with only 151 pages (although the writing "can be dense at times"). Most interesting to C3's work may be the book's focus on product placement in the early days of the development of branding clothing, including a clothing line under the Shirley Temple brand. And the book has implications for understanding demography as well, as Cook writes that "the codification of children (in age, size, and gender categories) is one aspect of merchandizing that many take for granted, yet little has been written about the phenomenon."

For anyone interested in such issues, the book was published by the Duke University Press in 2004.

Also, be sure to check out this reviews from Harvard Business School by Michael Zakim.

October 1, 2006

FoxFaith Launching First Theater Release with Love's Abiding Joy

Back in April, I wrote a post about the formation and promotion of FoxFaith, the division of the Fox broadcasting company aiming particularly at a Christian niche market. This division includes a lot of famous films in its list, repurposed content that is more family-friendly or considered "classic," such as Oklahoma!, The Grapes of Wrath, and Cheaper by the Dozen...okay so the last one may not be destined for quite as revered a status.

The division has a listing of "family films," "kids films," and "Christian based" films and has already released some titles to DVD (some of which were originally television movies) such as End of the Spear, a story of a man investigating the death of his father and four other missionaries when he was a child; Mother Teresa, a biopic of the famed missionary's life; and Love's Long Journey, a story of a woman's travel to the western frontier. The division lists their offerings as "family and Christian films everyone can enjoy!" and include the stamp of approval from The Dove Foundation, which bills itself as "the reliable symbol of family-friendly entertainment."

However, the big move for their company is their first theater release this month of a film adaptation of Janette Oke's Love's Abiding Joy, focusing on the same protagonist as the earlier DVD release Love's Long Journey.

This Love series foregrounded Oke as a "pioneer" of inspirational fiction, according to her own site, and her first novel sold her one million copies, and her work has been translated into 14 languages and has sold more than 22 million copies worldwide.

FoxFaith, building on its earlier DVD releases and the build-in audience for Oke's product, is hoping to have success launching the new film, set to open Oct. 6 and appearing paticularly in Carmike and AMC theaters.

The hope is to bring in Christian movie viewers who may be turned off by many Hollywood offerings, and the company is hoping to be successful in theater runs as well as straight-to-DVD releases.

The film has another built-in major name in family entertainment, with the director and writer being Michael Landon Jr., whose father has been seen by many as a standard bearer in family television through Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven.

The movie's official site features not only trailers and clips and directions of how to find a theater that is playing it, but it also includes various church resources as well, including Web baners, postcards, and a discussion guide for church groups.

According to the site, this is the first film released by the company into theaters but the fourth of the Love series on film. All of the previous three were written and directed by Michael Landon Jr. as well and "ranked as the 3 highest rated films in the history of the Hallmark channel."

Will that built-in niche audience lead to a successful theater run for Love's Abiding Joy and FoxFaith? We will find out soon...

Thanks to Henry Jenkins IV for passing this along.

August 25, 2006

Friends Talking with Martha Rogers

Joel Greenberg, a senior planner for our corporate partner GSD&M, the Austin-based advertising agency, has a fascinating podcast series for those who have not been following it, focusing specifically on what it calls "the intersection of business, culture, and society."

The Friends Talking podcast features in-depth sit-down interviews with a variety of folks whose ideas have been vital for the understanding of today's convergence culture, including an interview last October with Chris Anderson, the Wired editor who conceived the Long Tail theory.

The latest interview is with Dr. Martha Rogers, who co-created the concept of 1to1 marketing. In the preview, Greenberg discusses how personalized marketing has not been able to make as much headway as it should becuase it doesn't figure well into traditional ideas of return on Investment. However, Rogers' notions toss ROI's to the side in favor of Return on Consumer, with the idea that long-term and more deep investments with consumers result in more than initial ROI.

The question is the same that programmers are facing, when we discuss whether overall impressions have been given too much weight over the years, compared to depth of interaction. There are plenty of studies and ways of demonstrating that more dedicated viewers/listeners/readers are much more valuable than a horde of casuals. A lot of companies are finding that dedicated fans who will follow a media property across multiple platforms are more valuable than just catching more people flipping through channels.

But how can these new types of marketing be justified in changing business strategies? This is what the conversation with Rogers focuses on, as she discusses how 1 to 1 marketing will alter business strategies and make advertising efforts more focused on consumers. In particular, she discusses the ways in which MySpace provides a valuable case study for marketers.

