Citizen Fan: An Interview with Filmmaker Emmanuelle Wielezynski-Debats (Part Three)

Many of the texts cited by the fans here are from the Anglo-American media realm or from the world of Japanese manga. Are there popular texts from France that has generated a fan-like response and if so, what can you tell us about them? From what I observed,  99% of the fans I met,  are in American or Japanese fandom. Only one or two mentioned working on French literature or French films. Natacha Guyot, for instance, is one of these exceptions. She worked at AO3 (for the Diversity showcase) and so she is very aware of this question. She practices vidding with French Canons such as"Angelique, Marquise des anges" or more recent French TV series. She uses French music, as well.

French canons do exist. Sometimes, we do not know the French origin of the canon : it is the case with Code Lyoko, or Dofus video games. In the past, there were always sequels to Alexandre Dumas’ works, but the thing is that nowadays, Fanfiction are often written in English, when it comes to canons such as Les Misérables, Le fantôme de l’opéra, Mademoiselle de Maupin, Les 3 mousquetaires, etc… I had the impression that there are more American fans writing fanfiction around Les Misérables or Dumas’ books, than French fans.

French fanfic writers probably want to have a large community of readers, they probably feel that would not be possible around French canons. They want their readers or their audience to know well the characters, the universe.

It is also possible that French culture would impress them too much to dare to write fanfic around it. Most of the fans I met told me they didn’t like our literature. They disliked reading at school. They have the feeling that classical books are boring. One of Citizen Fan's characters told me “Clearly in France,  we have the feeling that there is one culture that is worth it and another one that is worth nothing.”

In my opinion, our French authors have been sacralized, by our culture and by our laws as well,  meaning nobody is allowed to touch them. This might be the best way to kill them. Several fans told me “I would certainly never read Proust ! ” This struck me because these people read a lot and have a very large culture, including Japanese mythology for instance, but, from what I‘ve seen, they do not seem concerned with the French classics.

Now, Lionel Maurel reminded me that if you take the example of “Tintin”,  the society Moulinsart, which owns its rights,  defend them in a caricatural way: they attacked systematically fan sites. I wonder if , under the circumstances, Fandom can emerge or would survive. It is the same with “Le petit Prince”… And   “Arsene Lupin” is not as famous as “Sherlock Holmes”. Or should I write “Herlock Sholmes”, like Maurice Leblanc, father of Lupin, used to name a British detective involved in several Lupin’s adventures, providing us with some great crossovers! But Maurice Leblanc’s family would have blocked any Fandom’s crossovers. That’s for sure. Probably some fans know about that and do not want to take risk.

I have to put forward three recent French canons that have gathered around them,  very large fans communities, involved in fanarts, cosplays and fanfilms,  but yet not really in fanfiction writing. They are either TV or Web series. Their names are “Hero Corp”, “Le visiteur du futur” and “Noob”.

To what extent are these French fans engaging with fans from other parts of the world via the web?

From what I observed: a lot! Fans read and write in English. It is one of this things they seem to all share: English.

They engage with other parts of the world very easily. I met some who make collaborative vidding with Russians. Others challenge cosplayers from all Europe. Cosplayers send their pictures to American Video games editors via Facebook and intend to initiate conversations. They make digital fanzines with Canadians. They publish American fanart. They participate in conventions all over Europe.

Fandom is helping to erase difficulties. Some who had never left France, took the plane to join a convention or a festival, to get an interview of an actress. MLP fans organize conventions, thanks to crowd funding,  where MLP authors come from Los Angeles.

Manga fans learn Japanese, they travel over there. They have an expertise about anything Japan. Did you know that the main French fans convention is called "Japan expo"? Japanese video games producers usually send 50 of their top-management to attend this unbelievable event. France is the second largest market for Manga, after Japan. Some fanzine associations are big enough to invite Japanese authors to make a tour in Paris.

And also, very recently, NOOB team received an award in Los Angeles, as one of the best web-series. Funny thing is that French media gave this information but had never mentioned NOOB during the last years.

You talked to both male and female fans on the project and you often asked them about the gendered dimensions of fandom. Can you say something about what constitutes masculine or feminine modes of fan engagement in the French context?

A : Female fans are more numerous. In TV series, like Castle, there was 3 boys out of 70 contacts I made. I wanted to have boys in Citizen Fan, and so I clearly made efforts to have them.

Boys are gathered in My Little Pony fandom, where apart from one woman in the convention staff and maybe a few cosplayers, I’ve met only boys. I’ve seen a lot in the Video Games fandom, some in mangas and a lot in Star Wars.

When it comes to fanfiction, boys literally vanish, except for MLP, some video games and manga. During the Multi-fandom IRL fanfiction challenges, I attended, there was not any boy. Maybe one or two were online. When it comes to becoming a professional writer, only one person told me that was what he wanted and he is a boy. Girls never said so, they told me the opposite: they said they would never be a professional writer.

Fanart (drawings) seems more genre-balanced. For what I observed, maybe boys are a bit more numerous.

Cosplay is apparently also mostly feminine, except for Star Wars where 80% are male according to Arnaud Miralles, (the president of French 501st).

Fanfilms are totally different from boys to girls : for what I observed, boys gather 100 friends, with proper equipment and 4 cameras. Shooting looks like pro. Girls I have observed, gather 10 persons and 1 camera and the result seems less important than having a good time.

According to what I saw, Boys seemed engaging with a high degree of organization with clear objectives, they speak in public, they show themselves more, on Youtube or during convention panels. I observed that Girls have a high degree of personal engagement, they give more of their time and somehow are less concerned with what people think. They remain also more anonymous, they mentor and beta-read a lot.

But all this is very subjective and I must add that making documentaries, women are always more numerous and volunteer. So it might be that male fans avoided me.

American fans are increasingly struggling with the ways they are being entangled in the operations of the American media industry, as logics of engagement start to impact the way Hollywood interacts with its audiences. To what degree has this focus on engagement impacted the French media industries, which come from a very different tradition, one more grounded in public service and artistic enrichment than commercial success?

Manga:

A few years ago, one of the main French book publishers asked one of Citizen Fan's character belonging in the manga fandom, to give them some advice in choosing and publishing a manga. This fan helped them as much as he could. He helped them choosing the manga, having it translated but then the publisher didn't listen to what the fan said about the drawings, the jacket and several other "details". This manga did not do well on the market. The fan came out of this experience thinking there was no dialogue possible, because his expertise was not taken seriously.

Fanzine production in Manga is huge and very good and more and more numerous. People access printing technologies and produce faster. And yet they have not really a distribution circuit. The industry is probably keeping an eye on what fans produce.

Books: 1 - Publishers like Bragelonne are really well aware of fanfiction and they keep in touch with fandom. They released “Fangirl” here, in French, and for what I heard when I met one of their staff, Isabelle Varange, she had been a fanfic reader for a long time. This publisher is going to release Captive Prince in France.

2- There was once a fanfiction challenge, launched by Gallimard Jeunesse , following a book released : “A comme Association” ( P. Bottero & Erik L'Homme).

3 - Here is another example of an editor, Hachette, trying to catch the fanfiction practices. According to Fanfic writers, this s not truly fanfiction writing. In fact, they ask for original stories and they intent to control the texts.

Video Games : The Industry organizes a commercial event in Paris, (Paris Games Week) gathering 300 000 people during 2 days. The Image of this gathering is a very aggressive one. The video games are sold with Ferrari cars parked next to the desk, with scantly dressed women standing next to them… However, one of the organizers told me how much he would like cosplayers to come to this event. One of his reasons would be to please Japanese designers and producers, because they like cosplay and like to have Fans not to far from their games. For what I heard from fans, Paris Games week is very far from being the place to be. Are they going to manage a cosplay challenge ? We’ll see.

TV : I've heard of some transmedia experiment related to Plus belle la vie (France Televisions’ Hit ). This approach didn’t focus on fandom creativity. It was more like an online game to enhance the universe. There were not any fans contents produced. Fans were just involved as an audience. France Televisions, thanks to its channel “France 4” has done a great job around two French Canons Hero Corp and  Le visiteur du futur. They met the fans in conventions and there was a dialogue with the fandom. This might be the first example of French canons really active fandom, communicating with a Broadcaster.

Emilie Flament who has this fan culture and was part of Citizen Fan‘s team as well was in the staff that broadcasted both. Here is what she told me about Hero Corp :

“I have the impression that with the arrival of new media, industry realized that public participation was at stake. Passive audience was a disappearing specie. In front of the multitude of contents, in order to keep the audience, they had to really catch them. Traditional media are starting to understand it and they have engagement strategies more or less written and editorialized. The example of Hero Corp is a bit of a an UFO in French television. This comedy around super heroes universe gathered a large community of active fans during the first two seasons (2008-2010) It was aired on TV in a quite confidential way. When they realized there would not be a third season, fans mobilized online and IRL, going to see the producers and broadcasters, exactly the same way as Veronica Mars or Roswell fans did in the US. In 2012, France 4 ordered a season (and now they are in the 4th one). Fan mobilization clearly influenced this decision but it also provoked the launching of a totally new transmedia process for new seasons : the show runner, Alexandre Astier imagined a multi-supports narration, giving exclusive elements to fans, such as web series, bonuses, etc… through a dedicated application.”

 

The example of NOOB (the web-series) Noob is a French amateur web-series that is something like 9 years old. Video games characters inspire it. It has its own fans. These fans supported the crowd funding initiative launched one year ago that broke European records ( more than 500 000 euros in a few days) . They are now shooting a feature film. They became “Canon” or mainstream and yet the traditional media never talked about them.

To conclude on this, I would say that given the little knowledge our industries have of fans activities, their strategies are not yet having a strong impact on Fandom’s life, and are not “disturbing”. I agree on the fact that France has a strong tradition of public service ( Citizen Fan belongs to this), however, there is also the law issue, and the fundamentally elitist culture issue. All that stops the audience and tells them : stay quiet ! What kind of engagement will develop when the audience is expected to remain passive ?

In the end, what happens is that French fans engage mostly with American industries, naturally, since they are fans of American canons. They get to know about Amazon kindle worlds, they are Youtubers…

You've produced portraits of a number of fans which show us something of the world they inhabit -- their homes, their cultural practices, etc. What did you hope for people to see as you situated these fans in their social settings?

I asked what was the easiest for them. We chose the setting accordingly. They had to feel at ease and so I often let the choice to them. I also wanted the audience to identify with my characters, to have a genuine idea of who was talking. They are not "pirates" or "hysterical idiots" or whatever : they are everybody. They live ordinary lives. Yet, they are not filmed always in their home. Sometimes it was not possible, so I filmed them at my place or during conventions. It is a film about people. I hope the phenomenon of transformative works, in France, will have their faces, so it can be known, understood , and hopefully authorized by the French law.

You directly reproduced a number of examples of fan art and fan media within the project. Did you encounter any push-back over making some of this work as public as you do?

In the part called EXPLORER, I had 5 persons out of 400 who said NO ! To tell the truth, I made a deal that was : you authorize me to show your work and I link to your account on Deviantart, Facebook etc... The webdoc probably was more easy to accept , for them, than a movie screened in theaters. They are used to share their arts online. In Le PHENOMENE, I had no problem, because the fact to show their work was always, from the beginning, something I wanted and they agreed. France Televisions is well respected, as a public service. They never doubted me or France Televisions.

Tell us more about the choice to make this a nonlinear documentary via the web as opposed to a more traditional kind of linear documentary feature? Why was this approach appropriate for this subject?

This approach allowed me to be where they all were and where their creations were. This is a segment of population that is no longer in front of TV. I would have liked to have a linear version on TV as well, for the larger audience, but it was never accepted. The webdoc allows me to put more information without really making a longer film : each character's video last about 10 minutes and I hope it brings enough information so the audience can think about it as representing fandom. If someone wants to come back and watch another character, it is possible 24/7, from every where in the world. This is a gift for the documentary maker. Usually, we meet the audience during screenings in festival. It happens once a month. Here, anyone can send me a message, and for instance the fan artists already gave me extremely valuable and gentle feedback.

I would add two more reasons to choose the webdoc : 1- The audience can enhance Citizen Fan by uploading new works. This is the least we can do dealing with fandom creativity ! 2- The illustrations surrounding the interviews, are the ones I also used in the videos. In the linear format, I could only thank them in the end credits. Nobody would ever remember them and where it comes from. They are like a dead illustrations. Unless you recognize the work immediately, which means it is something as famous as “la Joconde”, anything unknown remains unknown. Here, illustrations are "alive" : if you like that Pony, just click on it and see more of the same fanartist. Then, if doing so, you forget about Citizen Fan, never mind ! The aim of this documentary was to send you there...

 

Emmanuelle Wielezynski Debats was born in 1970 , she is married and mother of  one. Emmanuelle grew up in Algeria, Ivory Coast and France. She was always interested in films and originally wanted to be a scenario writer. She graduated from a Business School in France and attended Film Studies, aside from an MBA program, in Montreal. In 1993, she registered in Anthropology, in Paris VII (Jussieu) with a major in Visual Anthropology. In 1995, she directed a short film, La Voie Blanche. For 12 years, Emmanuelle has worked at various film production companies, as an assistant to directors and to an editor as well. She now lives in Normandy with her husband, Michel Debats, a film director ( Oscar nominated  Winged Migration). In 2007, together they launched their own production company, La Gaptière Production, focused on documentaries. (www.lagaptiere.com)

La Gaptière Production has produced 5 films, starting with School on the Move, in 2008, a feature film released in theaters, that was selected by 50 festivals around the World and won 14 awards, as anthropological documentary, in several countries such as China, Russia, as well as the US (Columbus, Ohio and in Missoula, Montana).  Then came out  three TV films, Femmes en campagne (about women in rural world), Une jeunesse en jachère (about being young in rural world) and Qu'allez-vous faire de vos vingt ans ? (about Jean Jaurès' s legacy). Emmanuelle has worked during 3 years on a more personal project : Citizen Fan, just released as a webdoc.

Citizen Fan: An Interview with Filmmaker Emmanuelle Wielezynski-Debats (Part One)

Once upon a time, there was a group of french fan boys, with names like Francois, Jean-Luc, Claude, Louis and Alan, who showed up day after day at the same movie theater, sat on the front row, and watched mostly American genre films. Sometimes they wrote about they saw, engaging in intense debates in their own publications. Soon, they began to make transformative works -- films that borrowed elements from their favorite genres, paid homage to their favorite directors, repurposed clips and remixed posters and book covers from works that had inspired them. These works were transformative in another sense -- they changed world cinema. These fan boys created the French New Wave, which has been a source of pride in French national culture ever since.

I am telling this story because I want to challenge readers to think about what it means to a fan -- a creator of transformative works -- in the context of contemporary French culture. I've been pondering this question lately because of a recently released web documentary, Citizen Fan, which may just be the best documentary about fan culture that I have seen. The videos are in French (with the option of English subtitles) and they take us deep into the world of contemporary fans of everything from Castle to Harry Potter, from My Little Pony to anime, manga, and video games. Each segment focuses on a different fan, tells their story, introduces their world, and through this process, we get a glimpse into the cultural context in which they work. The site is amply illustrated with examples of fan art. All of this was created as a labor of love by a French documentary filmmaker,  Emmanuelle Wielezynski-Debats.

The filmmaker had reached out to me as she was beginning her work on this film, which was originally intended to deal with French fans of the American series, Castle, but as she describes below, expanded outward and shifted its focus along the way. She had shared with me her own sense of discovery as she fell hard for Castle and from there, fell into the world of French fandom (a community, as she notes, that has strong connections with fan cultures elsewhere around the world.) When I visited Paris a few summers ago, she asked me to do an interview, which we shot in a screening room at the Pompidou Center.

What I recall most vividly about the interview was being surrounded by French fan artists and writers who had shown up to hear my perspectives and provide potential links to the vignettes in her documentary.

I was delighted to learn that this material was now available on-line and could be accessed by those of us whose French would not be strong enough to keep up with what is being said. Unlike other documentaries about fandom, which always feel the need at some point to distance themselves and often fall into various traps of exoticizing, eroticizing and otherizing fandom, this film starts from a place of total respect for the value of what fans create. There have been other documentary projects from within fandom itself, often produced on very low budgets, often with limited production skills, but this is the first one I have seen made by a self-proclaimed fan, growing out of the fan world, and made with professional competency.

I had known France had produced some of the most intense cineastes in the world, who had helped to identify and name, for example, film noir, in the post-war period and I also knew that France has one of the most intense comics culture to be found anywhere, again suggesting a people often intensely invested in its high culture and literary traditions, but also popular culture. But I also knew that it was a country which provided very little protection for fair use and transformative works. So, I had questions about how a culture built on transformative cultural production would thrive in this particular national context. At a time when many of us in fandom studies have been calling for more work in the global and transnational dimensions of fan culture, it's exciting to have access to this rich database of how fandom operates in France.

In the three part interview which follows, Wielezynski-Debats shares with us her experiences in making the film and her observations about how French fandom navigates a culture that seems especially hostile to their identities and cultural practices.

She has been nice enough to share with us some clips from the documentary, but to have the full experience, you need to visit and explore the Citizen Fan website.

You've shared with me that part of what inspired this film was your own relationship to Castle. How did those experiences change the way you thought about what it meant to be a fan and what did you want to share about those experiences with the people beyond fandom who might be watching your film?

I didn't know what a FAN was. The word was not part of my vocabulary. What happened is that I started watching Castle. I started watching it beyond reason. I was under the spell of Castle. Yet, I didn't think to use the word FAN, which is so familiar now.

The term FAN could have been at that moment, in my opinion,  only related to the pop singers' groupies. Obviously, I had no idea of transformative fans.

The internet had never played a central part in my life before that fannish time. I discovered internet because of my addiction. It probably made it stronger. I was surprised by this invasion of my privacy.  I knew Castle's intrusion had something to do with my 20's, when I used to see two screwball comedies per day, in Paris theaters.

There was quite a long moment where I felt weak, because of the addiction, a bit ashamed. At that moment, if I had to call myself a fan, I would have said something like "being a fan is a self introspection through the image of an imaginary character". I didn't think that might be a pattern shared by others. I had not found a way to be creative. I didn't even know that creativity was the key. When I first discovered fanfiction, it was a shock. These people dared to do by themselves what I thought had to be made by the author.

I always had a strong respect for authors. When I read a book, I like to imagine the author behind the story. But I had to admit that reading fanfiction was more than pleasant. I could tell it was healing something. I liked it. Later,  I discovered there was an audience reading those fanfiction, making comments. These people were providing themselves and others with what they needed, they were entering into the storyworld and sitting at the author's table. I thought something in the society was changing and I started to admire this phenomenon.

So yes, my encounter with French fans has changed a lot of things.  They claim being a fan is an identity, they gather in a community and they create things. I suspected none of this when I was on my own. When I started, I was excited with what I had just discovered. I felt very necessary to share with people beyond fandom the different steps:  being a fan, being addict, sharing, creating, feeling better.

You, Henry Jenkins, said in Citizen Fan,  "the fan doesn't only raise questions, he provides answers". This is something important. The answers are not only about the Canon but also about ourselves.

I had the impression there was another French society , other than the one I used to know. Another creativity. Another relation to media, therefore to culture...and especially to American culture. I wanted to share this insight  through a documentary.

Tell us more about your journey in creating this project.

I was able to meet about a hundred transformative fans, thanks to two people: BlackNight, founder of the Castle French Boardhttp://castle.frenchboard.com/;  and Alixe, who writes fanfiction in Harry Potter. She created www.ffnetmodedemploi.fr">a guideline in French in order to help people post upon Fanfiction.net. I think most of French fanfiction writers know this website. These two women are highly creative. They have made several websites, written fanfiction, and fanzines and they have great skills. They are leaders. These two women are also quite different. One of them lives in the rural world and is unemployed, and she is in her mid 20's;  the other one made long studies, has a full time job in Paris and is in her 40's.  Their networks are very different. Both impacted Citizen Fan a lot.

In January 2012, I started meeting Castlefans all around France. I traveled by train. Fans would come to the railroad station to pick me up and we would spend the day together, discussing the documentary itself, how much it was needed and also obviously sharing views about Beckett and Castle. I enjoyed the fan-"brotherhood" or fan-"sisterhood". I was for the first time feeling the warmth of the fandom.

As I met them IRL, they became the faces of what a fan is. This word went along with people. Very nice people, easy to become friends with, especially since they were welcoming me as a fan too. They were never foreigners not one second. From the first minute, we knew each others. This close relationship was always an asset for the film and remains the same now. I interrogated them about their creations. I was not filming. We were talking for hours. I took notes about how we were going to show these creations to a larger audience. In France, as in many places in the world, writing is a noble art, so fans who write would be considered. So I thought.

In November 2011, I had contacted France Televisions online services. Boris Razon, who was the head of this department, was interested in the project. I worked with Christophe Cluzel who is really fond of the fandom activities, and Emilie Flament, who had been a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan and had written Fanfiction. However, it took almost two years to convince the rest of the staff and to have the definite "Go".  We tried to have a linear version of Call me Kate! (Citizen Fan's working title)  on TV. Unfortunately,  France 2, the channel that airs Castle, didn't want anything about Castle fans. They didn't see this phenomenon as a legitimate subject.

The Web-doc is a new genre. I had to understand new techniques and new priorities, that were totally different from traditional documentaries. France Televisions organized several development seminars, where Sébastien François (@sebastien_fr)  a French Sociologist who made his PhD on Harry Potter Fanfiction in French, Lionel Maurel (@calimaq) a whistle blower as well as an expert of our law and Natacha Guyot (@natchaguyot) a former AO3 staff, involved in vidding as well as in academic research on Video games,  took part. We tried several ideas. Nineteen groupe, the web agency that put Citizen Fan online, was here from the start, including during these development seminars.

It was decided that Citizen Fan had to be ready to upload what fans would send us. It had to meet all the requirements of France Televisions' complex digital network.

When everything was settled with France Televisions, after two years work, I learnt that the CNC (French Ministry of Culture) would not fund us, at all. Half of the budget was gone. They stated that this subject was not "sound" enough. After meeting French fans, I wanted to meet some French academics working on Fandom or Folk culture, or Fanfiction. I had very few names, and received very few answers. The first ones I contacted didn't give me the names of any colleagues. There were several dead ends.

Until I met Sébastien François, who was finishing his PhD at TELECOM Paris Tech and who is now assistant researcher at Universités Paris 13 and Paris Descartes. He is a specialist of French Fanfiction. He accepted right away and helped me during all the process of making Citizen Fan.

During all that time, I had been reading your books, as well as Hellekson and Busse‘s and Michel de Certeau’s. I watched documentaries such as Remix manifesto, IRL the Bronze, Trekkers etc... It seemed to me obvious that I had to interview you. You had the kindness to accept. Your  interview was the first one I conducted, but I had already met with all my characters and I knew them well. So, I questioned you with the idea that your answers might enlighten what fans would tell me, describing their life and creative process. I constructed your interview accordingly.

I had chosen 22 fans which I found were representing, the different issues in Fandom. I always kept your answers in mind, while I was interviewing them. It helped me leading the interviews. Because of the budget cut, we ended up editing in my flat, totally out of the traditional circuit of the audiovisual production in Paris.

The editing was the longest part. I had to ask 400 people, one by one,  for the authorization to use their artworks. I wanted to illustrate Citizen Fan 99% with fanarts. This was my choice. Yet, I was and remain in the uncertainty, as far as French law is concerned. Do I have the right to show transformative works, in a country where transformative - even for free - is forbidden ? I kept worrying about that, all along. And no lawyer could give me any piece of advice.

Emmanuelle Wielezynski Debats was born in 1970 , she is married and mother of  one. Emmanuelle grew up in Algeria, Ivory Coast and France. She was always interested in films and originally wanted to be a scenario writer. She graduated from a Business School in France and attended Film Studies, aside from an MBA program, in Montreal. In 1993, she registered in Anthropology, in Paris VII (Jussieu) with a major in Visual Anthropology. In 1995, she directed a short film, La Voie Blanche. For 12 years, Emmanuelle has worked at various film production companies, as an assistant to directors and to an editor as well. She now lives in Normandy with her husband, Michel Debats, a film director ( Oscar nominated  Winged Migration). In 2007, together they launched their own production company, La Gaptière Production, focused on documentaries. (www.lagaptiere.com)

La Gaptière Production has produced 5 films, starting with School on the Move, in 2008, a feature film released in theaters, that was selected by 50 festivals around the World and won 14 awards, as anthropological documentary, in several countries such as China, Russia, as well as the US (Columbus, Ohio and in Missoula, Montana).  Then came out  three TV films, Femmes en campagne (about women in rural world), Une jeunesse en jachère (about being young in rural world) and Qu'allez-vous faire de vos vingt ans ? (about Jean Jaurès' s legacy). Emmanuelle has worked during 3 years on a more personal project : Citizen Fan, just released as a webdoc.

 

The Steampunk Scene in Brazil: Strategies of Sociality

One of the pleasures of running this blog is the chance to engage with readers all over the world, who are able to share with me  what's happening in their countries. The phenomenon I discuss here -- from participatory culture and politics to new media literacies to transmedia entertainment -- are playing out right now on a global scale. Thanks to these contacts, I have been able to share with my readers new developments in Russia, China, India, Poland,  among many other examples, and I look forward to sharing other such cases in the future. Recently, I have corresponded with Éverly Pegoraro who has been researching the Steampunk scene in Brazil. And after some back and forth, I am happy to be able to share with you today some of her findings -- in words and images. By the way, readers in Brazil may be interested to know that there is now a Portuguese edition of our most recent book -- Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture (with Sam Ford and Joshua Green)-- which is published there as Cultura  da Conexão: Criando Valor e Significado por Meio da Mídia Propagável. You can learn more at the Aleph website. Thanks so much to our friend, Maurico Mota, for his hard work to make this book approachable to our friends down in Brazil.

 

Steampunk scene in Brazil: strategies of sociality by Éverly Pegoraro  

What motivates steampunks? For some, just nostalgia. For others, daydreams. Amid fans and critics, the fact is that steampunk and other retrofuturistic movements extrapolate elements from the literary imagination as the basis for generating creative urban experiences. A meaningful example of this process may be perceived in Brazil. The steampunk "scene" in Brazil has already a substantial number of participants, spread across 13 states. Steamers, as they are known here amongst fans, participate in many activities.

Each Brazilian state holds a different group of steamers. For the past three years, I’ve had the opportunity to follow one of the most active steamer . groups in Paraná state in southern Brazil, Steampunk Council of Paraná Lodge. In this space, generously provided by Professor Jenkins, I will share some impressions about the research, which is part of my doctorate thesis.

Unlike other countries, Brazilian steamers are organized in lodges (a Masonry inspiration) in each State, which are administered by local councils. All are supported by Steampunk Council. The Steampunk Council’s mission is summarized on their official web site:

The Steampunk Council was conceived with the central idea of democratization, flexibility and sustainability of steampunk movement. It is less an organization and more a concept, on which representatives of steampunk community can create their lodges, as the cells are called from the concept of the Council. [ ... ] The Steampunk Council's mission is to provide mechanisms for the dissemination of steampunk culture, provide reference material, promote all sorts of related events, encouraging cultural production of this sort of subjectivity and paying tribute to all those who create and produce material of Steampunk culture in all possible forms. (Available at http://www.steampunk.com.br/conselho-steampunk/)

Each regional group is autonomous to develop their own activities. The Steampunk Council of Paraná Lodge has existed for about four years and is managed by a group of the most active founding members. Besides them, there are many participants, some more regular and active (about 25 people), others only occasional visitors. Adopting the fluid, ephemeral and diversified characteristics of neotribes characterized by Maffesoli (1987), they form a heterogeneous group, across genders, ethnicities and ages (ranging from 14 to 50 years). Members are from different social classes, studying and/or working in many areas, such as writers, musicians, housewives, professors, and service providers.

As organized groups, they have the opportunity to create more permanent social ties than the relative ephemerality of the neotribos. This is a strong characteristic of Paraná’s group. The several proposed activities during the year encourage face to face interaction amongst the participants and create spaces where each discovers and develops artistic, literary, media production skills.

The Steamers’ creations blend the imagery of the nineteenth century, the individual preferences of media culture and the creativity of each participant. The Victorian aesthetic is strongly present in this urban culture, especially in the costumes and in the context of the stories. But steampunk enables a wide dimension of contextualization that are not directly inserted in Victorian Era.

Therefore, the selection of this period is not exclusively due to the visual. Steamers say they seek values from the Victorian imaginary. They want more romanticism, sensibility and personal investment -- in other words, less mechanical and utilitarian relationships.

[Steampunk] refers to a time when people cared more about delicacy, gentleness, there had been a different culture, a more educated one. I find it interesting to extrapolate the technology of this period and advance it as if it had been nothing after, to increase the capacity of a technology that actually has not developed much. I find it interesting to explore more things that sometimes were not explored in the past. (Brazilian steamer)   What fascinates me is the Victorian aesthetic, the well done style, with the smallest details, it has the seriousness of the men, the femininity of the women, the clothes […] the court society, the social rules. And there is also the convenience of the technology how we have today, the clothes are not made by hand, not everything is very expensive, we have the benefits of communication, medicine, entertainment, movie theaters. (Brazilian steamer)

 

We see the old aesthetic is beautiful, more farfetched. A time when people had more free time to take care of themselves, but the values were different. It's interesting you deal with an older aesthetic, but with current values, especially for women. The corset is nice, but nobody wants to live as it was before. So, it's cool to have that aesthetic, an aesthetic that people will look strange, for it’s old, but with values […] the female steampunk characters are not housewives, all professions in steampunk can be applied for men or for women.(Brazilian steamer)

The interviewees' statements above indicate an attempt to retrieve the values and behaviors of an idealized past. Such desires suggest the search for a less rationalist and mechanical subjectivity and the need to invest more deeply in relationships.

Homi K. Bhabha (2011) offers some interesting clues to consider the social articulations that occur in these inter-spaces of difference and minorities, in which there are complex processes of negotiation and cultural hybridisms. He conceives such cultural hybridism as a third space that enables new positions of meaning and representation. The negotiations that take place in these spaces allow hybrid agencies that do not seek cultural supremacy. Such movements are articulated in the “arts of the present”, defined by the author as the performances by which different minority group elaborates strategies of survival, identity formation, political contestation, social relations, and aesthetic manifestations. The steamers below talk about why they participate in this urban culture:

We're putting a question to rethink who we are, it’s not to think who we may be in the future, it’s to rethink who we are today. Which were our real choices in the past that brought us here, and based on which choices we could have made. That's what draws me into steampunk. (Brazilian steamer)

 

I think it's a fascination for a time that is chronologically so close, but so radically different from our reality. (Brazilian steamer writer)

 

I do not think the nineteenth century so far, not so different. […] Over the past 200 years, more things happened than between 1400 and 1600. […] The planet got smaller because of communication technology, for better and for worse. […] The nineteenth century, for being so close, is a rich context to be described and to criticize the current moment. What is science fiction? It’s to put into perspective our reality through the accentuation of problems and defects from that historical moment. (Brazilian steamer writer)

Freedom of expression […] It's a hobby to get away a little bit of our ordinary everyday, encouraging people to do something different. It’s for the pleasure [...] to meet different people, search new experiences. (Brazilian steamer)

Brazillian steamers’ strategies of visuality and sociality are acts of resistance to contemporary spatiotemporal compressions, providing an inter-space of temporality and hybrid culture, which combines different historical periods. However, steampunk hasn’t derived from a pure and simple import of Europeanised customs, which, in turn, would result in similar actions to the Brazilian Belle Époque. Neither has it intended to celebrate a tradition originated from English distant past of ladies and gentlemen.

Besides the fascination with the Victorian imaginary, what unites Brazilian steamers, no doubt, is the science fiction in its various products, questioning the inventions that marked the transition to the modern world, especially in science and technology. This identification is made clear in the narratives constructed individually and collectively by the steamers. Some seek to insert elements of  history and Brazilian literature, as in the following example:

I tried to imagine how it would be a world in which the Baron [Mauá – Brazilian historical character] was even more influent, decisive to the directions of our country. So, I thought that the Abolitionist Campaign would be more successful with, let’s say, not only the prohibition of the slave trade in the 1850’s, but with the release of all slaves and with the attraction of foreign and specialized labor and, most importantly, a world in which there had not been the Paraguayan War, what would’ve stopped the waste of lives and money we had in reality. (Brazilian steamer writer)

The events that promote steampunk and encourage sociality among the participants are the main feature of the Brazilian group. Aiming to give visibility to their initiatives, steamers often attend events of other youth cultures, such as Victorian picnics (an event that has become a reference there). Each activity promoted by Steampunk Council of Paraná Lodge has a specific theme, in honor of historical characters and events, often from a specifically Brazilian context. They do not have a fixed schedule, but each event usually involves music, dance, literature and individual performances. The three major events promoted by Paraná steamers are named as the Steampunk Picnics, Steam Coffee (In Portuguese, Cafés a Vapor) and the workshops to learn how to customize clothing and objects.

The Steampunk Picnics are annual events held at parks in Curitiba, capital of Paraná state. The steamers enjoy the sunny Saturday or Sunday afternoons to do the “steampunk scene”, where they go dressed in their costumes, play games and participate on sweepstakes, gymkhanas and photographic sessions.

