I don't want to rehash the back and forth (some thoughtful opinions here, here, and here), except to say that I empathize with Gladwell's frustration, I really do, but I think that his push-back isn't particularly illuminating or necessary. It's true that some of the over-emphasis on the role of social media runs the risk of overshadowing more considered analysis of the historical context and implications of what happened in Egypt. And I have to admit that seeing some of the twitter and foursquare jokes made me bristle with annoyance briefly (not because they were making light of the situation, but because they made light of the privilege we had, as media and communications professionals in the US, in being able to be cute about it all). Maybe its a function of my youthful optimism, but I think Gladwell does a disservice in validating these strawmen as something worth arguing against.
For me, claims that social media brought forth the revolution in Egypt exist so deep within a territory of techno-narcissism that isn't really even worth refuting. And it's not unexpected -- these technologies are still relatively new. We're still trying to sort out what they can do. If we look at early film and TV criticism, so much focused on the "how" over the "why" in the same way that Gladwell laments, and it didn't prevent the "why" (and the "what") from dominating the discourse as the novelty wore off.
But more importantly, I think his arguments about social media not being relevant to revolutions makes the same awkward assumption as the claims that facebook changed Egypt: that what's compelling about what happened online has everything (or anything) to do with Egypt per se. Maybe because I think of them as dramatically important in totally different arenas, I don't see the emphasis on one or the other in competition with one another for column pixels. Because something significant did happen on and to social media, but to think it was what twitter and Facebook did (or didn't do) for Egypt is to have things backwards. Twitter didn't happen to Egypt; Egypt happened to twitter and is may be transforming how we think about the role of social media in our lives and communities.
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.
Three Converging Presentations: Digital Migrants, Western Otaku, and Our Google-ized World
At the end of the autumn semester, the Comparative Media Studies department hosted a set of colloquia called Comparative Media Insights. Three of these presentations focused heavily on digital culture and fit neatly into our interests here at the Consortium, so I want to share them (especially since I'm sure all of you are still recovering from the holiday and wouldn't mind a couple intellectual, mid-day breaks).
The first talk is by Lisa Nakamura, a professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. Her presentation, entitled Race, Rights, and Virtual Worlds: Digital Games as Spaces of Labor Migration, focuses on digital migrants, workers who labor in virtual worlds for other virtual world users. A lot of the work is done across transnational networks, such as gold farming in World of Warcraft performed by laborers in China for users in the United States. Lisa argues that in relation to these workers a type of "transnational working class" is being created, and she wishes to point out that these communities of workers provide a different perspective to the cosmopolitan, global, or converged Internet.
You can listen to a podcast of Lisa Nakamura's talk by clicking here or using the embedded player below:
As ICT's become available to new groups of users, notably those from the global South, new social formations of virtual labor, race, nation, and gender are being born. And if virtual world users' claims to citizenship and sovereignty within them are to be taken seriously, so too must the question of "gray collar" or semi-legal virtual laborers and their social relations and cultural identity in these spaces. Just as labor migrants around the globe struggle to access a sense of belonging in alien territories, so too do virtual laborers, many of whom are East and South Asian, confront hostility and xenophobia in popular gaming worlds and virtual "workshops" such as World of Warcraft and Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Do these users have the right to have rights? This presentation considers the affective investments and cultural identities of these workers within the virtual worlds where they labor.
Lisa Nakamura is the Director of the Asian American Studies Program, Professor in the Institute of Communication Research and Media Studies Program and Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. She is the author of Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet (University of Minnesota Press, 2007), Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet (Routledge, 2002) and a co-editor of Race in Cyberspace (Routledge, 2000). She has published articles in Critical Studies in Media Communication, PMLA, Cinema Journal, The Women's Review of Books, Camera Obscura, and the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies. She is editing a collection with Peter Chow-White entitled Digital Race: An Anthology (Routledge, forthcoming) and is working on a new monograph on Massively Multiplayer Online Role playing games, the transnational racialized labor, and avatarial capital in a "postracial" world.
The second presentation is given by Mia Consalvo, a professor at Ohio University and also a visiting professor at MIT. Her talk, Western Otaku: Games Crossing Cultures, examines digital games -- particularly MMORPGs -- as spaces of transnational cultural exchange, places of hybridity formed by cross-cultural contact. She is particularly interested in the relationship between Japanese and American gamers, both in how the industry impacts transnational reception and in how players interact with each other across languages.