The conversation also focuses on Rogers' new book, Return on Consumer: Creating Maximum Value from Your Scarcest Resource.

For those interested in such questions, be sure to check out the conversation, which is just under 30 minutes.

August 14, 2006

ComicCon & The Power of the Devoted Niche

This is the third part of C3 Media Analyst Ivan Askwith's review of the ComicCon in San Diego that he covered for me recently. I posted this on my blog but thought that it would be relevant here, too, since Ivan is a contributor to this blog. He is beginning work now on a thesis which centers around transmedia and participatory aspects of Lost and Veronica Mars.

In my second dispatch from ComicCon, I tried to illustrate how the studios and networks are already beginning to understand the importance of fan support in the era of convergence culture. And while some executives have a better grasp on the core principles than others, it's fair to say that the entertainment industry are starting to think more seriously about how fans power new business models.

Savvy executives, however, will also realize that ComicCon still has a lot to teach them about the significance of fan support, particularly in economic terms.

Continue reading "ComicCon & The Power of the Devoted Niche" »

August 9, 2006

Building Popular Buzz: What to Do, What Not to Do

This is the second cross-posting from my blog written by Ivan Askwith, a media analyst with the Convergence Culture Consortium, on his experiences at this year's ComicCon in San Diego. Considering that Ivan blogs here from time-to-time, I thought you all might be interested in reading this:

Based on the evidence from this year's ComicCon, the entertainment industry is slowly starting to understand just how important a vocal fandom can be in the success of a new brand or franchise. As I indicated at the end of my last post, this growing comprehension is most evident in the largest "panel events" -- on the ComicCon schedule, this generally means those events held in Ballroom 20, Hall 6CDEF, and Hall H, which can seat anywhere from 2000-6500 spectators. Or, as the industry is learning to think of them, potential advertisers and advocates. Some presentations were more overt than others, but almost all of the largest scheduled events were closer in tone to a high-powered sales pitch than an intimate discussion between fans and creators.

That said, some presenters seem to have a more nuanced understanding of fan behavior than others. As Henry has already discussed, no one is currently cultivating fan participation more effectively, or respectfully, than New Line Cinema, in promotion for Snakes on a Plane. The panel for SoaP came at the end of a longer presentation from New Line, which featured previews of the Final Destination 3 DVD -- interesting insofar as it leverages the rarely-used interactive capabilities of DVD systems to let viewers determine the course of events at pivotal moments -- and the forthcoming Jack Black film, Tenacious D in 'The Pick of Destiny'. But the audience and presenters both knew that these were diversions from the main attraction: as the discussion about Tenacious D wrapped up, the energy in the crowd became palpable, and when panel host Kenan Thompson finally spoke the words -- "Snakes On A Plane" -- the audience erupted with enthusiasm and applause.

Continue reading "Building Popular Buzz: What to Do, What Not to Do" »

August 2, 2006

Ivan Went to Comicon and All I Got Was a Lousy Photograph of T-Shirts

The title says it all. I've been wanting to go to Comicon for years now but once again, I didn't get to go. I sent C3 media analyst Ivan Askwith to be my eyes and ears at the event. I originally posted this on my blog but thought it would be relevant here as well since Ivan is a contributor to this blog. PIctures from the convention are available on my site.

This is the first of an unspecified number of blog posts he's writing about his experiences there. Here's what he had to report:

Continue reading "Ivan Went to Comicon and All I Got Was a Lousy Photograph of T-Shirts" »

July 20, 2006

The Lost Experience - Act II

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.

Continue reading "The Lost Experience - Act II" »

July 13, 2006

Are Games Art? Wii, I Mean, Oui!

I originally posted this on my blog a couple of weeks ago but thought it would be relevant to the C3 blog as well, considering a post here about video game criticism from Alec Austin a few weeks ago. I've posted followup entries about video game criticism since the article, which will be linked at the end of this piece.

The issue of whether videogames can be considered art is a recurring one whenever gamers gather. Esquire's Chuck Klosterman has reignited the discussion this summer with a provocative discussion of why video games have attracted so few serious critics:

I realize that many people write video-game reviews and that there are entire magazines and myriad Web sites devoted to this subject. But what these people are writing is not really criticism. Almost without exception, it's consumer advice; it tells you what old game a new game resembles, and what the playing experience entails, and whether the game will be commercially successful. It's expository information. As far as I can tell, there is no major critic who specializes in explaining what playing a given game feels like, nor is anyone analyzing what specific games mean in any context outside the game itself. There is no Pauline Kael of video-game writing. There is no Lester Bangs of video-game writing. And I'm starting to suspect there will never be that kind of authoritative critical voice within the world of video games...

