Are You Hep to That Jive?: The Fan Culture Surrounding Swing Music

When Sue Turnbull (a scholar who has written very interesting work on murder mysteries, their female readers and writers) asked me to be the outside reader on a PhD dissertation being written by one of her students at LaTrobe University (in Melbourne, Australia), on contemporary swing dance, I was resistant at first, insisting that I knew little or nothing about the scholarly literature around dance. Sue pushed me harder, suggesting that this project had much more to do with my own work than I might imagine, and being a trusting sort, I agreed to read the work, satisfied in having made my own lack of credentials clear, intrigued by why she was pushing so hard, and a bit pleased to be reading something on swing since I am a closset enthusiast of the new Swing revival (though I certainly can’t do the Lindy Hop to save my life.)

Thus, Sam(antha) Carroll entered my life. Carroll’s dissertation did indeed fascinate me — it is frankly some of the best work by a graduate student in cultural studies I have read in some time. She draws not just on the literature in performance studies on popular dance traditions in America but it also shows a deep familiarity with cultural studies work on fan appropriations and transformations on media content as well as work in digital studies on virtual and online communities. She captures the world of swing dance culture — from the inside out — and traces it across multiple media channels, showing how their lives online are connecting to their physical encounters in geographic space, and especially exploring how they trade video clips of obscure dance performances which become core resources in the development of their own performance repertoires. And, hey, the dissertation came with its own dvd of amazing clips — and you could dance to it!

I felt that some of her work would be of great interest to readers of this blog given our ongoing discussions of various fan cultures, of the ways digital media is transforming traditional cultural practices, and of the poetics and politics of remixing media content. (And to add to my pleasure, she writes about Hellzapoppin’, a much beloved film in my household, and one which I regularly assign to graduate students in our program.) Even if, like me, you think this may be outside your field of interest, think again and give it a closer look.

The following entry was written specifically for this blog by Sam Carroll. I asked her to give us some more biographical data and here’s what she wrote:

Sam Carroll has just completed her Phd at LaTrobe University in Melbourne, Australia. In that doctoral thesis she discussed contemporary swing dancers and their use of digital media in embodied practice – or, in other words, what dancers do with computers. In addition to writing about dancing (and computers), Sam also likes dancing very much. And watching footage of dancing on her computer. She began learning lindy hop in 1999 in Brisbane, but found the swing dancing community an excellent complement to academic life when she moved to Melbourne in 2001 to pursue a postgraduate degree – less writing, more dancing. Sam is now trying to learn as many authentic jazz routines from the 1930s and 40s as possible. Her progress is more a performance of fandom than an embodiment of elite fan knowledge.


This is a clip of the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers dancing a Big Apple routine (choreographed by Frankie Manning) in the 1939 film Keep Punchin’. In the last section of this clip they dance lindy hop on a ‘social dance floor’.

And here’s footage of dancers in the US dancing the same routine in 2006.

If you follow this link you can listen to the Solomon Douglas Swinged playing the same song on their recent album.

Both dancers and musicians have painstakingly transcribed what they see and hear in that original 1939 clip.

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A Second Look at Second Life

A few weeks ago, I posted here about the debate surrounding Second Life which was triggered by a high-profile critique of the popular multiverse by longtime cyber-pundit Clay Shirky. After corresponding with Shirky and with my colleague Beth Coleman, it was decided that we would offer some new statements about this controversy across our three blogs today and respond to each other’s posts in about a week’s time. We also agreed that we would post links to the other posts through our sites which would help readers navigate between the various positions. So, if you want to read the latest by Clay Shirky, you can find it here and if you want to read the latest by Beth Coleman, you can find it here. (These links will only go live once I know the other material is up on line.) None of us have had a chance so far to review what the others will say so I anticipate that the first round will mostly be a restating of or clarification of our previous positions.

Clay’s arguments rest on the following claims:

1.Claims about Second Life’s user base have been dramatically overstated because the focus has been on the number of people who try out the multiverse rather than on those who return regularly. As he explains, “Someone who tries a social service once and bails isn’t really a user any more than someone who gets a sample spoon of ice cream and walks out is a customer.”

A lot of effort has been put into debunking Clay’s analysis of the numbers by writers such as Joel Greenberg

and Prokofy Neva. Frankly, my interest in Second Life has little to nothing to do with the statistical dimensions of this argument. I’ve never been one who felt that arguments about cultural change could be reduced to counting things.

I certainly agree that we should be concerned if the press’s interest in Second Life is fueled by inflated numbers but I also recognize that these numbers give only a partial indication of the level and kinds of investments people make in these worlds, that Second Life may have cultural importance even for people who have never been there because it embodies a particular model of civic participation and cultural production.

The numbers matter if we are asking whether Second Life represents “the future of the web” but personally, I have never believed that SL is going to be a mass movement in any meaningful sense of the term. As I stated last time, I do not buy the whole nonsense that immersive worlds represent web 3.0 and will in any way displace the existing information structures that exist in the web, any more than I think audio-visual communications is going to replace written communications anytime soon. If nothing else, the ability to scan through text quickly gives it an efficiency that will not be replaced by more “technically advanced” solutions which are more time consuming to produce and to consume. I am pretty sure that the value of the web/net lies in asynchronous communications and that real time interactions — whether we are talking 3d or skype — will always represent a special class of uses which competes not with the web but with other teleconferencing technologies. Most of us will find uses for virtual worlds one of these days; most of us will not “live” there nor will we conduct most of our business there.