Mia's talk comes in convenient video podcast form below:
But you can also listen to the audio-only version of the podcast here:
From Nintendo's first Famicom system, Japanese consoles and videogames have played a central role in the development and expansion of the digital game industry. Players globally have consumed and enjoyed Japanese games for many reasons, and in a variety of contexts. This study examines one particular subset of videogame players, for whom the consumption of Japanese videogames in particular is of great value, in addition to their related activities consuming anime and manga from Japan. Through in-depth interviews with such players, this study investigates how transnation fandom operates in the realm of videogame culture, and how a particular group of videogames players interprets their gameplay experience in terms of a global, if hybrid, industry.
Mia Consalvo is a visiting associate professor in the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. She is the author of Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames and is co-editor of the forthcoming Blackwell Handbook of Internet Studies.
The final presentation (and my favorite of the bunch) is given by Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor at the University of Virginia. He talks about The Googlization of Everything, a point in the convergence of real and digital culture by one company: Google. Phrased in one of William Uricchio's questions during the Q&A, in its attempt to "informationize" the world, Google has had to face "the pushback of culture." As I wrote earlier this week, Siva argues that on top of being its users, we act as Google's product. Our concerns over privacy (Google Maps' problems photographing Japan), property (Google Book Search scanning), and pride (transforming ourselves into Google's "data") therefore conflict with our understanding of ourselves as the customer versus the product.
Google seems omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. It also claims to be benevolent. It's no surprise that we hold the company to almost deific levels of awe and respect. But what are we really gaining and losing by inviting Google to be the lens through which we view the world? This talk will describe Siva Vaidhyanathan's own apostasy and suggest ways we might live better with Google once we see it as a mere company rather than as a force for good and enlightenment in the world.
Siva Vaidhyanathan, cultural historian and media scholar, is currently associate professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia.
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.
International Development Enterprises India: Can a Mobile Cinema Truck Be a Transmedia Extension? (Part 1 of 2)
So, can a park bench be a transmedia extension? I would vote yes -- at least in this case. It may be a small piece of a larger system of information about the film but it moves beyond simple branding and already situates us emotionally and intellectually inside the fiction.
If people see a picture of mine and then sit down and talk about it for 15 minutes, that is a very fine reward, I think. That's good enough for me.
Billy Wilder, Film Director (Sunset Boulevard & Double Indemnity)
Building on Prof. Jenkins recent entry on District 9 and transmedia in the first week of the inaugural offering of his Transmedia Storytelling & Entertainment class at USC (full text available here), his discussion reminds me that it is a false assumption that the opportunity to 'situate' the audience and fan community "emotionally and intellectually inside the fiction" always occurs prior to the release of a film or television show.
The introduction to the site is here and a summary of the key points of the interview can be found here.
Xiaochang: How did you come to decide on an add-supported monetization model rather than a subscription model?
Suk Park: Given our research on the existing illegal platforms, the issue was about capturing market share. It seems unrealistic to come out with a pay-per-view model, which was the other alternative, when all this content was being offered for free. So the best approach to capture market-share fast, and away from the free sites seemed to be to offer an equally free site, but with much higher quality and a better user experience to get our brand out. Now does that mean that going forward we might or might not include a premium site without ads? That's still to be discussed. But given what we're seeing in the market, we've adapted our business model according to that.
Seung Bak: Let me just add to that -- I think over time we will offer a variety of ways for people to consume this content because there's a bunch of people who want to watch for free and will watch ads, and there's a lot of people who want to will pay for it without ads, and it's just a function of us trying to figure out how we can provide packages and offerings with people in a variety of spectrums. The real costs associated with different sorts of models -- it doesn't have to be an either/or kind of thing. The right answer is probably something in between and something we have to figure out in the coming months.
Suk Park: One thing's for sure: we will not get rid of our free offering.
Seung Bak: Yes, there will always be a substantial free offering. This is not a bait-and-switch game. We're trying to build a real destination site, and there's always going to be a free component. But there might be an opportunity for us to create some premium offerings that complement what we have.
Xiaochang: So coming out of beta, what sort of tactics will you be taking to get the word out about Dramafever?