Convescote Steampunk, março de 2012. Curitiba, Paraná, BrazilConvescote Steampunk, março de 2012. Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil  

 

Convescote Steampunk, março de 2012. Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil_2 The customization workshops occur every two or three months (there is no strict regularity) in Curitiba. They are also used as a shop window for steamers to exhibit their artistic abilities. They are artisans, designers, stylists and photographers who take the opportunity to promote their work and, in some cases, sell them.

After posting on their blog (http://pr.steampunk.com.br/) and on the group's profile on Facebook (in Portuguese: Loja Paraná do Conselho Steampunk), the interested ones meet on a Saturday afternoon to learn basic techniques of steampunk styling. The workshops are taught by the older group members or by some guest who has a specific skill that can be useful in customizing clothing and accessories. During an afternoon, someone is highly unlikely to finish the process. But the steamers themselves make clear that the workshop will explain the basic technique. It is up to each person to develop (and even enhance) what was taught.

During workshops, Brazilian ......During workshops, Brazilian steamers discuss alternatives to materialize their imaginative ability

The workshops are characterized as a meaningful moment of sociality among the steamers, because there is sharing, exchange of ideas and interaction among them, while they discuss alternatives to materialize what they imagine. Tutors seek to encourage creativity by presenting a variety of objects made at home. The “students” identify themselves with these possibilities and discuss alternatives to adapt them to their purposes. Tutors share the difficulties to develop the techniques, aiming to ease the situation for those who are beginners.

Workshop to Make Mini and Top HatsWorkshop to make mini and top hats

Customizations are used in the practice of steamplay (adaptation of the term cosplay to the steampunk universe), when steamers perform their steampunk character, constructing their identities and embodying their clothing and accessories as well as their historical and social context. Public performances happen in the events that Steampunk Council of Paraná Lodge promotes or participates. Several factors influence the character creation, such as preferences and hobbies of each participant or their ability to afford the steamplay.

Steam Coffees are evening events. As an example, the night of Steam Coffee: The steampunk evolution (Tribute to Charles Darwin) began with the performance of a traditional tribal dance, created by two dancers for the event. According to one of them, the ethnic tribal dance joins elements and techniques of folk dances from around the world. The steampunk concept appears on the mix of industrial music and the aesthetic of the costumes.

 

Musical performance at Brazilian steampunk eventMusical performance at Brazilian steampunk event

Steampunk Event in CuritibaSteampunk event in Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil

Performance of a a Traditional Tribal DancePerformance of a traditional tribal dance, created to a Brazilian steampunk event  

Participants of a Brazilian Steampunk EventParticipants of a Brazilian steampunk event    

During the event, the participants had fun with a steampunk musical repertoire of a steamer DJ who shared music videos. Some steamers shared a steampunk tale written by one of the participants of Curitiba’s group, who is also a writer. Indeed, the practice of writing tales, editing magazines and creating all kind of steampunk media products (even if they’re not mainstream, but only released on the internet) is common among steamers. As pointed out by Jenkins (2010), these informal learning communities encourage participants to develop writing skills and styles as well as to build confidence in their own abilities before entering in the professional market.

Members of Steampunk Council of Paraná Lodge share a wide range of cultural interests drawn from the content of media culture products over which they claim a sense of ownership and mastery. Practices similar to those discussed by de Certeau (1998) and Jenkins (2010) in terms of bricolage or “poaching.” Steamers appropriate different science fiction books, movies, comics and RPG games, but giving them new meanings, expanding the stories, deepening their interpretations of the characters and reimagining the story world. The creations may even suggest impossible mixtures through the insertion of fictional or historical characters from different periods in the same narrative.

Similarly to what Jenkins (2010) describes, such practices involve a form of aesthetic perversion of the traditional limits imposed by the dominant cultural hierarchies which outline the desirable and undesirable cultures. Thus, they build a cultural and social identity through appropriation and modification of cultural products.

The first Brazilian steampunk photo roman – Curitiba’s steamers are pride to point out it as the first one – is a striking example. Steampunk Carnivale[1]photo roman (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ehm8RJ8KVwo) is a collective production involving performances by the various members of Steampunk Council of Paraná Lodge, who customized their costumes and accessories and collaborated to generate the plot. The work – which combined science ficton and intrigue -- was shared via Youtube.

Despite the understandable limitations of an amateur production, this photo roman can be characterized as contributing to an urban culture that has taken shape around a common interest in steampunk retrofuturism with the production and exchange of such products acting as part of what Thornton (1995) describes as a micromedia circuit. What matters here is not so much the aesthetic merits of the community’s productions or their comparison with more mainstream cultural products but rather the social and cultural dimensions of participants interactions with each other.

The cultural products that emerge from the steamers’ appropriation and remixing practices do not always fully cohere. Participants continually negotiate their relationship to the genre and to pre-existing culture materials according to their most immediate interests. As an example, note the following explanations of two steamers of Curitiba:

I really like gothic, so I wanted to make a gothic steamplay. I’ve brought a little bit of everything: I have keys, the belt that has potions, also weapons, which were made in the workshops. [ ... ] I’ve watched the movie The Crucible (and also read the book), and I’ve been writing the story for me. [...] Harry Potter has also influenced a little bit, so that my wand is from Harry Potter, it is not customized, I did not want to change it. (Brazilian steamer)   One of my ideas is inspired by Assassin's Creed games, which there are murders [...] it is like a secret society, fighting against the old Knights Templar. (Brazilian steamer)

This is how steamers – between pirates and nomads (Jenkins, 2010) – create their performances and products in an experience that is both individual and collective, within a vast network of connections that constitute this participatory culture.

 

Brazilian steamer at Steam Coffee. Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil, 2012.Brazilian steamer at Steam Coffee. Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil, 2012

 

Brazilian steamersBrazilian steamers

Steamers start from the media culture products that most interest them and become producers of new texts including fictional narratives, photo romans, illustrations, photographic essays, customized objects, crafts, dance and music performances, fashion and accessories, magazines, events. These acts of cultural expression are informed by two competing logics: the Do It Yourself (DIY) aesthetic from the punk movement and the contemporary conception of Do It Together (DIT) as it has taken shape around the Maker movement. One emphasizes individual, the other collective production. Thus, even though DIY logic prevails, the premise is surrounded by a mutual aid policy: each steamer helps the others with his skills in making products and accessories, embodying the DIT logic of participatory culture.

This idea is summarized in the interview with one of the forerunners in Paraná, Carlos Alberto Machado:

People sometimes send e-mail asking: 'do you sell steampunk clothing?'. 'We are not selling, what we do is teach you how to do,' I say. [ ... ] Paraná is the state that is promoting more workshops. And the workshops are bringing a lot of people and a lot of good things. There is the shyest person who ends up getting more outgoing, and makes friends. [ ...] We do not call it as a class, the idea is not to teach you the 'abc'. The idea is to encourage the participants to bring things and the group teaches the group. [...] They bring this knowledge and show them what they do to encourage the participants to try to do something similar. (Brazilian steamer)

Thus, the interest in steampunk by Curitiba’s group is structured through the desire to interact and be part of a community that shares broader cultural and social interests. Sociality grows from mutual interests, reflecting the group’s particular interpretative conventions as they are shaped by individual and collective acts of story telling, performance, and cultural production. While there is a strong emphasis here on self-creation, we should recall that all of this activity occurs within a consumerist context, where critical interactions between man and technology coexist with leisure, hedonism, and consumption. Their retrofuturist imaginings emerge from a particular local context and get circulated through a micromedia circuit.

Brazilian steampunk reinserts questions that turn away from traditional political participation. Steampunk encourages its participants to return again and again to the core question: “what if had it been different?”. Besides, creating a story of an invented past is a way to discuss current and relevant issues. It’s not an attempt to return to past, not about engaging with an exotic foreignness, but an inter-space that mixes criticism, socio-temporal concern, hedonism, entertainment. More than the fascination for the historical period of Victorian Age itself, what prevails is the will of the steamers to recreate their own fictitious historical memory, which is strongly impacted by media culture.

 

Éverly Pegoraro is a Brazilian university lecturer and PhD candidate in Communication and Culture at State University of Midwestern Paraná, Brazil . His doctoral research deals with the relationship between visuality and sociality in steampunk. He is the leader of the Communication and Sociocultural Interfaces research group. Contact:everlyp@yahoo.com.br ou https://www.facebook.com/everly.pegoraro.

 

References

Bhabha, Homi (2011).O entrelugar das culturas. In: COUTINHO, Eduardo (Org.). O bazar global e o clube dos cavalheiros ingleses: textos seletos. [The global bazaar and the English gentlemen's club: selected texts].Rio de Janeiro: Rocco.

Certeau, Michel. de. (1998). A invenção do cotidiano. Artes de fazer [The practice of everyday life].(3rd ed.). Petrópolis, Brazil: Vozes. Conselho Steampunk. http://www.steampunk.com.br/.

Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Felix. (1995a). Mil Platôs. [Thousand Plateaus]. Vol. 1. São Paulo: Ed. 34. ______. Mil Platôs. (1995b). [Thousand Plateaus].Vol. 2. São Paulo: Ed. 34.

Jenkins, Henry. (2010). Piratas de textos.Fans, culturaparticipativa y televisión.[Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture]. Barcelona: Paidós.

Maffesoli, Michel. (1987). O tempo das tribos.O declínio do individualismo nas sociedades de massa. [The time of tribes.The decline of individualism in Mass Society]. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Forense—Universitária.

Thornton, Sarah. (1995). Club cultures: Music, media andsubcultural capital. Cambridge, England: Polity.

 

[1] Although the name of the photo roman refers to Carnival, one of Brazil's major festive periods, the theme has no direct reference to the subject. Curitiba is not known for its Carnival tradition. Besides, in the days of this festivity, there is an alternative event for those who do not enjoy Carnival: Zombie Walk. As the organizers of the event use to say: “in Curitiba, Carnival is a horror”.

Digital Cosmopolitans: An Interview with Ethan Zuckerman (Part Three)

You talk a bit in the book about some of themes we tackled in Spreadable Media -- the degree to which more and more media comes to us because it is passed along by our friends rather than through mainstream distribution. How does this impact the challenges we face in developing a more "cosmopolitan" perspective on the world? What do you see as some of the limitations of “social discovery”?
I see social discovery as a third paradigm in how we find information online. In the early commercial internet, we saw a lot of curators from an earlier generation of media taking their place in the digital world. These curators are very helpful in guiding us to unexpected discovery, pointing us to media we might not have otherwise found, but they have been challenged and unseated by an internet-age suspicion of "gatekeepers", who silence some voices and amplify others.
For much of the development of the consumer internet, search has been a dominant paradigm. In search, we look for precisely what we want, and we often find it. It's a very rewarding experience, but it's one with some complicated implications. It's possible to surround ourselves with information that confirms our existing biases and prejudices, and to filter out voices that might challenge our preconceptions. And search demands that we know what we're looking for, which is problematic, because we don't always know what we want or what we need.
Social discovery has emerged in part as a way of reintroducing serendipity into online discovery. It gives us signals about what our friends are interested in that we've not yet discovered, which allows us the experience of novelty and discovery. But what we're discovering is what our friends knew, which means our horizons are limited to those of our friends. If we're blessed with a broad and knowledgeable set of friends, this can be a very profound discovery mechanism. But for many of us, our friends have similar backgrounds and similar perspectives, and discovering the world through their shared media may reinforce our existing worldviews, not only telling us what we want and expect to hear, but persuading us that our perspectives are universal ones, because our friends share that perspective.
I think that spreadable media escapes some of these limitations in that fandoms often bring together people from very different backgrounds around a shared media experience. Sharing a fondness for sumo gives me a point of encounter with people in Japan, Mongolia, Bulgaria and Brazil (four countries well represented in sumo at present) and the possibility to discover new perspectives through the encounter. But it's possible to imagine other experiences of sharing an interest that leads you back to people you already encounter in your daily existence - I'm not sure my experience as a Red Sox fan broadens my social or global perspectives very much.
You draw heavily across the book on your experiences with Global Voices. What has this project taught you about the kinds of human resources, processes, and technologies needed to facilitate meaningful exchanges across national borders?
Global Voices has taught me two major lessons: the importance of face to face relationships, and the idea that cross-cultural communication is a skill. Global Voices is celebrated as a virtual community that somehow manages to bring 1400 people in 100 countries together to work on a common project. While that's true, the secret of the community is that we invest heavily in face to face contact. The project started at a meeting at Harvard, and most of our important decisions have been made when many of us are able to be together in the same space. It's ironic that a project about connection through digital media is so physically mediated, but I think that just reinforces how significant in person encounter remains in a digital age. I think a lesson learned from our experience is that it can be very valuable to combine short burst of face to face encounter with use of digital media to prepare for and deepen relationships. We're big fans of introducing people online, bringing them together in person for a few days, then asking them to work together virtually for years at a time.
Most of the people involved with Global Voices are bridge figures, brokering ideas and information between two or more cultures. I'm increasingly persuaded that this sort of bridging is a skillset that can be developed and cultivated. People in our community who are committed to some other form of cultural bridging aside from blogging or writing - living and working outside their home culture, working across different socioeconomic groups - tend to be our strongest and most productive community members. And people who work with us through the years, particularly people who work in different positions within the organization, develop a very strong suite of tools that allow them to mitigate conflicts and build new connections.
As for the technological piece: we're almost luddites at Global Voices. We used IRC for many years for internal conversations, and mailing lists. We're reluctant to embrace technologies until they are very widely usable. But we're starting to make some shifts. GV Faces is my favorite new project - it's a panel discussion on an issue in the news, held via Google Hangouts and recorded for broadcast on YouTube. When we started Global Voices, it was hard to imagine that we'd see technology advance to the point where we could do a global video talking heads show, but that's where we are, and I'm loving the outcome.
You also draw on your experiences as a fan of certain forms of global pop music. To what degree might music circulate across borders that it is harder for news to cross? Does this movement pose a risk that the music will be exoticized, decontextualized, and misunderstood or does it potentially spark interests and connections that can lead to thicker forms of communication down the line? Might the same thing be said for other kinds of cultural products -- Japanese Anime or Bollywood films, for example?
Music is the easiest route into a new culture for me - I've listened to and collected global pop music since my teens, and my first trip in any new city is to the record store. There are many countries where I know nothing about the politics but something about the music. For me, knowing something about a country's music opens me to learning something about the news or the politics - when I follow the rebellion and civil war in Mali, I'm thinking of the wealth of amazing songwriters in Bamako, and about the guitar playing of Tinariwen and other Tuareg musicians.
There's no doubt that music can be a space for appropriation without exploration. I examine Diplo's use of Brazilian dance music in Rewire and conclude that he's skating right up to the line, if not crossing it, in his work with MIA. But I also consider how a blatant, naked appropriation - Deep Forest's use of "Rorogwela", a Solomon Islands lullaby, which they repackage as "pygmy music" from the Congo - leads internet artist Matt Harding to seek out the creator's family in the Solomon Islands and make a deep and significant personal tie. Harding found a piece of music he loved, learned the complicated story behind it and it ultimately led him to make personal connections behind the music.
I think cultural media like music, movies and food are often a shortcut around the caring problem. I may know little about the Uighur and their ongoing struggles with the Chinese government, but I know - and dig - the music of Zulpitar Zaitov, and so I'm inclined to pay more attention to Uighur news than I otherwise would. I see no reason why this couldn't work around anime or Bollywood, and suspect it probably does.

 

You are now heading up the MIT Center for Civic Media. How might the projects you are developing there help to further address the challenges you've identified throughout your book?
I talk in Rewire about a set of tools that can help us monitor our individual use of media and decide whether or not we are getting the diverse picture of the world we need. We're building some of those tools at Center for Civic Media, using the Media Cloud software that I've been working on for years with colleagues at Harvard's Berkman Center. Tools like Catherine d'Iganzio's Mapping the Globe are designed to help us visualize the concentrations and biases of media coverage. Nathan Matias and Sarah Szalavits have built a tool called Follow Bias that helps show how many women, men and brands you're following on Twitter and, perhaps, make a decision to change your behavior and follow more (or fewer) women. We're also building tools that look at how ideas and culture spread globally, as with a tool like What We Watch, which maps global audiences for YouTube videos. Finally, we're starting to build tools that help you add serendipity to your media diet. Catherine is working on a Masters thesis called Terra Incognita, which helps you monitor where in the world you pay attention to and discover sources from parts of the world which are unknown to you.

Ethan Zuckerman is director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, and a principal research scientist at MIT's Media Lab.  He is the author of "Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection", published by W.W. Norton in June 2013. With Rebecca MacKinnon, Ethan co-founded international blogging community Global Voices. Global Voices showcases news and opinions from citizen media in over 150 nations and thirty languages. Ethan's research focuses on issues of internet freedom, civic engagement through digital tools and international connections through media. He blogs athttp://ethanzuckerman.com/blog and lives in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts.

Digital Cosmopolitans: An Interview with Ethan Zuckerman (Part Two)

The word, cosmopolitanism, is often used and often misunderstood. What does the term mean to you? What do you see as the core values or virtues of adopting a more cosmopolitan perspective?
I debated whether or not to use the world "cosmopolitanism" in the book, as it evokes a sense of globe-hopping placelessness that's not what I wanted to evoke. But I ended up using it because I found Kwame Appiah's thinking about cosmopolitanism so helpful.
Appiah, a Ghanaian-American philosopher, suggests that cosmopolitans recognize that there is more than one acceptable way to live in the world, and that we may have obligations to people who live in very different ways than we do. This, he argues, is one of the possible responses to a world where we find ourselves interacting with people from very different backgrounds. Cosmopolitanism doesn't demand that we accept all ways of living in the world as equally admirable - he works hard to draw a line between cosmopolitanism and moral relativism - but does demand that we steer away from a fundamentalist or nationalist response that sees our way as the only way and those who believe something different as inferior or unworthy of our consideration or aid.
I'm struck by how personal a response Appiah's cosmopolitanism is. He navigates two very different cultures in his life - his academic life in Princeton and his family in Ghana - and aspects of that life, notably his homosexuality, can be very controversial in one environment and uncontroversial in another. The solution he proposes, it struck me, is one of the more thoughtful approaches to life in a world where we continually encounter other ways of thinking and living. A cosmopolitan approach offers us the encouragement to discover other ways of solving a problem while accepting the idea that we may choose to continue living in ways we have in the past. What we are not free to do is to dismiss other ways of living out of hand, or to fall back on a narrow, tribal definition of obligation. It strikes me as a responsible reaction to a world that is connected in ways large and small, in ways we rarely see or understand.
 You discuss across the book the symptoms of an “incomplete globalization.” Is it incomplete in the sense that it is broken or incomplete in the sense that it is still in process? 
One of the criticisms I've received about the book is that it's insufficiently critical of contemporary global capitalism. One reason critics have brought up that objection is that I'm enthusiastically pro-globalization, though not in the ways most people use that term. I've been involved with global economic development for the past two decades, and it has persuaded me that what developing economies need is more globalization, not less. Nations that have the hardest time educating their populations and giving them economic opportunities tend to be those most detached from global trade and migration flows. This doesn't mean that I support exploitative globalization, and I think that a great deal of what happens at the WTO and other international trade fora is rigged against developing nations. But the enemy isn't globalization - it's bad, unfair globalization.
I use "incomplete globalization" as a way of describing a tension between three types of movement. Atoms are quite free to move across global borders - we've built trade systems that allow low-cost sourcing of raw materials and manufactured goods from across continents and oceans. While trade in atoms isn't barrier free, it's far less restrained than the flow of people, which has been dramatically restrained in the 20th century, to the great detriment of many in the developing world. I am deeply influenced by Lant Prichett's arguments which make the case that increased migration would be the single biggest step taken towards economic development in poor nations. My contribution to the debate is to note that globalization of bits often lags behind globalization of atoms, closely following the globalization of people. I am concerned that a world where we globalize atoms and not bits is a dangerous world - we are dependent on other parts of the world without understanding local circumstances. So I would argue for a more complete globalization of atoms, bits and people, in ways that are careful, fair and focused on human development. So "incomplete globalization" is both broken in some ways, and incomplete, though my focus is one the ways it is incomplete and imbalanced between globalization of atoms, people and bits.
 
You make a productive distinction in the book between Xenophiles and bridge figures. What are the differences between the two? What kinds of functions do they each serve in connecting people together across national differences? How do they both fit within a larger vision of a more cosmopolitan culture?
For me, bridge figures are the cultural brokers and translators who work to make cultures understandable to each other. Bridge figures have deep attachments to two or more cultures - they've usually lived and worked in different parts of the world, and they've chosen to champion those cultures, identifying the good parts in one and introducing them to the other.
If you're going to have an advocate for a culture, they need someone to advocate to. Xenophiles are people who seek inspiration and new ideas in different cultures. They don't have the background in the different cultures to build new bridges, but they can cross the ones that bridge figures build.
For the project of increasing global understanding and connection, both types of figures are critical. I probably emphasize the function of the bridge figure more thoroughly in Rewire because it's hard for me to imagine much global connection without bridging. But xenophiles - particularly xenophiles who wear their interests and passions on their sleeves, like Anthony Bourdain and his relentless search for interesting global food - are enormously important in promoting the possibility and importance of international connection. Not everyone can be a bridge figure, I argue - it's an accident of circumstances as well as a choice of perspective and temperment - but xenophilia is a choice and one I hope more people will make.
 What steps might educators take to foster a greater interest and engagement with the kinds of global communication flows that you value? Is it simply a matter of encouraging Americans to learn foreign language or beefing up geography teaching, or does it require rethinking the curriculum at a deeper level?

Languages, geography, history and travel are all powerful tools to encourage engagement, but I think we need a more fundamental change in educational systems. We need much greater awareness of interconnection so that the importance of understanding the wider world is far more apparent. We're lousy about teaching students the complex systems that hold the world together - trade, financial flows, shipping, migration - so it's not a surprise that complex stories that require us to understand interconnection are hard to develop audiences for.

Near the end of the book, you discuss "cognitive diversity" and its value in contemporary organizations. How do you define this concept? In what sense is it different from "Identity diversity"? What steps can organizations take to foster and sustain greater "cognitive diversity" in their operations?
Cognitive diversity and identity diversity have some common ground, but do not fully overlap. Cognitive diversity recognizes different ways of thinking about problems and tends to track to differences in cultural upbringing and education. Two people who have different ethnic and religious backgrounds might think very similarly if they were raised in the same geographic community and attended the same set of schools and trained in the same ways.
Near the end of Rewire, I argue that teams benefit from cognitive diversity and may need to look for it both through identity diversity and above and beyond identity diversity. This likely requires changing how we recruit talent, looking at broader pools of individuals with different paths towards qualification. It also means making a commitment towards building teams to encourage diversity and accepting some conflict over more comfortable, homophilous teams, possibly trading some degree of comfort and harmony for creative tension.
Ethan Zuckerman is director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, and a principal research scientist at MIT's Media Lab.  He is the author of "Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection", published by W.W. Norton in June 2013. With Rebecca MacKinnon, Ethan co-founded international blogging community Global Voices. Global Voices showcases news and opinions from citizen media in over 150 nations and thirty languages. Ethan's research focuses on issues of internet freedom, civic engagement through digital tools and international connections through media. He blogs athttp://ethanzuckerman.com/blog and lives in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts.

Digital Cosmpolitans: An Interview with Ethan Zuckerman (Part One)

Ethan Zuckerman is one of the big thinkers, and doers who consistently inspires me. His Wikipedia entry identifies him as "an American media scholar, blogger, and internet activist." All of this is true, but that's just part of the picture. He's also someone who consults regularly with major foundations, think tanks, NGOs, and policy-makers, as they try to understand the potentials, and risks, of networked computing. As the founder of GeekCorps and Global Voices, he's put his geeky skills to work to try to change the problems which worry him the most about our contemporary culture. He's someone who has a formed a network of other bloggers and digital activists around the world, and someone who travels often to parts of the planet that most of us could not point out on a map, in order to better understand the political, cultural, and technological conditions on the ground there. He's become one of our best thinkers about "digital age civics" and through his work as the Director of the MIT Center for Civic Media, he's leading a team of graduate students as they seek to design tools which might empower activists and community leaders to be more effective at fostering social change. He does this while remaining mild-mannered, easy-going, modest, and open-minded, a model for what an engaged public intellectual might look like in the 21st century. I am lucky to be able to call him a friend.
Last year, he published an important and timely book, Rewired: Digital Cosmopolitanism in the Age of Connection, which should be required reading for all Americans. Zuckerman is asking us to think more deeply about how we learn about the world and whether our access to the WORLD Wide Web has done much to change the parochialism within our culture. Here, he draws on the full range of his experiences to bring us face to face with the blind spots in our information consumption, with the challenges in overcoming isolationist and xenophobic tendencies in our society, but also to propose alternative strategies by which some people are becoming "bridge builders" who embrace diversity and insure that we have greater access to alternative  perspectives. Zuckerman understands the complexities and contradictions of our current moment, adopting a position that is sometimes optimistic, somethings skeptical, but always feels  is in the service of building a better society.
In the interview that follows, Zuckerman spells out some of the core concepts from Rewired, including some consideration of what the book might have to say to fans, journalists, educators, and other citizens.
Much of the media discussion around the Arab Spring movements has centered on the fantasy of more person-to-person communications across borders via social media rather than through the more formal relations between nations or the mediated communications of traditional journalism. Why has this fantasy of a “Twitter Revolution” proven so compelling to people when their everyday practices often involve relatively limited communications outside of their immediate circles of friends and families?
 
Like many compelling fantasies, the Twitter Revolution myth has some roots in fact. Tunisia's revolution had a strong media component. Protests in Sidi Bouzid would likely have been invisible to the rest of Tunisia and the rest of the world had they not been documented on Facebook, edited and contextualized by Nawaat.org and amplified by Al Jazeera. And there are deep ties between activists in Tunisia and in Egypt that helped spread ideology and tactics of those revolutions via social media. But any account of the Arab Spring that doesn't focus on existing labor movements, soccer fanclubs, neighborhood organizations and other forms of offline social organizing misses the point.
 
I think Twitter revolutions are such a compelling idea because they allow us to inscribe ourselves on global events. If digital media is the key actor in a political event, and we're participating by amplifying tweets online, we are part of the revolution, an exciting and compelling prospect. And there are times when this, too, is true - if an event is visible locally and invisible globally, and we take responsibility for translating and amplifying it, leading to global coverage, we might, in fact, share some credit for changing circumstances on the ground.
 
But this ability to be a participant in a minor way in a global event tends to blind us to our more ordinary use of these media. Very few of us are Andy Carvin, using our online presence to curate digital media and connect our readers to global events. Our use of these tools tends to be about connecting with friends and interests that are far closer to home. There's nothing inherently wrong with that - it's fine for social media to be a tool that connects us locally if we have other media that informs and connects us globally. What strikes me as dangerous is the illusion of connection, the compelling idea that we are encountering global perspectives via digital media when we're mostly reinforcing local ones.
 
You write, “[New Media] tools help us to discover what we want to know, but they’re not very powerful in helping us discover what we might need to know.” This seems to be a central theme of the book, that we have opened up new channels of communication which might allow us to connect with others around the world, but that our use of those tools has been limited by a lack of motivation or understanding. We seek out information only about those topics we already care about, and a large part of the world falls outside of that zone of interests. What are some of the signs that our interest in the world is more limited than our technological reach at the present time?
 
 I think the main reminder is sense of surprise that pervades much of modern life. The Arab Spring was a surprise, but only up to a point. For those few watching Tunisian social media, it became clear pretty quickly that something deeply unusual and transformative was taking place. At Global Voices, we were able to see the protests unfolding weeks before they received attention in mainstream American media. There's a strong tendency in our contemporary media environment to pay attention to stories only when they've reached a crisis point - we're always arriving in the fourth act, and we never stay through the denoument. It's possible to imagine a form of media that's scanning the horizons and giving us a better sense of what's coming, not what's already arrived.
 
I think a second reminder is our ability to turn on global networks at moments of crisis. The global response to SARS was quite amazing - within a week of identifying a new syndrome, the WHO had global videoconferences that allowed frontline medical personnel to identify symptoms and jointly diagnose new cases. Once those networks were set up, the spread of the disease slowed dramatically. When we need international connection, we're capable of bringing it about very quickly.
 
One of the reasons the book has been challenging to describe is that this question you're asking -what are we missing when we're so tightly attached to local media - is a really hard one to answer. I tend to understand it in personal terms. I follow African media, particularly west African media, quite closely, due to my long personal ties to the region, and as a result, I see stories well in advance of their visibility in broader media. And while that sounds self-congratulatory, patting myself on the back for my global vision, the actual experience is more anxiety-producing, because it's a perpetual reminder of how much there is to know and discover. The little I know about Nigerian politics that most Americans don't is a perpetual reminder of how much else is going on in the world, and how little we encounter until it manifests as a crisis or emergency.
 
What roles does the news media play in shaping what we care about and conversely, to what degree does our lack of concern or interest impact what the news media is prepared to cover?
 

I think this relationship between caring and coverage matters much more than it did a generation ago. Newspapers include stories on a wide range of topics, local, national and international. Until recently, our sense for what readers wanted to hear about came from newsstand sales and letters to the editor, very inexact tools for understanding which stories were being read and which were being ignored. Now we have incredibly granular information, that shows interest on a story by story level, including readership and time spent per reader per article. Publishers are acutely aware of these statistics, and more editors and writers are becoming aware of these figures. It becomes harder and harder for authors to report on stories that don't already have an audience, as there's a very strong temptation to write what people want to hear, as they will reward you with their attention.

 
This becomes a circular equation, because people need help developing an interest in new topics. A fascinating story isn't immediately apparent or comprehensible to an audience. Take the mortgage crisis a few years back - most coverage focused on the moment to moment details, featuring stories that were comprehensible to financial professionals and few others. This American Life made a major investment - an hour-long story called The Giant Pool of Money - that helped audiences understand the crisis and become better consumers of future stories on the crisis. If we wanted people to pay attention to protests in Sudan (people beyond those of us who are already watching those protests), we'd need to invest time, energy and reader attention in explaining the context and importance... and we'd be gambling that we were able to create an audience for that story in the future. 
 
The net result of this cycle, I fear, is that we get an enormous amount of information on stories we "know" are important - the minutia of US federal elections and the machinations of Congress  - and very little information on parts of the world we know little about, care little about, and care little about because we hear little about.
 
I’ve often thought that there might be a need to shift from a focus on international news (news about things happening elsewhere on the planet) to global news (news that shows the connections between distant events and people in our own communities.) Would such an approach help resolve the gaps you are describing here? Why or why not?
 
I think we'd gain a great deal from journalism that helped contextualize global events in local terms. The best newspapers and broadcasters have historically tried to do this - one of the losses we experience  when local newspapers cut international bureaus is the connection between global stories and local communities. 
We need something broader, I suspect, as not every event in Myanmar has an immediate local connection. Sometimes we need heroes and heroines - think of Malala in Pakistan and the ways in which her story has been a window into gender and educational issues in that part of the world. While we can go too far and turn a story about issues into a story about a single person, we often benefit from stories that let us feel like we know and care about an individual in another country or culture.
 
I think we also need to learn how to tell stories that look at local facets of global issues. A story like climate change is critically important, but extremely difficult to report. We might benefit from an approach to reporting that showed us the implications for different people in different communities, interweaving personal stories with the science and politics of the issues.
 
Ethan Zuckerman is director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, and a principal research scientist at MIT's Media Lab.  He is the author of "Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection", published by W.W. Norton in June 2013. With Rebecca MacKinnon, Ethan co-founded international blogging community Global Voices. Global Voices showcases news and opinions from citizen media in over 150 nations and thirty languages. Ethan's research focuses on issues of internet freedom, civic engagement through digital tools and international connections through media. He blogs athttp://ethanzuckerman.com/blog and lives in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts.

Situating Bollywood: An Interview with Aswin Punathabekar (Part Three)

Despite your description of the range of media industries and practices which construct Bollywood today, it is clear that cinema remains the center around which all of these other media systems operate, and you also argue that cinema remains core to understanding the connections between Indian diasporic identity and media. So, what accounts for the continued centrality of cinema to the narrative you are constructing, given the other pressures towards transmedia and transnational logics you describe?

There are several reasons for the privileged position cinema occupies. The first is simply the enduring popularity of films and film music (mainly Hindi language cinema from Bombay) among South Asian families who migrated to the U.S. following changes in immigration law in 1965. From the late 1960s, when enterprising families began screening films in university halls and other venues, to the recent forays into film exhibition by Bombay-based media companies like Reliance Entertainment, Hindi-language Bollywood films continue to dominate the Desi mediascape.

These film screenings were usually held in university halls rented for a few hours during the weekend, with films screened off 16mm, and later, 35mm reels. These weekend screenings, with an intermission that lasted 30-45 minutes, were an occasion, apart from religious festivals, for people to wear traditional clothes, speak in Hindi or other regional languages, and participate in a ritual that was reminiscent of “home.”

During a period in which there were no cultural institutions in place, and little on offer in mainstream media that resonated with their emotions, nostalgic longing, and cultural values, leave alone addressing the difficulties of life in a new cultural space, these screenings were marked as an exclusively Indian space, away from mainstream society, where families could meet and participate in a ritual of sharing personal and collective memories of life in India.