I do not even think that Second Life represents the future of multiplayer games — it represents one end of a spectrum of player experiences which maximizes player generated content and minimizes the prestructured experiences we associate with most computer games. World of Warcraft represents the other end of that spectrum and so far, that model draws more customers. My own ideal lays perhaps some place in the middle. As such, this becomes a debate not about affordances but about the desirability of professional entertainment versus the pleasures of participatory culture. It also becomes an exercise in mapping what some have described as the pyramid of participation in which the harder it is to create content, the higher the percentage of participants who will chose to consume content someone else has produced. What’s striking to me is not that so many people still prefer to consume professionally generated content (it has always been thus) but what a growing percent of people are willing to consume amateur content and what a smaller but still significant percentage of people are willing to generate and share content they produced themselves. Second Life interests me as a particular model of participatory culture.

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Front Line Perspective on the Boston Games Jam

Earlier this month, The Education Arcade played host to the first Boston Game Jam. Dan Roy, a CMS master’s student, who has been working on the Labrynth project through the Education Arcade and is currently doing his thesis on the models of learning and reward underlying multiplayer game design, offered to share with us some of his perspectives of the event. What follows is his account of what happened when you put a bunch of creative game designers — both professionals and students — in a room for a weekend with the goal of testing the limits of their medium. (Personally, I am waiting to see Game Jam turned into a reality series not unlike Project Runway!)

Boston Game Jam

by: Dan Roy

It’s 9 a.m. on Saturday and about 15 professional video game developers from the Boston area are taking their seats in The Education Arcade lab at MIT. They’ve come alone or in teams of two for the first annual Boston Game Jam, armed with ideas for games involving the Jam’s theme of “shifting.” They are programmers, designers, artists, and musicians, and they’ve committed the next 36 hours of their lives to making experimental games. Though developing games is work and they do it every day, there’s something special in the air this Saturday. It’s an opportunity to leave behind the pressures of the game industry, with its years-long development cycles, escalating budgets, increasing team sizes and specialization, sequelitis, and publisher-developer tensions.

Once upon a time, a single crackerjack programmer or a team of three could bestow their unique vision of gaming on the world with only a few months of work. Development cycles were short. Genres were undefined. Risk was low and creativity was high. The trend in the ensuing decades has moved away from all of this. We’ve reached the point as an industry where failure on a project costing tens of millions of dollars means lots of lost jobs and maybe a shuttered business or two. In that environment, publishers rely on proven intellectual property and remaking established genres to meet their quarterly targets. When publishers hold the money and the IP, contracted developers have little choice but to live hand to mouth. One missed milestone or delayed contract could be the end for such a developer with no savings.

In addition to the rising budgets and reduced financial risk-taking, individual employees find themselves working on more and more specialized tasks. This assembly line model stifles a lot of creativity. The benefits of feeling like you are part of something bigger than yourself are offset by lack of control over the direction of the project.

And so, these game developers gather at MIT to seize back their creative control. They’ve come with plans for games they would like to make entirely by themselves. The programmers are no longer just graphics coders or physics coders or tools coders or artificial intelligence coders. They now hold the grand vision of the game, as well is the responsibility for wearing hats normally left to others.

By noon, everyone had settled in with his project and was making steady progress. Max McGuire in particular seemed ahead of the game, as he already had something playful-looking up on his screen. At a game jam, one can always step away from his computer, wander around the room, and become inspired by the ideas and energy of all the other auteurs. A casual observer would notice that screens full of code intermittently give way to intriguing visual representations of progress.

Later in the day, Jam organizer Darius Kazemi warned us that if we didn’t have something playable by this evening, we were in bad shape. A couple of teams took this opportunity to step back from their original visions and refocus on something more practical. However, a surprising number of projects were right on track. It seemed we had scoped our projects well to not fall into the common trap of taking on too much.

After dinner, some participants started to call it quits for the day and head home. As the coordinator of the Jam facilities at MIT, I resolved to stay in the lab until everyone was finished. I was quite tired when I walked home at 5 a.m. As most people who have ever been excited about a project can tell you, there are good and bad kinds of sleepy. The energy that I took from the group and from my own creative process had not yet dissipated, and even as I lay in bed exhausted I found my mind eagerly bounding between the possible features I could implement the following day.

That following day began three hours later. In my exhaustion, I must have set my alarm incorrectly, because I was awakened by the ringing of my cell phone. When I arrived at the lab to punch in the door’s security code there was already a line of antsy developers. I felt guilty for standing in the way of their work, even early on a Sunday morning.

As the clock drew closer to the 6 p.m. deadline, the entire room tightened its focus. As time ticked features a way, developers became even more earnest to preserve what they could of their initial visions. You could hear the whir of productivity, punctuated by semi-sarcastic exclamations from Al Reed like, “I just realized I don’t know how to program.” Kent Quirk and his son/teammate Lincoln also had their moments, like when they both leaned in close to the

screen and simultaneously grunted. “Huh?” and “Hmm.”