Seung Bak: Let me just recap what we've been doing. As I'm sure you've noticed, our first priority was engaging the early adopters. The early adopters are people who are going to dramabeans and they other sorts of blogs and going to d-addicts and consuming on mysoju and so forth. Our main priority in the beta phase was to make sure that the site works perfectly. So right now, we still have some kinks to work out, there's lot of little things we have to fix and we're also developing new features so that the site will be more robust than what we have now. We're also trying to line up some anchoring sponsors to go with the initial launch. So there's a lot of moving pieces that we have right now. But I think that the goal is to have a very PR-driven campaign. So in the early phase, in the beta phase, there was a lot of working with the niche fan-oriented blogs. When we officially launch, we're going to engage a lot of the mainstream blogs and the mainstream blogs and the mainstream media to really kick it off with a big bang. I think the thing that we're getting right is that we got to make sure that we have a very good user experience and we reply to every single feedback that we get from people, which I think is unheard of. I think if you try to write mysoju and email, they probably never get back. WE're offering people a very high level of service even though it's a very free site. We're actively engaging the users and actively engaging the community and I think we're just going to build on that as we move toward our formal launch.
Xiaochang: Out of curiosity, how many people are you right now?
Seung Bak: There's a core team of 5 people: Suk and myself, and we have a CTO, and a developer and a graphic designer. And then we have an additional group of 10 people who are helping us in different freelance and consulting capacities who bring in different skill-sets. Some could be finance, some could be on licensing and sales or more strategic stuff. So, a fully staffed team and we'll just get bigger and bigger as we go along.
Xiaochang: Okay, one last question, which about the community you're planning on building. How do you see this community on your site as any way different than the communities that are on the sites like d-addicts that are already built elsewhere that are already talking about this content? What's going to make them want to do the same thing on your site?
Seung Bak: I mean, if you just look at the web in general, it's not a zero-sum game. Just because you have a community about a particular subject doesn't mean that no one else could have it. The approach that we're taking is that we're not trying to become d-addicts nor are we trying to become mysoju or soompie or any of these other existing places where people are hanging out. What we're doing is that we're hoping to ultimately compliment the sort of ecosystem of Asian entertainment in this country, so the features that we're building are very dramafever centric -- they'll be around the dramas that we carry, they'll be around the way people are experiencing content. It'll be around stuff that we're creating for people. So, we're not going to go out and create a wiki because that's already being very well addressed by d-addicts, and the people who are going to d-addicts are also our audience members and the people who are running it are potentially our friends and our partners. So when we talk community, we're talking offering features unique to our site.
The 4th installment of my interview with the founders of Dramafever.com delves into their relationship with fans and efforts to fulfill what they viewed as a clear market need. Of particular interest is the discussion on how they select content based on observing audience-enagement on fan-driven sites and the site's success in collaborating with the fansubbing community.
I've been thinking a lot recently on audiences and audienceship, and what it means for media audiences and the communities they form when being part of an audience can increasingly involve collaborating on the (re)production, distribution, and curation of content.
One of the sites that for me really begins to touch upon the participatory potential of new media audienceship is Viikii.net, a collaborative translation and subtitling platform for streaming video that distributes that tasks of translating television shows and other media from around the world across an entire community of users.
Xiaochang and I just got back from Turner Networks where we did a presentation on spreadability and many other convergence culture-y things. One of the first requests we received was to address the issue of transmedia narratives across borders, in my case, specifically across Latin America. My first, very silly, reaction was to say "sorry guys, there is nothing there" and then proceeded to obsessively look for evidence to prove me wrong. Of course, there is much transmedia storytelling in Latin America, I just hadn't read these properties as such. In these two posts, I'd like to share with you the three cases I presented to our partners in Atlanta.
First, "El Chavo del Ocho" (The Kid from Apartment 8), this sitcom grew out of a comedy sketch in 1971. It tells the story of an homeless boy that lives in a barrel in the middle of a low-income housing complex surrounded by un-empathic yet comedic children and adults. The children are all played by adults and in fact Roberto Gomez, the show's creator and protagonist, played "El Chavo" until his mid-sixties when he thought it might be "grotesque" to play a boy.
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.
Here then is part 3 of the full interview transcript with Seung Bak and Suk Park, the founders of the Asian Media streaming site Dramafever.This section deals with issues of audience measurement and engagement metric, as well as the challenges and opportunities licensed online video platforms face in light of the many unofficial sources of content out there.
Part 1 and part 2 of the interview are available, and the rest will be up soon.
Here then is part 2 of a multipart full interview transcript with Seung Bak and Suk Park, the founders of the Asian Media streaming site Dramafever. In this section, Seung and Suk talk about surprising audience demographics that reveal that the audience for Korean dramas might be more broad and more diverse in the US than previously imagined by the Broadcast networks.
Part 1 of the interview was posted last week. Keep an eye out for more of the interview in coming weeks as I get around to transcribing the recording.
And again, for an introduction to this case check here and a summary of the key points of the interview can be found here.