A second reason that films and film music figure prominently in discussions of Desi youth culture relates to Desi youth appropriating and re-mixing film songs and dance sequences in college events, dance clubs, and so on.

Third, it is in and through cinema that diasporic writers and directors like Hanif Kureishi, Mira Nair, and Gurinder Chadha began addressing the complexities of claiming and defining South Asian identities in countries such as the U.K. and the U.S.

But you’re right that we are beginning to see some major changes in the diasporic mediascape. One question to ask is: do we even have a space for diasporic south asian films?

Mira Nair’s The Namesake does deal with diasporic themes, but it is a Bombay-based company that produced and distributed the film. Further, we are not at a point in the cultural life of the South Asian diaspora where media from the Indian subcontinent is only one part of a very diverse mix. Finally, with a range of actors of Indian-origin making their way into American and British public culture, one might argue that the diasporic sensibility that marked the work of cultural producers during the late 1980s-mid-1990s has given way to engagement with mainstream media.

 You begin your discussion of Bollywood fans by setting up the contrast between grassroots forms of media circulation that get labeled “media piracy” and various forms of industry cooperation which get labeled “crowdsourcing.” Is there a meaningful “space in between” these two paradigms? If so, what does it look like?

Part of the difficulty involved in charting the terrain of participatory culture surrounding Bollywood, especially in an era of networked audiences and publics, stems from the sheer range of sites and modes of participation one encounters. And in the Indian context, our understanding of participatory culture remains tied to a very specific history of fan associations and their links to electoral politics in south India. This narrative of fan/cine-politics has been so dominant that other modes and sites of participatory culture have not been considered, leave alone studied in systematic fashion, for no apparent reason other than their seemingly “non-political” character.

In fact, the topic of fan activity has not even been raised in relation to Bollywood. So in the book, I drew on some research I’ve done on fans of A. R. Rahman to argue that we need to move beyond narratives of political mobilization. The major Rahman fan community online includes fans who are primarily interested in film music, fans based in Malaysia for whom participation in the Rahman fan community is part of a larger process of claiming a Tamil ethnic identity, fans in India who work with Rahman, some fans who are, yes, “pirates,” and some who go so far as to police music stores (makeshift stores set up on pavements in busy shopping areas, in shopping complexes, and so on), threatening to call the police if pirated CDs of Rahman’s music are not taken off the shelf.

This is, as you put, a very complex “space in between” piracy and crowdsourcing. And we simply do not have the critical vocabulary to describe and theorize what’s going on in this space.

While my own recent work has sought to map the emerging links between fandom and activism, you argue that these links have totally dominated discourse around Bollywood film fans to the extent that they crowd out understandings of film consumption in the context of everyday life practices. American fan studies has often been accused of not being sufficiently political, of being too interested in the personal, cultural, affective, and social dimensions of popular culture. What might these two groups of scholars learn from each other?

The crucial difference we need to first acknowledge is between film studies and TV/media and communication studies in the Indian context. Film studies is the disciplinary location within which there has been at least some discussion of fandom, even if it has been studied primarily in the south Indian political context.

TV/media studies in the Indian context is yet to take the question of participatory culture seriously. I do not know of a single book-length study of participatory culture surrounding television in India. This is beginning to change in part because the past decade in India has been marked by some very interesting instances of participation surrounding reality TV, for instance, that has intersected with larger political issues.

In my own work in this emerging area, I’ve tried to be very careful to not make easy ‘political’ readings simply because I know next to nothing about the sociable dimensions of participation. And this is what I admire so much about scholars’ work on pleasure and participation in the American context.

As I see it, what we have here in the US is a wealth of historically grounded material on audiences and fans that provides a necessary foundation for examining links between participation and politics. But despite this archive that we have to work with, I feel strongly that it is only when we fully comprehend how participation and everyday life – say, in relation to our current digital and mobile context - are braided together that we can meaningfully pose questions about political impact.

 Your final paragraph includes a very provocative statement, which I was hoping you might expand upon here: “to look broadly at fan participation is to imagine transnational media worlds that are intimately tied to, but not always constrained by, statist or industrial imperatives.” Do tell.

As I've already explained, fan activity surrounding cinema in India - south India, in particular - has always had very close connections to the realm of politics. This cine-politics take on fandom has tended to dominate our understanding of participatory culture in India.

However, this cine-politics frame has given way to an extent under the influence of the incredible expansion of the mediascape since the mid-1990s. One of the key changes that the proliferation of television channels engendered was a shift in how audiences were imagined. Television channels like MTV-India, Channel [V], Star Plus, ZEE, and others invited audience participation. Of course, audience participation was tightly controlled and managed expertly - from talent shows to programs like Lift Kara De that leveraged fan labor for ostensibly humanitarian ends.

These changes made it clear that fandom was now an integral part of the corporate media apparatus. What I tried to signal with that last statement is the need to look beyond these two dominant frameworks - politics/state and market - without ignoring their structuring effects. I wanted to make a case for approaching fandom in India from a position of trust rather than suspicion (as my friend and colleague Paddy Scannell argues, media studies tends to operate with a hermeneutics of suspicion). Or to draw on your work, I want us to hop on this realm of pop, not stomp all over it.

For e.g., there is a group of fans who have painstakingly collected and subtitled numerous videos - film clips, TV appearances, interviews, advertisements, etc. - of the Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan. For anyone who might not understand the Hindi language, this website - srkpagli.net - was a wonderful resource. To approach the work that these fans have done by - a) dismissing it as apolitical or b) as simply a part of the Shahrukh Khan/corporate Bollywood system - is too reductive. I simply wanted to clear the space so we can begin to acknowledge the astonishing range of practices that constitute 'fandom' in the Indian context, and in doing so, develop richer and more nuanced accounts of participatory culture.
Aswin Punathambekar is an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He is the author of From Bombay to Bollywood: The Making of a Global Media Industry (2013), and co-editor of Television at Large in South Asia (2013)and Global Bollywood (2008). He is now conducting research on the politics of mediated activism in India as part of a collaborative SSRC project on "Media, Activism, and the New Political."

Situating Bollywood: An Interview with Aswin Punathambekar (Part Two)

You spend a significant amount of time in the book exploring the role that MTV India has played in shifting how films are marketed and how Bollywood understands its audiences. What factors have allowed MTV India to become a core player in this space? What has been their impact on Bollywood's media strategies?

MTV did play a crucial role in shaping Bollywood’s industrial identity and marketing strategies, but it didn’t happen overnight. A range of new television channels that entered the Indian market during the mid-1990s attracted audiences with a range of film-based programs. ZEE, Star Plus, and other channels introduced a number of innovative film music-based shows like AntakshariSa Re Ga Ma, and Videocon Flashback, weekly countdown shows like BPL Oye and Philips Top Ten, and shows that reviewed popular films and evaluated their box office performance.

In fact, MTV-India went off the air for a period of two years and returned in 1996 with a redesigned brand identity and, most crucially, with the recognition of the importance of Hindi film music and “localized” programming to its fortunes in the Indian market.

Suggesting that the makeover was not exactly an easy process, one MTV-India executive explained to me that the decision to start with the “look” of the channel, especially the on-air promos, turned out to be the right one and crucial in terms of reaching out to directors and producers in the Bombay film industry who were skeptical, if not dismissive, of music television. As this executive put it, their goal was to “dovetail cool with Bollywood.”

Beginning in 1997-98, with a clear mandate to forge ties with the film industry, MTV-India executives began initiating conversations with a range of producers and directors in the Hindi film industry. And it took well over two years before the film industry began responding to television executives’ overtures. Once they had their foot in the door, however, MTV-India began making the case that their particular brand identity and programming sensibility would make the difference in what was a very cluttered television landscape. And by the early 2000s, Bollywood producers began setting aside a larger percentage of the budget for marketing and promoting films.

 

What roles did the internet play in shifting the relations between domestic and diasporic audiences for Bollywood films? To what degree is the contemporary media industry being shaped by a desire to court and capture “NRI Eyeballs”?

The trouble with saying anything about Bollywood-internet connections is the pace at which things change! My research does not take into account the impact that social media has had on marketing, stardom, participatory culture, and so on. But I can say that dot-com companies did play a central role in establishing the “overseas territory” as a key economic and cultural site for Bollywood. Simply put, television and marketing professionals working in Mumbai were not in a position to shape Bollywood’s relationship with overseas markets.

Speaking a language of web-metrics and capitalizing on the growing interest in marketing and promotions, dot-com companies began generating knowledge about overseas audiences’ engagement with Bollywood that was hitherto unavailable to filmmakers and stars operating primarily from Bombay. More crucially, dot-com professionals were able to forge connections and establish themselves within existing social networks in Bombay’s media world. And in doing so, dot-com companies emerged as powerful knowledge brokers who shaped the imaginations and practices of film industry professionals for whom envisioning an overseas territory had come to constitute an increasingly important dimension of going global.

Exploring this terrain raised a very interesting question for me regarding the dynamic relation between the expansion of capital into new territories and the work of rendering those new territories more imaginable. What Bollywood got was, in fact a very limited “spatial fix” as dot-com companies interpreted and resolved the problem of space—of imagining the overseas territory—in terms of overseas audiences’ cultural temporality with the nation. In other words, these companies only thought about the overseas territory in terms of non-Resident Indians. It is only over the past 4-5 years that these industry professionals have begun taking into account Bollywood’s popularity beyond South Asian communities.

 

What do you see as the use value of the concept of “transmedia entertainment” for exploring the ways that convergence has impacted the Bollywood industry? What do you see as missing from such an approach?

 

I don’t think “transmedia entertainment” is particularly useful at this point. I have yet to see a media producer in Bombay truly grasp the potential for transmedia storytelling. At the moment, it is largely driven by a marketing sensibility: pushing Bollywood content across platforms. To be sure, there have been a handful of interesting marketing campaigns and there was also an ambitious attempt to draw on India’s rich mythological tradition to drive film content. But we are yet to see a major push for storytelling across media.

Writers have started to talk about “Bollystan” to describe this new configuration of diasporic cultural identity. What does this term mean and is it a good description of the changes you are discussing in your book?

 

The term comes from a widely circulated article titled “Bollystan: The Global India,” in which the author Parag Khanna reflected on how processes of globalization had reframed relations between India and the vast Indian diaspora. Khanna wrote: “Increasingly linked by culture and technology, they form a Global India, which I call Bollystan. ‘Bolly’ connotes culture (e.g., Bollywood), and ‘Stan’ (Farsi for “land”) represents the transcendence of borders and sovereignty.” Khanna’s neologism first appeared in the Fall 2004 issue of Another Magazine, a now defunct publication targeted at “young, upwardly mobile South Asians.” Featuring Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai on the cover, the magazine declared: “Bollystan is a state without borders, defined by a shared culture and common values.”

Using the term Bollystan to refer to a vast space of trans-national cultural production that included everything from henna tattoos and remix music to literature and films, Khanna and other writers sought to map how rapid flows of people, culture and capital across national borders have rendered difficult any easy separation between nation and diaspora. In fact, Khanna proceeded to argue that Bollystan is “cosmopolitanism’s inversion: instead of one person being at home anywhere, it is re-rooting Desis everywhere in a real and imagined shared cultural space.”

But the fact is that where commercial media ventures are concerned, Bollystan has a very specific Anglo-American cultural geography and as a consequence, re-roots only certain kinds of Desis. The network of cities that are part of diasporic entrepreneurs’ imagination of Bollywood’s global reach include cities such as London, New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto but not, for instance, Durban in South Africa. And even within these cities in the Global North, it is only a certain narrow, largely middle and upper-middle class cultural sphere of South Asians that informs the imaginations and practices of media industry professionals.

Aswin Punathambekar is an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He is the author of From Bombay to Bollywood: The Making of a Global Media Industry (2013), and co-editor of Television at Large in South Asia (2013)and Global Bollywood (2008). He is now conducting research on the politics of mediated activism in India as part of a collaborative SSRC project on "Media, Activism, and the New Political."

Situating Bollywood: An Interview with Aswin Punathambekar (Part One)

This is another in a series of interviews with the authors of books we have published through the PostMillenial Pop series which I co-edit with Karen Tongson for New York University Press.  I have known Aswin Punathambekar since he was part of one of the first cohorts of the MIT Comparative Media Studies program, where he did an ethnography/oral history of the experience of South Asian diasporic audiences in Boston as they impacted the reception of Bollywood films. He continued his graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where his dissertation focused on the online fandom around Bollywood composer A. R. Rahman. He has made some key contributions to the project of expanding the study of fandom and participatory culture beyond its origins in Western Culture, as reflected by articles published in Transformative Works and Culture and Popular Communication.

In a relatively short period of time, Punathambekar has developed a scholarly profile that is at once programmatic (in that he continually  deepens our understanding of media production and consumption in India and its global diaspora) and expansive (in that he has used his expertise on Bollywood to bring a much needed non-western perspective to work on a range of topics, including fan studies, participatory culture, media convergence, narrowcasting, mobile media, and digital citizenship, which have been central to media scholarship in the 21st century.) Punathambekar  has expanded upon his initial focus on audience studies to develop a mixed methods approach, which is at once theoretically sophisticated and historically informed.

His new book, From Bombay to Bollywood is a tour de force, one which connects Bollywood decisively to larger conversations about our current moment of media change, one which moves incorporates close readings not only of texts but also of media rituals (informed by the best work in Production Studies), to explain the larger contexts through which Bollywood operates as a global media industry, one that moves backwards from Bollywood's relationship to digital networks to explore the historic role in radio in helping to shape the circulation of Indian film music.  This expansive understanding of what once might have been treated purely through a lens of "national cinema" was anticipated by his Global Bollywood anthology, which he co-edited with Anadam P. Kavoori. Global Bollywood brought together established scholars with younger researchers, many of whom received their first publications under his leadership, to create an important and groundbreaking exchange around how Hindi Cinema reflects and drives larger developments in the global media scape.

In this interview, he situates Bollywood at a series of intersections between film and other media, between local, regional, national, and transnational industries, between domestic and diasporic audiences, and between producers and fans.

You begin the book with the suggestion that Bollywood should be studied across media rather than through more traditional paradigms of national cinema. What factors have contributed to making Bollywood a particularly rich case for understanding contemporary convergence culture?

I worked out this perspective of media convergence or inter-media relations in part by revisiting a question that several scholars have tackled: how did Bombay emerge and maintain its position as the pre-eminent media capital in India? Film and media scholars have identified a number of key factors: the city’s position as a center of trade and commerce, and the influx, through the decades, of mercantile capital into film-making; its status as a vibrant cultural center, with established theater movements initially providing the film industry with a range of creative personnel; the use of Hindi which accorded the Bombay-based film industry (located in a multi-lingual city and in a state where the official language is Marathi) ‘national’ status whereas film industries in cities like Madras and Hyderabad were ascribed ‘regional’ status; and the impact of India’s partition on other centers of film production, most notably Calcutta and Lahore, and the migration of a number of producers, directors, actors and technicians to Bombay during this period.

I argue that there is another important factor: the role played by new media—radio, television, the internet and the mobile phone—in enabling the Bombay film industry to consistently imagine and mobilize a national and now, transnational audience. Moving past a film-centric approach, the case studies of television and dot-com companies’ relations with the film industry that I develop in the book invite us to consider how various ‘new media’ have, historically, reconfigured the cultural geography of Bombay cinema and Bombay’s status as a media capital.

Considering the case of Radio Ceylon, which broadcast a range of film-based programs that reached audiences across the Indian subcontinent, South Africa, and even some cities in east Africa, encourages us to ponder how other technological and institutional developments influenced the circulation of films and film music, transforming the Bombay film industry’s spatial coordinates and engendering new sites and forms of consumption. This does not necessarily mean that we think only about continuities from the 1950s to the present. Rather, my goal is to open up a space for more grounded explorations of the interwoven histories of different media technologies and institutions and, in the process, expand our understanding of the histories and patterns of media convergence.

So at a basic level, the ‘national cinema’ paradigm isn’t productive given Bombay’s position as a media capital that has always been shaped by trans-national forces and factors.  I’ll say more about the limitations of a strictly ‘national’ framework as I answer other questions here. But I should also point out that film historians like Priya Jaikumar have argued very convincingly that we need to move past the national cinema framework to understand how aesthetics, regulation, and other dimensions of the cinema in India have always been worked out in relation to various trans-national forces and factors.

You note that most work to date within the production studies tradition has focused on western and for the most part, American contexts. So, what might production studies as an emerging paradigm gain from a more thorough exploration of media production in India?

 

This is a crucial question not only for production culture/industry studies but media studies at large. Too often, “global media studies” serves as a mere placeholder for media studies outside Anglo-American academic settings, with “global” gesturing towards studies of “Other” media ecologies. Such studies are often understood as mere case studies that test and refine theoretical concepts developed within media studies proper. In writing this book, I have tried hard to steer clear of fitting what I observed into existing theories of production culture while at the same time avoiding celebrations of local difference.

For instance, I take into account the enduring power of long-standing social and kinship relationships in the Bombay film industry and, equally important, the creative ways in which small-scale, family-run businesses have responded to changes in the global media landscape and calls for corporatization. Examining the impact that the discourse of corporatization has had on the film industry by analyzing the construction of industrial identities suggests that the narrative of transition from one established mode of production to a new one, say Fordism to post-Fordism, does not adequately explain the industrial logics and practices that characterize Bollywood.

In fact, Madhava Prasad’s observation that the Hindi film industry adopted a “heterogeneous form of manufacture in which the whole is assembled from parts produced separately by specialists, rather than being centralized around the processing of a given material,” troubles stagist narratives of media industries in the non-Western world catching up with those in the West. After all, the dominant mode of production in the Bombay film industry could be described using terms like flexible accumulation and de-centralization that theorists like David Harvey use to describe the logics of late capitalism in the West. In other words, the particular histories of capital in Bombay cannot be easily set aside.

But this does not imply documenting a set of practices that are somehow essentially Indian. A closer look at the operations of family firms suggests that production relations defined by mercantile capital and kinship networks are neither static nor contained within national boundaries. And when we move beyond family businesses to consider a wider range of companies and professionals, it becomes clear that every domain of Bollywood including production, distribution, marketing and promotions, and exhibition involves negotiations among actors and institutions enmeshed in multiple, asymmetric, and seemingly incongruent cultures of capitalism.

You link the global extension of Bollywood to shifts in national cultural and media policy in India over the past decade, policies which involved a greater state role in the financing of media production, the regulation and “corporatization” of the media industries, and a recognition of the core cultural mission which film plays in shaping communication between the South Asian Disapora and the mother country. During this same period, though, we’ve seen a growing crisis in state funding and support for cinema, television, and other media across Europe. What might we learn by looking at developments in India and Western Europe side by side as we think about the place of state funding for media production in the 21st century?

Situating the emergence of Bollywood within the socio-historical conjuncture of the past two decades helps us understand how the state worked out its relationship with the cultural industries. Let’s not forget that even though Bombay had emerged as major center of film production during the 1930s and 40s, the Indian state did not regard filmmaking as an important industrial activity or as central to the project of defining national culture. What changed during the late 1980s and early 1990s?

This was a period that witnessed a number of socio-cultural and political transitions engendered by the Indian state’s adoption and gradual legitimization of neo-liberal economic policies including the privatization of different sectors of the economy and, broadly speaking, attempts to integrate the nation into a global economy. Among other arenas of cultural production, Hindi-language films and television shows played a crucial role in mediating these concerns. So one way to understand the state’s overtures towards the media industries is in terms of the media industries having become useful to the state. This is, of course, a global story. For instance, we see this kind of strategic alignment of state-media relations in the UK and Australia under the “creative industries” banner.

But in the Indian context, the usefulness of the media and entertainment industries was articulated in more than just this economic sense. If we consider Bollywood’s presence in settings such as the World Economic Forum (at Davos), we can see that the transformation of the Bombay film industry into Bollywood was caught up in a larger process of the state re-aligning its understanding of ‘culture as resource’ away from well-worn developmentalist paradigms towards meeting the demands of new circuits of capital. While development-oriented media production had its own shortcomings, it wasn’t beholden to commercial mandates. If anything, it is all the more difficult now to imagine carving out a space for independent and public media production.

It is also important to keep in mind that this particular re-alignment of state-media relations ended up privileging Bollywood as the global (Indian) media industry. The Tamil and Telugu language film and television industries based in Chennai and Hyderabad, for instance, are anything but “local.” The use of the term “regional” to mark these industries’ position within the Indian mediascape and the Indian state’s material and symbolic investments in Bollywood underscore the continued relevance of the “national” as a scale where the politics of media globalization play out.

Aswin Punathambekar is an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He is the author of From Bombay to Bollywood: The Making of a Global Media Industry (2013), and co-editor of Television at Large in South Asia (2013)and Global Bollywood (2008). He is now conducting research on the politics of mediated activism in India as part of a collaborative SSRC project on "Media, Activism, and the New Political."

Highlights from the "Rethinking Intermediality in the Digital Age" Conference

Earlier this fall, I reported here about my trip to Transylvania to attend a gathering of the International Society for Intermedia Studies, hosted at Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania. I found the interdisciplinary and international mix of speakers invigorating, as they shared reflections of a broad range of historical periods, national contexts, and media platforms and practices. They have since made available videos of the three keynote addresses from this conference, and I wanted to pass them along to you. Here is my address, "'All Over the Map': What Oz The Great and Powerful Can Teach Us About World-Building." The recent Oz film has been generally dismissed as too much focused on visual spectacle, too little interested in character and story. I take a contrarian perspective, arguing that we need some aesthetic criteria for discussing works where richly realized worlds take center stage and become the key focus of our attention. Here, I situate the Oz film, and its play with intertextuality and world-building, in the much larger history of the Oz franchise, noting that Oz was the first conceived of as more a world than a story and that there have been many stories which sought to allow us to "return" to this world -- a theme that goes back to even the earliest Oz films (produced by L. Frank Baum himself). I am now in the process of developing this talk into an essay for publication -- one of the tasks I've set for myself over the break. But, I thought some of you might enjoy this glimpse at a work still very much in progress.

Marie Laurie Ryan was a second keynote speaker at the conference, and she addressed the concept of transmedia storytelling from a narratological perspective. I thoroughly enjoyed, though nervously anticipated, her critique of my work, which I felt was fair in its challenges and also touched on themes which I have been exploring through my own more recent writing, ubeknowst to her.

And finally, there was Joachim Paech, who dug much more deeply into the concept of the intermedial, from a perspective grounded in continential aesthetic philosophy. People at the conference suggested that the three keynotes were a study in contrast with each of us embodying different academic styles and cultures and each speaking from a place deep within our own national traditions. I will allow you to judge this for yourselves.

This will be my last post for 2013. I am going to take off a few weeks to focus on family, recreation, and writing in that order, but we will be back again after the start of the year with more exciting interviews which I already have ready to go. So, see you on the other side...

Participatory Poland (Part Seven): Brafitting: From a Participatory Community to a Marketing Strategy, and From Poland to America

In the “Participatory Poland” report a group of Polish aca-fen makes a preliminary attempt towards defining the specificity of an Eastern European country’s participatory culture shaped both in the communist and post-communist periods. By placing the development of selected fan-based activities against a broader socio-historical background, we are trying to capture the interplay between the global and the local context of participatory culture, as well as take preliminary steps towards making its Polish branch available for academic research. Thanks to Professor Henry Jenkins’ incredible support, we are able to share the first, though by no means final, results of our investigations with aca-fen worldwide. The posts included in this report deal with several examples of Polish participatory activities, namely, the literary and media fandom of speculative fiction and role-playing games; comics fandom; fandom of manga and anime; historical re-enactment associations; and the prosumerist phenomenon of bra-fitting. While we are planning to continue and expand our research, we hope that its samples presented in this report contribute to the exploration of participatory culture.

Brafitting: From a Participatory Community to a Marketing Strategy, and from Poland to America

Aleksandra Mochocka

Kazimierz Wielki University in Bydgoszcz

 

In the beginning, there was (almost) nothing. Put simply, the communist economy neither encouraged, nor enabled the mass production of well-made and visually appealing lingerie. With no incentive from the market forces, and no technology to support the process, nobody seemed to be specifically interested in manufacturing bras in Poland after the WWII and before the collapse of the communist regime.

Then the cornucopia began: with the advent of free economy, bras of all colours and prints gradually flooded the market, or market places literally, as private entrepreneurs started to import lingerie from foreign wholesalers, including cheap Chinese no-name bras. Yet only a limited number of women were able to find a bra that would fit their needs. And by “needs” I do not mean the personal taste in colour or style, but first and foremost – the need of a particular, individual woman to feel comfortable wearing her bra, regardless of her body's type/size and other characteristic.

In short, the phenomenon of bra-craze can be seen as an example of de Certeau's (1988) “strategies” and “tactics”. For de Certeau, strategies are a part of the system that upholds the balance of power; representing organisational structures, the producers calculate the most efficient strategies available from the position of power (xix). Subjected to the strategies, the consumers are far from being passive, as they develop cunning tactics to regain some of the power by subterfuge. On one hand, there have been the marketing strategies of manufacturers/wholesalers/retailers, and the official channels of bra distribution; on the other hand, sharing know-how and pieces of advice on the Internet, the community of women has developed some inventive solutions in response (and as a form of self-defence). The process has nearly gone full circle, with manufactures introducing more and more diversified size options, and commercial bra fitting services being offered even by the companies which have very little to do with the original idea of breast-friendly bras, and still selling a limited range of bras. Braffiting has become a profitable business.

The brafitting movement in Poland, or stanikomania (which translates to bra-mania or bra-craze) could be perceived as a participatory culture phenomenon related to the construction of femininity and the body image issues. The advent of the braffiting lobby was closely connected with the grassroots Internet communication (discussion boards and blogs); initially, the whole idea was to share know-how and find some alternative buyer tactics to select a bra to fit a body, regardless of its shape or size, instead of adjusting the body to fit a bra. Some activists may have had adequate professional background (e.g. in IT, marketing or gender studies) and more professionally oriented  aims, but for the majority of users it was a fan activity, with a low threshold of involvement thanks to the Internet technologies.

If we consider the characteristics of participatory culture as suggested by Jenkins et al. (2009), bra-craze seems to be a perfect example; apart from the above mentioned “low barriers to […] engagement,” there is also the “strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others” (for example, direct encouragements to share one's experiences, or blog functionalities facilitating uploading photos and comments) as well as “informal mentorship” (sharing knowledge as the main aim of the movement); the participants strongly “believe that their contributions matter” (accounts of successful conversions or illuminations of bra-illiterate women initiated by the bra-maniacs abound on the forums and blogs) and last but not least, that everyone can (yet do not have to) participate (p. 7).

Before this revolution (and this is a term bra-maniacs actually use), women would often feel ashamed of their “irregular” bodies for which there were no comfortable or attractive bras. One's breasts were deemed too big, or too small, or too narrow, or too perky, or too bulky, or too saggy to fit in the bra. The bra was the ultimate measure of one's body, the Cinderella's shoe style. (By no means is the problem exclusive to post-communist economies; consider Victoria's Secret bras – beautiful designs in a dramatically limited size range, excluding most of the female demographic.)

The bra-mania has been (and still remains) primarily Internet-based; sharing information and connecting those who know how-to with those who seek knowledge, women of the bra-maniac may be perceived as a neotribe, to use Maffesoli's (1996) term. Bra-mania seems to share the “efflorescence and effervescence of neotribalism which, in various forms, refuses to identify with any political project whatsoever, to subscribe to any sort of finality, and whose sole raison d'être is a preoccupation with the collective present” (p. 75). The common experience of looking for and successfully finding a comfortable (and beautiful) bra against the odds of free market economy and producers' strategies is the unifying factor here, and the bra-maniacs feel that they belong together.

They also feel significantly empowered, although their activities are centred around buying/consuming a product, a commodity designed to re-shape their bodies into socially accepted (and expected) gendered forms. Is this postfeminism in action?

Certainly, the bra-maniacs are not the ones to burn their bras (a bra-maniac can have an impressive collection of several bras, and some bra-maniacs sleep in their bras, finding it beneficial for the condition of their breasts). There has been the action and there have already been the results, as with the opportunities created by on-line shopping and the growing pressure of the lobbyists, more and more retailers and manufacturers started to change the approach to their products, offering a wider selection of different size options and designs. Brafitting has become mainstream, and Polish companies, such as Ewa Michalak or BiuBiu, have started to enter the US market.

 

The miserable life of the “unconverted”

Until the mid 2000s, most Polish manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers felt more comfortable offering only four or five different cup sizes (A, B, C, D, and sometimes E) combined with only four to five band sizes, which gave circa twenty-odd options to choose from (Kulpa 2011). (To illustrate the point, imagine that shoes are offered in two size options only, say 7 and 8.) Obviously, women would have felt comfortable in bras that do not flatten the breasts, or slip away, or pinch, or cut into the flesh, making the breast painfully bulge over the rim of the cups. Sadly, with twenty-something bra sizes on the market, most women had to satisfy themselves with lingerie that might look attractive (and/or be cheap), but was far from good when it came to the comfort of use.

Remember the shoe analogy?Imagine walking in shoes two sizes too small for your feet. It is going to hurt, right? Obviously, if you were looking for new shoes, nobody would persuade you to buy such a pair. However, if you were a woman looking for a new bra, most shopping assistants would persuade you to buy a bra that hurts you and distorts your body, humiliating and shaming you on the way (the bra is perfect – if it fails to fit, it is your fault).

The reason why is as simple as that: the retailer fails to have the proper size range in stock, as there should be at least as many as 60 to 80 different bra size options available if an average woman is to be served (Kulpa 2011). With a limited size range, you would have to select one of the twenty options, instead of selecting one out of eighty. Chance is, you bra is going to be uncomfortable. And that was the situation in Poland well into the 2000s.

Nevertheless, around the middle of the decade there were some socio-economic and technological changes. From 2006 Polish people could emigrate to Great Britain freely, and many took their chances. Internet shopping became more and more popular, and British currency had a convenient exchange rate. There had already been British lingerie brands, such as Panache (http://www.panache-lingerie.com/gb/ ), that offered bras in the sizes unheard of in Poland. The access to such bras inspired women to develop some very specific know-how. In July 2005 a user known as Butter77 started an Internet forum, called Lobby Biuściastych (The Buxom Ladies Lobby) http://forum.gazeta.pl/forum/f,32203,Lobby_Biusciastych_.html, now hosted on gazeta.pl site (as of today, there are 268585 posts and counting). Soon some of the most active participants of the forum started their own sites, the most famous being Stanikomania (http://stanikomania.blox.pl/html ) run by Kasica (Katarzyna Kulpa), which started in January 2007, and Balkonetka (March 2008)  (http://balkonetka.pl/# ), run by Mauzonka (Julia K. Szopa). Answering the question about the Lobby Biuściastych origins, Butters77 (2007) explains that

the story how it started is quite simple and related to practical issues mostly:) As far as I remember, I used to have problems buying a bra for fuller breasts, specifically: a bra with big cups and tight underbust band. It was verging on a miracle to find one in a Polish store. What was offered to me was the regular option (that is 'small breasts == tight band' or “huge breasts = huge band').

I rebelled and thought, that if there big cups existed, it had to be possible to attach them to a band smaller than 80. I miraculously managed to find a couple of exceptions, which made me believe that it is right to advertise such exceptions.

[…] the forum was meant to be a place for the bigger-breast women where they could exchange information concerning lingerie manufacturers, recommend tested fashions, help to find the proper size etc.. And first of all – where they could discourage themselves from yielding to harmful market standards. Joining in over time, other “lobbyists” provided invaluable help in developing this idea. (translation mine; http://broszka.pl/alfabet-nie-konczy-sie-na-d,ap )

The idea of rebellion was hanging in the air: the consumers realised that they can be prosumers, directly influencing the market. The bra-mania movement has grown upon the principles of prosumerism, collective intelligence, and participation.

What was the doctrine of the newly minted bra-craze movement? You cannot tell what the “volume” of the cup is, unless you know the combination of the cup size (e.g. F) and the band size (e.g. 70). As follows, there is no such a thing as a uniform “A” cup or “D” cup. Labelling a woman as a “D cup wearer” means nothing, because 60D is a totally different size than, for example, 110D (as explained here http://stanikomania.blox.pl/2010/01/Ta-slynna-miseczka-D.html ).

A very important idea was also that all the lettering and numbering should be used only to sort out bra sizes, not to label or categorise women, as in the notorious “she is a flat-chested A” style. Moreover, it was emphasised that the bra band should uphold up to 80% of breasts weight and fairly tight. The cups should be large enough, with the underwire sitting on the ribcage. And now comes the ingenious part: women were recommended to ask for the bra which had a 5 to 10 cm smaller band than they would have been offered usually, and the cup size three or four times bigger. It was the clever trick, a consumer tactic: the better bras had been already there, yet dedicated for other women, and the trick was to claim their use (for example, if a size 85B bra would be unstable and flatten the breasts, the idea was to ask – against the shop assistant's recommendation – for a 75D bra, with bigger cups and a tighter fit; the band, being elastic, would expand). It was strictly the question of know-how, not the question of a new product on the market, but along with this tactic went the demand for more size options.

