Civic Paths “By Any Media Necessary” Hot Spot

 

Henry Jenkins introducing “By Any Media Necessary,” the Spring 2014 Civic Paths Hotspot Vimeo.

Hot Spot Overview: “By Any Media Necessary”

By Liana Gamber-Thompson

How do we foster a civic imagination? That’s the question Professor Henry Jenkins asks us to consider in his video intro. Of course, there is no one answer to that question. That’s why we’ve kept the topic broad for this Hot Spot, our semesterly collection of mini-blog posts organized around themes that cut across the diverse interests of participants in our research group.

We’re calling this collection of posts “By Any Media Necessary” because it gets at the myriad ways that social and political change happen in the age of digital media. Henry explains:

At the heart of the phrase “By Any Media Necessary” we’re building upon Malcolm X’s famous phrase “by any means necessary,” but we’re saying today change will come, not through a single media platform, but by the ability to coordinate your message across many different channels, to reach many different publics with multiple messages, all serving some shared vision of what political change needs to be.

In that spirit, we invite you to explore the multiplicity with us through this collection of posts that touches on many interpretations of what it means to effect change “by any media necessary.”

First, Andrew Schrock draws parallels to previous generations of “ethical engineers” to describe how “civic hackers” attempt to bring about institutional change through community-based work and technological production. He argues that civic hacking serves as a mode of political participation closer to civic engagement than hacker cultures aligned with activism or software production.

Diana Lee looks at the recent “I, Too, Am Harvard” Tumblr campaign to shed light on the ways young people are using online spaces and new media platforms to take a stand against their everyday lived experiences of racism as well as institutionalized structures of inequality.

Kari Storla examines how survivors of rape are using a variety of media forms to talk about their experiences of sexual assault and to communicate about a subject matter that is often rendered invisible in public discourse and cultural representations. She considers how humor is employed to open up conversations about rape and rape culture.

Neta Kligler-Vilenchik provides her account of a recent workshop, “Think Critically, Act Creatively,” at the 2014 Digital Media and Learning conference. She draws on her experiences to think about how tapping into our civic imaginations and engaging in acts of “critical utopianism” can broaden our conceptions of what’s possible for social change.

Raffi Sarkissian shares several case studies of queer activism and shows us how the web is just one arena in which queer-identified and LGBT youth are exerting their voice and garnering visibility. He looks at both on and offline strategies used in contemporary queer activism, urging us to look at the variety of ways LGBT youth are asserting their influence.

Lastly, Yomna Elsayed describes the shifting nature of popular representations of American Muslims, examining their reception both within and without the Muslim community. From the appearance of a veiled Muslim woman in a Super Bowl Coca-Cola ad, to one Muslim woman’s attempt to normalize her experiences as a “Muslim Hipster,” she describes how such representations, however fraught, continue to broaden the national conversation about Muslims in America.

We hope this collection inspires you to think critically about what a kind of activism that relies on “any media necessary” might look like in 2014. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback in the comments section because we believe you can’t have a theory of change unless it’s also constantly growing and evolving.

Kids on YouTube: An Interview with Patricia Lange (Part Four)

You describe in the book some of the kinds of “media skirmishes” that take place in the family around conflicting representational ideologies about what should be recorded and what should be shared. How do these conflicts differ from, say, earlier moments when children and youth objected to having their pictures taken? Does the presence of an online audience change these dynamics in a significant way?

It has often been assumed that kids do not think through the publication of their media while responsible parents do. I did not find such neat age-based divisions in my research. Some kids were quite savvy about what it meant to be posting things of themselves online and they did not always wish to do so. Kids did not always agree with their parents’ more public video blogging philosophies.

In addition, I have observed many instances in which parents posted images of their children in unflattering terms, and they often did so when kids were so young they did not have any sense of “choice” or understanding of what was going on. There is a point over time at which kids do become more knowledgeable and it is possible to talk about having a meaningful choice about what goes online.

However, rather than see media responsibility as solely age-driven, my book talks about mediated dispositions, and how different individuals have varying levels of interest in being in videos, for tolerating risk, and for circulating their image widely. Because mediating human images is potentially damaging and permanent, I hope that people will take away a sense of the importance of talking about choices within families.

Hopefully, people will take media skirmishes seriously, not only as a rite of passage as children grow up, but more generally as a form of collaborative media in which people negotiate different representational ideologies over the recording and circulation of human images.

 

You note that being “self taught” is a value strongly embraced by many youth included in your study and link this value back to hacker culture more generally. You write in the book’s conclusion, “scholars in informal learning should investigate why being self-taught is an important value, what is meant by this term, and under which circumstances being self-taught is productive.” What kinds of provisional answers does your book provide for these questions?

 Performing a technical identity in many facets of U.S. culture often includes a fierce allegiance to being self-taught. Reading historical accounts of hackers and talking to today’s engineers reveals a logic behind wanting to have hands-on experience with a technology. Experts want to be able to understand a technology in a fundamental way, to manipulate and achieve mastery over it.

However, interviews that I conducted revealed that being “self-taught” carries with it many connotations, not all of which are helpful for encouraging informal learning or peer-to-peer mentoring. The term tends to vary widely and should be unpacked in particular contexts. For example, for some technologists, being self-taught means it is okay to examine online tutorials and manuals, while for others, such activity is anathema.

The term self-taught cannot be taken for granted, but should be explored more fully whenever it is used, especially in research projects on informal or self-directed learning. Kids who try and maintain what they think are appropriate technical identities by eschewing tutorials may actually complicate their learning. Should their self-actualization be sacrificed on the alter of an assumed tech-savvy identity based on being “self-taught”? In an effort to appear technical, kids may risk self-sabotaging their efforts to improve by rejecting valuable resources.

Moving forward, a key challenge will be to find ways to encourage kids to take advantage of available resources. Otherwise, we might see deepening technical divides that are based not only on traditional identity variables, such as class, but also on nuanced interactions and cultural values, such as technical identity performances. Eschewing resources, perhaps unnecessarily, would be tragic given the digital resources that are available to boost digital literacies and technological skills. Being “self-taught” has many connotations, and not all approaches to being self-taught are equally effective for everyone.

Patricia G. Lange is an Anthropologist and Assistant Professor of Critical Studies at California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco. Recognized as an expert in studies of new media and YouTube, her work focuses on technical identity performance and use of video to creatively express the self. Her new book (Left Coast Press, Forthcoming, 2014) is called Kids on YouTube: Technical Identities and Digital Literacies, which draws on a two-year, deeply engaged ethnographic project on YouTube and video bloggers to explore how video is used in informal learning environments. She also released her ethnographic film, Hey Watch This! Sharing the Self Through Media (2013), which was recently accepted for screening in Paris at Ethnografilm, an international film festival showcasing films that visually depict social worlds.Hey Watch This! provides a unique diachronic look at the rise and fall of YouTube as a social media site, and offers a poignant look at how YouTubers envision their digital legacies after their deaths. At CCA, she teaches courses in anthropology of technology; digital cultures; new media and civic engagement; space, place and time; and ethnography for design. Prior to joining CCA, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. More information may be found on her websites:https://www.cca.edu/academics/faculty/plange and patriciaglange.org.

Kids on YouTube: An Interview with Patricia Lange (Part Three)

Many adults discourage youth from creating and sharing media online because of what they see of the “risks” involved. How realistic are these risk framings? How have the youth and their parents included in your study thought about these issues?

Concerns about posting materials online are logical, because posting personal material may lead to unfortunate consequences. People have gotten fired or been denied diplomas because of things they themselves posted online. We know that government organizations and businesses such as operators of social network sites are using our data for their own ends, such as for profit or to maintain forms of power. Many families continue to post images of themselves and their loved ones online without necessarily stopping to reflect on the consequences of their acts.

