Help Time Lord Rocker Beat Justin Bieber on British Pop Charts

I know I signed off the blog for the year, but my imagination has been captured by a fascinating struggle which is taking place this weekend around the UK Pop Singles Chart.

Specifically, I am excited by 22 year old Alex Day, who is gaining ground and British bookies give him a 1 in 16 chance of winning the competition, despite the fact that he has no record deals and has built his following entirely through his deft use of YouTube, Twitter, and other social media.

His catchy pop song, “Forever Yours,” was released December 3 and his video, which playfully pairs a love song with images from superhero comics and zombie movies, has already been seen more than a million times. To win, he will need to best Justien Beber and Mariah Carey (not to mention the recent winner of the British X-Factor).

But, Day’s certainly bringing on the grassroots support. Here’s what he shared with me via a recent email: “‘Forever Yours’ is on sale as from today, became the second-highest trending topic on Twitter worldwide within eight minutes, and is so far sitting at number 96 on the UK iTunes Chart and rising about twenty places every time I refresh.” This seems like a classic example of spreadability in action!

Apart from trying to turn the British pop world on its head, Day has been a key figure behind the growth of “Time Lord Rock,” music inspired by Doctor Who, which has emerged as a grassroots movement in the spirit of the Wizard Rock associated with Harry Potter fandom. As a Time Lord Rocker, Day runs a website, Chameleon Circuit, which features such songs as “Blink” and “Exterminate Regenerate.”

Check it out and if you feel so inclined, do what you can to help him beat Justin Bieber. Whatever happens, this is a fascinating example of how grassroots media and participatory culture is starting to impact the operations of the commercial mainstream.

This story came to me from Andrew Slack from the Harry Potter Alliance.

A Few Final Reflections at Year’s End…

Having made it, more or less, through the grading frenzy, I am now really and truly spent, and looking forward to some much needed rest and relaxation over the holidays. So, this is going to be the last blog post for 2011. We will be back by the Second Week of January with an exciting line-up of interviews, essays, and other resources, but for the time being, I am going to take a few weeks off to read, write, and other things that keep Henry healthy and wise, if not particularly wealthy.

Before I do, I wanted to share a few loose ends which have come across my desk in the past few weeks.

The first is the webcast created by the fine folks at the New School of Social Research depicting the public conversation I had with Liz Losh at the Mobility Shifts conference earlier this fall. Many of you will have seen photographs of Liz and I wearing the Team Critical Theory and Team Cultural Studies racing jackets which Liz’s husband designed and produced for the event. They were our joking way of calling out some of the unproductive tensions which have existed between those two camps over the past few years and the desire to work beyond them in order to contribute to far more important public debates, such as those concerning the future of public education, and to contribute towards shared visions, such as those concerning the democratization of access to digital media.

Here’s how the program was billed:

At Mobility Shifts: An International Future of Learning Summit Henry Jenkins (Team Cultural Studies) and Elizabeth Losh (Team Critical Theory) offer a progress report on whether and in what ways the public schools and universities are going to be able to absorb or meaningfully deploy what Jenkins calls “participatory culture.” Rather than an abstract discussion of a theoretical construct drawn from their supposedly opposite positions studying fan culture and institutional rhetoric respectively, the two will discuss concrete experiences of young people acting appropriately or not, inside or outside the classroom. What might a participatory learning culture look like? What policies make it hard for even supportive teachers to achieve in their classrooms? What stakeholders would need to be engaged in order to change the current cultures of our school? How might participatory learning take place beyond the schoolhouse gates? What is everyone afraid of?

The Mobility Shifts conference did a great job of combining multiple groups of people, from around the world, who care passionately about the future of education, many of whom are doing local projects designed to have a material real world impact that exist alongside and in relationship with their theory and scholarship.

As you will see, the differences that might exist between Losh and I on paper start to break down when we deal pragmatically with the concerns that animate our work. We’ve sometimes disagreed through our blogs, but the more we worked on pulling together this event, the clearer it became that our shared values and commitments were far more significant than tactical disagreements. In the course of this conversation, we make strong arguments for why, tempting though it may be, we can not just blow up the public schools and walk away, we talk about some specific insights we’ve gained through our educational interventions, and we discuss the strengths and limits of the concept of participatory culture as a way of framing current struggles over access to the means of cultural production and circulation. If you want to learn more about Liz’s work, see her blog here.