 

The “conversion” or the “enlightenment”

The women posting on the Lobby Biuściastych forum would often compare finding a proper bra to a transforming experience (there is a thread called “How I profited from changing my bra size to the one I should wear” - some accounts are deeply personal and passionate http://forum.gazeta.pl/forum/w,32203,75213023,,Co_mi_dala_zmiana_rozmiaru_stanika_na_wlasciwy_.html?v=2 ). In the lingo of the Lobby the terms such as  “enlightenment”, “conversion” or “de-bra-fing” (my attempt at translating the Polish coinage ostanikowanie) are used. Women would write about the physical and psychological comfort they have gained.

To quote a young woman I've personally asked  about her experience with professional brafitting service (made possible because of the years of bra-maniacs' lobbying), it is “like getting her breasts back”. Lots of “converts” compare their experience to an epiphany of a kind, dividing their lives into “before the conversion” and “after the conversion” phases. It is only partially tongue in cheek. Jumping and running have suddenly become possible without that embarrassing threat of letting one's breasts loose. There is no longer the pain in the back. Small-breasted women suddenly discover that they “have breasts”. Nearly everyone feels “slimmer”. All feel more attractive.

The scope of this text does not allow for a profound analysis of these aspects. It should be noted, however, that they are open for discussion. The lobbyists would often stress the fact that, as a rule, their primary aim is not to dress up or adjust to fit in with male expectations (though the voices about getting a better bra to get the breasts in the better shape to be more sexually attractive are not uncommon). To quote the founder of Balkonetka.pl, Julia K. Szopa (2009):

the pro-bust communities are not only about helping one another to find a well-fitted and good-looking bras, although this is their main function. The mission they have is to change the way women think about themselves: from “I'm a freak, there is nothing I can wear, I'm a loser” to “I'm a fine woman, expecting that the world would allow me to feel good with my breasts!”. (translation mine; http://balkonetka.pl/2009/1/9/biusciaste-spolecznosc-wcale-nie-marginalna )

However, this claim might be worth reconsidering in the light of theories developed by Susan Bordo (2003), Carole Spitzak (1990) or Vickie Shields (2002), to name just a few scholars focused on the gendered body image. Are the lobbyists doing it for themselves or rather to themselves for the sake of the male gaze?

Another issue is the body image and the conversion and subversion of the cultural norms regulating its “proper” formula. Women with the so-called bigger breasts are still expected to have them reduced or concealed, but the lobbyists' actions have contributed to a change in the approach. Big breasts on an “everyday normal woman”, previously considered an indecency and meant to be hidden (flattened with an uncomfortable bad-fitted bra or even with a special reducing bra), could be supported with a high-end wiring and netting and exposed as a pair of apple-shaped, full on top balls separated by a tempting valley (to use some bra-maniac lingo).

However, careful not to exclude the small breast women as they are, the lobbyists tend to attribute positive value to bigger/fuller breasts, somehow reinforcing the big breast ideal. One way or another (small breasted or big breasted), many lobbyists discovered that they did not need plastic surgery to feel satisfied with their bodies, the question of how plastic surgery (breast augmentation or reduction) is perceived by the women belonging to the movement constitutes another intriguing issue for some further studies.

The lobbyists have not limited themselves to producing posts, blog entries and You Tube videos. They proliferated and proselytised, attracting the attention of media (a short review of the movement and its reception by a sociologist Marta Klimowicz, 2009, http://klimowicz.blox.pl/2009/01/Lobby-Biusciastych-wydarzenie-roku-2008.html ). Where there is an Internet article devoted to bras, or a bra advertisement, with an option to leave a comment or “like/dislike” it, bra-maniacs go for it. A brand offering its limited size range bras, however beautiful visually they could be, can expect a very strong feedback. Moreover, from the early years on, there have been regular “real-life” meetings, bra exchanges and bra-fitting events, as well as charity/community work. One of the latest examples of such affirmative actions is the workshop organised by a lobby member nicked Bra-dreamer in a mental care home for intellectually challenged women in Warsaw (http://forum.gazeta.pl/forum/w,32203,146441486,147671905,Re_projekt_biustonoszowy_prosba_i_propozycja.html).

 

Bust-friendly brands

As Szopa (2008) has it, “in the 1990s one was virtually unable to buy a 65J size bra in Poland” (translation mine; http://balkonetka.pl/2008/3/16/ale-o-co-chodzi-z-tym-uswiadomieniem ). The situation has changed dramatically. In the stores and on-line stores founded by the lobbyists one can find a plethora of bras, but the demand influenced some other stores as well. New brands have been launched successfully and old ones offer a wider variety of sizes. A Polish brand worth mentioning in this context is Ewa Michalak (http://www.ewa-michalak.pl/ ), offering bras in sizes from 60A to 105HH; the models used in Michalak's footage have different body types and their pictures are not digitally enhanced, the idea being that the customer has the right to see the product presented by a “real” person. Another branch of merchandise has surfaced: namely, breast-friendly clothing, represented by BiuBiu (http://www.biubiu.pl/ ) and Urkye (http://urkye.pl/ ).

Brafitting has been transformed into business, too. Some of the activists started their consultation businesses, and there has been the obvious corporate reaction. At present, almost every bra store offers some kind of brafitting services, though in some cases the quality of the fitting could still be dubious. Brafitting has become a catch-phrase, sometimes with no real reference to the original bra-maniac ideals.

As more and more Polish brands produce bras in size options unavailable in the USA, American customers decide to buy their bras here. Some of them have already turned to blogging and write the reviews of Michalak or OnlyHer bras; to name only: Voluptous and Beautiful http://voluptuouslythin.wordpress.com/, Miss Underpinnings http://www.missunderpinnings.com/ or Thin and Curvy http://www.thinandcurvy.com/ . Finally, collaborating with the founder of Bratabase, the founder of Balkonetka, Julia K. Szopa, has just launched the Wellfitting.com platform.

 

Sources 

Bordo, Susan (2003). Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Berkely, California: University of California Press.

 

de Certeau, Michel (1988). Practice of Everyday Life. vol 1. Berkely, California: University of California Press.

 

Jenkins, Henry et al. (2009). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. http://www.macfound.org/media/article_pdfs/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF  Accessed 2013.10.31

 

Klimowicz, Marta (2009). http://klimowicz.blox.pl/2009/01/Lobby-Biusciastych-wydarzenie-roku-2008.html Accessed 2013.10.30

 

Kulpa, Katarzyna (2011). “Dyskretny urok biustonosza.”  http://lawendowydom.com.pl/dyskretny-urok-biustonosza/ Accessed 2013.10.30

 

Maffesoli, Michel (1996). The Time of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society. London: Sage.

 

Shields, Vickie R. (2002). Measuring Up: How Advertising Affects Self-Image. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

 

Spitzak, Carole (1990). Confessing Excess: Women and the Politics of Body Reduction. Albany: State University of New york Press.

 

Aleksandra Mochocka is a Literature and Non-digital game researcher with a Ph. D. in Literature, working at the Faculty of English Studies at the Kazimierz Wielki University in Bydgoszcz, Poland. A member of the Polish sf&f fandom, she has translated D&D books and co-authored several RPG-related articles. She is a founding member of the Games Research Association of Poland and a historical reenactor. She has published articles on science fiction theory, Orson Scott Card, table-top role playing games (e.g. "The Evaluation of Elusiveness", in States of Play. Nordic Larp Around the World, Pohjoismaisen roolipelaamisen seura, 2012), alternate reality games, and interactivity and intermediality in codex books. Her recent research has been focused on the relationship between literature and games (e.g. board games), as well as on texts (e.g. product reviews) produced by prosumers.

Participatory Poland (Part Six): Fighters, Martyrs, and Missionaries for Manga: The Early Days of Polish Manga and Anime Fandom

In the “Participatory Poland” report a group of Polish aca-fen makes a preliminary attempt towards defining the specificity of an Eastern European country’s participatory culture shaped both in the communist and post-communist periods. By placing the development of selected fan-based activities against a broader socio-historical background, we are trying to capture the interplay between the global and the local context of participatory culture, as well as take preliminary steps towards making its Polish branch available for academic research. Thanks to Professor Henry Jenkins’ incredible support, we are able to share the first, though by no means final, results of our investigations with aca-fen worldwide. The posts included in this report deal with several examples of Polish participatory activities, namely, the literary and media fandom of speculative fiction and role-playing games; comics fandom; fandom of manga and anime; historical re-enactment associations; and the prosumerist phenomenon of bra-fitting. While we are planning to continue and expand our research, we hope that its samples presented in this report contribute to the exploration of participatory culture.

Fighters, Martyrs, and Missionaries for Manga: The Early Days of Polish Manga and Anime Fandom

Katarzyna “Hitohai” Wasylak Karkonosze College in Jelenia Góra

In 2012, a manga convention Animatsuri in Warsaw featured a discussion panel entitled “True Fans Are No More.” The subject referred to the nostalgic commentaries frequently reiterated by middle-aged fans recalling the “olden days” when manga and anime market was hardly existent in Poland. The life of manga fans in the late 90s was filled with quests: to obtain VHS cassettes with Japanese animation, to get any manga in any language, to bring the existence of manga and anime to broader awareness, to create positive publicity for their hobby, to generate more fans and build a nation-wide network, to improve the availability of manga in their country, and finally, to find a partner who would accept their weird hobby. There were many hardships awaiting the fans: hostility experienced from the society and other fandoms, conflicts within their own fandom, expenses connected with importing manga merchandise, etc.

Since the data about the beginnings of manga in Poland I managed to gather may be incomplete, I will start with the first official record of the event at which Japanese comics and animation were presented to the Poles under the names “manga” and “anime.” The story begins in the early 90s, with Robert “Mr. Root” Korzeniowski visiting a computer fair in London, where he stumbled upon the anime Akira. In the year 1994, at the Amiga computers’ fans convention in Warsaw, Mr. Root organized a section “Manga Room” with the purpose of familiarizing the Polish audiences with manga and anime. Soon, Korzeniowski introduced a column under the same title in a computer game magazine Secret Service. Simultaneously, Paweł ”Mr Jedi” Musiałkowski started the section “Mangazyn” in the computer magazine PC Shareware. In 1997, “Manga Room” developed into an independent magazine about manga and anime Animegaido (closed down in 1998), and Mr Jedi became an editor-in-chief of  Kawaii (1997-2005).

Although Polish channels had been already airing anime series (targeted mainly to children) like The Adventures of Maya the Bee, Yattaman, Princess Sarah, Battle Commander Daimos, or Captain Tsubasa, the first broadcast of the Sailor Moon series on public TV in 1994-1995 turned out to be a breakthrough for the popularity of manga and anime in Poland. Encouraged by Sailor Scouts’ success, J.P.Fantastica Publishing released Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon series in 1997, which constituted a significant step forward, given that till then, the only manga published in Polish was Riyoko Ikeda’s Ten no Hate Made; (Until the Borders of Sky – Poland’s Secret Story). As I have mentioned, the year 1997 also marked the launch of the first magazine devoted entirely to manga, anime, and Japanese culture—Kawaii. Apart from my personal experience as a fan and other fans’ accounts, in this paper I will draw heavily on the readers’ letters section of Kawaii in the attempt to give a brief outline of Polish manga fandom in the transitory period when fans still did not rely so strongly on the Internet to communicate and collect information.

Supernanny versus Pop Cosmopolitanism

In “Pop Cosmopolitanism: Mapping Cultural Flows in an Age of Media Convergence” (2006) Henry Jenkins refers to pop cosmopolitanism as “the ways that the transcultural flows of popular culture inspires new forms of global consciousness and cultural competency” (156). In the process, the texts of culture “are decontextualized and recontextualized at the sites of consumption,” which may result in “unpredictable and contradictory meanings” being ascribed to them (154). These mechanisms played a critical role for the perception of anime and manga shortly after they were introduced in Poland, as their medium itself was already connoted with particular meanings. Thus, many manga fans would be disgusted at the thought that Japanese animation for children or erotic hentai videos are called anime, just like, say, Mamoru Oshii’s masterpiece Ghost in the Shell. It becomes apparent from the letters published in Kawaii that for the majority of fans, manga and anime were primarily characterized by a deeply spiritual quality, while their entertaining aspect was seen as secondary or denied altogether, as being too vulgar.

On the other hand, the sarcastic term “Chinese cartoons” was typically used by non-fans to refer to anime in general. This confusion of medium and content, as well as the expectations about their fixed relationship (animation and comics are supposed to tell stories for children), constituted the source of constant humiliation for the fans (teenagers and grown-ups watching childish cartoons?), and aroused suspicion or even hostility toward manga and anime among non-fans.

In 2003, when manga market was in its first bloom, and it seemed that for a while nobody wanted to burn manga fans on stakes, one of Polish popular channels aired an episode of a journalistic show which stirred a controversy that came to history as “Bulma’s naked buttocks” case. In the program, a psychologist Dorota Zawadzka (nowadays known as “Supernanny”) relates how, to her shock and terror, she discovered “pedophile pornography” (Dragon Ball, Volume 1) in her teenage son’s comics collection. Apart from surreal special sound effects that accompanied numerous close-ups on the page where the heroine (Bulma) for a moment exposes herself in front of an old man (Keme Senin), the program featured the scene where children (approximately four years old) gathered to “read” the scandalous manga. While it is true that this episode of Dragon Ball may qualify as obscene, fans would not read it as pornography but as a comic device generally characteristic of Asian culture which, unlike Polish one, embraces more distanced and humorous approach to sexual innuendos. What is even more important, fans, as competent comics readers, would not offer such manga to a child, acting on the assumption a false assumption that all comic books are for children.

A large number of manga fans of the 90s connected their passion for manga and anime with the fascination for Japanese culture in general. Almost everyone dreamt about going to Japan and many of us knew more about Japanese art and literature than about Polish cultural heritage. This phenomenon was criticized in a letter from Halue, a half-Japanese, half-Polish fan living in Poland. The girl appealed to the readers that they should get to know and appreciate their own culture first, and only with such a basis may they take another step as Japanese culture’s aficionados (Kawaii 38:79). Another reader, who had been training karate for many years, warned other fans about the hardships of regular training, apparently to spare them disappointment in case they wanted to start training inspired only by their love for anime or Japanese culture (Kawaii 41:77). The same intention inclined Doppi-zoku to write an article about the Japanese Studies in Poland. The author confirmed that the professors in the Japanese Department were gravely prejudiced against manga fans and suggested that Kawaii readers should think twice before choosing Japanese as their major (Kawaii 36:83).

All these texts were written in good faith, however, they also reveal the background premise about the impracticality of fans’ knowledge and their inability to put the strategies they employed for hunting down the desired information to a better use. In this regard, manga fans’ pop cosmopolitan potential for enhancing their new cultural competences seems to be acknowledged only on the emotional level. Many fans wrote about how their identification with clever manga characters motivated them to be diligent at school. There are also numerous stories about fans who decided to learn a foreign language because of their love for anime series that was not available in Polish, or it was aired in Poland, but dubbed in a foreign language. This, however, leads to a question about the stability of such motivation—would they persevere in studying a foreign tongue after their favourite mangas had been finally translated into Polish?

Here, a broader social context comes into perspective. It is highly probable that if such fans decided to engage in fandom activities that involved, for instance, creating funsubs or scanlations, they would enter the network in which their knowledge would become currency and in order to upgrade their status in fans’ community or simply to share with others, they would continue to improve their skills. After all, perseverance is one of the most distinguished characteristics of a “true fan.”

True Fans, Otakus, and Obsession as a Beautiful Disease

In her MA dissertation Fans Practices as Symptoms of Society’s Changes in the Age of Web 2.0. (2012), Agata Sutkowska aptly notices that being a “true fan” is not supposed to be only about pleasure. This is evidenced in Kawaii readers’ reflections on how they define themselves as fans. According to these commentaries, “true fans” would not “abandon” their interest in particular anime even after its broadcast was terminated. Instead they would relentlessly pursue knowledge about new anime and mangas and devote most of their time to their hobby, more often than not sacrificing their social life and, as some claim, even sanity.

Sutkowska compares the construction of the “true fan’s” identity with the image of the “true Pole” cherished especially in the right wing environment. According to the author, they both rely on stereotypical behaviors, have no clear boundaries, and are predominantly ideological. Being called a “true fan” enhances one’s symbolic capital and saying that somebody is not a true fan becomes a form of offence (34). Finally, a “true fan” likes to display, rather than share, his/her knowledge and they often invest it with emotional and moral values. Thus such individuals are prone to confuse other fans’ flawed knowledge with flawed character in general. To give an example, an embittered fan Vanka relates that a “true fan” told her not to “disgrace manga” after he tricked her into calling a comics manga (Kawaii 33:79).

Although it is not clear from the fans’ letters how they discriminate between a “true fan” and an otaku, it seems that while the former term is used more often to refer to more active and conspicuous fans, “otaku” refers to these as well as to the socially withdrawn manga fanatics. The term “otaku” was popularized by Kawaii readers and at first bore a positive connotation, meaning a genuine fan, a nerd, or a geek. Nevertheless, after the publication of the article about Otaku no Video, which explained how this word is understood in the Japanese society, fans started to redefine it accordingly, as was reflected in many readers asking why at first being otaku was a source of pride and later—of shame (Kawaii 14: 12-15).

The discussion was heated up by many personal narratives appearing in the readers’ section—self-declared otakus defended their decision to escape from the “bleak reality” into the emotionally and intellectually fascinating world of beauty and the sublime. In response, apart from the messages expressing solidarity with these solitary dreamers, many letters were sent by the readers who wanted to help the “lost souls” to find balance between their hobby and social life, whereas some readers simply accused the “otakus” of cowardice and asked them to get a grip of their lives. In turn, the “otakus” were outraged by such a patronizing attitude—one of them suggested that being an otaku may be seen as a disease, but this would be a beautiful and harmless disease (Kawaii 28:80).

The metaphor for deep fascination with manga and anime as a disease had been relatively common among the readers. Some of them confessed that since they kept their hobby a secret, they felt as if they were hiding some embarrassing condition; others embraced their obsession with manga as a kind of mental illness. In the latter case, however, the fans often declared they did not want to be cured since their “disease” defined who they were.

The discourse adopted by the fans bears a strong resemblance to the one used in the nineteenth century to metaphorize tuberculosis or to talk about madness a century later, as demonstrated by Susan Sontag in “Illness as Metaphor” (1978). Firstly, the otakus’ “illness” was presented as not only mental but also spiritual condition that appeared “more soulful” (17) than depression or simply a social withdrawal syndrome. While for both obsessive manga fans and the Romantics “[s]ickness was a way of making people “interesting”” (30), by comparison, “[h]ealth [became] banal, even vulgar” (26). Many “true otakus” pointed out to the “normal” fans that the latter compromised their ideals with unsatisfactory life, which was also the argument for their otakus’ superiority over the “normals.” According to Sontag

Not TB but insanity is the current [20th century] vehicle of our secular myth of self-transcendence. The romantic view is that illness exacerbates consciousness. Once that illness was TB; now it is insanity that is thought to bring consciousness to a state of paroxysmic enlightenment. (36)

The fan that calls herself Tsubasa Ozora gained a lot of publicity in the readers corner by confessing about her extreme identification with the manga character, Tsubasa, not in terms of imitation, but rather with regard to incorporation or mysterious union—she claimed to love him so much that she imagined they were one. Although the fan stated clearly that at the same time she led a regular life and had caring (and real) friends, some readers speculated about her suicide (she never committed), and others felt alarmed by this case of self-transcendence, wondering whether or not she destroyed her own self in this process of extreme identification.

On the one hand, it is also true for manga fans that “the calamity of disease clears the way for insight into lifelong self-deceptions and failures of character” (Illness 42). Many “otakus” admitted to their extremely poor social skills and the fear of social situations that also contributed to their withdrawal into the realm of fantasy. On the other hand, as was pointed out to them by fellow fans, they often used their “disease” to draw attention to themselves and, at the same time, to excuse themselves from undertaking any action to improve their situation and ease their suffering. This takes us to another important factor shaping Polish manga fandom at the turn of the century—the martyrdom of fans.

Martyrdom of Manga Fans and Neon Genesis Evangelization

Equally common as the metaphorization of “otakuism” as a disease was the use of religious references to talk about the experience of being a Polish manga fan. As mentioned before, for many fans manga and anime already belonged to the sphere of sacrum (therefore, again, hentai could have been scorned by many of them as being profane). A fan A. d’A writes about “the holy war” he had been unwillingly taking part in as an RPG enthusiast and later on, a manga fan. He goes so far as to suggest that manga and anime are becoming perceived in the Polish society as a “religiously incorrect” hobby and tells other fans to prepare for possible future problems that this negative attention may entail (Kawaii 31:81).

His letter is one among numerous accounts given by (predominantly teenage) manga fans describing their suffering from intolerance experienced from family members, peers, teachers, or even shop assistants, because of their passion. There are several letters describing rather extreme reactions of fans’ parents who destroyed their children’s manga collections and attempted to force them to give up their “deviant” hobby. Other fans share their stories about being abandoned by peers who would sneer at their “childish” interests. There are also several stories about manga fans being discriminated at school for writing about or presenting on their “unworthy” hobby.Of course, these narratives are counterbalanced with plenty of inspirational stories told by the readers whose passion for Japanese pop culture had been encouraged by parents and teachers.

On the whole, however, manga and anime was undeniably receiving a lot of bad publicity in Poland in the late 90s and early 2000s. This incited a lively discussion about how to change the situation. Apart from organizing manga conventions, fans started congregating at “manga meetings” organized locally in many cities and smaller towns. Kawaii readers encouraged their fellows not to be ashamed of their hobby and stop hiding it. A lot of attention was devoted to the question about the ways in which manga and anime could be popularized among non-fans. Many agreed that the priority in preventing the numerous acts of discrimination should be educating non-fans about what manga and anime in fact are.

This was followed by what I would call “evangelization” initiative among Polish manga fans whose goal was to get through to their parents and peers by showing them how the fascination with exotic culture and Japanese art can be connected with their more “regular” interests. This also turned the fans’ attention to a broader cultural context of manga and their responsibility as representatives of the fandom. In this regard, many readers criticized the individuals who would damage the image of a manga fan by acting silly or odd (the appeal was particularly addressed the “otakus,” especially after “the Otaku Murderer” case had been covered by Polish media). The fans that succeeded in their mission would triumphantly describe their success, to which they would often refer as “converting” the non-fans.

In 2003 most of the editors in charge of Kawaii resigned from their function and started a new magazine about manga and anime—which, unfortunately, was closed down after a year. In her paper “Manga and Anime Fandom in Poland” (2006), Anna Czaplińska suggests that one of the reasons for Kawaii’s shutdown might have been that the magazine lost its previous function: the gradual infiltration of manga and anime into mainstream media, as the unrestrained access to the Internet gave the fans more independence in building social and information networks (21). It is not to say, however, that at present there are no print magazines about manga and anime. On the contrary, fans can buy magazines like Otaku, Kyaa, or Arigato in bigger bookstores and on the Internet. Nevertheless, the role of Kawaii for the development of Polish manga and anime fandom cannot be overemphasized. By offering its readers regularly featured sections devoted not only to anime and manga but also to Japanese music and traditions, drawing workshops, Japanese language lessons, and readers’ opinions and drawings, the magazine significantly aided the development of the fans’ pop-cosmopolitan awareness in rather isolationist environment.

Due to the spatial limitation of this paper, the transformations shaping Polish manga will become a subject of further research. For now, it must suffice to say that since Kawaii was closed down, Polish manga fandom has undergone a profound change: thriving on new possibilities offered by participatory culture, fans’ involvement resulted in organizing tens of manga conventions (and even a regular “Otaku camp”) featuring high quality cosplay performances, and copious production of fanfiction, fanarts, fanzines, dojinshi, AMVs, manga gadgets, etc.. From two leading publishers, Polish manga market flourished to host over seven manga publishings, including Studio JG which publishes, among others, works by Polish authors. Many fans have been actively participating in world-wide online communities devoted to fan productions; some of them now being internationally acclaimed manga artists. Although this seems to be the realization of the dreams dreamt by the fans of the 90s, however, most of us will never recover from the nostalgia for the times when manga and anime were still underground.

WORKS CITED

 

A.d’A. Letter. Kawaii. Vol. 31. 2001.81.

Czaplińska, Anna. “Fani mangi i anime w Polsce” (‘Manga and Anime Fandom in Poland’). Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, 2006.

Doppi-zoku. “Japonistyka nienawidzi mangi” (‘Japanese Studies Hate Manga’). Kawaii. Vol. 36. 2002. 83.

Halue. Letter. Kawaii. Vol. 38. 2002. 79.

Jenkins, Henry. Fans Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York: New York University Press: 2006.

KnP. Letter. Kawaii. Vol. 41. 2003. 77.

Marcin “Tenchi” Świętoniewski. Letter. Kawaii. Vol. 28.2000. 79-80.

Nowakowski, Witold, et al. “Otaku no Video.” Kawaii. Vol.14. 1998. 12-15.

Sontag, Susan. “Illness as Metaphor.” New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1978.

Sutkowska, Agata. Fans Practices as Symptomps of Society’s Changes in the Age of Web 2.0. MA Thesis. University of Warsaw, 2012.

Vanka. Letter. Kawaii. Vol. 33. 2001.79.

 

Katarzyna Wasylak received a PhD in Literature from the University of Wrocław for a thesis Monistic Cosmologies in Modern Mythopeic Fantasy: Rejection of Transcendence in Favor of Immanence in Selected Works of Ursula K. Le Guin, Philip Pullman and Nancy Farmer . The main focus of her academic research is philosophy in fantasy literature for Children and Young Adults, manga, and anime. Alongside her academic work, Katarzyna Wasylak has worked as an illustrator and a graphic designer. She has also published several of her own graphic novels.

Participatory Poland (Part Five): You Forgot Poland: Exploratory Qualitative Study of Polish SF and Fantasy Fandom

In the “Participatory Poland” report a group of Polish aca-fen makes a preliminary attempt towards defining the specificity of an Eastern European country’s participatory culture shaped both in the communist and post-communist periods. By placing the development of selected fan-based activities against a broader socio-historical background, we are trying to capture the interplay between the global and the local context of participatory culture, as well as take preliminary steps towards making its Polish branch available for academic research. Thanks to Professor Henry Jenkins’ incredible support, we are able to share the first, though by no means final, results of our investigations with aca-fen worldwide. The posts included in this report deal with several examples of Polish participatory activities, namely, the literary and media fandom of speculative fiction and role-playing games; comics fandom; fandom of manga and anime; historical re-enactment associations; and the prosumerist phenomenon of bra-fitting. While we are planning to continue and expand our research, we hope that its samples presented in this report contribute to the exploration of participatory culture.  

You Forgot Poland: Exploratory Qualitative Study of Polish SF and Fantasy Fandom

 

By Justyna Janik, Joanna Kucharska, Tomasz Z. Majkowski, Joanna Płaszewska, Bartłomiej Schweiger, Piotr Sterczewski, and Piotr Gąsienica-Daniel, Jagiellonian University in Krakow

 

 

The analysis presented hereby comes from the recently concluded pilot part of the “Participatory Poland” project. We have carried out a computer-aided qualitative content analysis (applying commonly used guidelines for this kind of research, see Selected Bibliography)on the largest fantasy fandom portal in the country - polter.pl. The analysis included all content published on the site in September 2013. Poltergeist (widely known shortly as Polter) is the largest site of its type, but more importantly, it invites most participation and engagement and of all the fantasy-fandom-related platforms. It also courts the largest number of content created by the users.

Polter became the central hub of fan activity in the early 2000s, after the magazines which had fulfilled such role before – the literary Nowa Fantastyka and the roleplaying games magazine Magia i Miecz - either lost popularity and became more of niche press (NF) or closed down (MiM). Polter fulfills the double role of an informative as well as a social medium,  Some of the texts (mostly news on events and recent releases) are published by the editorial staff, but the portal also allows for user contributions, some of which are  featured on the main site. The blogs section is well developed and provokes lengthy discussions, offering reviews, roleplaying guides and tips, and articles on a variety of subjects connected with the fandom. Blog submissions are purely amateur and do not require the staff’s preliminary approval although they can be modified or deleted in case of violating the site’s guidelines. Polter has also been one of the first fandom platforms, together with Valkiria (which concentrates largely on games) and Fahrenheit (with a literature focus), and definitely one with the goal to cover all fandom matters.

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Caption: 30 years of progress? The first cover of Fantastyka magazine and its 30th anniversary rendition (Nowa Fantastyka magazine)

Historically, and to this day, the majority of SF and fantasy fans have concentrated their attention on literature and pen and paper roleplaying games. While genre films, TV series, computer games and other media usually of great interest to fans worldwide still appear in discussions and activities of Polish SF and fantasy fandom, they remain less popular.

Within the genres of tabletop roleplaying games and SF literature, Polish fandom differs from the majority of Western fandoms with its definitions of canon works. The limited access to and the small number of Western media available (mostly via unofficial means and xerox copying) to fans before the political transformation of 1989 has hugely influenced this state. For instance, the system considered as the classic of the Western roleplaying fandom, Dungeons and Dragons, was adopted in Poland with a significant delay and never reached the top popularity although nowadays it is also considered a classic. Instead, the prototype of all the games and still the major point of reference for most players, is the setting of Warhammer (in the 2000s followed by both editions of World of Darkness).

Similarly, when composing the list of the greatest SF and fantasy classics, a typical Polish fan would create a list different from their American or British counterparts. While the works of the authors considered worldwide as absolute classics (such as J. R. R. Tolkien, R. E. Howard, Ursula Le Guin, Frank Herbert, P. K. Dick) still underline the literary canon, they are accompanied by many works from Eastern European writers (such as the Strugatsky brothers or Kir Bulychov) and, maybe most importantly, Polish works which before '89 tended to be heavily influenced by the need to write about the political situation under the guise of SF. This trend of science-fiction prose as a vessel for social, political and sometimes philosophical topics was largely established by Stanisław Lem and Janusz A. Zajdel, whose impact on later fiction is recognizable to this day.

 

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Caption: Kir Bulychov as a guest at a convention organised in a college, 1997. Photo: Szymon Sokół

 

Fantasy cons and fan gatherings have always been the liveblood of Polish fantasy and SF fandom. Unlike many Western conventions, Polish gatherings are not dominated by discussion panels from academics, aca-fen and media creators, but are instead filled with roleplaying sessions (sometimes announced but often spontaneously arranged) or lecture-like presentations often given by fans who do not study or lecture on the subjects professionally. Cons are usually organised by particular, city- or province-based fan organisations, and everyone who works at them does so voluntarily. Local fan organisations use conventions as a tool for promotion, and the quality of the events is seen as the reflection of the club’s rank and the strength of the local fandom. Such connections with a specific local community are often highlighted in cons’ logos that contain visual motifs associated with certain Polish cities.

Conventions are attended by authors and publishers, but the content producers in attendance are usually connected to the realms of books, comics and roleplaying games, with movie and television producers largely absent. It is worth noting that even the largest conventions (attended by above 10,000 fans) are all run by the fans themselves, without the involvement of any professional event planning companies. The authors in attendance are not compensated for their involvement. Commercial booths accompanying the events,  limited to small areas, are not considered a significant feature of a con. The majority of cons are held on  weekends, usually in rented classrooms of public schools, and not in conference centers or fairs venues. However, our analysis suggests that fans often formulate demands for the conventions to be organised in a more “professional” manner - this trend becomes noticeable in our material in the comments sections of the posts on a major event, Polcon, infamously nicknamed by the fans in social media as “Kolejkon” (“Queue-con”) because of its organizational issues. Some fans argue that because participants pay for the entry, a con should be considered and evaluated as a product. A commercial standard is being applied to an event run by unpaid volunteers, which marks a certain change of attitude considering the grassroots origins of Polish conventions.

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Caption:  Polish mermaids are the most beautiful! Local pride expressed in the promotional graphics of Warsaw-based Polcon convention (mermaid is the symbol on Warsaw’s coat of arms). By Sylwia 'Saarl' Smerdel

 

Furthermore, the most active fans are most appreciated by their colleagues and such participation and productivity are important criteria in fandom’s internal stratification. Professional book writers hold the biggest prestige among the community, followed by creators of other media (for instance game designers have a lower status than authors of literature) and active fans (where participation in events and local gatherings is valued higher than online-only activity). These distinctions are also reflected in convention programmes:  institutionally recognized contributors (such as book authors or academics) invited by the organisers have a status of “guests,” whereas those who volunteer to give presentations or run other events are called “programme creators” and have a lower status than “guests.”

Conventions become hosts to most important awards within fandom, starting with the Hugo-inspired literary award Zajdel (or: Nagroda Fandomu Polskiego im. Janusza Zajdla), through such honors as PMM (Puchar Mistrza Mistrzów - the Cup of the Masters' Master), a competition for the title of the best Game Master, and Quentin,  atrophy given to the author of the best roleplaying scenario. These are not the only honors awarded within the fandom, but they are also best known and as such, most discussed and disputed.

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Caption: A statuette of Janusz Zajdel Polish Fandom Award, a Hugo-based literary prize. Photo: Szymon Sokół

 

These are just some of the subjects fervently discussed on Polter and became the subject of our analysis in this study. All of the items published in September were copied together with accompanying comments into a program aiding in content analysis. With its help, the posts were sorted according to the site’s division into news, reviews, articles, blog posts, etc. Next, they were coded with a codebook established earlier for the purpose of this research. Coding categories were modified during the course of research in order to make them more suited for the encountered data. The categories were devoted to the forms of communication between the users, especially to the internal links between comments and the references made to various cultural texts. Also, specific categories were established to examine the various criteria of validation used by the fans in relation to commented media or events, textual strategies of justifying their opinions, and discursive ways of forming fans’ identities (inclusion and exclusion of certain content and groups).

