Participatory culture is a global phenomenon. Young people all over the world are embracing the expressive and distribution resources of the computer to create and share their own cultural materials with each other. In countries all over the planet, they are mixing together local traditions of folk culture with the now globally accessible forms of digital expression in ways which could not have been imagined by previous generations. And as they do so, educators and parents are starting to recognize these creative communities as sites of informal learning which are transforming the ways these teens see themselves and the world. In every country, it is different. In every country, it is the same.
I was delighted to hear recently from a young scholar, Felipe G. Gil, from Sevilla, Spain, who shared with me some of his thoughts about new media literacy and education. In particular, he wanted me to read this account of his young cousin, whose filmmaking activities he had come to understand in relation to some of my writings. I am delighted to reproduce this blog post, originally written in Spanish, here for my readers in hopes that it may spark other international reactions around these important topics. Gil is justly proud of the range of different kinds of media productions this young man engages with in the course of his everyday life, and has sought ways to place them in a larger context.
by Felipe G. Gil
It’s Christmas. A family is gathered around a large table set for sixteen. At one end sits the grandfather. At the other, one of his grandkids, Pep. While his parents, cousins and aunts and uncles start clearing up, Pep continues immersed in dissecting a piece of fruit with a surgeon’s precision. Suddenly, one of his cousins goes up to him and asks «What are you doing, Pep?» and he answers easily: «peeling a mandarin». What he has done is slice the peel in such a way that it forms a kind of orange underpants. What he is doing without realizing it is reinventing everyday life.
Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience.
Pep is 13 years old, he lives in Tarragona, Catalonia, and is in his second year of secondary school. In the afternoons, he goes to his theatre group. He loves dinosaurs, videogames and watching videos on You Tube. He doesn’t have an Internet connection at home, but there is one in his dad’s furniture store. He doesn’t have a computer of his own either: he shares a laptop with his parents and his younger sister. Since he was little, he has been fascinated by any audiovisual gadget that has come his way, using all of them to do what his generation is best at: play.
Play is one of the ways we learn, and during a period of reskilling and reorientation, such play may be much more important than it seems at first glance.
In the current educational system in Spain, only a few Language and Literature teaching units analyze the media. The Media Studies subjects that used to be in the secondary and upper secondary school syllabus are no longer taught. There is increasing talk of Education 2.0 and ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) but the politicians in charge of Education have paradoxically failed to notice that digital and audiovisual literacy is, to paraphrase author and academic Gutierrez-Martín, more than just a mouse and a keyboard. Fortunately, an expanded form of education is starting to emerge. As “We TV” claims, perhaps we are fulfilling the utopia of the caméra-stylo and people are transforming video cameras (and similar devices) into the writing implements of the future. So why shouldn’t a You Tube video be seen as a syntagm to be analysed in Language and Literature classes?
The “Angry German Kid” remix
Audiences, empowered by these new technologies, occupying a space at the intersection between old and new media, are demanding the right to participate within the culture.
Pep has a You Tube channel. One of the first videos he uploaded is «a remix of the popular “Angry German Kid” video».
The curious thing about this video is that most people thought it was made by the boy’s father, who wanted to capture his son’s rage as he played computer games… but it turned out to be a satire by a kid who was probably much more intelligent than the millions of viewers who laughed at his supposed antics (for an analysis in Spanish, see Soitu.es “El niño loco alemán: la verdad tras el mito”.)
More and more literacy experts are recognizing that enacting, reciting, and appropriating elements from preexisting stories is a valuable and organic part of the process by which children develop cultural literacy.
This phenomenon is paradigmatic of the age of convergence: one day, somebody uploaded a video with certain characteristics that led others to forward it, discuss it and, above all, remix it. Thousands of users downloaded the original video and created their own versions of it. One of these is Pep’s. His remix shows his synchronization and scripting skills, but, in addition, he has taken it into familiar territory (the videogame Super Mario Bros) and added two nuances: the sound of the game, and of a supposed porn film that suddenly crops up at one point. The voice in the video is Pep’s own imitation of heavy breathing. Pep thus takes three media sources and converges them into a new one: the “Angry German Kid” video, Super Mario Bros and a porn film.
Convergence occurs within the brains of individual consumers and through their social interactions with others. Each one of us constructs our own personal mythology from bits and fragments of information extracted from the media flow and transformed into resources through which we make sense of our everyday life.