Darius stopped us all precisely at six, and we gathered around the projector to present the creative gold we had mined all weekend with our pickax keyboards (handy tools, those). Max McGuire had managed to conjure up a respectable competitor to Will Wright’s forthcoming game Spore, in which you take creatures from their basest existence through the height of civilization and into outer space. The core mechanic is shifting terrain up and down. Impressive, and as fun to watch as to play.

Eric Rosenbaum and Jonah Elgart created a game around shifting rhythms, redirecting streams of beats to create a symphony or cacophony of precautions and notes. It seems like a great game if I could just figure out how to play it.

Philip Tan, who has been flying back and forth between MIT and Singapore for half a year as he sets up an international game lab called GAMBIT, made a game about jetlag. In it, players must manage passengers’ moods so that they’re in peak state when they hit the ground (hopefully softly). The whole room had listened earlier in the day as Philip recorded the voiceovers for the flight attendants. It was definitely the fifth take of “Coffee, tea, or soda?” where the humor of the flight attendant’s annoyance finally came through.

Kent and Lincoln Quirk made the only 3D game of the Jam, in which players shift an avatar between conveyor belts to reach the center of a maze. The tricky part was that if you stayed on the conveyor belt long enough, you would flip over with it… to the dark side.

Al Reed and Alex Rice somehow overcame Al’s inability to program, creating a Mario Brothers type game called Squish in which players hop from platform to platform shoving boxes around in an attempt to crush each other. The only explicitly multiplayer game of the Jam, it clearly showed off the potential of humor in social interactions. The hilarity of watching Al’s stick figure accidentally squish itself cannot be denied.

Darius, who had originally planned to not make a game and only assist others, had found himself twiddling his thumbs and cranked out a Game Boy Advance game of shifting mazes.

Darren Torpey and David Ludwig created a game about shifting seasons. They made the executive decision that four seasons was far too many, and unilaterally cut it down to two. Personally, I’ll miss fall and spring tremendously and can’t condone their actions.

Geoffrey Long and I (Dan Roy) created a game about shifting perceptions around the diamond industry. Conflict diamonds, or blood diamonds, have been used to fuel terrible violence for years, and I wanted to educate some consumers who might be unaware what their purchase might be funding.

Jim Ingraham and Duncan Watt contributed art and sounds respectively to all of the projects, and they did so valiantly in the face of our common and impending deadline. Duncan in particular knows how to triage.

Most of these game concepts would never have been made if not for an environment like the Boston Game Jam. At least, they never would have been made within the industry model that only makes space for AAA titles. However, there are promising signs that at least some segments of the industry are shifting back to smaller teams, smaller budgets, shorter development cycles, and wackier concepts. Digital distribution helps here tremendously, as do content delivery models like episodic. Chris Anderson’s Long Tail is just regaining prominence in the game industry, and the “hits” of the future may be niche subscription titles. Henry did a number of posts on the rising independent games movement not too long ago that readers may find interesting.

The mood in the Education Arcade lab after giving our presentations was inspired exhaustion. Everyone agreed that they’d like to do the Jam again, with some calling for it every six months instead of annually. Most participants didn’t seem to mind that they had just worked halfway through the Patriots-Colts game, even with New England’s team represented. We had just had our own game of realizing our visions, in which we proved ourselves as much as played in the sand. I think I speak for everyone at the Jam when I say we are fortunate to do what we do.

How Computer Games Help Children to Learn: An Interview with David Williamson Shaffer (Part Two)

Yesterday, I introduced blog readers to my former student, David Williamson Shaffer, and his new book, How Computer Games Help Children to Learn. This book is a must read for anyone who is invested in the concept of Serious Games or anyone who wants to have a better understanding of what games might contribute to the reform of the educational process. In yesterday’s post, he walked us through his roots in Seymore Papert’s notion of hard fun and his concept of epistemic games.

Here’s a bit more background on David taken from his blog:

Before coming to the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Shaffer taught grades 4-12 in the United States and abroad, including two years working with the Asian Development Bank and US Peace Corps in Nepal. His M.S. and Ph.D. are from the Media Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he taught in the Technology and Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is a founding member of the GAPPS research group for games, learning, and society. The group recently received a $1.8 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation to study games and media literacy in the digital age. Dr. Shaffer has a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award for his work on Alternate Routes to Technology and Science and was the recipient of a Spencer Foundation National Academy of Education Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Dr. Shaffer studies how new technologies change the way people think and learn. His particular area of interest is in the development of epistemic games: computer and video games in which players become professionals to develop innovative and creative ways of thinking.

Today, I asked Shaffer some of the hard questions which all of us who are promoting games and education are facing. He offers some candid and compelling responses.

You describe powerful activities which certainly require students to deploy a rich array of school content. But by classical definitions, not all of the activities you describe are games. And many teachers remain resistant to the concept of games in school. So what value do you see in referring to these experiences as games?

This is a great question, and I’m glad you asked it. Part of the problem with the word “game” is that there isn’t a single agreed-upon definition. The definition I use in the book is closer to some than others–and as you know, I talk about this very issue and how my use of the term compares to others in the book.