Let's suspend for a moment the question of whether he's right about this: there is an emerging academic field of games studies; there are a growing number of serious books which discuss the aesthetics of video and computer games (maybe this is a good place for me to plug an excellent recent book by Nic Kellman); there are some pretty good discussions of the art of game design at Gamasutra and some good game criticism at Game Critics; and ahem, Kurt Squire and I write a regularly monthly column over at Computer Games Magazine (which as far as I can see nobody out there reads.)

Given all of that, I suspect Klosterman is still correct that games have produced many more great artists so far than great critics and nobody speaks with the authority of a Lester Bangs or a Pauline Kael about this medium.

Kael (in film) and Bangs (in music) were critics who could identify important new artists and trends. A significant number of people would give these emerging artists a chance on the basis of their critical endorsement. Kael and Bangs were thus able to provide some minimal support for experimentation and innovation. Right now, given all of the market forces that are crushing innovation in the games industry, we need every counter pressure we can find to promote diversity and experimentation.

Continue reading "Are Games Art? Wii, I Mean, Oui!" »

July 10, 2006

The Convergence Newsletter

Ivan Askwith, one of my fellow media analysts here at the Convergence Culture Consortium, directed my attention to a publication called The Convergence Newsletter, published through the University of South Carolina and originally based on the university's famed Newsplex. Now, however, the newsletter has expanded to be a driving force behind important questions regarding journalistic integrity driving multi-platform news delivery.

This discussion about transmedia delivery of news in journalism, especially in converged newsrooms, has branched off of a May column by Ed Wasseman in the Miami Herald. Wasseman said that questions about convergence in journalism are being answered by "the technies, the brand managers, the publishers, the marketers," but that the journalists needed to be the ones deciding where convergence needs to go not to raise profit margins and to create interesting marketing opportunities but to better deliver the product.

This spurned a variety of discussion in the newsletter, with professionals and educators from around the country weighing in on the debate started by Wasseman. The editors of the newsletter describe an evolution of opinion over the past few years from convergence as an experiment to convergence as an element of everything that journalists do--an important part of the new media landscape.

However, many of the professional journalists who have (very insightful) pieces in the newsletter respond to Wasseman's claims at convergence as being a potential disaster for journalism and the media, as if it were some flash-in-the-pan experiment. The problem is that people are viewing convergence as some corporate-driven drive for watering down media content when multi-platform journalism, done correctly, creates a vareity of pieces that, when working together, greatly expands coverage instead of limiting it.

Maybe I'm just ill-equipped to understand Wasseman's point, since our Comparative Media Studies department does not recognize the fundamental divisions among all the groups of people Wasseman indicates when it comes to conversations about convergence. I don't think we have an issue where journalists aren't currently at the table.

That being said, of course there are people who think only of the bottom line instead of what creates the best product--but what industry is that not true in? However, to put a cap on the idea of convergence simply becuase its sometimes misused in practice is severely limiting the potential of multi-platform coverage.

And, sure, the concern that convergence will just lead to more work for the same number of journalists is a concern. As I've written about before, at weekly newspapers with extremely small staffs, the only way that convergence can happen is often if the same number of people take on even more responsibilities--but many of these journalists are doing radio shows or television appearances, keeping up a Web site, etc., becuase they believe that they are giving their readers better coverage for it, even if there really isn't the ideal staff size to sustain converged coverage. And the new media tools available are allowing more and more voices to get into the mix of journalism, with grassroots bloggers and non-traditional podcasters and Web sites sometimes scooping the major media.

But just becuase economic realities pose problems for a concept doesn't mean that the concept should be abandoned. The current newsletter provides five interesting editorials on the issues of convergence, many of which are direct responses to the Wasseman column. They provide nuanced takes on what multiplatform journalism means for the group of people interested in content and journalism integrity.

July 7, 2006

Songs from the Capeman

This past month, my favorite musical artist--Paul Simon--released his latest album, Surprise. In preparation for the new album, I began going back through my Paul Simon collection to listen to his last two albums--which I had downloaded on my iPod but never listened to in full.