As I argue in my book, people often hold varying or even conflicting representational ideologies, or ideas about what is ethical to post. In some cases, people may be unaware of how their data is being used. I asked one mother how she felt about advertisements being posted to her videos, and she said she really had not yet formed an opinion. In other cases, people are more than happy to post human images, arguing that the tremendous benefits, social connections, and self-actualization that they have achieved ultimately outweigh the risks involved in being so public with their personally-expressive media.

I would expect to see many more of the type of media skirmishes that I describe in my book as people argue over who has control or ownership of their own images or images that others have taken of them. As some scholars have suggested, we may need new terms that include more collectively-oriented versus personally-generated media making, so that we can understand in a more fundamental way what collective image production entails.

Mechanisms might be developed to reduce risks such as current experiments with short-term media that is automatically deleted after a certain time. Yet, the problem with those mechanisms is that once something is mediated, it always has the potential to continue to be copied, circulated, downloaded, remembered, and viewed in perpetuity. Long ago, Kitzmann (2004) used the example of a diary left on a city bus to show how even the most quiet and personal mediation always holds the potential to become public. Think of how diaries may be used after someone’s death to understand their personality, when in reality it is only one piece of the identity puzzle.

I can envision this explosion in media potentially leading to two trends. On the one hand, the proliferation of private images online may be a kind of equalizer, in that most everyone will have pictures of them posted by their families and friends. The potential for everyone to have at least one embarrassing picture may be too common to cause serious harm to a particular individual.

On the other hand, though, we could see the emergence of a two-tiered image-based society in which those families and people who have been more cautious about circulating public media will have a status-advantage over those who have “gone Kardashian” and posted every moment, even unflattering or unethical ones, of their lives online. Unlike the Karashians however, people without financial resources who post too much of their lives online may find themselves in a digital-image-based lower class, and they may struggle to obtain access to jobs and education because of what they have publicly shared. Knowing what to post is beyond a doubt a crucial digital literacy in today’s self-image-laden media environment.

 Home movies were historically an archival medium, much like amateur photography — a way of recording the stages of the child’s growth into adulthood or the ongoing life of the family. What has changed about the kinds of media being produced in families today? What new genres of production are emerging and why?

In prior eras in the United States, home movies were, as Chalfen (1987) observed, about preserving memories and charting personal progress. The things that were recorded were often important events or milestones in a person’s life such as weddings, graduations, and the arrival of a new car.

Although those functions have not gone away, we’re seeing more experiential-type videos where people record an experience of even small moments such as going to a coffee shop or going on a walk. Part of the fun of the experience is the recording and posting of the video. The phenomenology of the mediated moment, or how we experience recording and circulating media, includes more instances in which people experience something in a way that is deeply intertwined with the delight and anticipation of sharing the media to potentially wider audiences. In some cases, people post videos for people who cannot attend the event or experience, and so the video helps friends and family go along for the ride. Posting the videos helps self-select an audience (in Warner’s [2002]) sense for those viewers who interpellate themselves as interested parties.

People often wonder why such small moments get recorded and circulated so publicly, and critics tend to see these activities as narcissism on the part of the video makers. But as some pundits have observed, it is often rather the reverse; it is narcissistic of audiences to assume that they are the central viewing target of a video that is quite clearly not at all intended for them. YouTubers and video bloggers have told me that their sense of humor or personality tends to shine through in their videos—both the planned and experiential varieties—and they often attract like minded viewers who may eventually even become friends in the traditional sense (as opposed to the casual social media sense).

Experiential videos are about cementing friendships when people cannot be physically present and attracting new friends who happen to share similar interests or worldviews but who are not physically co-located. As my ethnographic film, Hey Watch This! Sharing the Self Through Media shows, YouTubers have continued a long Internet tradition of making an effort to meet the people with whom one has established interesting or meaningful connections online.

 There’s a tendency to talk about the public circulation of these videos in terms of self-branding or self-promotion. Is this an adequate explanation for what motivates these young people to post their works online?


Although it is certainly part of many people’s online experiences, self-branding is not the only game in town in online spaces. Social media and YouTube offer plenty of fuel for critics to express concern about how rampant self-promotion complicates authentic dialogue.

But at the same time, people share media for many reasons, often related to aspects of friendship and sociality. Sometimes, the point of making a video is to share an experience with people who are there, and with people who cannot be there. The moments may be small and unimportant to most viewers, but they hold meaning to the people who make and post these videos.

Flashy self-promotional videos may attract attention and receive more criticism in mainstream professional media because focusing on this aspect of media making, rather than the myriad other forms of socially-driven media, becomes another way of creating delineations between vernacular video and professionals. However, many kids are quite capable of shining a light on important problems that are difficult to tackle.

It is also important to keep in mind that self-promotion has long been seen as important for cultivating future job opportunities. “Networking” for jobs and opportunities is considered an essential skill, and has long been a necessary part of successful professional life. Judging young people negatively for self-promotion sometimes smuggles in a moral judgment about who should have the permission to break beyond the sometimes closed doors of professional media making, when in fact these skills are broadening across the population.

Patricia G. Lange is an Anthropologist and Assistant Professor of Critical Studies at California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco. Recognized as an expert in studies of new media and YouTube, her work focuses on technical identity performance and use of video to creatively express the self. Her new book (Left Coast Press, Forthcoming, 2014) is called Kids on YouTube: Technical Identities and Digital Literacies, which draws on a two-year, deeply engaged ethnographic project on YouTube and video bloggers to explore how video is used in informal learning environments. She also released her ethnographic film, Hey Watch This! Sharing the Self Through Media (2013), which was recently accepted for screening in Paris at Ethnografilm, an international film festival showcasing films that visually depict social worlds.Hey Watch This! provides a unique diachronic look at the rise and fall of YouTube as a social media site, and offers a poignant look at how YouTubers envision their digital legacies after their deaths. At CCA, she teaches courses in anthropology of technology; digital cultures; new media and civic engagement; space, place and time; and ethnography for design. Prior to joining CCA, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. More information may be found on her websites:https://www.cca.edu/academics/faculty/plange and patriciaglange.org.

Kids on YouTube: An Interview with Patricia Lange (Part Two)

You place a strong emphasis throughout the book on video-making as a space of learning. What do you see young videomakers learning and how/where are they learning it? Pushing this further, are there things that you and they value which they would not and could not learn through formal schooling? If so, what? Does most of the learning involve the process of producing media or is there something important about the act of posting and circulating this media to a larger public?

 

I found that on YouTube, kids learned a lot by messing around with cameras and engaging in projects that were organically interesting to them. Kids learned many different things from participating. By participating with their advanced amateur friends, sometimes less experienced kids learned about the basic technical principles of filmmaking, including the narrative strategies and technical aesthetics that are often used in mainstream films to tell stories.

Teens also reported developing more self-confidence by seeing themselves on video, and finding acceptance with the way others see them. The video gave them a self-recognition that they did not have prior to making the media. On the other end of the spectrum, technically oriented kids also learned things about leadership and teamwork, and what it means to motivate people, even when they are not as motivated to complete a task such as a video.

Several of the kids and teens whom I interviewed were home-schooled, and there seemed to be something beneficial about being able to organize their time in ways that carved out spaces for time-intensive exploration of digital activities such as making videos.

Although much of the discourse around informal learning casts it in opposition to formal schooling, I found that some kids actually got started because their teachers offered video as a possibility for them as an assignment. In some cases they were struggling with more traditional writing assignments, and the video option opened up important opportunities for self-expression.

These examples illustrate that informal learning does not have to be in competition with what happens in schools. But having open spaces of time—which is often difficult to provide in a regular curriculum—did seem to have benefits for learning time-consuming digital skills.