A major point of the book is that digital technologies force us to reexamine and rethink a number of concepts whose original definitions come from an age of print literacy: things like games, learning, thinking, innovation, professionalism, school, and so on. It is an argument that I know you are quite familiar with, since you similarly argue that new media force us to reconceptualize the nature of concepts like production and consumption, genre and medium, and so on.

The argument I make in the book is that in the digital age there is a new set of relations between games and school–and school and learning, professional practices and academic disciplines, innovation and education–and this reorganization of how we think about thinking and learning, play and education, creativity and rigor is an essential step in thinking about the future of learning.

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How Computer Games Help Children Learn: An Interview with David Williamson Shafffer (Part One)

I’ve known David Williamson Shaffer for more than a decade. I was lucky enough to have him as a student in my media theory and methods proseminar back when he was finishing up his PhD at the MIT Media Lab. where he was doing work with Seymor Papert. I’ve reconnected in recent years with Shaffer through his work on games and education.

Shaffer has come out this month with a very important book, How Computer Games Help Children Learn. A colleague of James Paul Gee, Kurt Squire, and Constance Steinkuehler at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Shaffer has long contributed to our conversations about the pedagogical potentials of computer and video games.

He has especially promoted the idea of epistemic games, which he discusses at some length, in the interview that follows. He is interested in the ways that we can use computer-based games (including games that involve interacting with real people in real spaces) to introduce children to the basic conceptual frameworks that govern various professional practices. For him, this is the most powerful aspect of games-based learning.

His new book makes a powerful case for this mode of teaching, including detailed case studies of games he has developed to cover a range of different professional contexts and academic disciplines and drawing parallels to commercial games already on the market. The writing is accessible and engaging, driven by his own experiences as a classroom teacher and his own passion for helping to reinvent American education.

Over the next two days, I am going to be running this interview with Shaffer. In the first part, he lays out the book’s core premises and in the second, he addresses the debates around serious games more generally.

Your biography in the back of the book lists one of your titles as “game scientist.” So, I suspect the readers might be interested to know what a game scientist does and how you train for such a position. The cynic in me wants to know what the implications are of using scientific language to describe what is essentially a position in the humanities.

There are a few different ways of explaining where the title “Game Scientist” comes from. The most superficial answer is that as we were founding the GAPPS (Games and Professional Practice Simulations) Group here at the University of Wisconsin Advanced Academic Distributed Learning CoLaboratory, we needed to decide what members of the group would be called. The title “Research Scientist” is often used for appointments in research labs that do not grant tenure, so given that we were all studying games someone (I think it might have been me) suggested that Game Scientist would be an appropriate title.

So originally the term was something of an historical artifact.

But I do think that there is some value in referring to the work I do as game science. Games are, as you point out, a forum of human expression, like books, movies, and other things that are studied as “humanities.” But it is also possible to ask scientific questions about books: to study, for example, how people read, or to study the social, economic or psychological impact of a particular kind of book. So we can ask scientific questions about games and peoples’ experiences with them.

In using the term “scientific” here, of course, I am making a statement about research methods, not values. By “scientific” I only mean asking questions that can be answered with empirical data, which can be quantitative data (surveys, brain scans, and the like) or qualitative data (like interviews and observations).

In truth, though, I am not sure that drawing explicit distinctions between the sciences and the humanities is actually all that productive. Nelson Goodman made a strong case decades ago that the similarities between the two are more striking than the differences on a philosophical level: both try to warrant claims about phenomena in the world. This is a point I have made in some of my own writings as well.

All of that having been said, I am a game scientist because the work that I do uses methods of the field of psychology, which is a form of social science.

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No Matter How Small: Revisiting Seuss’s 5000 Fingers of Dr. T

Every January, for the past fifteen years, I have conducted a salute to the great children’s book author, Doctor Seuss. It started the year that Doctor Seuss passed away. I was struck by how central this author had been to American culture from the late 1930s until near the end of the 20th century. His children’s books are all classics but they get read outside of any historical context and few people have connected them to the much broader range of work that he did — as a humorist for adult publications such as Judge and Life, as an important copywriter in advertising, as an editorial cartoonist for the progressive PM in the years leading up to America’s entry into the war, as the animator for the Private Snafu training films and script writer for Frank Capra’s Why We Fight films during World War II, as script writer and designer for 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, as the author of the radio script which led to the classic animated short, Gerald McBoing Boing, as a promoter of modern art through a series of educational specials for American television, and so forth. The Seuss story spans across media and bridges high and low culture in fascinating ways.

Every January, I share his story with students, faculty, and staff at MIT, reading from his works, and sharing some historical perspectives. This year, I am going to be joined by Nancy Newman, who traches music history at SUNY-Albany and who has written a fascinating essay on the score for the Seuss-inspired feature film, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T. The highlight of the event every year is the screening of this rarely shown film from the 1950s which features Hans Conreid as a demonic (but campy) piano teacher bent on global domination. We will be concluding the evening with a screening of this rarely shown classic from the 1950s, which is one of my all time personal favorite movies.

You may not know that there’s a real cult that has grown up around 5000 Fingers, including this excellent website, which is full of details about its production and includes audio files of a number of songs recorded for but cut from the film.