While his last work--the 2000 You're the One--had several tracks on it that have become favorites of mine, I had always skipped most of the songs from Songs from The Capeman when they popped up on my iPod...they just didn't make much sense on their own.

Then I listened to the album as a whole, and I gained a new appreciation for the work. But this blog isn't meant to be simply a recommendation for the merits of Paul Simon's music--my point is that Songs from the Capeman is a perfect example of an album that actually works as an album, as opposed to most other Paul Simon CDs--or anyone else's.

The album consists of various numbers from Simon's ill-fated Broadway production The Capeman, which lost $11 million and tanked on stage due to a variety of bad reviews. However, the reviews never attacked Simon's music, and the CD shines as a storytelling device. Of course most of the tracks didn't mean much on their own when you divide them up on shuffle, but the album--when I listened to it as a whole--told a compelling and multifaceted perspective on the true story of the life of convicted murderer Salvador Agron, who was the leader of a Puerto Rican gang called The Vampires and who murdered two boys in Hell's Kitchen.

Again, while the stage musical may have not gone well, the CD works as a fairly cohesive storytelling device on its own. And it's one of the rare cases where purchasing a whole album not only makes sense but is almost essential, since most of the tracks can't be enjoyed in isolation. I know there are other examples of albums that really work only as albums, but this struck me as a reminder that--even with the iTunes drive toward single tracks--that we can't forget that there is still compelling storytelling potential in a full album, even if its a potential rarely utilized by songwriters and record companies.

July 3, 2006

"Welcome to the Jungle of the Real": An Insightful Essay on the Survivor Phenomenon

Independent scholar Christopher J. Wright, author of a book coming out later this month from Lexington Books titled Tribal Warfare: Survivor and the Political Unconscious of Reality Television, gave a preview of his insight on the popular reality show in a poignant essay in the June 2006 installment of The Journal of American Culture.

Wright's essay, "Welcome to the Jungle of the Real: Simulation, Commoditization, and Survivor," details the way in which television shows become not just content to drive marketing but are marketed themselves. This marketing includes the ancillary products that are sold based around the television show, which seem obvious to anyone who has studied the creative industries in great detail, but also--especially--the marketing of the show's past seasons as Survivor progresses and the commoditizing of people who appear on the reality show--as Wright points out, "these days even people can be commodities" (170). I would say "especially" people can be commodities and that it's no recent phenomenon, as the immense amount of scholarship on the marketing of early mass sports stars or Hollywood star images proves.

However, Wright points out the hyperreality of reality television shows, meaning that the line between "real" and "fictional" becomes blurred so that "real" events play into the fictional world. I've found this concept immensely helpful in understanding immersive story world that try to blend reality and fantasy, including both alternate reality gaming (ARGs) and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Thanks to Ben Wright for his Master's thesis study of hyperreality in pro wrestling for helping me solidify those thoughts.

Christopher J.. Wright studies how the repeated process of a Survivor episode both commodifies the past and teaches viewers about the show's rituals, so that the Tribal Council portion of the show that originally seemed comical and absurd to some of the first season's contestants has been so effectively built in the show's production that contestants by the second season felt there was an aura around the contrived event that was created by their own viewing of the first season.

This coincides in the pro wrestling world with the development of the Wrestlemania PPV event. For the first several years, WWE promoters tried to bill Wrestlemania as the most important card of the year, as an event that would transcend time with performances that would be remembered forever. Many of the early wrestlers probably didn't view it as that much more special than other paydays...but, through the years and repeated marketing of the images from the early Wrestlemanias, most of today's performers who grew up as fans watching Wrestlemania have bought into this myth to the point that they themselves see Wrestlemania as a sacred event.

Wright's piece goes on to examine how other reality shows and Survivor itself has effectively built on itself and created the "reality television" genre that remains so prevalent today. He also gives a small amount of space to Survivor spoiler fan communities online.

For those who are interested in reading about how Survivor has developed such a passionate fan following, Henry Jenkins has a chapter dedicated to Survivor spoiler communities in his upcoming book Convergence Culture. But Wright's essay provides some key insights about how Survivor has built its history and its myths that are worth checking out.

June 29, 2006

Madison and Vine Advocates a Drive to Digital Video

According to a news article/commentary yesterday from Advertising Age's Madison and Vine Web site, video consumption online has grown 18 percent over the past seven months, with the average consumer now watching slightly less than 100 minutes of video a month.