It is important to hold in mind the exploratory character of the analysis, the results of which are by no means finite or final, but rather outline the field of study and constitute the basis for the research questions we will be tackling. This initial analysis set out to discover the most interesting content and processes in the contemporary Polish fandom. The following stages of the project will include data from a number of other sites sharing a similar profile. Due to the significantly low number of fandom-devoted portals in Poland, we can include all of them in our analysis. We are also planning to extend our research to some of the most interesting topics arisen during the initial analysis, as well as to turn to researching the participants themselves, that is the fans.

During the researched month, close to five hundred items were posted to Polter. Within those, books get the most coverage among all the media, while?  news about recent releases and reviews form the largest group of content published by the editorial staff. However, our study showed that it is the content connected to games (mostly pen and paper RPGs, but also videogames) that generates most social engagement. Roleplaying games seem to be the center of attention of Polter’s community; fans eagerly comment not only on the news and reviews of player’s guides, add-ons etc., but also on users’ submissions, such as scenarios, reviews thereof and session reports. The extent of these participatory mechanisms can be well observed in the case of Quentin,  the annual contest for the best roleplaying scenario, established in 1999 and hosted by Polter since 2003. All submissions for the contest are published on the website. The scenarios are evaluated by an independent committee and the winning work is posted on Polter, but users’ activity related to the contest entries does not stop after the verdict is announced and many of the texts concerning Quentin are user-created.

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Caption: Quentin award for the author of the best role-playing scenario. Photo: Szymon Sokół

 

The case of Quentin-related engagement is also an example of another wider trend. Our study showed that most of the interactions within the Polter community, as well as the comments on the works, are positive. Polter users express appreciation more often than dissatisfaction, and the criticism of other users’ content is usually constructive. This leads us to an assumption that mutual support and quality of content published on Polter are important values for this community and that fan identity is created and maintained through positive rather than negative expression (we elaborate on matters of inclusion and exclusion later in the text). This observation somewhat contradicts the widespread stereotype of a malcontent fan who uses online media mostly to express dissatisfaction and engage in conflict; the stereotype also held by the fans themselves, who seem to perceive the community as largely negative.

Our study paid a significant attention to the strategies of developing fan identity, through interactions and tactics of inclusion and exclusion. A part of this identity is forged through reading and media consumption habits presented publicly. As noted before, the majority of news posted on the website were connected with book releases, despite the fact that the most heated discussions were related to game posts and blogs. While most fans participate in several areas of media consumption and fan activities, SF and fantasy novels are perceived as much more high-brow than gaming. A fandom portal such as Poltergeist, while catering to the needs of all kinds of fans, makes a claim to a professional status by showcasing book releases and publishing book reviews. Similarly, fans attempt to raise their fandom status by disclosing their reading habits; the more books read the better, and the quantity is just as important as the quality of the works.

While the status of ‘having read’ the classics is important to a fan’s social standing and the familiarity with well-known works is desired, fans also have a tendency of distancing themselves from everything and everyone that has ‘sold themselves out’ and became irreversibly commercialised and therefore tainted by the mainstream association, becoming somehow less connected to fandom. This tendency features both in the case of actual commercial properties that have acquired a greater renown and in the case of fandom participants who have forged their fan activities into a source of income. Such cases are often treated with distrust or derision.

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Caption: Growing popularity of steampunk and cosplay: Mad Artistians' stand at Falkon 2013. Photo: Falkon 2013

 

Another topic connected with identities included in our research is the ways Polter users conceptualize and discursively create the boundaries of fandom and its subcommunities. While there is a widespread use of the general term “the fandom,” incorporating all fans and topics of SF & fantasy regardless of the division into particular media and subgenres (and the Polter website sections also support this generalizing attitude), the self-identification practices of fans are more nuanced. Several times in the source material we encountered opinions about specific interest groups within the fandom that perceive themselves as autonomous and hardly want to communicate with each other - this was said about fans of LARPs, manga & anime, videogames and comic books. Manga & anime fandom seems to be especially stereotyped and more often than not placed outside the boundaries of SF and fantasy community; mentions of it in the source material often provoke the commenters to talk about “fandoms” (in plural). A similar case of a fandom splintering can be seen in the case of the Western comics fandom, but while the comic books fan seem content with standing apart from ‘the fandom’ of SF and fantasy, manga and anime fans strive for inclusion and recognition, especially on the local level of conventions and events. Their attempts are sometimes met with resistance, such as exclusion of manga and anime subjects from the convention programmes by the organisers. It is worth noting that the manga and anime fandom is relatively younger and much more feminised than the SF and fantasy fandom, and has been introduced in Poland fairly recently in comparison with others (more on this topic in an upcoming part of the report, devoted specifically to the manga & anime fandom).

Our findings also point out that patriotism is a vital component of Polish fans’ identity. This phenomenon can be observed on several levels. The most apparent is that the fans are eager to include, or even ‘adopt’ works or authors who seem even marginally connected to Poland. While in general, works most often consumed and discussed come from abroad rather than from Poland (with the exception of cult writers such as Lem or Sapkowski), the national pride and patriotism seems to be awakened by mentions of Poland and Polish matters in foreign works. This tendency has been illustrated during the analysed period in the instance of the new novel (Forest Ghost) from Graham Masterton, who set his story in Poland. Masterton himself accentuates his Polish connections and his new novel had been published in Poland even before its debut in the UK. Another example of clear national pride is displayed when a Polish work enjoys success abroad (in recent years it has especially been the case with game developers, most notably the creators of The Witcher series) as fans consider themselves to be a part of that success.

Poland 7 (1)

 

Caption:  Agents of F.I.E.L.D.? Promotional graphics of the expansion Conspirators for the Veto! collectible card game about the Polish noblemen from the 17th century. Spoof of The Avengers movie poster. By Igor Myszkiewicz and Maciej Zasowski

On a more general level, SF & fantasy fans seem to share and reproduce the vision of patriotism grounded in the Polish 19th-century Romanticism, with its focus on national history, the values of chivalry, fight for a just cause and an idealised view of love and femininity. This can be well-observed in the case of fans’ attitude to history. Historical narratives (also those incorporating SF & fantasy elements) are being evaluated with the use of ideologized notions of “scholarly validity” and “historical accuracy,” accompanied by a belief in the possibility of access to the truth about certain events and phenomena. Historical references are used to maintain the national pride (hence the popularity of novels set in the “Sarmatian” period of Polish history regarded as the highest point of national splendour), but also tend to be connected with practices of exclusion - for example, the presence of female warriors (or women in positions of strength in general) is disregarded as historically implausible.

Poland 8

Caption: Practically Polish. Graham Masterton (on the right) socializing with Polish fans at a convention. Photo: Geekozaur

 

On the other hand, our study found some instances of views that are more critical to the mainstream Polish views on patriotism. The anticlericalism and pagan inspirations attempt to challenge the usual affirmative approach to Christianity and its cultural role. An informative discussion occurred in the comments on a Polish card game about the Polish military fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Whereas the reviewer appreciated a Poland-related theme, there were also opinions criticizing the game for allowing players to choose the Taliban side (and fight against the Polish), and also for depicting colonial violence. The discussion thread shows the clash between the conflicting views on Polish patriotism: the same work can be viewed in terms of continuing the honorable tradition of fighting for freedom or criticised as promoting Polish participation in imperial oppression.

Another aspect of declared patriotism is connected to consumer choices. As stated before, the media discussed and referred to on Polter are predominantly Western, mostly originating from English-speaking countries. However, there is a very distinct declarative tendency to ’support the Polish market‘ (both discursively and financially). The market of Polish SF & fantasy products (especially RPG-related) is perceived as small and constantly endangered by financial hardships. It is worth noting that certain dissatisfaction with the quality of Polish works or editions/translations does not stop these slightly patronizing general appeals to support the local media and creators.

Within the identity-related categories in our study we also established one connected to direct and indirect statements about gender. Though it is by no means a dominant issue for Polter users, it is still possible to notice some general tendencies. In a few instances the site’s participants suggested and tried to diagnose some inherently and inescapably specific ways women engage in certain activities, such as playing pen & paper RPGs or writing books. Female physical attractiveness is commonly perceived as a valuable asset in various contexts, from evaluation of drawn fanarts through comments on female cosplayers on conventions. It is worth noting that we found very few statements about masculinity in the source material; generally, only women are objects of generalizing statements, which suggests that a male fan is recognized as a default member of the community and a female fan is a special phenomenon that requires examination. Historically, Polish SF and fantasy fandom has always been rather male-dominated, with a prevailing belief in the old chestnut that all gaming women are girlfriends of the game masters. However, in the middle of the 2000s, the numbers of female representation in the fandom surged significantly. The last few years brought on the attempts to form a female fan (and especially a female roleplayer) identity. These attempts in turn  sometimes meet with negativity from the more conservative fans trying to neutralise such emancipatory tendencies by generalizing statements along the lines of “fandom is not for women, fandom is for everyone.” At the same time, splinter fandoms of manga and anime or fanfiction writers tend to be much younger and female-dominated, and gender roles are often very different from the ones taken for granted by the majority of the SF and fantasy fans.

Poland 9

Caption: ‘Mom, can I exterminate already?’ A young female Dalek at a convention. Photo: Szymon Sokół

 

To sum up, in our exploratory research of Polish science-fiction & fantasy fandom we found the following problems to be the most interesting and worth further examination (possibly with an inclusion of diachronic longitudinal methods and different media outlets):

1) Fans’ attitudes towards national categories and notions of Polish identity. Divergent tendencies were observed in that area: on one hand, most of the fans seem to share conservative, affirmative views on Polish history and identity, with a distinct tone of national pride; they seek and appreciate topics related to Poland in foreign works and declare interest in and care about Polish SF & fantasy media despite being aware of the flaws and limitations of this market. On the other hand, the study showed that fans refer mostly to works of Western origin in their texts, comments and practices, which suggests that there is a constant process of negotiation between joining global cultural trends and maintaining local specificity; also, some more revisionist and critical attitudes towards the dominant discourse of Polish national identity start to appear. Still, references to national categories are vital points in fan discussions, even if treated negatively.

2) Gender views remain on the conservative side, with a prevailing tendency to see the masculine as the default. However, in the recent years a rising trend of female fans and players attempting to define their own identity has appeared. Such attempts are often opposed to on the grounds that they represent ‘special interests’ and are not pertinent to the group as a whole. Some female fans differentiate themselves from the whole of fandom either by adopting a unique style (of playing, of writing, of attire) or by finding niche activities to make their own, i.e.  fanfiction or forms of expression relating to costuming (cosplay, steampunk, etc.), while others openly demand more diversity within the fandom’s mainstream. As the demographics of fandom changed significantly in the past few decades, we can expect the trend of female fans making themselves more visible and aiming for recognition to rise in the future.

3) There are increasing voices calling for a professional approach to previously grassroots initiatives of SF and fantasy conventions. Historically, the events were organised by volunteers and local organisations and were perceived as a communal effort, while nowadays some of the convention-goers point out that the cons should be treated in terms of a commercial product and therefore give the participants the right to demand a much more professional approach. At the same time, other tensions between the amateur and professional realms emerge, presenting contradicting views: the fans want Polish works to succeed locally and internationally, but are distrustful of anything they consider too commercial or mainstream, bringing forth the accusations of “selling out”.

4) Tensions appear also in the area of media consumption. While most fans are ascribing prestige and nobility to literature, especially the more high-brow and canon works, and are eager to boast about their reading history, they tend to engage more with the works of a perceived lesser status, such as pen and paper roleplaying games.

We believe that our exploratory study of Poltergeist community can lead to deeper diagnoses of the specificity  of participatory culture inside the SF & fantasy fandom in Poland and forms a strong starting point for further research.

 

Selected Bibliography

Cappella J.N. et al. (2009). “Coding Instructions: An Example.” In Krippendorff K., Bock M.A. (Eds.), The Content Analysis Reader (pp. 253-265).Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

 

Carvajal, D. (2002). “The Artisan's Tools. Critical Issues When Teaching and Learning CAQDAS.” In Forum: Qualitative Social Research 3(2). doi: http://www.qualitative-research.net/fqs-texte/2-02/2-02carvajal-e.htm

 

Hak T., Bernts T. (2009). “Coder Training: Explicit Instructions and Implicit Socialization.” In Krippendorff K., Bock M.A. (Eds.), The Content Analysis Reader (pp. 220-233). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

 

MacQeuun K. et al. (2009). “Codebook Development for Team - Based Qualitative Analysis.” In Krippendorff K., Bock M.A. (Eds.), The Content Analysis Reader (pp. 211-219). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

 

Mayring P. (2000). “Qualitative content analysis.” In Forum: Qualitative Social Research 1(2). doi: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1089

 

About the Authors

Justyna Janik: MAs in Comparative Studies of Civilizations and Cultural Anthropology, PhD student in the Institute of Audiovisual Arts, interested in game studies and pop culture theory, especially fan studies;

 

Joanna Kucharska: MAs in English Literature and American Studies, PhD candidate at the Institute of Audiovisual Arts, researching audience participation and transmedia

 

Tomasz Z. Majkowski: Aca-fan, PhD in Literary Criticism, Assistant Professor at Department of Literary Anthropology and Cultural Studies at the Faculty of Polish Studies of Jagiellonian University, interested in pop culture theory, especially fantasy and sci-fi studies, game studies and historical interactions between pop culture and ideologies.

 

Joanna Płaszewska: Slavic philologist, librarianship and information science student, interested in fanfiction readership and new literacies.

 

Bartłomiej Schweiger: PhD student in Institute of Sociology on Jagiellonian University, interested in power-knowledge structures embedded in our culture, especially videogames.

 

Piotr Sterczewski: MA in Cultural Anthropology, PhD student in the Institute of Audiovisual Arts (Jagiellonian University), interested mostly in ideological aspects of videogames.

 

Piotr Gąsienica-Daniel: Sociologist and researcher at TNS Poland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Participatory Poland (Part Four): Notes on Comics Fandom in Poland

In the “Participatory Poland” report a group of Polish aca-fen makes a preliminary attempt towards defining the specificity of an Eastern European country’s participatory culture shaped both in the communist and post-communist periods. By placing the development of selected fan-based activities against a broader socio-historical background, we are trying to capture the interplay between the global and the local context of participatory culture, as well as take preliminary steps towards making its Polish branch available for academic research. Thanks to Professor Henry Jenkins’ incredible support, we are able to share the first, though by no means final, results of our investigations with aca-fen worldwide. The posts included in this report deal with several examples of Polish participatory activities, namely, the literary and media fandom of speculative fiction and role-playing games; comics fandom; fandom of manga and anime; historical re-enactment associations; and the prosumerist phenomenon of bra-fitting. While we are planning to continue and expand our research, we hope that its samples presented in this report contribute to the exploration of participatory culture.  

Notes on comics fandom in Poland

Michał Jutkiewicz, Polish Department Jagiellonian University

Rafał Kołsut, Polish Department Jagiellonian University

 

  1. Emergence of comics fandom in the 1980s

Until only a few years ago, history, and especially the 20th century, was the predominant subject of Polish comics. Nowadays that is not the case as more and more psychological and autobiographical stories or even superhero fictions are published. Nevertheless, historical comics, lavishly subsidized by cultural institutions, are still the essential part of the comics’ scene. This obsession with history may result from the fact that the situation of comics in Poland has always been influenced by national political and historical struggles.

After the war, when the communist government was established, the official attitude towards comics was somewhat ambivalent. On one hand, comics were perceived as a medium developed in capitalist countries and representing the corrupted American lifestyle. It is interesting that a lot of communist propaganda’s arguments and accusations—for example, those concerning promoting violence, sex and children’s demoralization — sounded as if they had been taken directly from Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent.

On the other hand, comics were perceived as a useful tool of propaganda directed especially towards kids. Forming the future citizens of a socialist state became an important issue in the 60s, when more and more comics were published and read by young readers. Probably the most popular were Tytus, Romek and A’Tomek (published from 1957 till today) by Papcio Chmiel and the series about Captain Żbik (Wildcat) created by Władysław Krupka and published from 1967 to 1982. The former series contained slightly surreal stories about the adventures of two scouts and an ape, which were nevertheless packed with an educational and moralizing content. The protagonist of the latter, was a lawful and honorable policeman fighting evil imperialist agents, who plotted against Poland and tried to destroy it.

Many factors influence the fact that, it was impossible for a community of fans to establish itself: among others the young age of the group at which comic books were targeted, a brazen propaganda of communist values  and an absence of comics from other countries. However, the aforementioned comic books were a starting point in the process of familiarizing young people with the medium and encouraging some of them to search for more examples.

The first signs of an emerging community of comics fans could be seen the early 80s and was related with S-F fandom emerging at the same time. Just as before, the formation of both fandoms was at that time closely connected to the political situation in Poland. The end of the 70s was marked by the rise of the Solidarność (Solidarity) movement, which was fulfilling the role of the political opposition. It was also a moment when people in their twenties were looking for some new cultural and social structures to identify with. punk music, with its distinctive fashion and seditious message, was one of the models to follow.

In comparison to the music-based subculture, which was considered by officials as degenerated, the fans of S-F were perceived by the state institutions as harmless, notwithstanding the fact that the genre was developing under the influence of such authors as Stanisław Lem, Kir Bulychov or Strugatsky brothers, who tried to sneak into their novels a veiled critique of the communist system and ironic allusions to the situation in their countries. S-F literature of the 80s was a very particular mixture of escapism and political engagement. A status of a fan and a member of a club of  SF literature was very often considered as a political act although it was not always one’s conscious choice.

The most important Polish magazine devoted to SF, Fantastyka, was established in 1982. It was the first publication of this kind in Poland, and its main goal was the popularization of sci-fi and fantasy literature, as well as the animation and coordination of activities of fan clubs, which were gradually set up all over the country. Comics were the subject of the one of the biggest discussions in the first issue of Fantastyka as the editorial board was debating whether to publish them in the magazine or not. Regardless of those discussions, sci-fi and fantasy comics were gaining popularity, mainly due to the fact that some Polish illustrators, especially Grzegorz Rosiński and Bogusław Polch, who both started their careers creating propaganda comic books in the 70s, have been recognized on Franco-Belgian and German markets. One of Polch’s most recognized series, based on Erich von Daniken’s theories, called Die Götter aus dem All was being published in Germany in the years 1978-1982. Meanwhile, Rosiński began a cooperation with such renowned script writers as Jean Van Hamme (making Thorgal) and André-Paul Duchâteau (Hans). Till this day Rosiński is considered an iconic person in the field of Polish comics and the Polish fandom, and an important guest at all comics conventions.

The editors of Fantastyka decided to print four-page long comics and publish comics-related reviews and news from abroad. The community of comics’ fans was growing so strong that soon a separate comics–oriented addition to the magazine was published from 1987 to 1990. Its name was Komiks – Fantastyka and it was the first attempt to build not only a magazine with comics in it but also a publication which would animate comics’ fans. It also tried to establish a foundation for professional comics criticism as it included articles about such academic theorists as Thierry Groensteen.

“Komiks – Fantastyka” maintained the sci-fi and fantasy profile of Fantastyka. publishing titles like “Hans” (renamed as “Yans”) and “Rork” by Andreas. The majority of translated comics at this time were Franco-Belgian, which created a peculiar generation gap among comics’ fans. Those raised in the 80s tend to prefer stories with realistic and detailed illustrations and strong world building typical of European comics. When in the 90s American superhero comics finally arrived in Poland, another generation of fans grew up. They were more interested characters and action than in with the detailed drawings. This difference can also be seen in the works of Polish comics creators, who in their youth were influenced either by the European style or by the American models.

Only one title published in the 80’ had a major influence on the shape of Polish comics and it can undeniably be called a masterpiece of its time. It is called Funky Koval and was written by Maciej Parowski and Jacek Rodek and illustrated by Bogusław Polch. It was first published in parts in Fantastyka since1982 and then as a whole in Komiks – Fantastyka until 1990. Funky Koval is important not only because of the story it tells but also, if not mainly, because of its cultural influence and the role it played in the integration of the fandom. No other comics of this time would gain a cult position and  become such a prominent point of reference for works published later.

This comic combines all the influences mentioned above: politics, sci-fi and fans. The story centers around a private investigator named Funky Koval, living in the USA in 2080. His adventures are focused on his struggles with evil corporations and corrupt politicians. There is a lot of action but it is not the main point of this comics. The authors of Funky Koval followed the example of literary texts published in Fantastyka and decided to pack their comics with intertextual games and allusions to the current political situation in Poland. The sci-fi façade enabled to avoid censorship and to build an ironic critique of the communist regime. Nearly every evil character was based on a real-life member of the communist party, and known to readers from the TV screen.

Moreover, the hero’s adventures contained allusions to Martial Law enforced in Poland from 1981 to 1983. Hence, readers of the comics were asked to participate in the game of who-is-who, and this aspect of Funky Koval was the key to its popularity. The act of decoding a hidden message was a ground for building a sense of belonging to a greater community, as their members identified  themselves with its hidden political agenda, so that the act of decoding became an act of contestation.

This level of intertextual games in Funky Koval was fairly easy to decrypt for everybody, but the authors went even further and decided to put not only public persons in their creation, but also people known to them personally. Indeed, a lot of characters in the comics are based on people active in the fandom of the 80s. To fully read it, one had to be a member of the community and know sci-fi and fantasy conventions, In this way Funky Koval strengthened the fandom and gave it some identification.

Although the roots of Polish comics fandom are entangled with the community of sci-fi and fantasy fans, it is really interesting to observe how in the 80s it slowly tried to emancipate itself and managed to separate completely in the 90s. At the beginning of the last decade of 20th century comics community started to organize their own conventions strengthening the bonds between community members, which made the group less fragmented and more hermetic.

 

2. Situation during the 90s and 2000s

 

After the political transformation of 1989 Poland was violently struck by a tide of Western culture, almost unknown to an average Polish audience until that time. A phrase effectively describing that period would be “the time of catching-up,” mostly with regard the works of pop culture. Independent distributors were (sometimes illegally) bringing from abroad absolutely everything that had any chance of selling to the newly ‘born’ consumers who were ravenous for novelty. The era of high-volume publications of Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza (The National Publishing Agency) as the monopolist was gone forever. In 1990, after receiving the approval from the headquarters of Semic Press AB (a company publishing comic books in Scandinavian countries under the license of, among others, Marvel Comics), a Polish-Swedish company - TM Supergruppen Codem (later renamed as TM-Semic) published the first two monthlies in Poland. They contained adventures of the American superheroes: Spider -man and Punisher.

Those comic books had exactly the same format as the original ones, and only the volume was different – every month two stories were presented on 52 pages (in order to „catch-up” with the ongoing series in the USA). In time, having become very popular, Punisher was extended to over 100 pages, but for the sake of costs it was published only in black&white.

Making the first baby steps but noticing a great interest of its readers, the publishing house momentarily expanded its offer. Now, every group of the younger consumers was to receive “something special”. As a result, Barbie, Moomins, Casper, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles or Garfield appeared in kiosks. The rights for Davis's comics were soon bought by Egmont Polska (part of Egmont Group from Denmark) – the second great distributor for kids and teenagers, publishing also Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck (the latter is still published).

Thanks to the fanclub pages administrated by teenage comic books fan Arkadiusz Wróblewski, the more and more active community of superheroes’ fans started to form. The same year the album Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham was printed on thick paper and in hard cover. Nobody in Poland had published a comic book of such a high quality ever before. Thanks to the company, readers were presented with Knightfall, Dark Phoenix Saga or The Death of Superman. Nevertheless, consumers, familiarized with more and more aspiring titles, had also greater expectations. Simple stories about superheroes stopped selling. Issues dropped down and series after series started vanished from the market. The company collapsed in 2003. It’s place was taken by Egmont, which was not trying to sell the comic books but focused on publishing TPB – cult series for adult reader such as The Sandman or Preacher.

The comic books community calls the 90’s “The Time of Troubles,” during which Polish comics virtually disappeared from the market. The fall of Bogusław Polch’s studio which was working on the graphic adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski's The Witcher in 1995 is the caesura. Authors active during the time of the People’s Republic of Poland completely withdrew and started to look for other ways of earning money (with several exceptions, for example that of Henryk Chmielewski, the author of the popular young adult comics about Tytus the chimpanzee). Former stars, such as Janusz Christa or Szarlota Pawel decided, that it was not profitable to draw in the new political system.

The tradition was broken – also on the level of master-student relations. The ending of the 20th century belongs to self-taught, underground artists among whom the most active are the authors of hardcore punk fanzines: Dariusz Palinowski, author of Zakazany Owoc (Forbidden Fruit) and Krzysztof Owedyk, author of Prosiacek (Piglet). They both laid the groundwork for the constitution of the so called comic “xeroprasa” (photocopy press). Drawn in back&white and photocopied magazines (and sometimes one-shots) were sent directly to friendly readers from all over the country, that were subsequently photocopying them again and passing them on, usually for free. The scene of comics community fanzines was very similar to its prototype from the United States, but much smaller, of course, and developing almost 30 years later. Zines rose and fell, authors changed titles and places of distribution. The most important titles included Mięso (Meat), Azbest (Asbestos), AQQ and Ziniol (today it is a professional web magazine). A completely new environment formed up, created by people who are active until this day.

In the early 1990s, the Contur group started organizing the annual Ogólnopolski Konwent Twórców Komiksu (National Convent of Comics Authors) in Łódź (currently International Festival of Comics and Games – the most important meeting of Polish comic fandom). The biggest attraction of the festival was the short story comics contest, which quickly became a tradition.

Although many of today’s well established careers had their debuts in that contest, most of the young and promising authors, whose success was foretold at the time, never published anything – creating full-scale albums was absolutely non-profitable, since none of the domestic publishers was even remotely interested in publishing them. In the course of time, that phenomenon was called “Masters of the first board” syndrome because of the declarations and prologues to the stories which would never be created.

Everything changed thanks to Produkt (Product) magazine. Published since 1999 by Independent Press company, Produkt was presenting the latest output of the Polish authors. Today’s stars of Polish comics debuted and published on Product pages, including Michał Śledziński (from Azbest); Minkiewicz brothers; Karol Kalinowski; Ryszard Dąbrowski, the creator of the Likwidator (Liquidator) – a masked anti-hero who is an eco-terrorist and a serial killer; or Rafał Skarżycki and Tomasz Leśniak, the authors of George the Hedgehog series.

The comics published in Produkt belonged to the mainstream due to the magazine’s scope and professional distribution, but at the same time they were free from any publishing or editorial control. They contained violence, nudity, vulgarisms, satire against the government, the Church and authority in general. There was no taboo or censorship. The most important series that was published on Produkt’s pages, Osiedle Swoboda (Liberty District), created by the magazine’s Editor in Chief, Śledziński, was focused on young people’s everyday life in Poland. During its five years of existence Produkt not only brought together the most engaged authors and enlarged the number of regular consumers of graphic stories of domestic provenance but, most importantly, set the direction for Polish comics for the following years.

In 2005 Paweł Timofiejuk, currently the most important publisher at the Polish market, started a publishing line called Komiksowa Alternatywa (Comic Alternative) in frames of which he presented the cult albums of authors of fanzines, previously known only from the comic photocopying press. The artists, so far bereft of the chance to show their work to the world, could finally present the results of honing their skills. That so called “airing of the drawers” lasted for two years.

The time of the growing prosperity caused by the dissemination of cheap digital printing began. Publishing both the albums and the professional magazines privately became easier than ever before. Many independent publishing houses have been created, among which some are focused on publishing Polish authors only. Others are diversifying their offer, combining the most important works of the European authors with the local novelties. Polish artists are focused on creating authorial albums that they work on for months or sometimes even years.

Because of the very low sales of comic books and a small number of their readers, creating comics is not a profitable job. Polish comic books community which is the basis of the market has around 3 000 members, with a scarce addition of casual readers, who are usually interested just in one particular series. There is no such job as a “comic book author” in Poland. The graphic, the scriptwriters and the publishers are keeping regular jobs, while they work on comic books after hours and at weekends. The pay in the European standard can be provided only by the contract for educational albums devoted to the history of Poland (especially WWII ) and mostly funded by the government. Still, despite the difficult financial situation and the tiny market, every year 400 new comic books (mostly counting more than 48 pages) are published, about 120 of which are Polish authors’ productions covering ground from superhero stories of to formally experimental artistic albums.

3. Comics fandom and the Internet in the first decade of the 21st century

Around 2000, more and more households had Internet connections, which exerted a huge impact on different kinds of fandoms, fans of comics included. The first visible effect of the Internet’s growth in Poland was that the majority of printed comics magazines were discontinued one by one. Their main function in the 90s was to inform readers about newly published works and the schedules of upcoming conventions. The pages of comics magazines featured debuting authors who in turn could receive a critical feedback.

Yet none of these publications was able to build authority strong enough to act as a platform of institutionalized criticism. Probably one of the reasons was that the community was so small that readers and creators were closely linked anyway and could get feedback about their work immediately and directly just through personal connections. Very few people with academic background, such as Jerzy Szyłak and Wojciech Birek, put an effort to write more complex reviews, but those articles were not received well. That is why there was never an ongoing discussion about the condition of Polish comics during the 90s or at the beginning of the 21st century even though a lot of comics magazines were published.

From 2000 the Internet became the main source of information about newly published works and publishers’ plans for subsequent months, taking away one of the main reasons for the existence of not only comics magazines but also of other fan centered periodicals. The same thing happened to magazines about role-playing games – the last issue of one of the oldest such magazine, called Magia i Miecz (Magic and Sword), was printed in 2002 – and a little bit later, around 2005, to magazines about video games.

Also debuts began to be published online. The debut of the first Polish webcomics occurred during that period, which came as a shock especially to the community of comics fans and creators. Suddenly, the old and highly ritualized ways of publishing were losing their significance. Before, one had to show his or her work to someone in the community to be published. Even such an anarchistic genre as zines were following this procedure. The highly ritualized act of publishing was a social activity requiring contacts and acceptance of the community.

Comics on the Internet could appear on websites without all that. Thanks to the WWW new energy, comics fandom, which was becoming a little stale with no fresh blood (because of the declining numbers of comics readers), rejuvenated as a new generation of authors appeared. As early as in 2004 the anthology, Komiks w sieci (Comics on the Web) was published, which is a significant fact exemplifying how massive this wave of new creativity was.

Up to that point a lot of activities of the fandom were possible only a few times in a year, when people met on conventions, but thanks to the availability of the Internet, it could be done from a distance. Clearly, the comic fans needed an electronic forum where they would be able to discuss their interests. One of the most interesting and still active websites is esensja, which started as an e-zin in 2000. After 13 years it continues the tradition of imitating paper magazines with a monthly set of articles published along with news and reviews, which appear on a daily basis. A significant feature of this website is that, continuing the tradition of Fantastyka in the 80s, it tries to bring together different communities, for example fans of genre literature and movies, comics and games. Its popularity shows that there are fans who do not need to relate to a very narrow group of people with the same interests.

Another fascinating Polish website about comics is Zeszyty Komiksowe (Comics Notebooks). As is the case of esensja, this portal is connected to a magazine which has appeared irregularly in a paper form since 2004. The most important feature of Zeszyty Komiksowe is that every issue is devoted to a particular subject and that it publishes academic papers. It would be easy to dismiss the website because it usually publishes just news and sometimes reviews, but one element makes it very useful. Under the link “kopalnia” (mine) one can find a repository of academic articles about comics. It is a community based project, so it depends on people willing to share their work (usually BA or MA dissertations) to build collectively a comprehensive list of references. At the moment it has 1177 items. This is very admirable, taking into account the non-existence of comics studies in the Polish academic curriculum, as there are still very few academics writing about comics. Of course, many articles put on the Zeszyty Komiksowe website lack academic rigor and are a little naïve, but they are still a great example of the way fans are trying to fit with their fascination with comics into academic discourse.

The last, and most important website for Polish community of fans, which has somehow become the center of Polish comics fandom is called Gildia Komiksu (the Comics Guild). It is a part of a bigger portal, gildia.pl, which has been active since 2001. The basic assumption of this website is completely opposite to that of esensja. Esensja tries to unify different communities of fans, while Gildia is divided into many “guilds” with different subjects of interest (conventions, movies, tabletop miniature games, computer games, tabletop games, horror, supernatural, RPG, Star Wars etc.), so that different fans can find a content of their interest. This segmentation was a starting point for comics fandom to grow in its own closed environment.

The main purpose of the website, as in the case of the ones mentioned above, is to give users the news and publish reviews, but the most important part of the portal is a forum, which during the 11 years of its existence has grown and attracted the attention of the most active people in fandom. After such a long time it is easy to see how the number of posts and authority of a given person on the forum reflect their social position during conventions. Of course, not every member of the community is active on the forum, but still it is one of the most important reference points. This is why topics of the forum can be treated as some vestigial form of discussion about comics which never happened in the 90s. It is a peculiar form of institutionalized criticism, additionally characterized by irony, trolling and lack of discipline: the typical features of Internet forums.