Informal learning is not a panacea. Sometimes kids found that they were the digital experts in their local schools and communities, which made it difficult to improve without connecting to larger audiences. Michelle Obama talks about “food deserts” to describe isolated areas that lack access to healthy food. We might adapt this term to talk  about “digital literacy deserts” where the people around kids who are interested in video are frankly are not going to make good mentors. On the flip side, going online often means risk, and encountering “haters”, cruelty from peers at school, as well as more serious threats.

One solution is a “walled garden” approach in which kids limit circulation of their work to limited audiences, say at school or in a neighborhood only.

Yet, whenever the topic of “walled gardens” comes up, die-hard technologists often cringe. The Internet was supposed to be a place where people could circulate and share ideas to inspire forms of collective intelligence. That idea gets defeated when people who are rightly concerned about bullying feel discouraged about posting their ideas and videos. But the fact is that many kids felt a soaring sense of inspiration when strangers whom they didn’t know offered advice or even just kind words of encouragement. For some kids, this encouragement was profoundly uplifting and even served to drown out the “haters.”

One problem that I see is that much research on online participation is conducted and critiqued from a synchronic perspective. For example, a website may be analyzed for its potential for say, civic engagement. If inane comments outweigh positive feedback, then the website is judged as forever useless, or so goes an extreme form of this argument. But this is a myopic, synchronic approach.

Why not take the approach that people could be trained to make better commentary online, and to handle even harsh criticism? School can supplement informal learning by teaching kids how to provide meaningful commentary in online sites. Classroom exercises could include ways to learn how to comment and present oneself online. Processes of informal learning and formal education should not be considered in opposition but rather should be in dialogue to raise the bar across the board when it comes to online digital media production and participation.

 

Several recent books have stressed the ways that especially for young girls, YouTube’s practices tend to re-enforce traditional gender roles, with even very young women getting assessed in terms of beauty and fashion rather than other aspects of their identity. Yet, your research also considers the ways that they are acquiring a sense of themselves as “tech savvy” through the process of producing and circulating videos. How might we think about the relationship between these two dimensions of what it means for a teenage girl to post a video online?

Projects that investigate how femininity or girlhood is interactively constructed online and through media are very important. Investigating such subjects will no doubt continue to yield important insights. However, moving forward I think it is important to focus more direct attention on how girls develop technical identities and skills. We need to correct a contemporary research imbalance that has been concerned with how femininity  intersects with other identity variables such as race and class.

While these subjects are important, it is vital that we understand the similarities as well as the differences between males’ and females’ sense of technical identity. I found that girls and boys share certain ideas about what it means to be technical. If we want to understand what it means to perform technical affiliation, then we need to acknowledge and understand similarities as well as differences.

Rather than assume that the central issue in developing a technologized identity is how this affects girls’ femininity, we need to analyze how a technologized identity is achieved across different groups. We need to explore how girls come to achieve pride in their technical accomplishments, not because they are girls but because they have mastered important skills as technologists.

Technological identity should be studied as a variable in its own right, rather than examined just in terms of how it interacts with other variables. Interactions between identity variables such as sex, gender, race, class, and technological ability should certainly be studied, especially when there are disparities that are inhibiting technical skill acquisition. It is important to know for example, how class affects acquisition of everyday technical skills as well as mastery of arcane technical knowledge.

But before we assume that class or any other traditional identity will be the most important factor, scholars need to approach technical identity development in a more open ended way; we need to see exactly how it is that technical identities are acquired and how they unfold. For example, many of the people whom I interviewed for my book were not particularly well off, but they nevertheless held very strong ideas about what constitutes appropriate technical skills and identity characteristics.

Although class may well be a barrier in many situations, this does not mean that class or any other identity factor will automatically drive a person’s image of their own technical persona. People across class may share certain values about being technical, such as the importance of being “self-taught.” More attention should be paid to how girls attain and achieve a sense of pride in mastering technical ideas, devices, and systems rather than only analyzing what participation online means for the construction of their “femininity.” Continuing to focus on the femininity angle risks reifying this topic as the only or most important aspect of a girl’s identity, when in fact, technological skills and mastery are also an important part of growing up.

 

We are both very interested in the role which these production practices play in the formation and expression of youth’s identities as citizens and activists. You cite examples of youth who are using these platforms to speak out about issues that concern them on all levels — from the hyperlocal to the global. What factors shape which youth are drawn towards these kinds of political expression? Are these the “usual suspects,” i.e. the kids who would become political no matter what or are there signs that these practices are increasing social engagement and political awareness for youth who might not otherwise think of themselves as activists or investigators?

The wonderful thing about media and video is that people who enjoy experimenting can try out different genres. Most kids whom I interviewed exhibited mediated dispositions that showed a preference for certain genres over others, and only a few of them engaged in civically-oriented videos. But even these modest examples showed budding signs of interest in participating in civic discourse.

The kids whom I profiled found a way in to this space through their organic interests in making videos for YouTube. It allowed them to test out their voice as part of their everyday interests in being part of a film club or video blogging.

I am currently analyzing rant videos, and I am finding that civic engagement can be found in the smallest of places. When people complain, they are often engaging in discourse about problems of collective interest, and anyone has the potential to do that. People often fault video makers for being narcissistic about complaining about problems; but many of these problems are not unique. Video makers are complaining about things that may even seem intractable, like the high cost of college education. In these kinds of cases, kids are articulating much larger problems that should receive attention.

Moving forward, it is important for educators, policy makers, and scholars to recognize and mine what I would call “civic moments” in which kids provide information about or critique collective issues. These civic moments may be buried in a variety of genres in which kids talk about their lives and discuss issues that appeal to much larger collectives. We need to find ways to nurture these civic moments in video, and peer-to-peer mentorship may or may not always provide the kind of encouragement they need.

If kids are not being encouraged by their age-level peers (some of whom are not pre-disposed to following such “geeky” topics), adults and other mentors can provide the perspective and experience to develop these skills. The key will be to keep kids involved in a sustained and life-long way. It is one thing to experiment with a video blog or a mash-up that has civic appeal, but what happens later?

These civic moments should not be taken lightly. I think the potential for being political or at least civically-minded is latent in everyone. Studies have shown in the past that a big reason for people’s lack of participation has been because no one asked. So we need to ask. We need to build on the kind of organic explorations of civic participation that appear in my book and other studies and find ways to keep kids tuned in to a civic frequency.

 Patricia G. Lange is an Anthropologist and Assistant Professor of Critical Studies at California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco. Recognized as an expert in studies of new media and YouTube, her work focuses on technical identity performance and use of video to creatively express the self. Her new book (Left Coast Press, Forthcoming, 2014) is called Kids on YouTube: Technical Identities and Digital Literacies, which draws on a two-year, deeply engaged ethnographic project on YouTube and video bloggers to explore how video is used in informal learning environments. She also released her ethnographic film, Hey Watch This! Sharing the Self Through Media (2013), which was recently accepted for screening in Paris at Ethnografilm, an international film festival showcasing films that visually depict social worlds.Hey Watch This! provides a unique diachronic look at the rise and fall of YouTube as a social media site, and offers a poignant look at how YouTubers envision their digital legacies after their deaths. At CCA, she teaches courses in anthropology of technology; digital cultures; new media and civic engagement; space, place and time; and ethnography for design. Prior to joining CCA, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. More information may be found on her websites:https://www.cca.edu/academics/faculty/plange and patriciaglange.org.

Kids on YouTube: An Interview with Patricia Lange (Part One)

Not long after I launched this blog, I featured an interview with Mimi Ito and the graduate students from USC and Berkeley who worked with her on the Digital Youth Project. One of the first projects funded by the MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Initiative, this project did a large scale,multi-site ethnography to try to understand mechanisms of informal learning and the contexts where young people were encountering digital media. From this research came the now classic typography of “Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out” to describe different modes of engagement in and through networked technologies, a framework which has now informed everything from the design of public libraries to the development of curriculum.