The Madison and Vine piece looks at the trend of advertising to follow this trail, with major reallocations of traditional television ad funds now going to new or integrated media. While it isn't surprising that this growth in consumption leads to an influx of advertising revenue supporting online sites with video content, the article highlighted or alluded to a few important implications that greatly affect recent discussions we've had here on this blog:

1.) Transmedia content--With digital streaming poised to become increasingly profitable, those companies who integrate online video content as part of their entertainment package are at a particular advantage. If companies have bonus content available for download or streaming online, they can easily package ad sales that include advertising or sponsorship of both the traditional content and digital content that may become increasingly attractive to advertisers, who would benefit from having a strong association with dedicated fans who follow the product across multiple platforms;

2.) Product placement--As the Madison and Vine article points out, those companies who are paying for product placement now have added incentives, since more and more television shows are becoming available for digital download or streaming. While traditional ads or the ads that run on television are not present in a lot of these digital presentations, all product placements are--indicating that placing products on a show is the smarter investment long-term.

3.) Promotional films--Creating branded video content subtly promoting a product, such as the famed BMW Films campaign, is proving itself to be an attractive option for reaching customers turned off by push advertising. Increased video streaming gives advertisers more of an impetus for creating compelling content that viewers want to stream or download and gives creative independent talents a chance to shine...It's smart marketing and less offensive to commercial-sensitive viewers.

It's hard to find much fault with Madison & Vine's final call--for marketers to "take heed" and take advantage of an audience "hungry for programming." For advertisers and for media content producers, digital video not only provides a chance for revenues and a chance to provide consumers what they want but also makes possible an environment that better enables transmedia content and new forms of storytelling.

Thanks to fellow C3 media analyst Geoffrey Long for directing me to this article.

June 28, 2006

JPC Editorial Reminds Us of Theory's Place

The current issue of The Journal of Popular Culture begins with what I think is an important reminder for academics and an important message for the rest of the world to realize about the academic community. The short piece, written by Gary Hoppenstand from Michigan State University, emphasizes that theories are not there to be proven or to cloud things, make them seem more obscure, but to help make complicated things make sense.

Of course, that's theory in theory. In practice, academics often get caught up in their own verbiage, their own jargon, and their own theories, to the point that theories are only used for theory's sake. And that's what gives academics such a bad name. It's especially scary in media studies, when theory takes precedence over the content to be analyzed, as Hoppenstand points out.

Hoppenstand writes that "academic jargon has a way of somehow making the obvious appear unknowable" (347). For any of you who have ever had any contact with the academic world, you know that this is sadly too often the case. When ideas are judged on their obscurity and their insularity, it just serves to distance the people who study our culture further and further from that culture ourselves. Sure, there might be some degree of value in objective distance, but not the hierarchical distance that this affords.

Our work with C3, engaging with corporate partners and writing this blog for instance, emphasizes the type of work that Hoppenstand writes about, a work that engages the world and engages the content of popular culture rather than trying to contort it to fit some bizarre theory that might make us famous in academic circles. If the object of theory is to know something better or to provide greater undersatnding about a subject, we shouldn't be afraid to engage content producers, to engage media fans and to engage the public at large about issues. In other words, we can't be afraid to make our theory accessible, to let people criticize and perhaps even disprove our theories, even if those people are...gasp...not "academics!"

Academia is facing some of the same problems that journalism is, as written about in Dan Gillmor's We the Media, where bloggers are being perceived as competition by professional journalists. When "amateur philosophers" are given a chance to interact with academics and engage in conversations with academics, how can we smart people prove that we're smart anymore...what if people realize that everyday people aren't dumb? Obviously, I'm stereotyping the academic community, but of course there is some degree of this sentiment.

Theory does have its place. In Henry Jenkins' and William Uricchio's classes on media theory, we have discussed the importance of theory in detail. Everyone is a theorist, as putting together "ways of knowing," as Hoppenstand puts it (347), is a part of understanding and functioning in life. But we need to keep theory in its place, use it as a tool, a means to an end, not as the end itself. Then, our colleagues in the corporate world, in fan communities, and in the general public might be able to engage with us on issues.

I wanted to commend Dr. Hoppenstand for his outstanding short mission statement at the beginning of June's JPC and hope that it serves as a continued drive to making academic discourse a conversation for all, focused around trying to know our popular culture better instead of just participating in insulated academic exercises.