Gildia Komiksu is a source of hermetic jokes and memes understood only among fans of comics. The saying “back of a horse” is an example of such a phrase, as it originates in a 2007 debate on the forum, concerning the role of realist illustration in comics. In a heated discussion one of the participants said that creators of comics try to draw artistically, forgetting about simple things as “drawing a woman’s back properly and making an anatomically correct horse”. That is why some fans ask illustrators to draw them a back of a horse to humorously test their skills.

plecykonia (1)

All such phrases and inside jokes play a huge role in building the community, but for a newcomer it is really hard to get up-to-date with the eleven years of the forum’s activity. New users are treated kindly, but with a distance, typical of close-knitted groups.

4. The community of comics fans nowadays

From the outside, the community of comics fans can be perceived as a heteronomous group keeping very close ties and being reluctant to open up to newcomers. The majority are male representatives of three generations (those raised in the 80s, the 90s and first years of the 21st century), highly diversified, yet able to keep close with each other.

The publication of the comic called Rycerz Ciernistego Krzewu (The Knight of Spiny Shrub), which was a cooperation between a writer, a colorist and many different illustrators, shows that it is hard to join a community of fans. Every two pages of this comics were drawn by a different person but colored by the same one. As a concept it sounded experimental and interesting (even though previously used for example in Grant Morrison’s Invisibles), but the realization was a mess. This comic tried to tell a story of a Polish knight fighting with Teutonic knights, but it failed in every aspect.

The wave of critical reviews was justifiable, but their tone was somehow surprising. The authors were criticized for making  bad comics, and the critics’ shared assumption was that the technical problems with mastering the medium were an effect of the creators’ status of outsiders in the fandom community. They were treated as barbarians whose lack of the knowledge of customs makes them unworthy of joining the club.

One of the authors decided to aggressively fight back, which heated the discussion up to the point of full-blown controversy. This conflict shows that the Polish comics fandom tends nowadays to look for enemies to consolidate itself against. For some period manga and anime fans were playing a role of such an enemy, as they are usually female and mostly younger than average fans in the comics community. However, in many cases, people who read manga have been treating it as something essentially different from comics. Not many manga fans read works published in Europe or America. That is why those communities rarely meet, as manga and anime fans organize their own conventions.

Anyway, that particular antagonism is slowly burning out, as more ambitious mangas are being published, attracting the interest of fans of western comics. One of the first manga publishers widely read by both communities was “Hanami,” which specialized in gekiga genre, translating such works as Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto or the works of Jiro Taniguchi. This shows that there are some connections between both fandoms, and that some people move freely from one group to the other.

However, what the conflict with the manga fandom has shown is the existence of a broader problem of the marginalization of women in the comics community, among both fans and creators. Although women who are authors of comics books are not a totally new phenomenon, as confirmed for instance by Szarlota Pawel, one of the most popular creators of comics for children in the communist period, the number of Polish female comics creators has recently been increasing. Two anthologies presenting women creating comics in Poland were printed in 2012: the first one was entitled Polski komiks kobiecy (Polish female comics) and the second one was published in English, as Polish Female Comics – Double Portrait. As an outcome of this project, the editors launched a website Comix Grrrlz , where we can find a database of Polish female creators of comics.

This emancipation of the female perspective in comics and of feminist themes shows that there is a need for an opposition to the mainstream, male dominated market. A lot of the creators who appear in both anthologies have belonged to the fandom for a long time, but the individuality of their voices was never recognized. The importance of these two publications lies in the fact that they have unexpectedly revealed Polish fandom of comics not to be as monolithic and patriarchal as commonly perceived.

One of the attempts to reform the community  from the inside is to create an event that would go beyond the frames of typical scenarios for a convention of comics fans. This is one of the main goals of “Centrala” publishing house, the organizer of the International Comics Festival “Ligatura,” which takes place in Poznań. During this annual event “Centrala” is focused mainly on the promotion of alternative comics from the Central and Eastern Europe. As a result of this strategy, not so many internationally recognized stars attend the convention, and its organizers achieve an effect similar to that produced by both anthologies of female comics, i.e. make the community reflect on the essence of Polish comics in relation to their local and geopolitical contexts.

Every year during the festival the question of similarities and differences between countries from the former Soviet Union is approached. As an attempt to tackle this question, every year there is an exhibition launched with an accompanying lecture, workshops and other activities. “Ligatura” is an effective counterpoint to the slightly monotonous formulas of the conventions organized in Warsaw or Łódź. The strategy of stressing the role of alternative comics builds another kind of opposition to the mainstream, which is an important way to open up the Polish fandom to works published in the neighboring countries.

Another interesting attempt to blur the lines within the comics community is Wyjście z Getta (Coming out of the Ghetto) a collection of interviews conducted by Sebastian Frąckiewicz with creators of Polish comics. The starting point of Frąckiewicz’s book is acknowledging the fact that the Polish comics market is a niche, or even a ghetto. During the interviews, the author wonders whether it is possible for the whole community, but especially for the authors, to get out. He does not think that suddenly comics in Poland will become mainstream, but he confronts his interviewees with a notion of connecting two “ghettos,” so to speak, i.e. the comics community and the art world. He postulates putting comics into galleries.

This solution is highly debatable and a little utopian, but still Frąckiewicz manages to make many interesting points. The Polish fandom faced with a perspective of never being part of the mainstream tends to incorporate the role of the victim. In the 80s the role of the antagonist was played by the communist government, and now it has become ascribed to amateurs trying to make comics without proper skills and knowledge. To end this trend, comics fandom has to be constantly faced with other communities and its borders have to be constantly transgressed. It does not matter whether it happens in a confrontation with other communities or with minority groups inside the fandom. The current situation of comics and comics fandom in Poland is fluid. The hierarchical structure has been challenged on many occasions, which allows the community to redefine itself and refresh its own priorities.

 

Bibliography

Comics Grrrlz – comicsgrrrlz.pl

Esensja – esensja.pl

„Fantastyka” 1/1982 – 6 (93)/1990

„Fantastyka – Komiks” 1/1987 – 1-2 (10-11)/1990

S. Frąckiewicz; Wyjście z Getta. Rozmowy o kulturze komiksowej w Polsce; Warsaw 2012

Gildia Komiksu – komiks.gildia.pl

„Komiks” 1/1990 – 2 (32) / 1995

Komiks w Sieci. Antologia polskiego komiksu internetowego; Cracow 2004

Kontekstowy miks. Przez opowieści graficzne do analizy kultury współczesnej; ed. G. Gajewska, R. Wójcik; Poznań 2011

Ł. Kowalczuk; TM – Semic. Największe komiksowe wydawnictwo lat dziewięćdziesiątych w Polsce; Poznań 2013.

„Nowa Fantastyka” 1/1990 – 4 (367)/2013; fantastyka.pl

M. Parowski, J. Rodek, B. Polch; Klasyka polskiego komiksu #6 - Funky Koval; Warsaw 2002

Polish Female Comics - Double Portrait; Poznań 2012

Polski komiks kobiecy; ed. K. Kuczyńska; Warsaw 2012

Zeszyty Komiksowe – zeszyty komiksowe.org

 

 

 

 

About the Autors

 

Michał Jutkiewicz – PhD candidate at the Polish Studies Department of Jagiellonian University, writing his thesis on comics and comics culture on the Internet. Lecturer and an active member of Małopolskie Studio Komiksowe (Małopolska Comics Studio) at Public Library in Cracow, where he conducts regular meetings. One of the organizers of Krakowski Festiwal Komiksu (Cracow’s Comics Festival).

Rafał Kołsut – final year student of Theatre studies at Polish Studies Department on Jagiellonian University. Comic book scriptwriter, collaborating with magazines and annual anthologies such as Ziniol, Triceps, Kolektyw (Collective), Profanum. Pop culture reviewer in KZ – Magazyn Miłośników Komiksu (KZ - Comic Fans Magazine).

[Illustration: Back of the Horse by Robert Sienicki]

 

 

 

Participatory Poland (Part Three): Historical Reenactment in Poland: Where Grassroots and Institutions Collide

In the “Participatory Poland” report a group of Polish aca-fen makes a preliminary attempt towards defining the specificity of an Eastern European country’s participatory culture shaped both in the communist and post-communist periods. By placing the development of selected fan-based activities against a broader socio-historical background, we are trying to capture the interplay between the global and the local context of participatory culture, as well as take preliminary steps towards making its Polish branch available for academic research. Thanks to Professor Henry Jenkins’ incredible support, we are able to share the first, though by no means final, results of our investigations with aca-fen worldwide. The posts included in this report deal with several examples of Polish participatory activities, namely, the literary and media fandom of speculative fiction and role-playing games; comics fandom; fandom of manga and anime; historical re-enactment associations; and the prosumerist phenomenon of bra-fitting. While we are planning to continue and expand our research, we hope that its samples presented in this report contribute to the exploration of participatory culture. Historical Reenactment in Poland: Where Grassroots and Institutions Collide

Michał Mochocki

Kazimierz Wielki University in Bydgoszcz

 

 

Medieval Knights or Native Americans: Who Was First

 

The first appearance of modern “reenactors” in Poland was probably the parade of 10th-century Slavic warriors, organised in 1967 to celebrate 1000 years since the founding of the Polish state. Set up by the communist government, without a fan community to back it up, it turned out to be a one-time, inconsequential event (Nowiński 2012: 76) and cannot be counted as genuine reenactment.

As Jacek Nowiński (2012: 76) says, there is no doubt among Polish reenactors about who deserves the credit as the pioneer. It was in July 1977 that the first reenactment event – a chivalric tournament – took place at Golub-Dobrzyń castle organized by the local division of PTTK (Polish Tourist and Sightseeing Society). It was headed by Zygmunt Kwiatkowski, who subsequently reigned as castellanus and organised annual tournaments until his death in 2005 (now the tradition continued by his son Piotr). Also in the late 1970s, Zbigniew Sawicki in Zawiercie started his research on Old Polish martial arts, which led to the founding of a small martial arts section in 1981 and a full-fledged club Signum Polonicum in 1986. The club  now holds 7 local units around Poland, 1 in the Czech Republic, and 1 in France.

Alongside medieval knights, the indianist movement in Poland was constituted in 1977 as well. With informal activities in several places dating from 1968, its first national convention took place in August 1977 (Placek 2004), a month after the Golub-Dobrzyń chivalric event. Actually, the convention had been scheduled for 24-26 June 1976, the 100th anniversary of Little Bighorn. The plan had been thwarted by the communist authorities, but an unofficial small-scale gathering had nevertheless taken place (Placek 2004). If we count the indianists among historical reenactors, and the unofficial 1976 event as their founding year, it could be said they had been here first: one year before “the white man” Kwiatkowski set up his medieval tournament. However, they are not associated with the reenactment movement (and do not seem to be willing to), as they are focused on spirituality, ecology and new age (Seremet 2000), and not so much on material recreation of costumes and weapons.

Well documented and analysed, the development of Polish indianism is a fascinating story with truly legendary figures (see Sat-Okh). For readers of Polish, I recommend links available at http://www.indianie.eco.pl/. But with the limited word count, I will drop the thread here as nothing more but an interesting context.

 

The Boom and Flood of 1990s

 

In 1989, the Moscow-aligned socialist government was replaced by a more democratically elected one, and the People’s Republic of Poland lost its “People’s” component. The higher degree of freedom of speech allowed for independent discussion and reinterpretation of history, while freedom of association and assembly opened way for institutionalisation and professionalisation of NGOs. Organisations could now be created by the grassroots, independently of  state-run and state-funded bodies. The Polish borders were opened not only to the flood of Western goods, services and lifestyles, but also to contacts with reenactment communities from other countries. With loosened economic regulations, capitalism and free trade sparked thousands of private enterprises, including commercial historical events and the rebirth of traditional hand-made crafts catering to reenactors’s needs. The development of the public Internet since 1994 (Internet w Polsce) facilitated knowledge-sharing, community building, and large-scale international cooperation. All this has brought about fundamental changes.

In 1992, Brotherhood of Sword and Crossbow held the first tournament commemorating the 1410 Battle of Grunwald - not yet in Grunwald but in Stężyca (Nowiński 2012: 77). In the same year, Jarosław Struczyński inspired the town council of Gniew to reactivate the reconstruction of its medieval Teutonic castle (Historia twierdzy) and started what later became known as one of the most successful centers of medieval and 17th-century reenactment (see Vivat Vasa). The famous international Wolin-Jomsborg-Vineta festival of Slavs and Vikings was started in 1993. 1995 was the founding year of Museum Palace at Wilanów as an autonomous institution, and of Liga Baronów, “the first Polish tournament society,” as its members declare. The Palace and the Liga joined forces several years later to become a leading museum-with-reenactment. Influenced by the huge popularity of the Battle of Grunwald, the largest Teutonic castle in Malbork joined in, recreating its 1410 siege in 2000 and on.

Since 1990,new RH groups have sprung up all over Poland: Vikings, Slavs, knights, mercenaries, 17th-century armies, Napoleonic soldiers, units from both World Wars troops and from the most recent military conflicts (even Specnaz from the Russian-Chechen war of 1999-2009). Alongside military units, there are groups recreating civilians, much fewer in numbers. Along the way, these groups had to cooperate with local authorities, government bodies, private businesses, schools, museums, universities, army units, culture centres, community houses, mass media, other NGOs etc. Collaboration would go smoothly in some cases, or lead to struggles, conflict and rivalry in others. This is what I intend to focus on in this short paper: the dynamics of conflict-and-cooperation between grassroots and institutions.

 

Grassroots and Institutions Collide: Local/Regional Level

 

Szlendak (2012: 62) distinguishes between “fairs”, i.e. commercial festivals for  large audiences, and “time machines”, non-commercial events for insiders. Reenactors draw a sharp distinction between these two types. (32) This seems to be the largest bone of contention: local institutions, town / county officials and business sponsors prefer huge popular events dominated by lowbrow mass entertainment (beer, sausages, disco music etc.) where the role of reenactors is reduced to “monkeys at the zoo”.

The list of typical problems with institutions includes:

  • Sanepid (sanitary and epidemiological service) inspecting the condition of storing, making and serving food in historical camps. Law makes no distinction here: even if you cook food on the open fire, you should meet the same requirements as a top quality restaurant in a city (Szlendak 2012: 35).
  • Tax Offices looking for cash registers and financial documents for all small-scale trade (35).
  • The police and VIP security acting hostile against armed reenactors.
  • Unwillingness of institutions to collaborate with informal groups that are not officially registered as an NGO (36).
  • Local officials (mayors) trying to monopolize the “services” of local reenactors and turning against them when they dare to cooperate with an adjacent county (Nowiński 2012: 93).
  • Local officials seeing reenactors as dangerous rivals in the field of culture and entertainment as they can organize events of higher quality and at a lower cost than the town hall and its cultural institutions (Karwacki 124).
  • Analogically, museums tend to be jealous or condescending towards reenactors, who can set up interactive “temporary museums” seen by the audience as better than the traditional museum experience (Szlendak 2012: 61)
  • Local politicians using reenactment events for self-promotion, election campaign or propaganda, which evokes disgust and embarrassment on the part of  reenactors. (Szlendak 37)

On the positive side, there are many examples and spheres of grassroots/institution  cooperation:

  • Reenactors frequently appear in schools with “living history” lessons, usually without any financial gratification (Szlendak 2012: 48; Nowiński 2012: 100).
  • Jomsborg-Wolin settlement in collaboration with the local Employment Office offers temporary jobs and vocational training for the unemployed (Nowiński 2012: 87).
  • The idea of Jomsborg-Wolin reenactments had come from the business sector, with the Danish companies Danfoss and Grundfos “selling” the concept to the local authorities (Nowiński 2012: 87).
  • The medieval Grunwald March, with its route across several counties, has inspired the creation of an inter-county funding scheme uniting 8 jurisdictions (Andrzejewski, qtd. in Karwacki 2012: 133).
  • The immensely popular reenactment of the Grunwald Battle of 1410 has led to the establishment of the Battle of Grunwald Museum in ‟the middle of nowhere”: a very poor rural area with no significant institutions or businesses whatsoever.
  • A unit of winged hussars affiliated with the Gniew castle has long been officially commanded by marszałek (province marshal) of Pomorskie voivodeship, enjoying the support of the local government in the country and abroad (to be discussed under Inter/National below).

 

Generally speaking, small towns and villages (e.g. Wolin, Malbork, Grunwald, Kołobrzeg) tend to be much more interested and involved in cooperation with reenactors, making historical events a significant aspect of their promotional image (Szlendak 63). Cities with rich and diverse culture&arts background do not see reenactors as a valuable asset. Still, cooperation between reenactors, city halls and institutions happens, e.g. with the Warsaw Uprising Museum.

 

The 2000+ Upscaling

 

As of 2011, having analysed a number of reports and databases from scholars and practitioners (including the huge registry created by Robert Bagrit), Nowiński (2012: 78) estimates the number of RH groups at about 500, with the total number of reenactors at 100.000. He admits to wide error margins, but there is no doubt that active reenactors should be counted in tens of thousands, and spectators of RH events  in millions each year. In consequence, “thanks to mass commercial events and their media coverage, the audiences no longer perceive reenactors as weirdos, but as people doing a specific job” (Szlendak 2012: 32, translation mine).

In 2000+, the ever-growing numbers, experience, level of organisation, and massive public appeal have raised the RH movement from local to regional to national and international level. Large-scale events are now attended by MPs and government officials, with the most high-profile celebrations are visited by  Prime Minister or President of Poland. Reenactors are invited to TV shows with nationwide broadcasts. TV and film celebrities are hired by reenactment events to play the roles of central historical figures (e.g. Daniel Olbrychski as King John III Sobieski in the Battle of Vienna /1683/ celebration held in Kraków in 2008). Lobbying organised by reenactors has brought about changes in gun control legislation, and is very likely to to influence the ceremony of receiving foreign guests by President (see below). On the other hand, the most successful and prestigious events are being taken over by political or corporate powers, completely sidelining the reenactors, some of whom no longer want to participate.

 

Grassroots and Institutions Collide: Inter/National Level

2010 was a milestone: huge reenactments celebrating the 600th anniversary of Battle of Grunwald in which Polish and Lithuanian forces had crushed the German-Teutonic knights and their allies, and 400th anniversary of Battle of Kłuszyn (Klushino) that had been an amazing victory of Polish winged hussars over a huge army of Russians supported by Western mercenaries. This time, both reenactments had a strong support from the state, including the government and president, the National Bank of Poland, and public TV stations. What had started in Stężyca in 1992 as grassroots activity with about 20 knights and a small local audience has grown to the 400.000 of visitors to the fields of Grunwald in 2010 (Nowiński 2012: 78).

A similar evolution can be seen around the largest fortress built by Teutonic knights, the Malbork (Marienburg) castle. It had shunned reenactors throughout the 1990s, but since 2000, the 1410 siege of Malbork became an annual event. In 2010, its popularity was heavily boosted in conjuction with the 600th anniversary of Battle of Grunwald. In 2011, it was part of Wielki Teatr Historii (Grand Historical Theatre), the most expensive grant project ever funded by National Center for Culture, coordinated by famous host of historical TV shows Bogusław Wołoszański, and broadcast nationwide.

Nevertheless, both these events suffered from institutional hegemony, with control over management and battlefield taken over by state-run administration, TV channels and corporate sponsors. Many medieval groups no longer attend the Malbork or Grunwald events, feeling that it is not “theirs” anymore, as reenactors have no real influence on what the event looks like. They still remember the speech of Jerzy Buzek, who talked about the 600 years of Grunwald and 30 years of “Solidarity” (political movement he had been part of) in a single breath (Szlendak 2012: 68). Even Szymon Drej, the head of the Malbork castle which is the main organiser of the siege, says he is not happy with the way things have turned, but does not see a way out (as cited in Nowiński 2012: 88-89).

On the other hand, we have examples of reenactors’ lobbying that have influenced decisions of the parliament and President. A bill passed on 5 January 2011 modified the Act on Weapons and Ammunition, specifically addressing the phenomenon of historical reenactment and permitting the use of gun replicas and blank shots. Also grant programs released by government bodies (e.g. the National Center for Culture) now list reenactment events among those that qualify for public funding. A grassroots campaign “Hussars before the Palace!”, initiated by winged hussar reenactors in 2012 to officially introduce armor-clad hussars to stand guard before the presidential palace at public ceremonies, scored a one-time achievement on the Flag Day, 2 May 2013 (Kresy.pl), and according to its leader, Marek Jakubiak, is likely to succeed in establishing it as a tradition.

The famous and uniquely Polish cavalry, winged hussars, has made a few international appearances with a political undertone:

  • Jarosław Struczyński and the Gniew hussars made a humorous public appeal to the Swedish king, asking him to return all goods plundered in Poland during the Swedish 1655-1660 “Deluge”, now remaining in Swedish museums.
  • These same hussars visited the EU parliament in Brussels on 22nd November2011.
  • Two hussar groups were at the center of Polish Days in Vilnius (Lithuania) in November 2012.

In the summer of 2013, the 330. anniversary of the glorious victory of King John III Sobieski over the Turks was to be celebrated by the ride of 20-30 hussars from Kraków (the former capital of Poland) to Vienna (Austria) followed by participation in the Vienna celebration. The plan failed: not enough funds had been raised, and Vienna authorities did not grant permission for a parade on horseback. Still, small-scale rides and coordinated hussar events took place across Poland (www.wieden330.pl).

 

The Closing Story

I would like to end this report with the story (told by Szlendak 2012: 9) of cpt. Tełowski of 63. Infantry Regiment, who was posthumously decorated with the Order of Virtuti Militari (the highest Polish award for heroism on the battlefield). His wife, having emigrated to Australia, on her deathbed decided that the Order should be returned to Poland, to the same 63. Regiment stationed in Toruń. However, such a unit no longer exists in the military. But there is a reenactment group related to it. With the involvement of the Polish Ministry of Defense and the Australian embassy, not to mention local officials and the Tełowski family, the order was transferred to the reenactors, and is now displayed by their commander on public occasions. This is how the heritage of the Polish army lives on in a reenactment group, with official recognition and endorsement from state institutions and descendants alike.

Such was the journey of Polish reenactors: from the first medieval tournament set up in 1977 by a local tourist organization to the winged hussars standing guard before the presidential palace in 2013. Szlendak (2012: 10) contends: “This movement is going to transform from hobby-driven volunteers into a full-fledged professional group”. I have no doubt that this has already happened.

Sources:

 

Karwacki, A. 2012. ‟Ewaluacja rekonstruowania.” In: T. Szlendak (ed.). Dziedzictwo w akcji. Rekonstrukcja historyczna jako sposób uczestnictwa w kulturze. (109-140). Narodowe Centrum Kultury: Warszawa.

 

Nowiński, J. 2012. ‟Rekonstrukcje jako instytucje.” In: T. Szlendak (ed.). Dziedzictwo w akcji. Rekonstrukcja historyczna jako sposób uczestnictwa w kulturze. (71-108). Narodowe Centrum Kultury: Warszawa.

 

Placek, M. 2003. Dominanty światopoglądowe w polskim ruchu indianistycznym. MA dissertation: Uniwersytet Śląski.

 

Seremet S., 2000. Spotkania na indiańskich ścieżkach. Asymilacja duchowości Sun Beara w Stowarzyszeniu Żółwi. MA dissertation: Uniwersytet Warszawski.

 

Szlendak, T. 2012. ‟Uczestnicy, odbiorcy i miejsca, gdzie się spotykają.” In: T. Szlendak (ed.). Dziedzictwo w akcji. Rekonstrukcja historyczna jako sposób uczestnictwa w kulturze. (7-70). Narodowe Centrum Kultury: Warszawa.

 

Michal Mochocki: Non-digital game researcher and designer, holds Ph.D. in Literature and works at the Faculty of English Studies at the Kazimierz Wielki University in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Founding member and managing board secretary of the Games Research Association of Poland, and Advisory Board member in the Homo Ludens scholarly journal. Co-authored Dzikie Pola RPG 2nd ed. (2005), authored tons of game content for this and other RPGs, and has been writing historical larps since 2001. Also engaged in historical re-enactment and game-based learning. At his university, he is in charge of a B.A. degree programme in Game Studies and Design, and actively promoting gamification in higher education. Currently researching the activation of heritage in reenactments and non-digital roleplaying games. WWW: michal-mochocki.pl   Blog:mmochocki.blogspot.com 

Participatory Poland (Part Two): Participatory Poland -- An Introduction

In the “Participatory Poland” report a group of Polish aca-fen makes a preliminary attempt towards defining the specificity of an Eastern European country’s participatory culture shaped both in the communist and post-communist periods. By placing the development of selected fan-based activities against a broader socio-historical background, we are trying to capture the interplay between the global and the local context of participatory culture, as well as take preliminary steps towards making its Polish branch available for academic research. Thanks to Professor Henry Jenkins’ incredible support, we are able to share the first, though by no means final, results of our investigations with aca-fen worldwide. The posts included in this report deal with several examples of Polish participatory activities, namely, the literary and media fandom of speculative fiction and role-playing games; comics fandom; fandom of manga and anime; historical re-enactment associations; and the prosumerist phenomenon of bra-fitting. While we are planning to continue and expand our research, we hope that its samples presented in this report contribute to the exploration of participatory culture.  

Participatory Poland -- An Introduction (Part Two)

Agata Zarzycka and Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak

Department of English Studies

University of Wroclaw

Poland

 

PARTICIPATORY POLITICAL RESISTANCE

Throughout the 1980s, Orange Alternative , an overtly political movement formed in 1981 by Wroclaw students, with Waldemar Fydrych as its leader, successfully covered its resistance agenda with seemingly innocent activities, using surrealism as a weapon and the spontaneous involvement of the street crowd as a power source for actions that would later bring the organization international recognition. Those actions shared many features with other underground resistance initiatives of that period, yet were characterized by the cultivation of their anarchist roots and the employment of methods often verging on the absurd, as reflected by Orange Alternative’s trademark sign – a dwarf. Hana Cervinkova explains that the fairytale symbol, which soon lent its name to the movement’s activity, labeled as “Revolution of the Dwarves,” took its origin in a graffiti war against the militia. When the actual subversive inscriptions left by resistance activists on city walls were removed by the authorities, Fydrych, soon followed by more people, marked their previous locations with dwarf images (3). In 1988 the symbol was so popular that a demonstration of thirteen to twenty thousand dwarf impersonators in Wrocław attracted the general  attention and confused the regime forces unsure how to deal with the happening (3). Throughout the 80s, that and other humorous formulas enabled Orange Alternative to carry out numerous public performances (3-4), sometimes verging on a flashmob style and involving random passers-by.

Surrealism did not guarantee safety from repressions, but definitely encouraged the participatory support of regular citizens who gained a chance to get involved without becoming targeted resistance activists (“Orange Alternative: The Story” n. p.). The Orange Alternative activity, naturally suspicious to the regime protectors, was also criticized by fellow resistance movements for the light treatment of the political struggle (“Orange Alternative: The Story” n. p.). Still, initiatives engaging a broad circle of supporters, not all of whom would be ready to risk their lives and the wellbeing of their families for the political cause, created, as Cervinkova puts it, “a venue for symbolic action that was social and asso­ciational in nature, a performative and symbolic means for creating free space for deliberative democratic action” (5).

Cervinkowa sees Orange Alternative as a spectacular, yet not the sole example of what Matynia calls “performative democracy” – a phenomenon relying on the collective consideration and modification of the political and social conditions, which is enabled by seemingly non-political collective activity providing a forum for exploring and practising civic involvement. Such a platform in socialist Poland was, as pointed out by both Matynia (10) and Cervinkova (5) the Youth Theatre of the 1970s. The theatrical connotation seems to imply a participatory factor, especially in the light of Matynia’s argument that: “… just like carnival, it [performative democracy] happens, and when it happens, it releases a robust civic creativity, prepares conditions for backs to straighten up – and this is an achievement of lasting value” (9). It might even be claimed that Matynia’s definition offers an insight into the politically significant dimensions of broadly understood participatory culture when the author declares that “performative democracy can actually be joyous and affirmative dimension of the political, yet one that self-limits its passions by necessarily framing them into agreed-upon forms, genres, and conventions” (6). Indeed, the last years of socialism in Poland seem to have brought a growing importance of the carnivalesque and participatory factors in the public sphere. Marek Oziewicz follows Padraic Kenney’s A Carnival of Revolution in tracing the mass turn of informal social demonstrations between 1985 and 1989, not only in Poland, but also in other countries of the Eastern Bloc, towards spontaneous and often humorous initiatives motivated by a whole spectrum of inspirations, from universal ethical issues through artistic performance to actual fandom-based fascination with writers such as Tolkien or Isaac Asimov (Oziewicz 364).

 

POLISH FANDOM AND POLITICS

It is no wonder that in the turmoil of the public life in socialist Poland, the development of fandom movement, focused at first around science-fiction, had a special political significance. The relationship of Polish science-fiction with the official political system was ambivalent and dynamic in the period between the 1950s and 1980s. According to Jacek Inglot, a recognized writer and fandom commentator, the 50s brought on an awkward parallel relationship between speculative fiction and official political demands of “socrealism” which included, among others, a socially involved protagonist; a discrediting depiction of middle-class individualism contrasted with the affirmation of community as the source of empowerment; and an emphasis on the superiority of socialism over capitalism (62-63). Inglot tracks down three categories of speculative fiction’s reactions to the imposition of the above-mentioned criteria: marginal acknowledgment; “servitude”-induced political statements included in the text, but having little to do with the actual plot and possible to ignore; and finally genuine ideological involvement (63).

As argued among others by another prominent author and critic, Maciej Parowski, speculative fiction proved to be a good way of misleading censorship. because sketching a fictional vision that drifted away from the immediate reality was often enough to enable implicit attacks on regime philosophies (n.p.). A person who embodied the bonds between Polish fandom and political resistance was Janusz A. Zajdel, a recognized author of dystopian SF, who was also a Solidarity movement activist. In 1985, during Polcon, the first (and since then the biggest) Polish convention, he received an award for his contribution to the growth of speculative fiction in Poland. Since his death in the same year, the award has been called by his name and constitutes both the major Polish distinction for writers of speculative fiction and the most spectacular symbol of the fandom’s tribute to the political cause.

It is to be emphasized that even without such direct connections with resistance, fandom in socialist Poland promoted politically significant activities, such as informal, grassroots organization and free exchange of thoughts, not to mention the frequently unofficial influx of Western literature with the focus on science-fiction, a genre not only characteristic of imperial culture, but also interested in the exploration of political and social doctrines. Since the fall of the Eastern Bloc and in the new, post-communist popular culture of the 1990s and beyond, the relation between politics and media-oriented participatory movements in Poland has been more complex.

On the one hand, it is possible to observe the continuity of Nowa Fantastyka’s political orientation, though in the new reality the echo of the magazine’s once liberating and progressive character discourages some readers with its right-wing affinity. On the other hand, communities centered around various forms of participatory entertainment, from particular fandoms through historical reconstruction to LARP and RPG practice, which since the 1990’s have continued their dynamic and growingly diversified development, have been affected by a broader cultural and political shock connected with the exposure to contemporary Western political and civic discourses preoccupied with collective identities.

As Joanna Tokarska-Bakir writes in the introduction to the first Polish edition of Erving Goffman’s Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity from 2005, “the isolation of Polish humanities in the communist period resulted in the emancipatory discourse initiated in the 90s being far ahead of Poles’ social education . . . . In the Polish discourse of difference, ‘excess’ has in a way preceded ‘lack,’ and as a consequence, various postmodern strategies of stigma management are faced not with emphatic critique, but indifference, arrogance or even overt hostility” (7, translation ours).

Today, eight years later, civic identity politics is a visible and more or less familiar element of Polish political and social landscape, but its functions, practice and reception in particular environments remains far from balanced. That is why “Participatory Poland” report aims to consider several examples of the civic practices and policies developed, challenged or objected to by Polish participatory culture movements. We hope to show the ways in which those movements, although by definition open to global ideas and co-creating “pop cosmopolitanism” with similar environments from all over the world, simultaneously reflect and cope with Poland-specific issues.

 

COMING UP NEXT

The series of the upcoming blog entries, which will offer an insight into several dimensions of the “participatory Poland,” is opened by Michał Mochocki’s essay on the participatory culture of historical reenactment, combining specifically Polish phenomena with inspirations from the West. The essay presents the origins and development of historical re-enactment movements in Poland, their political dimension and impact on regional identities. Michał’s special focus is on the dynamics of conflict and cooperation between re-enactment-connected grassroots organizations and state-run institutions.

The next entry, co-authored by the research team composed of Justyna Janik, Joanna Kucharska, Tomasz Z. Majkowski, Joanna Płaszewska, Bartłomiej Schweiger, Piotr Sterczewski and Piotr Gąsienica-Daniel, reflects upon the impact of historical, political and social factors on the development of collective identities and their representations within Polish fandom. Relying on sociological research carried out specifically for the needs of the report, it will focus on identity politics within the contemporary young-generation fandom.

Third on the list is a text by Michał Jutkiewicz and Rafał Kołsut, considering the genesis and consequences of a striking social and cultural separation of the comics fandom from the more uniform speculative media fandom in Poland. While numerous Polish fans share several fields of interest, from media consumption through live or computer gaming to historical reenactment, the fact that they also tend to read comics does not prevent the Polish comics environment from functioning as a rather independent community. The authors investigate the reasons for this situation and establish the extent to which it is specific of and significant for the fandom in question.