I wrote about 5000 Fingers in an essay I published about Seuss’s relationship to the Popular Front and permissive childrearing in my anthology, Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture. I am hoping the following excerpt may intrigue you into either coming to our event (if you are in and around Boston) or renting the film.

The event will be held next Monday, January 29, 7-10 PM, in room 4-237 at MIT.

Here’s some more information about Nancy Newman’s talk:

“We’ll Make a Paderewski of You Yet!:

Acoustic Reflections in The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T.


One of the striking aspects of The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953) is its staging of a young boy’s search for musical identity as an Oedipal drama. The story pits two men as competitors for the boy’s widowed mother. One potential father represents the tradition of classical piano, the other, American popular song. This paper shows how the film’s musical numbers resolve this crisis of identity and affection. Frederick Hollander’s memorable tunes and innovative score affirm the individual’s capacity to develop a distinctive “voice,” a message with political overtones at the time of the film’s release.


Nancy Newman is an assistant professor at the University at Albany-SUNY, where she teaches courses on music history, both ancient and modern. Her article, “Acoustic Reflections in The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T” is forthcoming in Lowering the Boom: New Essays on the History, Theory and Practice of Film Sound (University of Illinois Press). She is currently writing on Björk’s role as composer and performer in the film musical, Dancer in the Dark. Dr. Newman is also working on a book about the Germania Musical Society, Good Music for a Free People. An article on this 19th-century orchestra appeared in the Yearbook of German-American Studies (1999). Her years as a piano teacher will be put to use in SUNY-Albany’s Extensible Toy Piano Festival this spring.

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Broadway meets Reality Television

As an American Idol fan, I have been very pleased to see Jennifer Hudson get such wide-spread acclaim for her performance in Dreamgirls. Hudson got bumped prematurely from the Idol competition during the season which I document in Convergence Culture and it is delightful to see her get a second chance at success and really knock the ball out of the park. Beyonce’s performance in the film seems surprisingly subdued while Hudson gets all of the showstopping moments (or at least all of the ones not commanded by Eddie Murphy!) And of course, now both Hudson and Murphy have walked away with Golden Globes and seem destined to be “players” in the Oscar race.

I was curious, however, to see how her performance was being perceived by perhaps the most exacting fan audience for this particular film — the community of enthusiasts of Broadway shows, many of whom have firm memories of the way this same role was handled by another Jennifer, Ms. Holliday, who won a Tony for playing Effie in the original stage production. So, I asked my friend and longtime collaborator, Alex Chisholm, himself a seasoned First Nighter, to suggest some places where I might get a taste of Ms. Hudson’s reception. He directed me to the discussion over at Broadway World, a leading forum for fans of the American musical theater. The verdict is definitely split — perhaps along generational lines — with many of the younger fans knowing Holliday’s performance only through the soundtrack album or glympses captured on the Tony Award show rather than from first hand experience. Here are just a few of the more thoughtful posts on this issue:

Holliday’s voice barrels rapidly up and down the notes in AIATY in such a way that that I get a sense that she’s truly feeling something powerful and emotional course through her body while she’s singing. I find her singing on all of the other songs to be quite stirring also.

While Hudson’s voice is astounding to me, she comes off more like she’s decided how she wants to sing the song from the start and that’s also how her singing on most of the soundtrack feels to me. However, I’m not exactly sure whose vocals I prefer. I love the way Hudson sings “that would be just fine” in I Am Changing.


I do not think that Jennifer Holliday was a very good actress and soley won the tony for her amazing singing in the part. Hudson, on the other hand, blew me away as a first time actress and her rendition of the songs, I felt, were more emotionally charged and controled.


How can you say that Hudson’s a good actor. Don’t get me wrong I loved the movie and her performance of the song but her acting was nothing special. Now, I’ve only seen Holiday’s Tony performance and I think her acting is a little crazy to but her overacting works on stage Hudsons lack of acting isn’t good for film.

Now as for the song itselfs, I have to say Hudson was amazing and killed it, but Holliday destroyed it. Holiday’s version is clearly better in my opinion and I will always consider it her song.


I saw Dreamgirls on broadwy with Holliday and just loved the whole thing. It was a dream for me. I was 10 and it was like this is what my life is all about. She will always be my dreamgirl.

BUT… Jennifer held her own. In many ways, it is different. Maybe not vocally as they both belt out a storm and take full control of it but with Holliday, there is a desperation in her voice, perhaps a I have ALWAYS been in control and she ain’t going to take it lying down. Hudson’s is more of a mental breakdown.. the hysterical kind..

I loved them both.


Holliday was a force of nature on stage. I would venture to say her sheer power and vocal energy can never be topped. She can’t even get to that level herself anymore. She was 21 back then, and heavier, and both helped her to explode with the unmatchable excitement of “And I’m Tellin’ You.” It was as if she was self-destructing in front of you. Tearing out her voice like that, every time. It worked in a HUGE way, but it also took its toll on her.

Hudson is fantastic on that song too, but she doesn’t reach Holliday’s power. Close! But no cigar. She doesn’t push off the deep end into self-destruction.