June 27, 2006

A Non-Media Lifestyle--Eliminating the Mass Media from One's Life

When we think of people who don't participate in watching/reading/listening to the mass media in our culture, we often think about the anti-commercial activists, the highbrow critics, conservative censors, and (overly) concerned parents. It's easy to forget about a significant segment of American society, however, who willingly choose to ignore the media to mainstain their lifestyle, a group of people commonly grouped together as "plain people"--the Mennonites, the Amish, and the Brethren. These three groups of people, in varying degrees depending on the particular community, distrust media use among the members of their society.

The head of our consortium, Henry Jenkins, was quoted as saying, tongue-in-cheek, that not allowing a child to participate in media consumption was a form of child abuse in a media-saturated society in which people communicate through and by talking about the mass media. Yet, here we have a group of people who say that it is not just the content funneled through a medium but the very media forms themselves that serve to disrupt their way of life, which requires being cut off from the rest of society.

Thomas W. Cooper, a professor at Emerson College and cofounder of Media Ethics Magazine, presents an intriguing look at what he calls a "media fast" among these plain people in the latest issue of The Journal of American Culture, entitled "Of Scripts and Scriptures," (pp. 139-153).

The plain people often see surveys and interviewers' questions as invasions of their privacy, so in-depth probing of their view on the media is often hard to receive. On the other hand, it's important to realize that, even in our media-driven country, there are plenty of people who consciously cut themselves off from the mass media industry.

In the June 2006 journal, Cooper provides readers with a review of the history of the plain people and how the groups share similarities yet have distinct differences among them. He also briefly details the history of plain people with mass media technologies, from photography to radio to television to the Internet. He explains the spiritual reasons these people reject the media, often not on form of content, as most social conservatives would, but on the principles of the medium itself.

For instance, many cannot substantiate fictional works because acting is seen as a form of professional lying, and radio and television cannot be trusted because "Satan had been biblically described as 'the Prince of the air.' Further, while most other social conservatives and liberal critics would criticize the mass media for its homogenizing effects, the plain people often distrust the individualizing nature of these media forms, encouraging people to fragment themselves from each other and to quit attending communal events. To these people, letting even some families participate in these media forms can be problematic because the communities are often felt to be a cohesive unit, in which any "antomized individualism" is dangerous (146).

Cooper concludes that, while many of the policies of these communities can be seen as oppressive and narrow-minded, the societies should be commended for avoiding many of the social ills of American society in general and for maintaining their own control of technology.

While Cooper's identification with his research often causes him to be overly sympathetic with the restrictive views of these societies, in my opinion, his essay does provide a valuable look at why these people choose to distance themselves from the media in order to preserve their culture. I remain skeptical about celebrating any culture that attempts to severely restrict the parameters of those who grow up within it in order to retain them as the next generation of that culture, and I find that the mass media can be an important way for people to be exposed to a variety of ideas and cultures, but I did appreciate the opportunity Cooper gives us to better understand why this oft-forgotten group of people choose to live in an insular world.

May 24, 2006

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.

November 27, 2005

Point of Purchase

The 2003 book Point of Purchase was released by Routledge and was written by Sociology Deparmtent of Brooklyn College.

As with Branded, the book attempts to study the current pattern of consumption in America today and what might be driving this desire to constantly own and consume.

Marshall Fishwick, who is a retired professor of interdisciplinary studies at Virginia Tech and a pioneer in popular culture studies, reviewed the book for the September 2005 edition of The Journal of American Culture, praising what is a macro study of the compulsive consumption phenomenon in America.

However, once again, it appears the work looks at the advertising process and commercialism from a perspective that puts all of the power in the hands of the advertisers, with the drive for consuming becoming an obsession for customers who are ultimately not fulfilled by their constant rate of purchasing.

As with its predecessors, this book demonstrates the current lack of understanding of fan communities and the empowerment fans receive from these brands and properties.

Fans have gained many new ways and avenues to demonstrate their power through their use of brands in fan communities, whether that be fan fiction, discussion boards or clubs, videos, parodies, or the endless other ways fans have gained in power, sometimes much to the chagrin of companies who are uneasy with what fans might want to do with their copyrighted material.

Books such as Point of Purchase, despite their potential merits, demonstrate the lack in most analytical works at this point to look at fan communities in a meaningful way.

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