As Pep himself explains in the interview, he had to work out how to hack the You Tube video (which currently doesn’t have a download option), how to load it into a video editing program (he uses Windows Movie Maker), how to synchronize the subtitles, how to export the video, how to create his own You Tube account, and how to upload his video. Given this whole process, there is an inevitable question: what drives Pep to do it? The Internet has boosted social intelligence, with its main premise being to generate specific-interest communities. Pep had seen dozens of different remixes of the “Angry German Kid” video before he began to consider adding one of his own. Before he felt the urge to become part of what he was seeing.
Our traditional assumptions about expertise are breaking down or at least being transformed by the more open-ended processes of communication in cyberspace. The expert paradigm requires a bounded body of knowledge, which an individual can master. The types of questions that thrive in a collective intelligence, however, are open ended and profoundly interdisciplinary; they slip and slide across borders and draw on the combined knowledge of a more diverse community.
Jurassic Park, Lego version
Animation is another of Pep’s hobbies. Somebody once explained the concept of persistence of vision to him. He soon grasped that moving images are actually the illusion of movement created when there is a rapid succession of still images. Since then, some of his small creations are linked to this.
Pep has made several animated videos using scenes or excerpts from Jurassic Park. This video is his own trailer for the third film in the series, and in the video he discusses in the interview he recreates one of his favourite scenes from the film.
New-media theorist Janet Murray has written of the “encyclopaedic capacity” of digital media, which she thinks will lead to new narrative forms as audiences seek information beyond the limits of the individual story.
Pep is part of the transmedia generation: he imitates a kind of popular form of creation (try doing a search for “Lego” on You Tube) in order to tell his own story in a video that mixes the original sound from a scene in Jurassic Park III with an animation he creates using his Lego pieces and other toys. Unfortunately, the mammoth audiovisual industry sees this as illegal divergence rather than cultural convergence. When will it be set down that a film’s users can remix it to their heart’s content?
Along with this industry aspect, this situation poses many questions: why do people have such a strong urge to tell their stories at this particular moment in history? can we develop a public dynamic for audiovisual culture that makes it legal to do what Pep has done, and encourages it? how can education open up in order to integrate children’s need to be audiovisual “prosumers” (producer+consumer)?
The power of participation comes not from destroying commercial culture but from writing over it, modding it, amending it, expanding it, adding greater diversity of perspective, and then recirculating it, feeding it back into the mainstream media.
One day, Pep discovered Spore, a game created by Will Wright, who is also behind the popular games The Sims and Sim City. Spore «allows the player to develop a species from a microscopic organism to its evolution into a complex animal, its emergence as a social, intelligent being, to its mastery of the planet and then finally to its ascension into space» (source: Wikipedia). In Spore, you have the choice of progressing in one of two ways: by cooperating with, or attacking, other civilisations. It is not only the specialist press that considers videogames to be the future-present of audiovisual narrative, given their capacity to integrate different stories in different media. Spore, for example, can be played online and allows users to show the community how their creatures have turned out, interact with other species, etc. And Spore has something in common with The Sims and Sim City: it is an alternative reality game.
ARG’s (alternative reality games) are generating “players who feel more capable, more confident, more expressive, more engaged and more connected in their everyday lives”. (…) “A good immersive game will show you game patterns in non-game places”.
The hyperlink is in us
Pep is currently editing a documentary he made at the beach during the summer holidays, in which he asked people what holidays meant to them. He has also discovered Game Maker, a simple program that allows him to design his own videogames. And who knows what other discoveries he will make in the coming months and years. The difference between our time and other moments in history is that Pep is not alone. You probably know somebody like him. And this is why it’s important to realize that we have to keep learning, together, to read and write audiovisually instead of taking it for granted that the millions of Euros the Spanish government is spending on putting computers in classrooms is automatically going to fix the problem. This is why we have to talk about the stories that we are passionate about, not business models. And this is why we should not think of art as something exclusive to artists, but as a game that we can all take part in. This is why we have to defend the remix as a cultural ecosystem.
In a hunting society, children play with bows and arrows. In an information society, children play with information.
There is a Pep inside each one of us, we just have to wake him up. We are the Transmedia generation.
This is an English translation of the article “Generación transmedia”. All the quotes interwoven into this text are from Convergence Culture(2006), the book in which Henry Jenkins coins the term “transmedia storytelling” and insightfully describes the changes that are taking place in the way we communicate, think, read, etc.
Felipe G. Gil, 28, lives in Sevilla (Spain) and is a member of the ZEMOS98 team, a cultural initiative which does research into expanded education, digital communication and audiovisual culture. He writes for EMBED.at, a publication about embedded audiovisual supported by Festivalito, Movil Film Fest, Yerblues.net and ZEMOS98. He is also a Star Wars fan, a proam tennis player and a fanatic of the Libanese salad.