However, Hudson gets my vote OVERALL, because her acting is much better than Holliday’s ever was. Later in Holliday’s run you even got the sense that she was almost “marking” the show to save herself for “And I’m Telling You” and “I Am Changing.” She kinda walked through the rest of it, a bit. And it’s understandable. She was like an athlete pacing herself for the triple somersault.


Hudson’s work is on film, and I don’t think she could do any better sustaining Effie on stage than Holliday did, plus she already can’t deliver the song with THAT much power (nobody can). She had multiple takes, and didn’t have to worry about pacing herself for the rest of the show. So I’m already “discounting” my choice…

But since I’m basing my ultimate decision on the impact of the entire performance, I’m picking Hudson (qualifiers and all).


I saw Holliday in Dreamgirls back in 1982 for me (and most others who saw her) there’s really no comparison between the two performances — Holliday owns that role. She embodies Effie like no other and the passion, pain and sheer power she brought to her performance is unparalleled. She was a force of nature and her raw intensity was so emotionally overwhelming, I can recall literally shaking afterwards (several people around me were actually in tears). No performance by anyone I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen over 1000 shows) has had the same impact.

Hudson was fine — quite solid in fact — and gave the sort of very committed, but scaled down kind of performance that the screen demands. It’s an appropriately strong Effie, but not an overwhelming one, which works well for the film. But, out of the dozen or so Effies that I’ve seen (including about 5 during the original Broadway run, another two for the ’87 revival, and the others during the various national tours and regional productions), I’m not sure she’d even be in my top 5 — and again, I say that realizing that making comparisons between stage and film can be rather unfair.

Nevertheless, Hudson deserves all the accolades she has received and I, for one, would be happy for her if she ends up nabbing an Oscar for her performance. But, at the same time, I would never begin to compare her performance to Holliday’s which was the stuff of legend and in a different category altogether.

What surprised me is that there seems to be no real backlash here based on the fact that Hudson is known primarily as an American Idol contestant and is not a Broadway veteran. Chisholm notes that there has been so much crossover from American Idol to Broadway in recent years, including cast members on Rent (Frenchie Davis ), The Wedding Singer (Constantine Maroulis), Bombay Dreams ( Tamyra Gray), and Hairspray (Diana DeGarmo). Some have even gone so far as to cite A.I’s influence on the new production of A Chorus Line which is more a showcase for singers than dancers.

A more heated controversy about the relationship between reality television and the Broadway musical is brewing around NBC’s new series showing the casting process for a revival of Grease. Some Broadway fans have embraced the strategy, supporting anything which will get people into the theaters at a time when large scale musicals remain a highly risky proposition:

If anything, BROADWAY and the theater arts and those aspiring to be a part of that world will have weekly exposure to the United States. And, if it does well in the ratings, can be nothing but a positive thing. Hopefully it will inspire a new generation to embrace theater and the arts even more, and possibly stem the tide of diminishing Arts programs in schools and communities.

Others see a range of reasons for skepticism, each reflecting some of the tensions points which surround efforts to broaden the commercial appeal of the stage musical:

The reason for doing a revival is “usually” because someone has a new vision or something fresh to bring to an old show. But this revival is only being done to promote another reality TV show.


The only problem with it I have is the fact that there are many Broadway actors/actresses who are “established” and been in the biz for years, worked hard, auditioned, Equity card holders ect. and this gives Joe and Jane Everyday a chance to slip in and take two primo, well know roles in a beloved classic as they bring it back to Broadway. Which in itself is all good: bring in new blood, find new Broadway talent, yes… But not American Idol style. It’s over done.


They could have also picked something that would allow non-white people to actually participate in.


Could they have picked a better show?

Something that’s NOT done every year around the country by high school?

Of course, one could argue that it is precisely because Grease is so familiar and because there is a generation of high school cast members fantasizing about repeating their roles on Broadway that it makes sense to use it as the platform for a reality television series. Grease represents the kind of show that many middle Americans want to see when they go to the Big Apple for the first time — they know the songs, they like the movie version, and they know they will be entertained.

Something that’s becoming clear is that when there are more opportunities for new talent

to emerge through both mass media properties on network television or online through

social spaces such as YouTube and MySpace (the new hit Spring Awakening turned to MySpace to find young performers who could sing and act) there is a greater chance that someone extremely talented and completely unknown one minute can get a lucky break and become something of an overnight sensation, whether on a large scale or within smaller communities that become devotees of a particular contestant. One doesn’t have to be the “understudy” who takes over for the star in 42nd Street or the wannabe actress who has to lie to get what she wants in Applause, which was inspired by the classic All About Eve. Rather, in this age of participatory culture, audiences exercise a louder voice in choosing whose name goes up in lights on the Great White Way or at the cineplex. In the end, we all get to play casting director and critic for a day.

Engagement Marketing: An Interview With Alan Moore (Part Two)

Last Friday, I introduced my readers to Alan Moore — not the comic book creator but the brand guru — a cutting edge thinker about the ways that grassroots communities are reshaping the branding process. Moore, with Tomi T Ahonen, wrote a book called Communities Dominate Brands. The book spells out their vision for where media is headed — towards what Moore described last time as a “connected society”– and what it means for the branding process. Here, Moore gets deeper into some of the issues which will be of particular interest to regular readers of this blog — the economic value of fans to advertisers and media producers, the issue of compensating for user-generated content, the case of Pop Idol as a global media franchise, and the concept of transmedia planning.