Katarzyna Wasylak’s essay on the Polish manga scene offers an insight into a participatory movement building up from the scratch and sinking into the Polish socio-cultural context. The essay uses the “pop cosmopolitanism” perspective to consider the origin and growth of the Polish manga and anime fandom, its inter-cultural potential, as well as its fusions with Poland-specific phenomena and representation of Polish identity within the fandom worldwide.

Finally, the report by Aleksandra Mochocka considers bra-fitting, a recent phenomenon that represents not the fandom-fuelled, but economy and marketing-related side of participatory social practice and has grown in Poland to be transported to other countries. The essay depicts the bra-fitting movement as related to the construction of femininity and the body image issues and as initiated by means of grassroots Internet communication. The rapid development of the bra-fitting community has contributed not only to an emancipatory change in socially acknowledged beauty standards, but also to a modification of some lingerie companies’ production strategies and their successful debut on the American market.

We are aware that these relatively brief presentations of selected participatory culture aspects are likely to reveal further blank spots, questions or directions begging for more extended research. We are also aware that the “Confessions of an Aca-Fan” readers are well-phrased in all things participatory and may find a lot of what we have to say more than familiar. Still, we hope that the combination of a nation-specific perspective with that embracing participatory culture as a global phenomenon proves useful to others, just the way it has proved challenging and thought-provoking to us.

 

WORKS CITED

 

 

Cervinkova, Hana. “The Kidnapping of Wroclaw’s Dwarves: The Symbolic Politics of Neoliberalism in Urban East-Central Europe”. East European Politics & Societies 20.10: 1-14.

Frąckiewicz, Sebastian. “Wywiad z Maciejem Parowskim: 30 lat ‘Fantastyki’ – Rozmontować karabin i sprzedać jako wózek” [An Interview with Maciej Parowski: 30 Years of Fantastyka: Disassemble the Gun and Sell it as a Cart]. Polityka.pl. 26 October 2012. 31 October 2013. http://www.polityka.pl/kultura/rozmowy/1531337,1,wywiad-z-maciejem-parowskim-30-lat--fantastyki.read

Inglot, Jacek. “Soc Fiction (1): Rzecz o fantastyce polskiej pierwszej połowy lat pięćdziesiątych”[Soc Fiction(1): On Polish Speculative Fiction of the early Fifties]. Nowa Fantastyka. March 1991. No. 3 (9/102): 63-65.

Jenkins, Henry. Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York and      London: New York University Press, 2006.

- - -, Katie Clinton, Ravi Purushotma, Alice J. Robison and Margaret Weigel. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. MacArthur Foundation, 2009.

Koczanowicz, Leszek. Politics of Time: Dynamics of Identity in Post-communist Poland. New York : Berghahn Books, 2008.

Lessig, Lawrence. “Re-examining the Remix”. TED. May 2010. 28 October 2013. http://www.ted.com/talks/lessig_nyed.html

Matynia, Elżbieta. Performative Democracy. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2009.

Orange Alternative. “Orange Alternative: The Story”. Orange Alternative official website28 October 2013. http://www.pomaranczowa-alternatywa.org/orange%20alternative%20overview.html

Oziewicz, M.C. “Dwarf Resistance in Communist Poland: Fantastic-Ridiculous Dwarf Esthetic as Political Subversion in the Orange Alternative Movement and the Movie Kingsize. Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 22.3: 363-376.

Radziejewski, Bartłomiej. „Sarmacja – niedokończona przygoda” [Sarmatia: An Unfinished Adventure]. Fronda.pl. 12 July 2009. 31 October 2013. http://www.fronda.pl/a/sarmacja-niedokonczona-przygoda,2444.html

Tischner, Józef. Etyka solidarności oraz homo sovieticus [Solidarity Ethics and Homo Sovieticus]. Kraków: Znak, 2005.

Tokarska-Bakir, Joanna. “Wstęp do wydania polskiego: Et(n)ologia piętna” [Introduction to the Polish Edition: Stigma Eth(n)ology]. Erving Goffman, Piętno: Rozważania o zranionej tożsamości. Trans. Aleksandra Dzierżyńska and Joanna Tokarska-Bakir. Gdańsk: Gdańskie Wydawnictwo Psychologiczne, 2005. 7-26.

 

 

 

 

Participatory Poland (Part One): Participatory Poland -- An Introduction

This past May, I received an email from Agata Zarzycka, Assistant Professor of Literature at the Department of English Studies, Wrocław University:

"We are writing to you on behalf of a team of academics and doctoral students from the Department of English Studies, University of Wrocław, Poland, inspired by your words from the foreword to the Polish edition of The Convergence Culture, where you wrote about your specifically American focus and range of experience, but also about the impossibility of ignoring the mutual exchange between medialized cultural movements across the world. You also mentioned your potential interest in supporting a dialog between participants and commentators of American and Polish popular culture, which has encouraged us to ask for your opinion about the general concept and the possible collaboration potential of the combined didactic and research-oriented project aimed the cultivation of ''new media literacies'' among high school students – an enterprise that, to the best of our knowledge, no one has yet ventured to launch in the academic context. "

I was well aware that there was growing interest in my work there: the very first translation of my work, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, was into Polish and I shared this account of a visit my wife and I made to this country several years ago in this blog: Part One, Part Two, and more recently, I featured a report by Polish researchers on the intellectual property struggles in their country. There are dramatic cultural changes taking place in Poland, which has also been a key pillar in the Creative Commons movement.

As our correspondence continued, and as they shared with me the curriculum they were developing, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness with which they were seeking to translate some of my ideas about participatory culture and new media literacies for the Polish academic setting, but I challenged them to think even more deeply about what the concept of participatory culture might mean in contemporary, Post-Communist Poland, and about what kinds of lived experiences Polish students might be having with these practices.  After all, part of the goal is to have students bring their own expertise and passions into the educational setting. In response, they launched a remarkable project, which brought together key scholars and aca-fan from Poland, to write a series of overview essays describing different participatory practices in their country. I was blown away by this response, and even more so, by the depth and richness of what they produced. I am very honored to be in the position to share these reports with readers around the world via this blog.

I hope you will learn as much from the Participatory Poland series as I have, and I hope that it will inspire scholars in other countries to consider producing similar accounts of what participatory culture might mean in their national contexts. I would love to see proposals from elsewhere which might fill similar gaps in our understanding of traditional and contemporary cultural practices.

This first piece, broken down into two installments, provides the context through which to understand this series, an account of the dramatic cultural and political changes which have impacted Poland over the past few decades.

PARTICIPATORY POLAND: AN INTRODUCTION

 

Agata Zarzycka and Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak

Department of English Studies

University of Wroclaw

Poland

 

 

THE SCOPE AND GOALS OF THE REPORT

This essay introduces the “Participatory Poland” report: a series of essays in which Polish aca-fen analyze several branches of Polish participatory culture and try to locate their specificity by considering the historical context in which it has so far developed. While we are aware that the factors involved in this phenomenon are numerous and complex enough to become a material for at least one book, which makes our Introduction selective and imperfect by definition, we have attempted to characterize the background for the discussions to follow in the subsequent blog entries and show their shared relevance as facets of the contemporary “participatory Poland”.

Undoubtedly, a groundbreaking feature of the Internet-boosted participatory culture is its globalized character, resulting in what Henry Jenkins calls “pop cosmopolitanism” (Fans 155-156) and providing common cultural and civic “languages” connecting people from all over the world. Because of that, however, we find it even more interesting to see how the “local color” of fan-based practices can be shaped by the heritage of national, historical and political factors that are seemingly detached from the fandom community, whose traditions, in their most influential form, have originated in the English-speaking, and specifically American, cultural sphere.

In Poland, the emergence of fandom as we know it was belated by several decades. Nevertheless, the cultural and social potential for participatory entertainment proved powerful enough to quickly bring about a whole spectrum of movements that continue to evolve. The preliminary edition of the report is composed of close-ups on just a few samples from various parts of that spectrum: speculative fiction as the core inspiration for the contemporary participatory culture; historical reconstruction as a movement closely connected to the local context; role-playing games as a form of entertainment which, once adopted by Polish practitioners, have proved flexible and responsive to various, more or less nationality-dependent activities; comics as possibly the most directly subversive and politically involved phenomenon; manga as an example of a genuinely foreign factor that has become a noticeably nationalized element of the participatory landscape in Poland; and finally bra-fitting, which, while inspired by prosumerism rather than fandom activity, constitutes one of uniquely successful Polish grassroots movements. While participatory culture is most often associated with digital media or fandom centered around cult pop cultural works, its crucial aspects as defined by Jenkins et al. in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (2009), underline also other aspects of participation – the collectivity of the experience, the appreciation of the input of others, the experience of belonging to a community supporting the activity, and the development of a grassroots organization based on more experienced participants introducing and guiding newbies etc. (Jenkins e. a. 7). Thus, although not all movements discussed in the report can be traced back to fan activity inspired by some originally offered official material, they share those features of participatory culture that make it a prominent phenomenon in the sphere of contemporary civic activism.

 

POLITICAL AND HISTORICAL CONTEXT

 

The boom of most movements explored in this report could be observed either in the 1990s – the first post-communist decade in Poland – or in the young capitalism of the first decade of the 21st century. In the U.S., the time between the 1960s and the end of 1980s, though far from peaceful in terms of social and political issues, brought a natural growth and formation of core fandom phenomena which together with the digital media revolution were to bring participatory culture to the level of a new cultural paradigm that we experience now: J. R. R. Tolkien’s writings spiraled up to the status of cult texts, reinforcing on their way the development of role-playing games; movies and TV shows such as Star Wars and Star Trek triggered large-scale fan communities; and the comic-book underground flourished. In Poland, the growth of popular culture in the same period, though enjoying some highlights, especially in the 1970s, was marked and limited by political and cultural isolation from the rest of the world, oppression, poverty, political infiltration and resistance, propaganda, censorship and fear. Obviously, this is not to say that American fandom developed in a socio-political void. It was the post-McCarthyist reaction that implicitly led to the cultural revolution of the 1960s, fuelled by the hippie movement and accompanied, among others, by a boom of American interest in Tolkien. Fandom-related phenomena and cultural practices have on a regular basis been scrutinized for their supposed moral harmfulness and psychological threats, as exemplified in the 1950s by the famous Senate activities inspired by Fredrick Wertham with regard to comic books in the 50s, the Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons activity in the 80s, or the post-Columbine media panic leading to Henry Jenkins’ 1999 intervention in defense of Goth and gaming cultures in Congress in 1999. In 2010, a politically loaded TED performance of Lawrence Lessig, who considers the copyright issues in the Internet remix culture from the perspective of Right – Left conflicts, underlined the political dimension of contemporary fandom-related practices on the structural level (http://www.ted.com/talks/lessig_nyed.html).

Still, regardless of the unquestionably dynamic bonds of American participatory culture with broader social and political contexts, one of the factors that make the growth of similar movements in Poland significantly different is the position and functions of grassroots and otherwise informal collective activity in general. Two stereotypical images of community actions as shaped throughout the socialist period might be compared, however remotely, to the American distinction between grassroots and astroturfing. On the one hand, the so called “czyn społeczny” (subbotnik) practice in frames of which communist authorities forced people to carry out unpaid work for the “common good,” as well as the general pressure on the society to manifest fake enthusiasm for the imposed ideology, negatively affected the concept of collective activity and laced most such initiatives with a political undertone unwanted by the participants. On the other hand, it is exactly through the more or less spontaneous grassroots resistance movements as reflected by the very name of “Solidarity” that the most serious and effective campaign against the regime was waged until its successful conclusion in 1989. In the social reality so heavily conditioned by one or another aspect of the nationwide political conflict, it was difficult to set up any kind of shared activity that would not have to, at some point, position itself somewhere in its spectrum. That is why the discussion of the development of Polish participatory culture necessitates historical contextualization.

The 1945 intervention of the Soviet army in Poland resulted in the establishment of the communist government, which in turn meant that the country soon became a socialist state following the Soviet model. Poland, or rather the People’s Republic of Poland, as it was officially known from 1952 to 1989, remained under that influence until 1989 but open social opposition to the communist rule existed throughout the period, assuming a variety of forms and guises, including initiatives inspired by popular culture. In the late 1940s and early 1950s Poland had its share of Stalinist rule, such as strong censorship, ideological manipulation and persecution of the Roman Catholic Church. A short interval of “thaw” came after Stalin’s death in 1953 and resulted in bloodily quenched worker protests in 1956. In October that year Władysław Gomułka became first secretary of the PZPR (the Polish United Workers’ Party), proclaiming that Poland was to follow the Polish way to socialism, defined by the specificities of the country’s traditions. Nevertheless, the years 1956-1980 were marked by a progressing economic crisis and the growing dissent on the part of the Church, workers and the intelligentsia.

Of particular importance in that period was the Warsaw Pact of 1968 (a mutual defense treaty between communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe during the Cold War), students’ protests against the lack of intellectual and cultural freedom in March 1968, and widespread strikes in shipyards and factories on the Baltic coast in 1970. In 1970 Gomułka was replaced by Edward Gierek, whose idea to assuage social discontent was to introduce moderate liberalization and boost the economy by massive borrowing from the West. The latter resulted in another crisis, the increase in food prices and social unrest. Simultaneously, the Helsinki Accords in 1975, the growing influence of the Catholic Church under the leadership of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, and the papacy of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła (1978) as well as his visit to Poland in 1979, culminated in the formation of Solidarity, the free national trade union. Solidarity’s growing membership and its unrelenting opposition to the regime on the one hand and the pressure of the Soviet Union on the Polish government to deal with the turbulent situation on the other led to the declaration of Martial Law in December 1981 by general Wojciech Jaruzelski.

Everyday life became difficult. The borders were closed and travelling in the country was drastically limited. Moreover, curfew was introduced between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Also numerous Solidarity activists were imprisoned without court sentence, and Solidarity itself was officially dissolved. Nevertheless, the communist regime was weakening. In 1989 the Polish Round Table was formed as a forum for discussions between the government, Solidarity and other opposition groups. The first democratic elections took place in summer 1989, sweeping communism away, and the Catholic intellectual Tadeusz Mazowiecki became prime minister. The post-communist era in the history of Poland began.

Unfortunately, despite the triumphant victory of democracy and capitalism over communism, for many Poles the transition from the predemocratic Poland to a liberal economic system, democracy, as well as the integration into the European Union, has proved difficult and disillusioning. As Leszek Koczanowicz puts it,

[c]ommunism in Poland as well as in other European countries led to the total absorption of the public sphere by the state apparatus. Communist ideology adapted almost the whole field of traditional thinking, reformulating it in collective terms. In the fight against “bourgeois” ideology, stress was put on the deficiencies of the concept of individualism as a useful tool for understanding and organizing social reality. Instead, communist ideology proposed a collective solution which was embodied in the idea of the Communist Party. (43)

Therefore it is no wonder that the mentality of Homo sovieticus – a type of a human being who is enslaved by the system but who is also glad to have his or her basic needs satisfied by it (Tischner 125) – cannot be smoothly replaced by a radically new national identity stemming not only from the sense of responsibility for oneself but also from a conscious exercise of one’s civic and personal freedom in a plural society. Simultaneously, as Elżbieta Matynia points out, Polish social and cultural life remains to be shaped by the romantic salvational paradigm of Poland as torn by foreign powers (153-154). For Matynia, its most significant elements are “the general preoccupation with history” and “the recounting of a heroic past”; the idea of a persecuted nation, typically linked with the Catholic religion; and “in the absence of a satisfying reality, a life within symbols and allegories, a community of the spirit, nurtured by family memories of the resistance experience and shared by each generation” (154).

Bartłomiej Radziejewski identifies a unifying and potentially more empowering root of Polish traditional rebelliousness in the “Sarmatian spirit” echoing the nobles’ democracy of the 15th and 16th century, which affirmed individual independence and the distrust of government (n.p.). Throughout the 1990s, however, a radically different, but equally influential element of Polish post-totalitarian mentality has developed in the form of “communist nostalgia” (Koczanowicz 8), which stems from people’s sense of uncertainty in the new political situation. As Koczanowicz comments, Poles “who got used to living in circumstances defined by communist bureaucracy came to feel lost in the new situation of market economy” (8). Moreover, as he continues, for many the previous system was ideal just because it was predictable and secure, as well as enabling people to assume a clear moral stance (8): “Freedom became for most of them [people] too much of a burden” (52).

One of the most recent phenomena shaping contemporary Polish identity is post-post-communism, which could be defined as a sense of anxiety about “losing identity in the face of globalization, immigration, and the power of international institutions” (Koczanowicz 149). Hence, as Koczanowicz argues, Poles desire the restoration of traditional values on the ideological level and the strengthening of the role of state perceived “as a system of organizations” (149).

As can be concluded, Poland in the first decades of the 21st century is to a large extent driven by the longing for the past. As Koczanowicz explains, “[t]he social time of the Polish society (the ontology of expectations) is predominantly colonized by the attitude toward the traditional national and religious values. People imagine that traditional values should serve as a point of reference in the changing social reality for the long time” (150-151). The significance of such philosophy and past-oriented sentiments may be expected to decrease in the relatively younger generations of today’s 30- or 20-year-olds, not to mention teenagers. Still, the unease connected with the lack of a coherent and optimistic alternative, combined with the general challenges of existence in the late capitalist reality, are reasons why the imprint of the socialist period remains relevant.

In terms of Polish participatory culture development, the experience of socialism not only induced the fundamental fandom initiatives with a subversive undertone, but also inspired some politics-focused initiatives. A spectacular example of the political employment of participatory techniques is Orange Alternative movement.

 (MORE TO COME)

 

Dr. Agata Zarzycka is Assistant Professor of Literature at the Department of English Studies, Wrocław University. She has authored a monograph on role-playing games, Socialized Fiction: Role-Playing Games as a Multidimensional Space of Interaction between Literary Theory and Practice (2009). Her other publications deal with role-playing games, fantasy literature and participatory culture. Her current research project is devoted to Gothic influences on popular culture. She is also interested in remix, game studies, fandom and subcultures, as well as broadly understood speculative fiction.

Dr. Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak is Assistant Professor of Literature and Director of the Center for Young People’s Literature and Culture at the Department of English Studies, Wroclaw University, Poland. She has published a monograph on Salman Rushdie, Rushdie in Wonderland: “Fairytaleness” in Salman Rushdie’s Fiction (Peter Lang 2004). She has also published articles on Salman Rushdie, Angela Carter, fairy tales, YA fantasy, and Polish children’s literature, for example in Folklore and Marvels & Tales. She co-edited Towards or Back to Human Values? Spiritual and Moral Dimensions of Contemporary Fantasy (Cambridge Scholars Press 2006), Considering Fantasy: Ethical, Didactic and Therapeutic Aspects of Fantasy in Literature and Film (ATUT 2007), and Relevant across Cultures: Visions of Connectedness and Earth Citizenship in Modern Fantasy for Young Readers (ATUT 2009). Her research interests include children’s literature and culture, reader response, utopianism, ecocriticism, and intermediality. As Director of the Center for Young People’s Literature and Culture, she organizes and coordinates numerous creative workshops and courses for children and young adults. Since 2012 she has been on the editorial board of Filoteknos: Children’s Literature-Cultural Mediation-Anthropology of Childhood, the first Polish academic journal in the field. In 2003 and 2004 she was awarded the Scholarships of the Foundation for Polish Science for young scholars. Her expertise was recognised internationally in 2004 through the Study Fellowship at the International Youth Library in Munich and in 2013, through Kosciuszko Foundation Fellowship and Fulbright Senior Advanced Research Award to work at the Institute of Effective Education and the Department of Childhood Studies, at Rutgers University.

Transmedia 101 and Other Posts En Espangnol

I recently received a request from a reader to translate my now well-worn Transmedia 101 blog post (from 2007) and several others into Spanish. Here they are. Translations by Mike Morell / Miguel Bernardo Olmedo Morell  

22 de Marzo de 2007

Narrativa Transmedia 101Por Henry Jenkins

He diseñado este folleto sobre narrativa transmedia para dárselo a mis alumnos. Recientemente, lo he repartido en un taller de enseñanza en la Society for Cinema and Media Studies (Sociedad para los Estudios de Cine y Medios de Comunicación). Pensé que podría resultar útil a algunos de los que formáis parte de la comunidad. Gran parte se basa en la discusión de dicho concepto en Convergence Culture (Cultura de Convergencia), aunque lo he puesto al día para reflejar algunos desarrollos recientes en este campo.

Para aquellos que quieran ahondar aún más en este concepto, echadle un vistazo a la versión retransmitida por internet del panel Transmedia Entertainment (Entretenimiento Transmedia) de la Futures of Entertainment Conference (Conferencia del Futuro del Entretenimiento).

Narrativa Transmedia 101

1. La narración transmediática representa un proceso en el que los elementos integrales de una obra de ficción se esparcen sistemáticamente a través de muchos canales de distribución con el propósito de crear una experiencia de entretenimiento unificada y coordinada. Lo ideal es que cada medio proporcione su propia contribución original al desarrollo de la historia. Así, por ejemplo, en la franquicia The Matrix, las piezas clave de información se transmiten a través de tres películas de imagen real, una serie de cortos animados, dos colecciones de historias de comic, y varios videojuegos. No hay una sola fuente o texto plenamente abarcador al que uno pueda referirse para adquirir toda la información requerida para comprender el universo de Matrix.

2. La narración transmediática refleja la economía de la consolidación de los medios de comunicación, o lo que los comentaristas de la industria han dado en llamar “sinergia”. Las compañías modernas de estos medios están integradas de forma horizontal, es decir, tienen intereses a través de una serie de industrias de los medios que antaño estaban completamente separadas. Un conglomerado de medios de comunicación se ve incentivado a esparcir su marca o expandir sus franquicias a través de tantas plataformas mediáticas como les sea posible. Deben considerarse, por ejemplo, los comics publicados antes del estreno de películas tales como Batman Begins y Superman Returns de DC (que es propiedad de Warner Brothers, el estudio que estrenó dichas películas). Estos comics asientan la historia de trasfondo para realzar la experiencia del espectador de la película al mismo tiempo que ayudan a publicitar el próximo estreno (difuminando así la frontera entre marketing y entretenimiento). La configuración actual de la industria del entretenimiento ha hecho de la expansión transmediática un imperativo económico, y aún así los mejores artistas transmediáticos también se mueven por estas presiones de mercado para crear una historia más expansiva e inmersiva de lo que habría sido posible de otra manera.

3. Muy a menudo, las historias transmediáticas están basadas no en personajes individuales o tramas determinadas, sino en mundos ficticios complejos que pueden sostener múltiples personajes interrelacionados entre sí, así como sus historias. Este proceso de creación de mundos fomenta un impulso enciclopédico tanto en los lectores como en los escritores. Se nos incita a dominar lo que pueda ser sabido sobre un mundo que está en continua expansión más allá de nuestro alcance. Éste es un placer muy diferente a aquel que asociamos con la sensación de conclusión presente en la mayoría de las narraciones que siguen el patrón clásico, que nos hacen esperar dejar el teatro sabiendo todo lo que hay que saber para que una historia determinada tenga sentido.

4. Las extensiones pueden servir una serie de funciones diferentes. Por ejemplo, la BBC usó radioteatro para mantener el interés de la audiencia en Doctor Who durante casi una década durante la cual no se produjeron nuevos episodios de televisión. La extensión puede proporcionar un mayor conocimiento de los personajes y sus motivaciones (como es el caso de las páginas web de Dawson’s Creek y Veronica Mars que reproducen la correspondencia imaginaria o diarios de sus personajes), puede dar cuerpo a ciertos aspectos del mundo ficticio (como la versión en red del Daily Planet publicado cada semana por DC comics durante el recorrido de su serie 52 para “informar” sobre los sucesos que ocurrían a lo largo del universo de sus superhéroes), o puede servir de conexión entre eventos aparecidos en una serie de secuelas (como en la serie animada, The Clone Wars, que fue retransmitida en Cartoon Network para conectar el lapso de tiempo entre Star Wars II y III). La extensión puede añadir una mayor sensación de realismo a la ficción en conjunto (como ocurrió cuando se produjeron falsos documentos y líneas temporales para la página web asociada con The Blair Witch Project (El proyecto de la bruja de Blair) o, de una forma diferente, las películas documentales y CD-roms producidos por James Cameron para proporcionar un contexto histórico a Titanic).

5. Las narraciones transmediáticas pueden expandir el mercado potencial de una propiedad a base de crear diferentes puntos de entrada para distintos segmentos de la audiencia. Así, por ejemplo, Marvel produce comics que cuentan la historia de Spider-man de formas que creen que serán particularmente atractivas para las mujeres (un comic de romance, Mary Jame Loves Spiderman) o los jóvenes (libros para colorear o de dibujos de las historias clásicas de los comics). De forma parecida, esta estrategia puede servir para atraer a espectadores que se sienten cómodos con un cierto medio a experimentar con plataformas mediáticas alternativas (como es el caso del desarrollo de un videojuego de Desperate Housewives diseñado para atraer a consumidoras mayores al mundo de los videojuegos).

6. En casos idóneos, cada episodio individual debe ser accesible a través de sus propios términos al mismo tiempo que realiza una contribución original al sistema narrativo como un todo. El diseñador de videojuegos Neil Young acuñó el término “comprensión aditiva” para referirse a la forma en que cada nuevo texto añade una nueva pieza de información que nos fuerza a revisar nuestra comprensión de la ficción en sí. Su ejemplo consistía en la añadidura de una imagen de un unicornio de origami a la versión del director de Bladerunner, un elemento que llevaba a la gente a cuestionarse si el protagonista podría ser un replicante. Los productores transmediáticos han encontrado dificultades a la hora de conseguir el delicado equilibrio entre crear historias que tengan sentido para el espectador primerizo y añadir elementos que mejoren la experiencia de aquellos que estén leyendo a través de distintos medios.

7. Debido a que las narraciones transmediáticas requieren un alto grado de coordinación entre los diferentes sectores mediáticos, hasta ahora ha funcionado mejor en proyectos independientes donde el mismo artista da forma a la historia a través de todos los medios involucrados, o en proyectos donde se valora una fuerte colaboración (o co-creación) a través de las diferentes divisiones de la misma compañía. La mayoría de las franquicias mediáticas, sin embargo, se gobiernan no por la co-creación (lo cual conlleva concebir la propiedad en términos transmediáticos desde el principio) sino a través de las licencias (que implica que la historia se origine en un medio y los medios subsiguientes se mantengan subordinados al texto maestro original).

8. Las narraciones transmediáticas son la forma estética ideal en una era de inteligencia colectiva. Pierre Levy acuñó este término, inteligencia colectiva, para referirse a estructuras sociales nuevas que permiten la producción y circulación de conocimiento a lo largo de una sociedad conectada. Los participantes acumulan información y aprovechan el conocimiento experto unos de otros mientras trabajan juntos para resolver problemas. Levy arguye que el arte, en una era de inteligencia colectiva, funciona como un imán cultural, atrayendo entre sí a individuos que piensan igual para formar nuevas comunidades de conocimiento. Las narraciones transmediáticas también funcionan como activadores textuales, poniendo en marcha la producción, evaluación y almacenamiento de la información. Por ejemplo, el drama televisivo de ABC, Lost, mostró durante unos instantes un mapa denso a mitad de un capítulo de la segunda temporada: los fans hicieron una copia digital de un fotograma congelado de la imagen y lo pusieron en la red, donde, entre todos, extrapolaron todo lo que pudiera decir sobre la Corporación Hanso y sus actividades en la isla. Las narraciones transmediáticas expanden lo que se puede saber sobre un mundo ficticio particular al tiempo que se propaga esa información, asegurándose de que ningún consumidor lo sabe todo y que tienen que hablar con otros sobre la serie (tómese, por ejemplo, los centenares de criaturas que aparecen en Pokemon o Yu-Gi-Oh!). Los consumidores se convierten en cazadores y recolectores que se mueven a lo largo de las distintas narraciones, intentando hilar entre sí un todo coherente a partir de la información dispersa.

9. Un texto transmediático no se limita a dispersar información, sino que proporciona una serie de roles y metas que los lectores pueden asumir mientras recrean aspectos de la historia a lo largo de su vida diaria. Podemos observar esta dimensión representativa en acción con la venta de figuras de acción, que animan a los niños a construir sus propias historias sobre los personajes ficticios, o los trajes y los juegos de rol que nos invitan a sumergirnos en el mundo de ficción. En el caso de Star Wars, la figura de acción de Boba Fett generó interés entre los consumidores en un personaje que tan solo había tenido un papel menor en la serie, creando presión para darle a ese personaje una mayor función en la trama en historias posteriores.

10. La ambición enciclopédica de los textos transmediáticos normalmente resulta en lo que puede ser visto como lagunas o excesos en el desarrollo de la historia: es decir, introducen tramas potenciales que no se pueden contar por completo o detalles adicionales que apuntan a más de lo que se puede revelar. Los lectores, por tanto, tienen un gran incentivo para seguir desarrollando esos elementos narrativos, trabajando con ellos a través de sus especulaciones, hasta que cobran vida por sí mismos. El fan fiction puede ser visto como una expansión no autorizada de esas franquicias mediáticas hacia nuevas direcciones que reflejan el deseo del lector de “rellenar las lagunas” que han descubierto en el material del producto comercial.

 

3 de Octubre de 2008

Revisando los mitos sobre los videojuegos: Un nuevo estudio de Pew nos habla sobre los juegos y la juventud

Por Henry Jenkins

Hace algunos años publiqué un ensayo, “Ocho mitos sobre los videojuegos desacreditados”, en colaboración con el documental de PBS, The Video Game Revolution [La revolución de los videojuegos]. Por lo menos una vez cada mes veo que el artículo ha sido descubierto por otro blogger que llama la atención sobre él en su comunidad, por lo que sé que sigue habiendo interés e incertidumbre acerca de muchos de los temas que intentaba tratar. Un informe reciente publicado por Pew Internet & Life Project ofrece algunos datos nuevos y valiosos acerca del papel de los videojuegos en las vidas de los jóvenes americanos.

En su nivel más básico, jugar videojuegos se ha vuelto más o menos universal

El 97% de los adolescentes entre 12 y 17 años juega juegos de ordenador, en red, portátiles o de consola. El 50% de estos adolescentes aseguró haberlos jugado “ayer”. Esto me hace pensar en aquellos reformistas de la moral que apuntan, siempre que hay un tiroteo en una escuela, que sabían que el sospechoso acabaría resultando ser un jugador [de videojuegos, en inglés gamer]. Diría que las estadísticas actuales sugieren que las posibilidades estaban muy a favor de que tuvieran razón, pero sus afirmaciones carecen de relevancia. Desde luego, muchos sugieren que, en un contexto así, el término “jugador” pueda resultar obsoleto, por lo menos como una descripción que divida a aquellos que juegan videojuegos de aquellos que no lo hacen. Puede, sin embargo, funcionar más o menos como el término “lector”, para distinguir a aquellos que adquieren algún tipo de identidad social a través de su relación con los videojuegos de aquellos para quienes jugar videojuegos es tan solo una actividad como otras tantas.

La investigación de Pew puede también forzarnos a reformularnos otra vez la creencia de que hay una diferenciación de género en términos de quién juega videojuegos

“El 99% de chicos y el 94% de chicas informan que juegan videojuegos. Los chicos adolescentes más jóvenes son los que más suelen jugar, seguidos por chicas jóvenes y chicos mayores. Las chicas mayores son las menos “entusiastas” de los videojuegos, aunque más de la mitad de ellas juegan. Alrededor de un 65% de jugadores diarios son hombres; 35% son mujeres. Las chicas juegan un promedio de seis géneros diferentes de videojuegos; los chicos, un promedio de ocho.”

Hace una década, cuando Justine Cassell y yo editamos From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games [De Barbie a Mortal Kombat: el género y los videojuegos], la situación era completamente diferente: muchos se temían que las chicas estaban siendo marginadas de esta versión concreta de revolución digital y de que hubiera consecuencias sociales y educacionales de esta “diferenciación de género”. Las estadísticas nuevas muestran que esta diferenciación se ha cerrado en gran medida, y que incluso otros patrones que la gente ha observado (que los chicos juegan más a menudo, que los chicos juegan más tipos de juegos, y que los chicos juegan durante más tiempo a lo largo de sus vidas) están empezando a cambiar, aunque aún veamos algunas trazas de esos patrones anteriores en sus datos. Si te interesa la naturaleza específica de género en los videojuegos, deberías echar un vistazo a Beyond Barbie & Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming [Más allá de Barbie y Mortal Kombat: Nuevas perspectivas sobre el género y los videojuegos] (editado por Yasmin B. Kafai, Carrie Heeter, Jill Denner y Jennifer Y. Sun) y que será publicado por MIT Press cualquier día de estos. Este libro actualiza nuestra colección anterior con perspectivas innovadoras de una nueva generación de académicos de los videojuegos que crecieron junto a este medio. Justine y yo escribimos una nueva obra para este libro recordando el contexto del género y los videojuegos a mediados de 1990, expectantes ante los nuevos desafíos a los que se enfrenta la industria hoy día.