Nikki Usher, a recently minted PhD from the Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism, has been using excerpts from Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Society (which I co-authored with Sam Ford and Joshua Green and which will be released by NYU Press next fall) with her students at George Washington University. Nikki shared with us a video produced as part of a class project by her student, Sandi Moynihan, which applies our concepts of “spreadability” to describe the Occupy movement. The video is part of a larger set of resources around the movement you can find at her website, many of them dealing with Occupy’s use of social media. I was so excited by her wonderful video that I asked if I could share it with you here.

Last week, I was down in Rio. In Copacabana, there are the most remarkable sand sculptures, including several which reconstruct the city’s landmarks. Somehow, this sculpture depicting Santa and friends caused me great amusement. It speaks to the incongruous way that Euro-American Christmas iconography and traditions work in the context of South America, where, after all, December is one of the hottest summer months, but we are hearing “Frosty the Snow Man” and “White Christmas” playing everywhere we go. I decided this particular version of Father Christmas might better be called “Sandy Claws.” (By the way, while it does not show up very well in this particular image, the woman in the picture is actually wearing one of those “itsy bitsy polka dot bikinis” that one sees on the beaches here, though admittedly, the sculpture left very little to the imagination in this rendering, itself a marker of cultural difference, given how unlikely it is to see anything so “family unfriendly” in public spaces in the United States.)


Global Cities and the Future of Entertainment

This year’s Futures of Entertainment 5 conference launched with a special event, hosted by the MIT Communications Forum, which specifically highlighted the international dimensions of our work, and it closed with a Technobrega performance at one of Cambridge’s hotter night clubs. Both reflect our ongoing engagement with the cultures of Brazil and specifically with the City of Rio.

Early in the Creative Cities event, my good friend, Mauricio Mota, Chief Storytelling Officer for The Alchemists, a transmedia company based in Rio and Los Angeles, took to the stage to share a personal message to the attendees from the Mayor of Rio. During my trip to Brazil last summer, Mauricio and I sat down with the Mayor to discuss his vision for the future of the city, which will be playing host to the Olympics and the World Cup over the next few years, and which has been undergoing dramatic changes in terms of the development of its economic and media infrastructure. Over the course of this trip, we hatched a plan together to develop a Center for the Futures of Entertainment in Rio, which would bring the best of what we’ve been doing at MIT and USC to Latin America. The Mayor quickly got the vision of what we wanted to accomplish and jumped at the chance to provide seed funds to get this venture underway.

The Center will be a collaboration between the Futures of Entertainment Consortium (which evolved from the Convergence Culture Consortium and is now under the leadership of Sam Ford), the Annenberg Innovation Lab (which is under the leadership of Jonathan Taplin), The Alchemists, The City of Rio, and a range of corporate and academic partners, which include Petrobras, RioCriativo (State Government Culture Department) ESPM (Academic Partner), Western Kentucky University, and RioFilme (City of Rio film distribution company). Brazillian partners have long contributed support to the Consortium and they have been early backers of the Innovation Lab, so we welcome the opportunity to work more closely with them in the years ahead. (On a personal level, this country has been incredibly welcoming to me and my work. After the United States, the highest percentage of the readers of my blog and my Twitter flows come from Brazil, and the Portuguese edition of Convergence Culture has been the international version which has had the widest readership.)

Apart from the connection to our new Brazil project, I also want to speak with enormous pride about the contribution here from Parmesh Shahani, a graduate of the Comparative Media Studies Program, and someone who has emerged as a major cultural thought leader in India, and with deep appreciation for my Dean, Ernest Wilson, who was willing to come to MIT and share his rich vision.

Global Creative Cities and the Future of Entertainment.

Today, new entertainment production cultures are arising around key cities like Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro. What do these changes mean for the international flow of media content? And how does the nature of these cities help shape the entertainment industries they are fostering? At the same time, new means of media production and circulation allow people to produce content from suburban or rural areas. How do these trends co-exist? And what does it mean for the futures of entertainment?

Moderator: Maurício Mota (The Alchemists)

Panelists: Parmesh Shahani (Godrej Industries, India), Ernie Wilson (University of Southern California) and Sérgio Sá Leitão (Rio Filmes)