Moore will be speaking at the CMS colloquium later this term and we hope to make a podcast of his remarks available down the line.

There seems to be an implicit tension running through this book between the focus on the individual consumer (which has been a cornerstone of branding theory and which gets new attention in an age of personalized and customized media) and the focus on communities (which take on greater importance in the age of networked communications.) I wonder if you could talk a bit more about this tension — should companies be targeting individuals or communities? What do you see as the relationship between individual consumers and these

new kinds of brand communities you are describing?

My view is that one can create greater opportunities, by appealing to communities of interest.

Doc Searls said that markets are conversations. I think communities form around 3 principle tenets.

1. Information

2. Entertainment

3. Commerce

Lets take the equine community, or the climbing community, the motivations for belonging are at a deep human level.

By creating platforms that can better serve these communities around these 3 tenets, one can build I believe sustainable businesses, that are not geographic specific.

Communities form around values, not demographics.

Also, I believe that by combining, user generated content, peer production, inter-community trade and knowledge exchange, in conjunction with services and entertainment specific to that community, the community will grow and expand. This is where the advertising becomes the content and the content becomes the advertising. The advertising becomes the conversation and the conversation becomes the advertising.

Also, there is an opportunity to listen carefully to the community so that one is in a constant process of refinement of how best to serve that community.

The money flows in a different way.

Of course such a view is heresy, within the world of mass media, which are tied to location and old distribution/business models.

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Engagement Marketing: An Interview with Alan Moore (Part One)

Alan Moore created quite a stir when he called my apartment a little over a month ago. The guy on the phone had a delightful British accent of the kind one might imagine coming from the British comic book artist who is responsible for such works as Lost Girls, From Hell, Watchman, League of Extraordinary Gentleman, Promethea, Top Ten….

Well, it wasn’t that Alan Moore. This Alan Moore is a distinguished figure in the marketing world — the CEO of SMLXL, the Cambridge based “engagement marketing” firm, and the co-author of Communities Dominate Brands: Business and Marketing Challenges for the 21st Century. In Convergence Culture, I write about what I call “affective economics” — the reappraisal of the value of fan and brand communities within the marketing sphere. I’d recommend Communities Dominate Brands to anyone who wants to dig deeper into the realm of “affective economics.” Moore and his co-author, Tomi T Ahonen, have thought deeply about the changes that are rocking the current media landscape and their implications for the ways that brands will court consumers. The book is informed by contemporary media theory and rich in examples for recent marketing efforts that put the theory into practice.

In this interview, Moore shares with us some of his insights into what is going to happen to the branding process given the rise of participatory culture and the breakdown of the traditional broadcast paradigm.

HJ: Your Bio in the book describes you as a specialist in Engagement Marketing, which begs the question — what is Engagement Marketing and for that matter, what constitutes engagement from your point of view?

AM: Engagement marketing is a very broad term, and purposefully so. At its heart, is the insight that human beings are highly social animals, and have an innate need to communicate and interact. Therefore, any engagement marketing initiative must allow for two-way flows of information and communication. We believe, people embrace what they create.

And why is this important? Because in advanced economies the values of society and the individual change. AT the heart of this is the key issue around identity and belonging. We have always had community. Pre- industrialization, we were tied to our communities by geography, tradition, the state and birthright. External forces shaped our identity. However, in a post-modern world we can have many selves, as we undertake a quest for self identity.

This is described as Psychological Self-Determination the ability to exert control over the most important aspects of ones life, especially personal identity, which has become the source of meaning and purpose in a life no longer dictated by geography or tradition.

The Community Generation, shun traditional organizations in favor of unmediated relationship to the things they care about. The Community Generation, seek and expect direct participation and influence. They possess the skills to lead, confer and discuss. These people are not watching television and have grown up in a world of search and two-way flows of communication.

Going further Engagement Marketing is premised upon: transparency – interactivity – immediacy – facilitation – engagement – co-creation – collaboration – experience and trust these words define the migration form mass media to social media.

The explosion of: Myspace, YouTube, Second Life and other MMORPG’s, Citizen Journalism, Wicki’s and Swicki’s, TV formats like Pop Idol, or Jamies School Dinners, Blogs, Social search, The Guinness visitor centre in Dublin or the Eden project in Cornwall UK, mobile games like Superstable or Twins, or, new business platforms like all demonstrate a new socio-economic model, where engagement sits at the epicentre.

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The Merits of Nitpicking: A Doctor Diagnoses House

My son and I are both big fans of the television series, >em>House. I watch the show for the characters and their interactions — especially for Hugh Laurie’s performance but also for his interplay with the other doctors. My son has shown a bit more curiosity about the medical dimensions of the series and in search of information, he stumbled onto a fascinating blog, Polite Dissent, which offers medical insight into House, superhero comics, and a range of other popular culture texts. The blog promises us “Comics, Medicine, Politics, and Fun.” Its author, Scott, describes himself as being part of a large family practice in Southwestern Illinois.