Los datos de Pew complican las generalizaciones simplistas acerca del lugar del entretenimiento violento en las vidas de los adolescentes americanos

Por ejemplo, los cinco juegos más populares entre los jóvenes americanos son Guitar Hero, Halo 3, Madden NFL, Solitaire y Dance Dance Revolution. De estos, tan solo Halo 3 se podría calificar como un juego violento. En general, los géneros no violentos fueron los más populares. Pero, el 50% de los chicos nombra un juego con una calificación de M o A/O como uno de sus tres favoritos actuales, en contraste con el 14% de las chicas (una de las áreas en las que el género realmente importa es en cómo la gente se identifica con los videojuegos). El 32% de los adolescentes jugadores afirma que al menos uno de sus tres videojuegos favoritos tiene una calificación de Mature [Maduro] o de Adults Only [Solo para adultos]. Los adolescentes de 12 a 14 años juegan este tipo de juegos con la misma frecuencia que aquellos de 15 a 17 años.

Los datos de Pew desafían todavía más la idea de que los videojuegos aíslan socialmente a sus jugadores

Los investigadores se encontraron con que “el 65% de los adolescentes jugadores juegan con otras personas que están en la misma habitación que ellos. El 27% juega con gente conectándose a través de internet. El 82% juega juegos solos, aunque el 71% de este grupo también juega con otras personas. Y casi tres de cada cinco adolescentes (el 59%) juega videojuegos de varias formas diferentes: con otros en la misma habitación, con otros a través de internet, o solos”. Desde el punto de vista de alguien que ha observado los videojuegos durante las últimas dos décadas, puedo argumentar que jugar videojuegos siempre ha sido una actividad más social de lo que muchos no jugadores podrían esperar. Me acuerdo de que mi hijo y sus amigos iban y venían los unos a la casa de los otros celebrando su victoria cuando se pasaban un nivel en un juego especialmente difícil, enseñándole al resto cómo pasárselo y ayudándoles a superar ese bache. Es más, jugar solo a un juego se suele ver como una forma de practicar, preparándose para formas más sociales de juego, de forma parecida a como un niño hace rebotar una pelota contra el muro de una casa y la vuelve a coger, solo porque no hay otra gente con quien jugar a la pelota. Los datos de Pew sugieren que, para muchos niños, los juegos son a veces sociales, a veces solitarios, pero la mayoría tienen una variedad sana de formas diferentes en que se relacionan con el medio de los videojuegos.

La investigación de Pew sí que indica algunas áreas donde los padres deberían tener cuidado acerca de los hábitos de juego sus hijos e hijas

Cerca de dos tercios de los adolescentes que juegan juegos informan haber visto u oído “gente siendo desconsiderada y demasiado agresiva mientras juega”, y el 49% afirma haber visto u oído “gente mostrando odio y siendo racista o sexista” mientras jugaban. Sin embargo, entre estos adolescentes, cerca de tres cuartos informaron de que otro jugador respondió pidiendo al agresor que parara al menos algunas de las veces. Es  más, un 85% de los adolescentes que afirman haber visto este comportamiento también dicen haber visto a otros jugadores siempre generosos y dando ayuda mientras jugaban. Muchos de nosotros creemos que el cyberbullying es una amenaza mucho más real que la preocupación de que jugar videojuegos violentos pueda de alguna forma volver a los jóvenes más violentos en el mundo real. Hace una década, el mundo digital parecía un espacio seguro para muchos geeks jóvenes, especialmente en comparación con los pasillos de las escuelas o los gimnasios, pero ahora que todo el mundo juega videojuegos y se conecta a internet, los acosadores también están apareciendo ahí y la gente joven está teniendo que enfrentarse en el ciberespacio a estos problemas que no se han resuelto en el mundo real. No es que los videojuegos vuelvan a los niños agresivos; puede ser que la violencia y los conflictos del mundo real se están vertiendo en los videojuegos.

La investigación de Pew también desafía el mito prevalente de que la mayoría de los padres están preocupados o alarmados sobre la relación de los jóvenes de su familia con los videojuegos

El 62% de los padres de jugadores dicen que los videojuegos no tienen ningún efecto en sus hijos ni para bien ni para mal. El 19% de los padres dicen que los videojuegos tienen una influencia positiva en sus hijos. El 13% de los padres dicen que los videojuegos tienen una influencia negativa en sus hijos. El 5% de los padres dicen que los videojuegos pueden tener influencias positivas o negativas, dependiendo del videojuego. Veo menos estos datos como una indicación de los “efectos reales” de que los niños jueguen videojuegos que como una indicación de que la mayoría de los padres han llegado a aceptar los videojuegos como una parte normal de la infancia americana y que hay más que ven los efectos beneficios que los perjuicios. A fin de cuentas, un número significativo de padres americanos actuales fueron parte de la primera generación de Nintendo, y se criaron jugando Super Mario Bros. y Sonic the Hedgehog, y son por tanto menos susceptibles a espantarse por la presencia de una tecnología desconocida en su salón. Muchas discusiones sobre los videojuegos y los padres no toman en consideración este cambio generacional al mostrar quiénes son los padres y qué piensan sobre este medio.

Hay mucho más que decir del informe de Pew, incluyendo algunas sugerencias interesantes sobre el impacto cívico de los videojuegos y sobre si los juegos online tienen el mismo valor social que jugar cara a cara. Espero que estos nuevos datos agudicen aún más las conversaciones sobre videojuegos.

Para saber más de estas cuestiones, échale un vistazo al Podcast de un coloquio reciente de CMS, “The Myths and Politics of Video Games Violence Research” [Los mitos y la político de las investigaciones sobre la violencia en los videojuegos], donde se presenta a Lawrence Kutner y Cheryl Olson, autores del reciente libro Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do [Infancia Grand Theft: La sorprendente verdad sobre los videojuegos violentos y qué pueden hacer los padres al respecto]. Si no conoces este libro, deberías, ya que, al igual que la investigación de Pew, desafía muchas creencias comunes sobre este tema, atreviéndose a preguntar y encontrar respuestas a preguntas básicas acerca del lugar que ocupan los videojuegos violentos en las vidas de los jóvenes.

 

29 de Octubre de 2011

“La Revolución Será Hashtaggeada”: La Cultura Visual del Movimiento Occupy

Por Henry Jenkins

Desde el 17 de Septiembre, el movimiento Occupy Wall Street ha producido una enorme variedad de elementos visuales, ofreciendo un punto de entrada significativo al  movimiento propiamente dicho, mostrando sus lazos con la historia, sus voces divergentes, perspectivas y estilos, así como sus múltiples canales de distribución, desde salidas convencionales hasta los medios sociales. A pesar de la crítica de los expertos que no ven necesariamente demasiado potencial en la “marca” de Occupy, los aspectos visuales de la protesta están teniendo un claro impacto y tracción. Aunque sería imposible evaluar plenamente esta rica producción visual, este mensaje de blog intenta comprender sus temas emergentes así como los usos potenciales y el valor relacionados con el comentario y la protesta visual.

A través de la historia, la cultura visual ha jugado un papel importante en las protestas y el cambio social. A pesar de que el arte “elevado” ha sido usado durante mucho tiempo para venerar figuras políticas así como a miembros de las clases altas, con la marea revolucionaria de los siglos XVIII y XIX en Europa y América hemos visto un cambio y un aumento en la representación pictórica de la resistencia política. Estos ejemplos históricos muestran la forma en que la cultura visual ha sido fundamental para las políticas de protesta. Sirven como testigo y documento. Pueden incitar e instigar a la acción.

Así empieza un rico, atractivo y oportuno mensaje en el blog mantenido por el USC Civic Paths Research Group. La Dra. Alison Trope, Profesora Colaboradora, y Lana Swartz, estudiante de doctorado, ambas en el USC Annenberg, han reunido un impresionante archivo de imágenes recogidas principalmente de los mítines de Occupy procedentes tanto de todos los rincones del país como a lo largo y ancho del mundo.

Como este comienzo sugiere, su énfasis principal es en los medios visuales, es decir, en los signos, los trajes, los espectáculos, etc., que se han desplegado para definir los términos del debate. Dada la rica naturaleza visual de su mensaje, no lo puedo reproducir tal cual aquí, así que en su lugar tan solo puedo referiros a éste para que lo examinéis con más detalle. Pero, creedme, merece la pena darle al enlace…

El equipo de Civic Paths ha estado estudiando formas alternativas de activismo, especialmente aquellas referentes a la intersección entre cultura popular, cultura participativa, y juventud, durante más de dos años. Estamos afiliados a un centro de investigación centrado en la juventud y las políticas participativas fundado por la MacArthur Foundation y dirigida por Joe Kahne, del Mills College. Nuestra propia participación surge de mi asentado interés en el activismo fan, el tema en torno al que gira un número especial que nuestro grupo está editando para Transformative Works and Culture, que verá la luz a principios del año que viene. Pero nuestro interés ha crecido más allá de esto.

Nuestros estudios de casos actuales incluyen trabajos sobre los activistas jóvenes que están trabajando para que se apruebe el Dream Act para dar mayores derechos educativos y civiles a los jóvenes sin papeles (Arely Zimmerman), investigación en la implicación de los jóvenes en la política Libertaria (Liana Thompson), investigación sobre los Nerdfighters, la Harry Potter Alliance, e Imagine Better (Neta Kligler-Vilenchik), e investigación sobre las políticas musulmano-americanas post-911 (Sangita Shrestova). A lo largo del camino, sin embargo, también hemos prestado atención a un abanico mayor de estudio de casos: desde racebenders [mostrar a una persona de una determinada raza con rasgos o características propios de otra] a la organización de labor en Madison, Wisconsin. Esta página muestra algunos de los ejemplos preliminares, que ayudaron a cimentar la base de nuestra investigación actual. En total, tenemos cerca de veinte doctorandos y estudiantes de máster contribuyendo a esta investigación, muchos de los cuales han escrito algunas observaciones preliminares a través del blog de Civic Paths, así que si vienes a visitar el archivo de Occupy, quédate y echa un vistazo a algunas de sus contribuciones.

Tuve la suerte de haber podido visitar Washington Square, el hogar de Occupy Wall Street, hace unas pocas semanas, mientras estaba en Nueva York para la conferencia de Mobility Shifts. Un ejército de personas vestidas como zombis, muchas de ellas de la Zombicon (una convención de fans del terror) había llegado al parque tan solo unos minutos antes que yo, y estaban mezclándose con aquellos que iban vestidos como personajes de Juego de Tronos y llevaban señales que advertían que “se acerca el invierno”. Los turistas ancianos los paraban y trataban de comprender por qué estaban vestidos de esa forma y qué tenían que ver con el movimiento Occupy, resultando esto en una serie de intercambios que harían que la protesta se hiciera más conocida. Y en eso consiste la idea.

Occupy no es tanto un movimiento, al menos no como hemos definido tradicionalmente los movimientos políticos, como una provocación. Si los medios de comunicación convencionales tienen dificultades para discernir sus objetivos, puede ser que sea porque su objetivo principal es provocar discusiones, hacer que la gente hable sobre temas que nuestros líderes políticos se han negado a tratar a lo largo de varias décadas: los profundos cambios en la riqueza económica que han creado condiciones de una gran desigualdad en oportunidades, el rol de lo que Sarah Palin ha llamado “capitalismo colega” (y que es realmente una indicación del rol que juega el capital en formar nuestros procesos políticos), y especialmente el grado en que las políticas económicas bajo presidentes tanto republicanos como democráticos han sido escritas atendiendo más a las necesidades de Wall Street que de Main Street.

Los valores que Occupy representa son compartidos por la inmensa mayoría de los estadounidenses, si las encuestas recientes han de servirnos como indicativo, y sin embargo son expresados rara vez por los líderes políticos convencionales o los medios de comunicación de masas. Así pues, parte del propósito de estas protestas es el de proveer lo que Stephen Ducombe podría llamar un “espectáculo ético” como medio de centrar la atención. Y las ancianas que preguntan cosas a los zombis son parte del proceso, ya que sin duda compartieron lo que vieron con sus amigos al llegar a casa, y por tanto dieron otra oportunidad para hablar acerca de lo que está pasando.

La línea difusa entre fan y activista que he observado muestra una relación diferente entre cultura popular y política que la que vimos en anteriores movimientos de protesta. El Popular Front de la década de 1930 buscaba influir el desarrollo de la cultura popular, llevando a Aaron Copeland, Norman Rockwell, Frank Capra y muchos otros a la fama, y su trabajo dio forma a nuestro banco de imágenes acerca del aspecto de la democracia. Los movimientos de protesta de la década de 1960 buscaban unirse al lenguaje de la cultura popular (en especial al del rock y los comics) para crear una cultura alternativa, una que era implícitamente, y a menudo también explícitamente crítica de los medios poseídos por grandes empresas, que buscaba expresar la visión del mundo de una generación más joven. Los movimientos de protesta de comienzos de la década de 1990 se aferraron a una estética DIY [Do It Yourself, Hazlo tú mismo], dando lugar al movimiento de medios indie [independientes], y ayudando a generar discusión sobre una revolución digital que podría democratizar el acceso a los canales de comunicación.

El movimiento Occupy, en contraste, se ha apropiado del lenguaje de la cultura popular ya existente como un abanico de recursos culturales a través de los cuales expresar sus identidades colectivas y enmarcar sus críticas. Por tanto, vemos un estilo mucho más desenfadado de activismo, uno que debe mucho a las tradiciones de la cultura fan, uno que asume que las imágenes y las historias de los comics de superhéroes o de las series de culto de televisión son compartidas por muchos de sus participantes (y serán entendidas por un público mayor que aún no se ha unido a las protestas). Por tanto, se están disfrazando, diseñando señales que reasignan significado a caracteres familiares, creando sus propios vídeos, y enviándolos al mundo, donde serán vistos por muchos que no van a ir a Washington Square, Los Angeles City Hall, o ningún otro sitio de ocupación.

Estos son medios de protesta diseñados para difundirse a través de las redes sociales, uno que tiene las cualidades domésticas de los movimientos DIY del pasado (de ahí que usen, como Trope y Swarts apuntan, las señales de cartón), las cualidades de alta tecnología del activismo digital, y el compromiso desenfadado del activismo fan, todo unido en una combinación embriagadora. Estas tácticas no carecen de contradicciones: Trope y Swartz señalan que las máscaras de Guy Fawkes, inspiradas por V de Vendetta, de Alan Moore y ahora símbolos del movimiento Anonymous, están basadas en una propiedad intelectual poseída por Warner Communications, quienes se benefician de cada unidad vendida en el país.

Aún así, parece reflejar la forma en que estamos llevando a cabo la política a comienzos del S.XXI. Vimos algunas de estas mismas imágenes “puestas a prueba”, por así decirlo, durante las protestas pro-laboristas de Madison, como apuntó Jonathan Gray hace un tiempo, y ahora estamos viendo esas tácticas en juego en un escenario incluso mayor gracias a Occupy.

Hay muchos otros aspectos del movimiento Occupy que reconocemos desde nuestra investigación en curso. Más y más movimientos políticos contemporáneos están siendo descentralizados, reconociendo afiliaciones poco definidas entre sí, y aún así mostrándose a niveles muy locales, normalmente con diferencias muy significativas entre unos y otros. Esta aproximación ha resultado muy efectiva para los Dream Activists, por ejemplo, donde la lucha fue cambiando de nivel federal, a estatal, a local, cuando el Congreso no consiguió promulgar el Dream Act nacional. Estos activistas han empleado herramientas de redes sociales para ser capaces de conocerse más rápido los unos a los otros, permitiendo que las imágenes, mensajes y las tácticas evolucionaran rápidamente. Si los grupos de derechos de inmigrantes tradicionales tendían a observar límites étnicos, raciales y nacionales, estos jóvenes han formado coaliciones entre diferentes poblaciones de inmigrantes, y algo parecido está pasando con Occupy, donde múltiples intereses ideológicos se están organizando alrededor del marco compartido que ofrece Occupy.

Estos grupos se niegan a ofrecer un mensaje simple y unificado del tipo que son familiares gracias a movimientos políticos “disciplinados”, jerárquicos y establecidos. En su lugar, intentan multiplicar los mensajes y expandir el alcance de los marcos mediáticos para que puedan apelar a un número más amplio de participantes diferentes. No hay ningún medio de comunicación que alcance a todo el mundo: más bien, los medios se producen rápidamente y de forma barata y se difunden ampliamente para que cada pieza de comunicación producida pueda apelar a un tipo de público diferente.

Como escribió Sasha Costanza-Chock, un “transplante” reciente de la USC al programa de estudios comparativos de los medios de comunicación del MIT, en su tesis sobre el Los Angeles Immigrant Rights Movement:

Los organizadores efectivos transmediáticos están cambiando el hablar en nombre de los movimientos a hablar con ellos. La movilización transmediática marca, por tanto, una transición en el rol de los comunicadores de movimientos de creación de contenido a agregación, conservación, mezcla y circulación de textos mediáticos ricos a través de formaciones en red de movimientos. Estas formaciones de movimientos que abrazan la descentralización de la voz del movimiento pueden cosechar grandes recompensas, mientras que aquellos que intenten mantener el control de arriba abajo de las prácticas de comunicación del movimiento se arriesgan a perder credibilidad.

Occupy, en todo caso, lleva las tácticas de movilización transmediática más allá. Negarse a anclarse en una sola interpretación del movimiento hace que la discusión siga viva, permite que más gente se una y ayuda a dar forma constantemente al mensaje, permitiendo respuestas tácticas rápidas a desafíos externos, y apoya las respuestas creativas de todos los participantes. Como cantaban en la década de 1990, éste es el aspecto de la democracia. O como escriban Trope y Swartz, “La Revolución Será Hashtaggeada”.

En el caso de la Harry Potter Alliance y los Nerdfighters, ha habido un alejamiento de activismo de un solo asunto para crear estructuras que puedan ser desarrolladas rápidamente en respuesta a un amplio número de problemas y estructuras participativas que permiten que capítulos locales o incluso miembros individuales puedan identificar y actuar sobre sus propios problemas.

Todo esto puede ser confuso para los medios de comunicación que intentan buscar una sola causa, un solo mensaje, y un solo portavoz. Tales esfuerzos también forman parte de la división en el pensamiento académico, ya que el mensaje de Occupy parece proceder del campo de los estudios críticos y la política económica, donde una gran parte de las tácticas y el imaginario reflejan el dominio de los estudios culturales.

Todo esto sugiere que debemos replantearnos las formas en que hemos tratado las relaciones entre la política y la cultura en el pasado. Esa es una meta principal del grupo de investigación de Civic Paths e invitamos a otros a unirse a nosotros en la investigación no solo del movimiento Occupy, sino también de las formas en que ilustra la naturaleza de la implicación política en una cultura conectada. Estaremos encantados de escuchar lo que otros grupos de investigación estén haciendo para documentar y analizar las protestas de Occupy en sus áreas locales.

 

Thanks very much to Mike for helping to expand the range of my work that is available to Spanish language readers.

"Media Mix Is Anime's Life Support System": A Conversation with Ian Condry and Marc Steinberg (Part Four)

As both of you mention, Walt Disney’s work as an animator and as an industry leader exerted a strong influence on the development of the Anime system. What did the Japanese learn from Disney and how were his practices localized for the specific Japanese context?

Ian: Tezuka watched Bambi, 80 or 100 times, depending on which story you believe. He made fanzines of Disney characters. In his manga, “Metropolis,” one of the characters escapes from an evil-doer’s prison by sewing himself inside a giant irradiated rat that looks suspiciously like Mickey Mouse. Anime fans often note that remarkable similarities between Tezuka’s “Kimba the White Lion” and the much later “Lion King” by Disney.

Then again, as Otsuka Eiji noted at conference that Marc organized at Concordia University: “It’s true that Disney’s Lion King stole from ‘Kimba.’ But that’s OK because Tezuka stole from Bambi.” That got a laugh.

In his 2004 book, “The Complete History of Anime” (in Japanese, Nihon no anime zenshi), the anime historian Yasuo Yamaguchi identified a range of influences that reach from aesthetics to labor and business practices:

• The use of exaggerated expressions—for example, the “squash and stretch system” of deforming characters to emphasize their personalities.

• The storyboard system, which allowed Disney to use a variety of sequential pictures to convey the story and the feeling of the scenes to the animators.

• A curriculum for training new talent, which was necessary because with each hit production, animators would be hired away from Disney at higher salaries. Disney responded by developing a system to train new workers.

• The division-of-labor system, which allowed the Disney studio to work on animated shorts and feature-length films at the same time.

• Establishment of the Disney brand—for example, by describing all works as “Walt Disney presents” and polishing the brand image by having Disney himself personally introduce the works.

• The development of merchandising, whereby the licensor of animated characters would receive 3–7 percent of the sales price of goods related to those characters, which was necessary to offset the deficits incurred by animation production (Yamaguchi, Nihon no Anime Zenshi, 2004: 36–38).

The big adaptation of Disney’s ideas comes from relying increasingly on limited animation to make anime more cheaply, and by relying on already-popular manga characters to ensure a wide viewership.

Henry: One of the things many of us think we know about Anime and Manga is that its readership extends well beyond children, that it is much more diverse than would true of similar productions in the west. How is this diversity managed? Some forms of cultural production seem structured around generational or subcultural niches, while others get discussed in terms of their ability to enable transgenerational communication. What can you tell us about the relationship between niche and mainstream as they operate in this context?

Ian: Perhaps the key to the diversity around manga is that it is not well managed, at least not from above. What is managed is incorporating reader responses.

As I discuss in my book’s chapter 5, some writers have pointed out, correctly I think, that manga represents a kind of “democratic capitalism,” in the sense that the most popular works are also the best. They contrast this with music and film, where heavy-handed marketing can make somewhat mediocre productions become big hits. Not so, they argue, with manga. People who love manga read a lot of it. You can read it for free standing in a convenience story, and even manga that is purchased generally gets passed around to at least a few friends.

I’ll never forget when I met one of the founders of Comic Market (the enormous manga fanzine convention), and I asked him what manga I should be reading. He said, “All of it.”

I think that’s the attitude of the serious fans. They go through a tremendous amount of material. Each weekly-serialized magazine comes out with about 20 stories, and the readers are asked to send in postcards evaluating the best and worst three. The major publishers receive about 3000-4000 postcards a week. Popular series keep going, and less popular ones are removed to make way for a few of the legions of amateur artists hoping for their big chance.

Indeed, the diversity makes it difficult to characterize the links between niche and mainstream. Put simply, however, that niche series become mainstream often do so the old fashioned way, by building an audience.

Marc, you draw a useful distinction between toys which replicate the characters and toys which help the consumer to become the character. How central are forms of role-play to the cultural and economic processes you are both describing?

Marc: It’s a complex issue. In my book I note how there’s a shift from characters that you can be or play to characters toys that you can play with. In the late 50s costumes for the various characters were the rage, and children imitated their favorite characters, they became them. For a number of reasons including growing urbanization, the decline of play space and time, and the general rise in income that gave children greater spending power, the 1960s saw the rise of toys that can be played with. Children no longer bought the mask, the gun and the gloves, they bought the Astro Boy replica toy. In that moment they were cut out of a certain kind of play that allowed them to be the character – they could only play with the character.

This was followed closely after by the kaiju monster toy explosion that extended this. What I don’t talk about in my book is that the 70s sees a different shift: the rise of video games, where the character appears on screen. In some ways this was an extension of the character you play with, but it was also an opening towards that earlier form of play: you could feel like you are the character onscreen.

Another space we can see the return to being the character is in cosplay, where you build and inhabit the character for particular periods of time. I think it’s in these moments that you find the collaborative energy that Ian discusses. The character becomes the nexus for a kind of creative, or community-forming activity on the part of the cosplaying fans, and a kind of excitement for the surrounding people too.

 The concept of “moe” has been central to the study of Japanese anime, but it may not be familiar to many western readers. What is “moe”? What role does it play in shaping production and reception?

Ian: “Moe” (pronounced “moh-ay”) is a very unusual term. It generally refers to an affectionate yearning, often for young, female characters, and there’s a lot of debate about whether there is a sexual element to this longing or whether it is more about an innocent desire to nurture and protect.

“Moe” also has the same sound, though different kanji character, as “burning.” So, there can also an implication of raging flames of desire.

More precisely, however, “moe” refers to a kind emotional response to visuals, with or without a storyline or world around it. People publish photo books on “factory moe,” for example, aimed at those who respond to the elaborate architecture of refineries or manufacturing plants.

The point of using the term, I think, is to acknowledge the enormous diversity of fascination and desire that can arise from visual elements. Hiroki Azuma, who Marc mentions above, offers an extended discussion of moe in his book Otaku. He makes the point that moe is another departure from the emphasis on story, and even character, focusing instead on elements of characters, like cat ears, a tail, or glasses.

Indeed, the science fiction writer Mari Kotani organizes a regular club event in Tokyo for women who are fascinated by eyeglasses (megane moe). Their response is to the eyeglasses, not the personality of the person behind those eyeglasses. Talk about post-gender!

 Many of us have turned to Japan in search of alternative models for consumer-producer relations. What insights did you gain from your research about the ways that fans have sought to insert themselves in the production process around Anime? To what degree do Japanese media producers solicit the active participation of their audiences?

Ian: This is a really interesting question. My experience is that there is a sharp generational difference among Japanese media producers. The higher-ups at major manga publishers and anime studios begrudgingly admit that fan appropriation is something that they have to accept. The manga publishers I spoke to, for example, hate the idea of Comic Market amateur producers using their characters without permission or recompense. But they don’t really fight it either.

Some say that’s because the Japanese legal system would be harder to navigate successfully. I like to think it’s because deep down, they recognize their need to let fans have their spaces of participation.

As I mentioned already, manga publishers very much do solicit the feedback of fans and work these responses into their selections for future issues of their magazines. Anime producers don’t have this luxury because they have to start work six months in advance of broadcast, so they have a much more difficult time incorporating fan ideas.

But when I interview younger media producers, they seem to be aiming to create a very different kind of media object. They want to produce something that can be a “platform” rather than a narrative or some kind of “content.”

They are learning from the success of Miku, Japan’s crowd-sourced virtual singing idol. Miku started as voice synthesizer software that Crypton Future Media released, along with a free-to-use image of her as a blue-haired, 16-year-old pixie. Fans made the music, elaborated on the illustrations, and created their own videos, such that Miku has become one of the leading singing stars today, even though, technically, she doesn’t exist. Or rather, she exists as the social energy of fans that bring her to life.

In this, younger media producers see that openness, not control, can be the key to success. (Isn’t it interesting how copyright control no longer seems the key to making money?) When I spoke to a recent college grad with his own media startup, he similarly spoke of his desire to follow the path to success of the Toho Project, a vast transmedia phenomena that started as an amateur video game.

In both cases (and we could identify others), the success arises from creating something—a character, a world, a certain kind of premise, or a participatory space around something completely different—that others can build upon. To me, this represents a further shift from thinking about media in terms things internal to a world (story, character, premise) and more about creating figurative platforms that others can build upon.

This perspective has the potential to completely transform what we think of as media, and I think it offers some fascinating possibilities for thinking of the politics and pleasures of media. I guess it simply remains to be seen how spreadable these practices can be.

 

 

Ian Condry is professor of media and cultural studies in Comparative Media Studies at MIT.  He is the author of The Soul of Anime:  Collaborative Creativity and Japan's Media Success Story (Duke U Press, 2013).  The book explores ethnographically the global spread of Japanese animation, from fieldwork in Tokyo's studios to participation in fan conventions in the US.  His first book, Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization (Duke U Press, 2006), analyzes the way rap music took root in Japan.  His research focuses on "globalization from below," that is, cultural movements that succeed, despite skepticism from elites.  He is the founder and organizer of the MIT/Harvard Cool Japan research project, which examines the cultural connections, dangerous distortions and critical potential of popular culture.  More info:  http://iancondry.com

Marc Steinberg is assistant professor of Film Studies at Concordia University, Montreal. He is the author of Anime’s Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), and has published essays on anime, franchising and digital media in Japan ForumAnimation: An Interdisciplinary Journal,ParachuteJournal of Visual CultureTheory, Culture & Society, Mechademia, and Canadian Journal of Film Studies. Continuing the study of the media mix, his current research project explores the close relation between “contents” and “platforms” in Japanese media industry discourse and practice, from the 1980s to the present.

"Media Mix Is Anime's Life Support System": A Conversation with Ian Condry and Marc Steinberg (Part Three)

The term, “character goods,” is often attached to cultural productions from Japan. What does this term suggest about the centrality of character to Japanese media mix? What ideas about character shape these productions? What factors led to this focus on character (as opposed to, say, story or world, or simply style) in the Anime system?

Ian: I see characters as operating in a space somewhere between celebrities and brands. Pikachu can act like a brand logo, standing for the Pokemon franchise when it’s plastered on the side of an airplane. Pikachu is also a character that can be active, like a celebrity, doing things in the Pokemon universe.

I think the dominance of Hollywood in the US makes Americans like myself more accustomed to viewing celebrities as pinnacles of human renown. Yet in Japan, characters, more than brand logos, are commonly used for even very serious organizations. I feel I know the FBI logo from all those DVD warnings to stop illegal copying. But Japan’s National Police Agency has a cutesy character.

In the end, maybe the ubiquity of logos in the US and characters in Japan have the same cause. In the US, if I was starting a new company, or trying to rename my academic department, I would naturally think: What should our new logo be? In Japan, I’d have to ask, what should our character look like?

Popularity breeds more popularity, and we learn those forms from all around us.

In the United States, there’s a tendency to speak of toys, candy, and other tie-in products as “ancillary” yet they seem to have at times exerted very strong influences on Japanese popular culture. How would you define their roles here?

Marc: The more I looked into the practices around the media mix, the more it seemed that every part played an important role. The work “ancillary” just doesn’t do justice to the significance of the sticker in the popularity of Astro Boy in the 1960s.

Or, to take a more contemporary example, Pokémon is not first a game, and only secondarily comics and animation series. It is all of these. Sure, some media have more weight than others, but what’s so fascinating about the media mix is the way the addition of each new element reconfigures the entire ensemble.

Jonathan Gray does a great job of pointing out the centrality of the “ancillary” in the North American context in the wittily titled Show Sold Separately. I think we have to do the same for the Japanese context where actually it’s more difficult to say what is primary to begin with.

Again, taking the case of Astro Boy, the TV show acts back on and influences the comic, the logic of replication found in the stickers work their way back into the theme of replication in the comic, character designs developed for the anime inform the toys, and so on. There’s a way you can write the history of Japanese pop culture from the point of view of candy makers (I was initially tempted to do this), or toys (with video games flowing naturally out of the character-centrism of manga and anime, and toy makers like Bandai becoming major anime producers), or freebees.

Marc, you especially make a point in your book that practices of fragmentation, multiplication, and dispersal, central to the media mix practices, precede the emergence of digital networks. What are some of the roots of these practices then and why do you think that these logics have been so influential on Japanese media?

Marc: The roots of these practices are difficult to pin down exactly. But I’d say the most two important elements here are an intensified serialization and transmediation that occur in the early 1960s.

First, we have a serialized narrative running in a monthly comic magazine. The long-form narrative serial really started in the 1950s. (There were pre-war and wartime serialized manga, but these were more like what television studies calls “series”: sit-com like formats that don’t have any narrative progression.) Then this narrative is transposed to another medium like television, or the character is transposed to another medium like the metal or plastic toy. So there is a further fragmentation of an already fragmented narrative. The more series develop out of the initial one, the harder the consumer has to work to chase after them all.

Granted, 1960s serials hadn’t yet formalized the transmedia storytelling approach where different narratives were told in different media. It’s really not until the 1980s that this approach becomes formalized. But still, I see the early transmedia serialization of 1960s TV anime as an important precursor to the fragmentation and dispersal we find with digital media.

Some media mix producers like Otsuka Eiji have even remarked on this, saying digital tools make the narrative experiments they were doing in the 80s all the more easy to pull off. So while there is an intensification of the fragmentation and dispersal with the rise of digital networks, the serial and transmedial format of the anime media mix already contains the logic of digital networks in nascent form.

 

Ian Condry is professor of media and cultural studies in Comparative Media Studies at MIT.  He is the author of The Soul of Anime:  Collaborative Creativity and Japan's Media Success Story (Duke U Press, 2013).  The book explores ethnographically the global spread of Japanese animation, from fieldwork in Tokyo's studios to participation in fan conventions in the US.  His first book, Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization (Duke U Press, 2006), analyzes the way rap music took root in Japan.  His research focuses on "globalization from below," that is, cultural movements that succeed, despite skepticism from elites.  He is the founder and organizer of the MIT/Harvard Cool Japan research project, which examines the cultural connections, dangerous distortions and critical potential of popular culture.  More info:  http://iancondry.com

Marc Steinberg is assistant professor of Film Studies at Concordia University, Montreal. He is the author of Anime’s Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), and has published essays on anime, franchising and digital media in Japan ForumAnimation: An Interdisciplinary Journal,ParachuteJournal of Visual CultureTheory, Culture & Society, Mechademia, and Canadian Journal of Film Studies. Continuing the study of the media mix, his current research project explores the close relation between “contents” and “platforms” in Japanese media industry discourse and practice, from the 1980s to the present.