Looking retrospectively, Ito and her co-P.I., the late Peter Lyman, had assembled and shaped a team of some of the top digital scholars of their generation, as becomes clearer as they have begun to publish their solo works. I was lucky enough to have gotten to know many of them through their work on this project and to have maintain contact with them through the years, watching them develop their own distinctive strands of research.

Later this month, Patricia Lange, one member of the Digital Youth team, publishes her first solo book,  Kids on YouTube: Technical Identities and Digital Literacies. I recall having her interview me for her video blog after one of my very first meetings with this group; she later shared with me a rough cut of a documentary she produced about the culture of video-blogging, and more recently, she’s shared drafts of the chapters for what has become an outstanding book about how childhood and parenting is playing out differently in an era of video sharing and other forms of participatory culture.

Patricia Lange’s Kids on YouTube raises important issues about the ways that our current participatory media practices intersect contemporary family life and help to shape the ways that young people form their sense of themselves and the world around them. Through vividly drawn accounts of the roles which media-making and sharing plays in the lives of particular families, Lange convincingly demonstrates why these activities matter in terms of fostering new literacies, enabling new social relationships, and sustaining new forms of civic engagement.

Lange has immersed herself into this culture of video production and sharing, asking core questions, and making contributions to central critical debates around participatory culture, connected learning, the risks and rewards of online publishing, the hacker ethos, gender and technology, and the development of young citizens, all of which she speaks to in the course of this extended interview.

 

We first met through your work on the Digital Youth Project. Looking backwards, this project’s report, Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out, has proven to be a landmark in the emergence of the Digital Media and Learning movement. Reflecting backwards, what do you see as the legacy of this project and what impact did it have on your own intellectual development?

The Digital Youth Project was a joint effort between teams of researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley who were interested in studying informal learning in digital environments. Participating in the Digital Youth project was truly an honor. I am deeply grateful to the MacArthur Foundation, and to Mimi Ito and Peter Lyman, whose vision about reformulating education through informal learning inspired the research. I think the Digital Youth Project reinforced the benefits of teamwork in conducting contemporary research in digital environments. The researchers came from many different backgrounds, and that brought advantages and challenges. But it was interesting to compare the findings of numerous projects operating under one research umbrella.

Media ecologies are complex and shifting, and it is instructive to know, are the findings gleaned by studying any particular set of technologies or websites limited to those sites, or are there patterns that reach across different theoretical lenses, methodological approaches, technological platforms, and research populations? This amazing project gave us the opportunity to explore those questions in a way that is more difficult when researchers are conducting separate projects on their own.

It was also quite exciting to see our research applied to the design of educational efforts such as the YOUmedia after school space in the Harold Washington Library Center in downtown Chicago. Drawing on the findings of the Digital Youth report, the YOUmedia space acknowledges the way that youth engage in varied ways with media and technology.

Our report found that kids’ engagements range from casual, socially-motivated encounters to highly-geeked out ways of making media. Recent reports in the media seem unaware of how academics contribute to the design and improvement of everyday spaces and processes. I am proud of this implementation of our research and I am hopeful that these and other spaces that draw on our research may facilitate the kinds of educational change that many of us in the field of informal learning are trying to re-imagine.

The project began by focusing on the rubric of “digital youth.” At that time, it was obvious that kids and youth were growing up with a range of technologies that even the younger members of the team did not have access to in their own childhoods. However, as the project progressed and was completed, it became quite clear that “digital youth” were quite a varied bunch. Not all digital youth were created equally. While operating under this rubric, the research also simultaneously challenged it, which I think is also an important legacy of the project.

My project on YouTube pushed back on conceptions of “digital natives.” It became apparent that kids exhibited vastly different media dispositions with regard to how comfortable they felt sharing videos of themselves to the world. Further, my analysis of how people perform affiliation to technologies showed dramatic variation in terms of family background in technical expertise, kids’ interest in technology, and professional aspirations.

Terms such as “digital natives” imply that all kids are equally well versed in all technologies, and such was not the case in my study. In the same household, an older brother may be far more technically-oriented than a younger brother, and in some cases, it was technically savvy parents who encouraged kids to develop video blogging skills. Yet, not all kids adopted their parents’ enthusiasm for messing around with computers and creating videos. Some kids’ outright rejection of their parents’ video interests severely challenge the concept of kids’ digital autochthony. Not all kids emerge into the world ready to make videos in a seriously geeky way, and making that assumption is problematic for creating strategies to nurture diverse youth’s digital skills and interests.

I also observed bifurcated technological skills. Some kids even saw themselves as being so much more expert than some of their peers that it was difficult to mentor their less tech-savvy friends. They did not even share basic technical vocabulary, which led to a break down in informal learning opportunities. Wide gaps in technical abilities in kids urge us to question and challenge how ageist rubrics obscure the investigation of important nuances that could be instrumental in improving informal learning dynamics, which are not guaranteed to work simply because they occur among peers.

For me, one of legacies of the Digital Youth Project was to show the advantages of challenging and even pushing back on initial research rubrics, and questioning their assumptions. The project reinforced the idea that it is advantageous to ask critical questions about any research paradigm one is operating under at a given time. Rather than wait till the project is over, it is reasonable to keep an open-mind as research is being conducted. I believe the project models how it is possible and desirable to step back, even during the research process, and question a rubric while simultaneously contributing to it in a fundamental way. These kinds of self-reflective questions are challenging but ultimately healthy.

 

In your introduction, you challenge some of the established categories we use to talk about these forms of productions — including the notion of “amateur”, “grassroots,” and “Home Mode Media.” Instead, you propose a category of “personally expressive media.” What do you see as some of the limits of these more familiar categories? Why do you put such an emphasis on “personal expression”?

Years ago, Robert Stebbins (1980) wrote extensively about how “amateur” and “professional” categories are not as neatly divided as they are often assumed to be. Although he was writing generally about amateurism and professionalism and not media creation, his lessons apply in the video realm as well. We need to dust off our Stebbins and reacquaint ourselves with his ideas! Failure to do so risks aligning researchers with media discourses that seek to minimalize so-called “vernacular” accomplishments.

During my investigation, I saw a kaleidoscopic of media ontologies. In other words, videos came from many different people with a variety of backgrounds and skills. For example, I interviewed a former television producer, Ryanne Hodson, who was a champion of video blogging. She believed that making videos was another type of literacy that people should cultivate in order to spread their message. What status should her video blogs have?

She was quite literate in professional media production, but her personal blog was not operating in a professional context. She had control over her own video blog which was not produced under the auspices of traditional media institutions.

How should we categorize the work of teenagers whose family members had attended film school, or had family members who had a television show on a local cable access station? Are these creators operating in some kind of vernacular innocence? No they are not. I found that the amateur/professional divide became slippery and not particularly helpful for understanding people’s phenomenological experiences of their mediated moments of video creation.

“Home mode” is another category that is often misunderstood in research. When anthropologist Richard Chalfen (1987) initially introduced it, he was attempting to address a gap in the anthropological record on everyday media. Many people tend to wildly over-generalize anything they see on YouTube as “home mode,” because it was made at home or with friends. But home mode referred to a specific type of intimate media that was made for a relatively small group. People who made the media knew who were in the pictures and vice versa, generally speaking.

But examining his work more carefully shows that Chalfen bracketed out anyone who was trying to distribute his or her media to widespread audiences. He specifically stated that he was not interested in media created in camera clubs, or in academic settings, or by anyone else with aspirations to become more knowledgeable about making media. His research had an important theoretical purpose; it made sense to study everyday media makers at home who did not have professional or even advanced amateur aspirations.

