Comics as Civic Media and Other Matters…

The blog which we launched for the new Center for Future Civic Media has started to generate some real momentum. The site was created not simply to announce or report events hosted by the center but also as a space where the students and faculty of the two affiliated programs — the MIT Media Lab and the Comparative Media Studies program — can share their thoughts about the nature of civic media. I am blessed this year with a team of four veteran journalists working in the Comparative Media Studies Program, each of whom is bringing their reporting skills to the task of identifying compelling examples of civic media practices around the world. For example, incoming CMS Masters student Abhimanyu Das, a veteran culture reporter from India, wrote a compelling account of the work being done by the Comics Defense Fund, an organization fighting to defend the First Amendment rights of comic book creators and consumers:

What is significant about the organization is the way in which it connects comic book writers, publishers, retailers and readers and taps their common admiration for the art form in order to defend its stake in the cultural landscape. The key factor here is their shared enthusiasm for comics, the sort of collective energy cited by Beth Noveck at the first forum for the Center as being an essential component of civic engagement. While it might not be immediately obvious to the outsider what this enthusiasm is directed against, the fact remains that there exists a serious ongoing problem with attacks directed at the comic book industry, their targets ranging from the products of large publishers like DC Comics to the work of small independent artists. Libraries are being forced to take legitimate artistic works off their shelves, artists are being sued for parodying corporate entities and retailers selling comics with mature content are being charged with distributing obscene materials. A prevailing myth is that comics are meant exclusively for children and that any depictions of adult content or themes (however artistically relevant) are inappropriate or illegal. It is a major threat to a vibrant artistic tradition and one that the CBLDF is currently attempting to combat…

he CBLDF has spearheaded defenses or otherwise assisted individuals and organizations in myriad First Amendment cases on local levels across the United States. A particularly good example of how the CBLDF works on a local level is its influence upon a recent case in Marshall, MO. In October 2006, a local resident formally requested that two graphic novels-Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and Blankets by Craig Thompson-be removed from the shelves of the town’s public library because of their allegedly obscene content. Both works have considerable artistic merit (Fun Home was one of Time magazine’s “10 Best Books of 2006″) and earned widespread critical acclaim for their frank portrayal of troubled adolescence. Once the CBLDF was brought in, its involvement was not so much in the realm of legal aid or fundraising but, rather, geared more towards community engagement. The CBLDF, in conjunction with the National Coalition against Censorship, drafted a much publicized letter to the library’s board of trustees. This letter served as a useful document in terms of articulating why the graphic novels could hardly be termed obscene and the pitfalls of a censorship policy.

However, it played a more important role in the way it served as a rallying point for those in the Marshall community that opposed the removal of the books. The document raised awareness of the issue and allowed local comic book fans and First Amendment advocates to find each other and build an opposition to the group calling for the ban. In addition, the national scrutiny that the letter brought with it forced the Marshall library to open up the process by which the ban request was being considered and facilitated the efforts of the opposition group. This led to every subsequent open hearing on the case being well attended by those community members that put forward an organized defense of the graphic novels. The CBLDF’s campaigning also led to an elevation of the level of local discourse surrounding the case as it formed a public counter-point to the ‘pornography’ claims and led to the books being read by considerably more people in the area than they otherwise would have been. Therefore, as a result of local efforts that built up much of its steam around the CBLDF’s support, the library drafted a new materials selection policy in March 2007 and decided to return the two books to their shelves without any segregation of the books by a ‘prejudicial system.’

For more information on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, check out their website

Other groups spotlighted so far on the blog include:

The BBC Action Network.

Advancement Through Interactive Radio

The Online News Association

Shareideas.org

Healthline

Wikinews

NEWz

If you haven’t check out the site yet, give it a look.

Now for Your Moment of Zen…

While we are on the subject of civic media, I have to pass along a story which was shared with me by Axel Bruns from the Queensland University of Technology’s Creative Industries crew. It concerns The Chaser’s War on Everything, a popular satire program produced by the Australian Broadcasting Company, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference, which Wikipedia describes as “a forum for a group of 21 Pacific Rim countries that represent about 60% of the world’s economy to discuss the regional economy, cooperation, trade and investment.” In September, the group held a meeting in Sydney which George W. Bush attended. Much publicity surrounded the security for this event — this being a “post-9/11″ world and all that. So, The Chasers got the bright idea to see if they could test the security structures, which they did with extraordinary effectiveness, by pretending to be the Canadian delegation. They pulled up at the gate in a black limo with a Maple Leaf flag and a “security detail” of guys in suits running alongside it and got flagged through. They managed to get extraordinarily close to Bush’s quarters before they started to get really anxious and turned the car around. As one final prank, though, they had a guy who was dress as Bin Laden pop out of the car. Then and only then did the security detail click into action. Now, the comedy show stars and producers are facing legal sanctions for their actions, so the least we can do is watch the farce unfold at YouTube. The story was widely reported in Australia and Canada where there were predictable mixtures of hysterical laughter and wounded dignity. But perhaps adding insult to injury, I haven’t meet anyone in the United States who has heard the story through our national media.