Scott’s blog is a good illustration of a mode of fan criticism which sometimes goes by the name of nitpicking. Nitpickers examine their favorite programs through a particular lens — in this case, medicine — in which they have developed expertise. I became very interested in nitpicking when I did research for Science Fiction Audiences about the reception of Star Trek at MIT. What I found at that time — the late 1980s — was that MIT students were often drawn to our school because of an early interest in science fiction and used science fiction — especially debates about the lines between known science, reasonable speculation, and implaussible technobabel — to work through their own mastery of core scientific concepts. The pleasure was in being able to prove to each other what was “wrong” with the science in a particular Star Trek episode and to explain a more plausible or realistic way of dealing with the same themes. Indeed, they classified the ST:NG episodes by discipline, often using the numerical codes (“Course 6”) which are most often used to refer to majors within the MIT Context, suggesting just how much the shows functioned in parallel with what they were learning in their classes.

These scientists and engineers in training were not being obnoxious in trying to show their superiority to the program: part of the pleasure for them came in sorting out the differences between real and bogus science. In some senses, this was to look at the series through a realist lens but that’s too simple a way to understand what is going on since all science fiction fans recognize that science fiction involves speculation and about social commentary, not simply about reproducing the world of known science but pushing beyond it to explore alternative possibilities. There were just “rules” that governed how far outside known science science fiction “should” stray and in what directions.

The classic nitpicker has a love/hate relationship with their favorite program: the show has to be good enough to stretch the outer limits of their knowledge at a regular basis and yet at the same time, it has to be flawed enough that they can catch it when the authors “fake it” in a particular domain of knowledge.

So, Scott takes House apart in terms of hospital procedure, medical tests and equiptment, and the specifics of the various ailments they appear in the speculations surrounding a particular case. Taken as a whole, Scott seems to enjoy the speculative aspects of the series but to be displeased by the various shortcuts the writers take to get us through a complex medical process in under an hour of screentime. Scott recognizes the tension between story telling and communicating actual medical knowledge but remains frustrated, as he puts it, “when House does a “character show,” the medicine suffers.”

Here, for example, are some of the key concerns he raised about “TB or Not TB”, a second season episode about a grandstanding doctor who works on the medical problems in the third world and who provokes special ire from the series protagonist:


f the patient is suspected of having TB, why is no one treating him wearing a mask? Why he wandering around the hospital and not in isolation? Why is he not in a negative-pressure room?

PPDs are not read by sight, but by feel. It doesn’t matter how red it looks, but instead how indurated it is.

TB is slow growing. How did the team know almost immediately that it was resistant TB? How did the antibiotics kick in so fast?

A nesidioblastoma would explain most of Dr. Charles’s symptoms, but *wow* that’s a convenient tumor. Small enough that it can’t be seen on x-rays or MRIs. Intermittent, so it only releases insulin periodically. And yet strong enough to lower the sugar level in his CSF. It’s more of a deus ex machina than a diagnosis.

When Dr. Charles coded, why did no one in a room full of doctors start CPR while waiting for the paddles to charge?

I’m certainly no surgeon, interventional radiologist or endocrinologist, but the scene where the team is trying to induce the tumor to release insulin seemed wrong. Injecting calcium directly into the pancreatic blood supply may be a legitimate procedure, but I doubt those four are qualified to perform it. Also, since they expected the blood sugar to drop to dangerous levels, they should have had the D50 ready to inject and not scramble for an IV setup

Frankly, most of these questions never crossed my mind: for me, the medical language on >em>House is as much technobabel as anything heard on Star Trek, but I found I had to stop watching Jack and Bobby a few years ago because I got so frustrated in how they dealt with academic life and I am starting to get more frustrated with Veronica Mars along similar lines. It all depends on where your expertise and interest lies but that’s part of the value of creating a space where shared texts get examined through multiple lens.

It has been widely observed that procedural shows like House or CSI can play an important role in exciting the American public about the professions being represented. They are often accompanied both by an increase in sales of nonfiction works on the same topics and by increased applications to colleges which offer programs in those areas of specialization. The obvious parallel here is to the MIT students who got turned onto science through Star Trek. In such a context, sites like this one play an important role in providing a corrective to some of the more hairbrained ideas that find their ways into dramatic television or simply to provide further background on the medical conditions and practices discussed on the program.

I wonder how we can incorporate something like the nitpicking process into the educational system. What is the value of getting students to apply their knowledge to deconstruct a popular representation? What is gained by the process of walking through such critiques and then trying to verify competing truth claims through reference to concrete evidence and information? What gets added when we move from a single knowledgible critic like Scott to the incorporation of a larger community of interested people who might bring slightly different expertises to the table or who might have competing interpretations and evaluations of what is represented in the program (as occurs in the comments section of this site)? The key point is that the procedural shows themselves do not have to be 100 percent accurate as long as they offer problems for students to work through and solve and as long as a spirit of playful debunking is built into how they get discussed in the classroom. Indeed, the shows may be a better basis for such an experiment if they are good enough to capture the imagination but ultimately flawed or compromised in their representation of real world practices. Such an excercise would seem to be a great way to introduce media literacy concepts into the biology classroom.