But the people studied under the Digital Youth project, and in my study of Kids on YouTube varied tremendously with regard to their goals, skills, and what I refer to as their media dispositions. Some of them loved making videos with a passion, while others found it simply odd to make videos to show to the world. Some people may have captured home gaffes and put them online with the intention of becoming a YouTube partner and trying to make money with their “innocent” videos.

Rather than attempt to adjudicate complex questions of amateur/professional media ontologies using arbitrary criteria, I found it more useful to see this media as a form of personal expression that might shift status within and across attention and money-making economies. A video maker’s status might also depend upon their dispositions and future desires with what they hoped to gain by making media.

My research goal was to find some way of talking about media with complex or ever-shifting ontological statuses in ways that did not pre-judge videos. Such divisions are often used to minimize so-called vernacular abilities and elevate professional statuses, a binary discourse which simply does not theoretically hold when analyzing media made by so many different people, who often have direct experience of or are influenced by knowledgeable mentors in professional media-making contexts. Exploring how and to what degree people were able to develop skills to convey their personal message seemed to be a far more fruitful project.

 

 

Patricia G. Lange is an Anthropologist and Assistant Professor of Critical Studies at California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco. Recognized as an expert in studies of new media and YouTube, her work focuses on technical identity performance and use of video to creatively express the self. Her new book (Left Coast Press, Forthcoming, 2014) is called Kids on YouTube: Technical Identities and Digital Literacies, which draws on a two-year, deeply engaged ethnographic project on YouTube and video bloggers to explore how video is used in informal learning environments. She also released her ethnographic film, Hey Watch This! Sharing the Self Through Media (2013), which was recently accepted for screening in Paris at Ethnografilm, an international film festival showcasing films that visually depict social worlds.Hey Watch This! provides a unique diachronic look at the rise and fall of YouTube as a social media site, and offers a poignant look at how YouTubers envision their digital legacies after their deaths. At CCA, she teaches courses in anthropology of technology; digital cultures; new media and civic engagement; space, place and time; and ethnography for design. Prior to joining CCA, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. More information may be found on her websites:https://www.cca.edu/academics/faculty/plange and patriciaglange.org.

Further Information About Transforming Hollywood: The Future of Television

UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television

and

USC School of Cinematic Arts

Announce

Transforming Hollywood: The Futures of Television, April 4, 2014, UCLA 

Co-directors:

Denise Mann, UCLA

Henry Jenkins, USC

Presented by the  Andrew J. Kuehn  Jr. Foundation

Media Sponsor: Variety

Friday April 4   2014

James Bridges Theater, UCLA

TRANSFORMING HOLLYWOOD: THE FUTURE OF TELEVISION

Conference Description

This year, the fifth installment of Transmedia, Hollywood has been given a new name—Transforming Hollywood: The Future of Television—to reflect our desire to engage more fully with the radical changes taking place in the American television industry for creators, distributors and audiences. When future generations of historians write their accounts of the evolution of the American television industry, they will almost certainly point to the 2010s as a moment of dramatic change: We’ve seen the entry of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and YouTube as major players shaping the production of original programming, gaining critical praise, courting industry awards, and perhaps, most dramatically, starting to compete, in terms of number of subscriptions, with the top cable networks. We’ve seen Kickstarter emerge as an alternative means for “crowdfunding” television content, allowing fans to exert a greater role in shaping the future of their favorite series. We’ve seen a continued growth in the number of independent producers creating and distributing their content through the web. With these other changes, we are seeing the industry and academia struggle to develop new insights into what it means to consume television content in this connected and yet dispersed marketplace. This conference will bring together key creative and corporate decision-makers who are shaping these changes and academics who are placing these shifts in their larger historical and cultural contexts. What does all of this mean for those of us who are making or watching television? 

 

Schedule

9:00-9:10 a.m.: Welcome and Opening Remarks – Denise Mann and Henry Jenkins

 

9:10-11:00 a.m.: PANEL 1
Virtual Entrepreneurs: Creators Who are Reinventing TV for the Digital Future
In Fall 2011, Google announced plans to invest $100 million dollars to forge original content partnerships with a number of talented YouTube creators in order to enhance the production value of their work and their value to brands. This panel gives voice to two new types of virtual entrepreneur: Individual web creators who are reinventing entertainment for the digital age, and the CEO of a new type of web-based multi-channel network (MCN), which is forging deals with individual web-creators in exchange for providing them with infrastructural support in the form of sound stages, green screens, higher quality cameras and editing equipment, enhanced social media marketing tools and brand alliances. Early entrepreneurs in this newly commercial, digital economy include Felicia Day and Sheri Bryant (Geek & Sundry), Freddie Wong (“Video Game High School) and Dane Boetlinger (“Annoying Orange), each of whom has catapulted themselves into the top tier of web celebs with huge fan followings. Many of these entrepreneurial web creators have sought out deals with MCNs such as Fullscreen, Maker Studios and Machinima in order to expand their budding entertainment enterprises. However, other creators are chafing inside long-term contracts with MCNs, frustrated by what they see as onerous terms — the split of advertising revenues and intellectual property rights. Today’s panel debates the viability of these new creative and business models, asking whether they represent a radical rethinking of entertainment that puts power back into the hands of creators or if they are transitional systems that will eventually be absorbed by Hollywood’s big media groups.
Moderator: Denise Mann, co-director, Transforming Hollywood / associate professor, head of Producers Program, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
Panelists:
Sheri Bryant, partner/co-founder, Geek & Sundry
Allen DeBevoise, chairman and CEO, Machinima, Inc.
Amanda Lotz, associate professor, University of Michigan
George Strompolos, founder and CEO, Fullscreen, Inc.

 

11:10 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: PANEL 2
The Programmers of the Future in an Era of Cord-Cutters and Cord-Nevers
As consumers spend more of their free time online, viewing and sharing content on social networks such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Vimeo, Tumblr and Vine, what does this mean for the future of television? Cord-cutters and cord-nevers represent a very real threat to the current big dogs of digital distribution — the multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), also known as subscription cable systems (Comcast, Time-Warner), satellite carriers (DirecTV, Dish) and telcos (AT&T U-verse, Verizon FiOS). At the same time, the MVPDs have been waging too many public battles with Hollywood broadcasters over their high re-transmission fees, resorting to theatrics by pulling favorite sporting events and sitcoms — behavior that alienates consumers and tests the patience of government policy-makers. These policy-makers are making little effort to curb the reckless deal-making taking place at over-the-top (OTT) premium video services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus and YouTube (as well as among other players such as Microsoft Xbox), as each makes moves to expand globally while freeing themselves from their dependency on Hollywood licensing deals. By creating their own libraries of critically-acclaimed original programming (Netflix’s “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black”; Amazon’s “Betas”) — the OTT services are creating legions of new, loyal consumers, paving the way for a future that may or may not include Hollywood’s premium content licensing deals going forward. Furthermore, the OTT services are attracting A-level talent by offering greater creative autonomy than their micro-managing counterparts at the studios and networks. Do these new programming and streaming options foretell the end of an era in Hollywood or the beginning of a revised set of practices for creators and additional viewing options for binging viewers? Only time will tell. 
Moderator: Andrew Wallenstein, editor-in-chief, digital, Variety
Panelists:
Belisa Balaban, senior vice president, alternative and live programming, Pivot/Participant Media
Jamie Byrne, director, content strategy, YouTube
David Craig, clinical assistant Professor, USC, and producer, Media Nation
Joe Lewis, head of original programming, Amazon Studios

 

1:00-2:00 p.m.: LUNCH BREAK – LUNCH OPTIONS AVAILABLE ON CAMPUS

 