Calling All Aca-Fen!

Mark Deuze (Indiana University) asked me to pass along to readers this call for submissions to a special issue of the International Journal of Cultural Studies which he is co-editing with John Banks (Queensland University of Technology) focused on co-creation and cultural labor issues.

Here’s what you need to know:

Scholarship on the production side of new or converging media industries is scarce, but growing as the prominence of cultural production in a worldwide ‘experience economy’ increases, next to global concerns about the changing nature of work and labour in the media and creative industries specifically, and creative labor in general. Media professions as varied as public relations, marketing communications, advertising, digital game development, fashion, movie and television production have only rarely been studied at the level of work and labor relations. Post-disciplinary research and debates are now emerging about the nature, characteristics and practices of work and labor relations in the context of networked and global media industries.

Consumers increasingly participate in media production as co-creators of content and experiences. Transformations in the relations among media producers and consumers, as well as between professionals and amateurs may indicate a profound shift in which our frameworks and categories of analysis (such as the traditional labor theory of value) that worked well in the context of an industrial media economy are less helpful than before. Does recent work grounded in neo-Marxian theories of immaterial labor, affective labor, free labor, and precarious labor for example help us to analyze and unpack the changing conditions and definitions of work? What are the implications of a potentially radical unsettling of the assumed division of labour between professional, expert media producers and amateurs, volunteers, or citizen-consumer collectives?

These transformations may be understood as part of a shift from a closed expert system towards more collective innovation networks, across which expertise becomes distributed. How are these labor relations between professionals and amateurs negotiated? Are emerging consumer co-creation relations a threat to the livelihoods, professional identity, and working conditions of professional creative workers? Can this phenomenon be explained as the exploitative extraction of surplus value from the work of media consumers, or is something else potentially more profound and challenging playing out here? Indeed, are these emerging phenomena best understood as a form of labor?

For this special issue we hope to bring together research from a variety of disciplines and perspectives that ambitiously aims to come to grips with the conditions and opportunities of consumer co-creative practices. Co-creative media production practice is perhaps a disruptive agent of change that sits uncomfortably with our current understandings and theories of work and labor.

We thus invite papers that describe, explain, interrogate, contextualize and thus further our understanding of the changing nature of media work in the context of co-creative media production practice.

Call for Papers

This special issue on Co-Creative Labor strives to bring together scholars from a wide variety of disciplines, addressing general or particular concerns about the conditions and changing nature of (new) media work and co-creative labor in different areas of the creative industries. The issue calls for papers that focus on rich empirical and/or theoretical work in or across three key domains of research on co-creative labor and cultural production:

# New Media, Cultural Production, and Work

A first domain of research would focus on historical contexts and critical discussions of the role of media work in contemporary society. Key concepts used in the field-new media, digital culture, work, culture and creative industries, media professions-should be highlighted and clearly articulated with co-creative practices old and new.

# Media Professions

In a second domain we are looking for investigations of key media professions – journalism, game development, television and motion picture production, advertising, public relations and marketing communications, popular music, fashion -in terms of the changing nature of work in these professions, focusing on the convergence of the roles of professionals and amateurs and the implications for professional and/or organizational identity, and the management of creativity in a context of the signaled shift towards co-creative labor.

# Convergence Culture and Free Labor

A third area of research would focuses more explicitly on what industry observers coin as “user-generated content”, “consumer co-creation” or “citizen media”, and by the academy as “commons-based peer production” (Benkler), “free labor” (Terranova) and “convergence culture” (Jenkins).

We are specifically looking for submissions of original research including, but not limited to:

- Case studies of media companies adopting co-creative labor practices;

- Case studies of specific co-creative communities and their relationships with media producers;

- Content analyses of co-creative labor in the production of culture;

- Mapping of ethical, political, economical and cultural changes and challenges of co-creative labor;

- Quantitative and/or qualitative empirical work on the production, content, and/or consumption of co-created media messages;

- Research focusing on co-creative labor in the context of specific media industries;

- International comparative work on co-creative labor in media production.

Of course, this call is not exclusive, and we very much look forward to working with any authors on paper proposals or extended abstracts on related issues. We particularly want to encourage graduate students to submit work in progress.

Timetable

The special issue will appear as 12(2) of 2009. The deadline for all full paper submissions is: 30 August 2008. All submissions will be anonymously reviewed by at least two referees. Deadline for revised manuscripts is 7 November 2008. Final editorial decisions will be made by late November 2008. Submitted manuscripts should not exceed 7,500 words (including main text, abstract and keywords, plus references and endnotes).

Contact

Please submit papers, extended abstracts, or expressions of interest to Mark Deuze (mdeuze at indiana.edu).

Comments

  1. Hi Henry!

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  2. Henry,

    Glad someone in America has noticed that Chaser’s stunt!

    Will you be commenting at all on the WGA strike and the online fan support?