2:00-3:50 p.m.: PANEL 3
Second Screens, Connected Viewing, Crowd-funding and Social Media: Re-imagining Television Consumption
As the television industry has been remapping the flow of media content, as new forms of producers and distributors enter the marketplace, there has also been an accompanying effort to rethink their interface with media audiences. Over the past decade, we’ve seen a renewed emphasis on audience engagement strategies which seek to ensure consumer loyalty and social buzz as a way for individual programs or networks to “break through the clutter” of the multiplying array of media options. New metrics are emerging for measuring the value of engaged viewers and the kinds of social and cultural capital they bring with them when they embrace a program. So, for example, the rise of Black Twitter has been credited with helping to rally support behind new programs with strong black protagonists, such as ABC’s “Scandal,” Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow” and BET’s “Being Mary Jane.”  Second-screen apps are becoming ubiquitous as television producers seek to hold onto the attention of a generation of viewers who are prone to multitasking impulses. The successful “Veronica Mars” Kickstarter campaign opens up the prospect of fans helping to provide funding in support of their favorite stars, creators or series. And the commercial success of “50 Shades of Gray,” which was adapted from a piece of “Twilight” fan fiction, has alerted the publishing world to the previously underappreciated value of women’s fan fiction writing as a recruiting ground for new talent and as a source for new creative material. Yet, for all this focus on engaged audiences, does the industry value some form of viewers and viewership more than others? Which groups are being underrepresented here and why? Are the new economic arrangements between fans and producers fair to all involved?
Moderator: Henry Jenkins, co-director, Transforming Hollywood / provost professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education, USC 
Panelists:
Ivan Askwith, lead strategist,Veronica Mars” Kickstarter CampaignVicky L Free, chief marketing officer, BET Networks
Stacey Lynn Schulman, senior vice president, chief research officer, TVB
Nick Loeffler, director of business development, Kindle Worlds
Sharon L. Strover, professor, College of Communication, University of Texas at Austin

 

 

4:00-6:15 p.m.: PANEL 4
Indie TV: Where Creators and Fans Pilot New Shows
The Internet broke the network bottleneck. Through platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo, creators release series directly to fans who follow shows and share them with friends. Web-content creators can write stories in whatever length, style and genre they choose, on their own schedule, and with actors of their choosing. The result is a truly open television ecosystem, where creators, talent and fans work together to realize stories they want to see. Each of the producers on this panel contributes to this new vision of television by producing series for the Internet that are being shaped for traditional TV as well; (several of these web series are being developed for HBO). Issa Rae created “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” with a small team and expanded the show using a successful crowdfunding campaign. Rae went on to produce additional series, including Amy Rubin’s “Little Horribles,” which Rubin released via her own Barnacle Studios. In the process, “Little Horribles” has become a hit with fans and with critics at Variety, LA Weekly and Splitsider, among others. Dennis Dortch and Numa Perrier launched the Black & Sexy TV network to showcase indie comedy, releasing their own hit series “The Couple,” and releasing additional series created by other emerging Hollywood talent. Jay Bushman helped “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” grow into a deeply engaging transmedia phenomenon, which prompted viewers of the Jane Austen-inspired series to follow characters from YouTube to Twitter and Pinterest. Raising tens of thousands of dollars from fans, Adam Goldman created and wrote two critically-acclaimed dramas, “The Outs” and “Whatever this is,” exploring the realities of being insecure in New York City. After showrunner Brad Bell co-created “Husbands” with Jane Espenson, the indie hit caught the eye of CW executives, who used the series to launch their new online network. As these examples convey, the Internet has become an incubator for talented, next-generation web creators and web celebs, who, in combination with fan followers, are reinventing television for the digital age.
Moderator: Aymar Jean Christian, assistant professor, Northwestern University
Panelists:
Brad Bell, co-creator and star, “Husbands”
Jay Bushman, producer and writer, “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”
Adam Goldman, writer and director, “Whatever this is”
Numa Perrier, co-founder, Black & Sexy
Issa Rae, creator and star, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl”
Amy Rubin, creator and star, “Little Horribles”

 

6:30-7:15 p.m. Fandom and the Future of Television

Orlando Jones, Star, Writer, Producer, Sleepy Hollow

with Henry Jenkins

Followed by:

RECEPTION – Lobby of the James Bridges Theater

 

For more information, see:  http://www.liquid-bass.com/conference/

For conference Registration, see : https://transforminghollywood5.eventbrite.com

Announcing The Women Who Create Television Event

A few weeks back, I announced the upcoming Transforming Hollywood 5: The Futures of Television conference to be held at UCLA on April 4.  Today I want to announce a pre-conference event, “Geek Speaks: The Women Who Create Television,” which will be held at USC, SCI 106, on April 3, 4-7:30 p.m. You can register for this conference here. This event is being hosted as part of the ongoing “Geek Speaks” series, which I help to organize in my role as the Chief Advisor to the Annenberg Innovation Lab, and in this case, the event is being co-sponsored by the USC School ofCinematic Arts, which is graciously allowing us to use their facilities.

In 1973, American Public Television aired The Men Who Make the Movies, which showcased authorship in the Hollywood studio era through indepth interviews between Richard Schickel and such directors as Howard Hawks, Frank Capra, John Ford, and Alfred Hitchcock. The event’s title pays tribute to this transformative series, but also stresses the needs to push beyond its focus on masculine creativity.  As we look back on a year plus of developments which have transformed television as a medium,  This conference seeks to showcase a range of highly creative women who are now working the American television industry as creators, executive producers, head writers, and showrunners, women who now exert some degree of creative control over what we watch on television. These women represent a broad range of different forms of television programing, including sitcoms, dramas, and fantasy/science fiction programs, and have worked for both Broadcast and cable networks. Women still face an uphill struggle to gain entry into the television industry, yet these women have shattered through the glass ceiling and can now stand as role-models for the next generation of women and men who want to change what kinds of stories television tells and what kinds of audiences it addresses.

Across these two sessions, we will be talking with these women about their careers, their creative visions, and the medium through which they work, along the way seeking to provide insights into the current state and future potentials of American television.

The first session, Creative Process, (4-5:30 p.m.) explores their paths into the industry, their relationships to their mentors and creative partners, and the changing contexts in which television is produced, distributed, and viewed.

The second session, Creative Products, (6-7:30 p.m.), deals with the content of their programs, their relationship to their genres, issues of representation, and their perceptions of the audiences for their work.

We are still announcing participants and will provide a fuller schedule here closer to the event, but below you can find bios for the speakers who have already agreed to participate. Participation is always tentative pending always  unpredictable production schedules. Likewise, some speakers may be added as we get closer to the event.

Schedule

4:00 Welcome — Henry Jenkins

4:15  Panel 1  Creative Process (Moderator: Erin Reilly)

Felicia Henderson

Alexa Junge

Kim Moses

Julie Plec

Stacy L. Smith

5:45-6 p.m. Break

6-7:30 p.m.

Panel 2: Creative Products (Moderator: Francesca Smith)

Jenny Bicks

Meg DeLoatch

Winnie Holzman

Robin Schiff

Jenny Bicks started her career in advertising in New York City and went on to write radio comedy before she began writing for film and television.  Her television series credits include Seinfeld, Dawson’s Creek and HBO’s Sex and The City. She wrote on Sex and The City for all six seasons, rising to the rank of executive producer. Her work on the series earned her many awards, including an Emmy® Award, multiple Golden Globes and Producers Guild Awards and three WGA nominations.  After Sex and The City, Bicks created and executive produced Men In Trees, starring Anne Heche, which ran for two seasons on ABC.  She recently wrapped Executive Producing and Showrunning Showtime’s critically acclaimed The Big C, starring Laura Linney.  The show, which ran for four seasons, earned her a Golden Globe and humanitas nomination and a Golden Globe and Emmy win for Linney.   She is currently developing television with 20th Century Fox and recently sold Hard, a dark comedy about the porn industry, to HBO.  In the feature world, her body of credits include What a Girl Wants, and many uncredited rewrites.  Her short film, Gnome, which she wrote and directed, had its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival and went on to win awards at multiple festivals.  She recently completed writing a feature film musical for Fox based on the life of PT Barnum, with Hugh Jackman set to star.   A born and bred New Yorker, Bicks divides her time between New York, Maine and Los Angeles.

Meg DeLoatch has written and produced a variety of hit shows during her career.  Highlights include working with Bette Midler, Jennie Garth and Ice Cube.  Her credits range from family friendly shows like Family Matters and One on One to adult comedies Bette and Brothers.  She also created and executive produced UPN’s romantic comedy, EVE, starring Grammy Award-winning Hip Hop artist Eve.  Refusing to be boxed into just the comedic arena, Meg recently wrote and produced on VH-1’s hit drama, Single Ladies, and is completing a middle grade fantasy novel about a boy who fights demons.  Currently a Co-Executive Producer on Disney Channel’s Austin & Ally, Meg has just created her most personal project to date – her three month old son, Maxx.

Felicia Henderson graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a BA in Psycho-Biology. Henderson spent five years in business, and later attended the University of Georgia for an MBA in corporate finance. U After working as a creative associate at  NBC, Henderson realized she wanted to become a writer, and soon became an apprentice on the sitcom Family Matters and on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air two years later. She co-produced  Moesha and Sister, Sister, and developed Soul Food for television, which became the longest running drama in television history to star a black cast, and earned several NAACP Image awards. She and three other black women in the entertainment industry created the Four Sisters Scholarship in Screenwriting, Henderson worked as a co-executive producer for the teen drama series Gossip Girl and a co-executive producer on the first season of the  science fiction television series Fringe,   before leaving to begin as a writer on the DC television series Teen Titans and  Static Shock.

Winnie Holzman is the writer (with acclaimed songwriter Stephen Schwartz) of the hit musical Wicked. For television she created My So-Called Life which starred Claire Danes. Winnie got her start performing and writing in a comedy group, and writing syndicated comedy sketches for Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. Her big break came when she was invited by Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick to join the writing staff of their groundbreaking TV series thirtysomething. Her work on that show earned her a WGA nomination and a Humanitas award. She went on to collaborate with Herskovitz and Zwick again, first on My So-Called Life, and later on Once and Again. More recently she created the short lived but much loved ABC Family series Huge with her daughter, Savannah Dooley. Her less well known musicals (with composer David Evans) include Birds of Paradise, Back to Back, and Maggie and The Pirate. She has written one unproduced feature film and one produced one: ‘Til There Was You. Also an actress, she played Larry’s wife’s therapist on Curb Your Enthusiasm and the chocolate-obsessed divorced woman in Jerry Maguire. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, actor Paul Dooley.  Their ten minute play Post-its: Notes on a Marriage is performed frequently across the country. They recently wrote and starred in their first full length play, Assisted Living. She is currently working on a new play. Winnie is a graduate of Princeton University, the Circle in the Square acting school, the NYU Musical Theatre program, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild.

Alexa Junge is a television writer, producer and screenwriter. She is best known for her work on the series Friends. Four-time Emmy and WGA Award nominee, Junge grew up in Los Angeles, attended Barnard College and continued her education at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.  Junge wrote for Friends from 1994-1999. Nominated for two Emmy Awards and two Writers Guild of America Awards,  Junge also won the National AOL Poll for writing the “All Time Favorite Friends Episode” for  ”The One Where Everybody Finds Out.” Junge went on to write for Once and Again, Sex and the City, West Wing  (where she was nominated for two Emmys and two WGA Awards) as well as Big Love  and the BBC comedy Clone. Junge also wrote lyrics for Disney’s Mulan 2, screenplay and lyrics for Disney’s Lilo and Stitch 2.  A frequent contributor to National Public Radio’s  This American Life,  Junge performed live for their 2008 “What I Learned From Television” tour. She served as Executive Producer and Showrunner for the first season of Showtime’s series The United States of Tara  and worked on Tilda for HBO. Junge is currently the Executive Producer and Showrunner for NBC’s  Best Friends Forever.   

Kim Moses has developed and served as an executive producer on over 600 hours of primetime television programming.  She is currently serving as executive producer of two upcoming series, Reckless, a new CBS Network drama developed and produced by Sander/Moses Productions in association with CBS Studios; and Runner a FOX Network drama developed and produced by Sander/Moses Productions in association with FOX Studios.  Recently, she served as the executive producer and occasional director of Ghost Whisperer, which ran for five years on CBS. She also co-authored the book Ghost Whisperer: Spirit Guide and created and wrote the award-winning Ghost Whisperer: The Other Side web series.  As founder of SLAM Digital Media, Moses pioneered the Total Engagement Experience (TEE), which is a business and creative model for television that uses each show as a component of a broader multi- platform entertainment experience. Using Internet, mobile, publishing, music, DVDs, video games, AOP (Audience Outreach Program) and more, TEE establishes an infinity loop that helps to drive ratings, increase revenue streams, and create viewer loyalty.  Moses has been named to the Newsweek’s Women and Leadership Advisory Committee and was honored with the WOMEN IN FILM’s Woman of The Year Award in 2011.

Julie Plec skillfully juggles work in film and television as both a producer and a writer.  She is the co-creator and executive producer of The Vampire Diaries and is currently the Executive Producer of two new series for the CW: she created The Vampire Diaries spin-off, The Originals, which tells the story of history’s first vampire family, and she collaborated with Greg Berlanti and Phil Klemmer on The Tomorrow People, which is the story of a small group of people gifted with extraordinary paranormal abilities, making them the next evolutionary leap of mankind.Plec got her start as a television writer on the ABC Family series Kyle XY, which she also produced for its three-year run. She will produce the feature @emma with Darko Entertainment.  Past feature production credits include Scream 2 and 3 Greg Berlanti’s Broken Hearts Club, Wes Craven’s Cursed and The Breed.

Robin Schiff has been working as a Hollywood writer-producer for more than twenty years.  She has numerous credits (feel free to imdb her), but is best known for the cult classic Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion starring Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino.  She is currently writing a pilot for Amazon called Down Dog, which she will produce.  Robin was a member of famed The Groundlings comedy troupe.  She has served two terms on the Board Of Directors for the Writers Guild Of America west.  She also does an interview series once a year for the Writers Guild Foundation called Anatomy Of A Script where she and Winnie Holzman (writer of the musical Wicked)  discuss the craft with other well-known writers.  Robin also teaches a writing class with Wendy Goldman (who she met at The Groundlings) called Improv For Writing.  In her free time, Robin likes to watch TV and nap.

Stacy L. Smith (Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara, 1999) joined the USC Annenberg faculty in the fall of 2003.  Her research focuses on 1) content patterns pertaining to gender and race on screen in film and TV; 2) employment patterns behind-the-camera in entertainment; 3) barriers and opportunities facing women on screen and behind-the-camera in studio and independent films; and 4) children’s responses to mass media portrayals (television, film, video games) of violence, gender and hypersexuality.  Smith has written more than 75 journal articles, book chapters, and reports on content patterns and effects of the media.  Smith’s research has been written about in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, Newsweek, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Slate.com, Salon.com, The Boston Globe, and USA Today to name a few.  She also has a co-edited essay in Maria Shriver’s book, A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything (2009). Since 2005, Dr. Smith has been working with a team of undergraduate and graduate students to assess portrayals of males and females in popular media.  Over two-dozen projects have been completed, assessing gender in films (e.g., 500+ top-grossing movies from 1990 to 2009, 180 Academy Award® Best Picture nominations from 1977 to 2010), TV shows (e.g., 1,034 children’s programs, two weeks of prime time shows), video games (e.g., 60 best selling), and point-of-purchase advertising (e.g., jacket covers of DVDs, video games). Currently, Smith is the director of a research-driven initiative at USC Annenberg on Media, Diversity, and Social Change.  The initiative produces cutting-edge, timely, and theory-driven empirical research on different entertainment-based minority groups.  Roughly 20-30 undergraduate and graduate students are conducting research on gender and race in her lab each year.  Educators, advocates, and activists can access and use the research to create sustainable industry change on screen and behind-the-camera.

 

Moderators:

Erin Reilly is Creative Director for Annenberg Innovation Lab and Research Director for Project New Media Literacies at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.  Her research focus is children, youth and media and the interdisciplinary, creative learning experiences that occur through social and cultural participation with emergent technologies.Having received multiple awards, such as Cable in a Classroom’s Leaders in Learning, Erin is a recognized expert in the development of resources for educators and students and conducts field research to collect data and help shape the field of digital media and learning.  She is most notably known for co-creating one of the first social media citizen science programs, Zoey’s Room.  Her current projects include PLAY!, a  new approach to professional development that refers to the value of play as a guiding principle in the educational process to foster participatory learning and The Mother Road, a chance to explore collective storytelling through the development of the Evocative Places eBook series.

Francesca Marie Smith has been a part of the Hollywood entertainment industry for nearly 25 years, beginning her career as a young actor involved with film and television projects for Nickelodeon, Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Pixar, and a variety of other studios and networks. Currently, she is a Provost’s Fellow pursuing her PhD at the University of Southern California, where she is also a research associate with the Annenberg Innovation Lab, situating her work at the intersection of academia, technology, and media industries. Her research (as well as her teaching and public speaking) has spanned a range of topics–from argumentation, ethics, mental health, and public shootings to 1980s computer advertisements, Sherlock Holmes, and Batman’s Joker. Currently, however, she focuses primarily on issues of transmedia storytelling, rhetoric, and (dis)ability. As one of the early Google Glass Explorers, she is avidly interested in the role of second- and multi-screen technologies, especially as they might be used in entertainment contexts. More broadly, she is working to trace the contours of the oft-ambiguous concept of “engagement” and how it might be facilitated and/or measured across a spectrum of audiences, narratives, and technologies.

Why Do We Need to “Understand” Fans?: A Conversation with Mark Duffett (Part Four)

There remains a strong emphasis within fan studies on issues of gender and sexuality, not to mention generation, yet there is still relatively limited focus on issues of race. One consequence is that the “whiteness” of fandom is often taken for granted, with very few examples here of the practices associated with fans of color. How might we expand current paradigms of fan studies to deal more fully with race or be more inclusive of diverse kinds of fan tastes and interests?

In the book’s conclusion I mention that there is much more work on fandom and race. There is a danger here, though, that we might essentialize “fans of color” and their practices, creating a kind of academic segregation by default. Instead, there are ways to explore fandom and race that might lead the discussion in fruitful directions.

The first is to explore fandom’s multiple implications within what we might reductively call “the colonial project.” After all, it is a type of blindness not to deal with race within its historical context of colonialism, production and labour. It would be a mistake here to see wider issues of identity and consumption as fully falling outside those concerns. Collecting has always been a means of defining identity. What therefore happened in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when electronic media became the context within which such practices were defined? Fans operated from within the orientalist ideologies that defined the colonial and postcolonial era. I have not seen very much work like this, but I think it would be interesting to explore the orientalism at play within fans’ collections of ‘exotic’ artefacts or ‘exoticized’ media genres.

A second approach might involve examining the implication of fandom within specific racial or ethnic cultures. Blackface, in its later incarnations, is an obvious example here. Researchers like Eric Lott have made clear that it was a mode of performance primarily organized to define whiteness. It continued in its vestigial forms into many of our own lifetimes. To identify as a fan of blackface was necessarily to implicate oneself in racial terms. Equally, we might explore dimensions of racial ownership around things like the chitlin’ circuit. How did fandom function within on-going histories of race relations, as a way to express ethic or racial identities at particular junctures?

A third way of examining race in the context of fandom is to examine moments when race made a difference within particular fan cultures. How are fans of a particular background treated when they constitute a minority with a particular fan culture? What does that say about perceptions of the object or the ethics of the fan community? Should, for example, one’s status as a ‘black Doctor Who fan’ always be a point of discussion? To what extent are people actively using fan cultures for particular objects as ways to build or deny inter-racial alliances? The recent discussion in the journal Transformative Works about racism in cosplay was instructive there.

Also, to what extent it unproductively generalizing and essentialist to explore why particular ethnic groups claim ownership over certain fan objects, some of which at first appear unconnected with their specific cultures? We can generate hypotheses at least, for example that Morrissey’s Chicano fans connect with his Anglo-Irish status as a white ‘outsider,’ but such theories hold absolutely no weight until they are subjected to thorough empirical assessment.

 

A final direction for the study of race and fandom might be to consider the racial implications of fandoms based around racially controversial objects. For example, how do the fans of the vulgar contemporary blackface performer Shirley Q. Liquor see the racial connotations of their object? This kind of research is a rather thorny area; using unsolicited material might give us some traction.


You suggest that academics writing about fandom often have a very static conception, not doing research on how people become fans or for that matter, how specific fandoms emerge. What do you see as some possible steps towards addressing these questions?

The answer to your query has two possible directions: one for collective communities and the other for personal fan passions.

The emergence of specific communities and fandoms is amenable to historical study. A substantial number of younger researchers still see the online world of the present as the main place to research fandom, but I expect to see more of this historicizing work as fan studies further expands as a field. In consequence, we might then be able to start developing a more elaborate understanding of the history of media fandom itself. To set the ball rolling we need a greater historicization of fandoms specifically as living cultures, communities that go through periods of expansion and decline. There has been some interesting recent work on this, including your piece for Boom about the San Diego Comic-Con.

The question of how people become fans is still something of an elephant in the room for fan studies. There may be some scope there for a project comparing ‘becoming a fan’ stories. As I explain my book, however, serious methodological obstacles await anyone who uses such material to explain the emergence of personal fandom. Longitudinal studies of individual fans – even autobiographic or auto-ethnographic ones – always have a reflexive, ex post facto element. People can keep diaries, but fandom is hard to anticipate. Serial or genre fans who predictably move from one object to the next are already fans in a sense, so their personal stories are not the same as those of new fans.

As new fans progress through the process of initiation, they change their perspective and commitment. Self-reporting afterward is not going to create the same data as might be collected ‘live’ at each stage. Asking individuals who already keep diaries to reveal their contents during phases of first initiation would move the question forward, but such individuals were not primed to talk about things that might help to address theoretical concerns. It is quite a thorny issue, but we need to start addressing it to fully understand fandom.

You write at the end of the book, “a master theory of fandom may never be found, but it remains a worthy goal to understand the phenomenon as a special bundle of processes that interact in contingent ways.” How does this push for a more general theory of fandom relate to the push, elsewhere in the book, for ever more particular accounts of specific kinds of fans and fan practices?

The concern that you raise here is in some ways like squaring a circle, because fan studies has expanded so rapidly as a field. Media technology has continually changed. More researchers have become interested. New fandoms and new ways of pursuing fandom have sprung up. Empirical work on fandom has now rather exploded. Beyond this, Understanding Fandom was deliberately rich in detail because I was disappointed by some other media textbooks: volumes that were well organized but rather low on information.

Because the value of some recent work is yet to be decided by history, the world of textbooks moves a bit slower that the field that they discuss. Although articles are referenced in Understanding Fandom and sometimes discussed quite extensively, I focused quite deliberately on the ‘classic’ texts of fan studies. My hope was to get a balance between theory and empirical detail, especially when particular examples could further illuminate theoretical concerns and point a way forward.

The challenge of creating a textbook is to be able to frame the work that has been done, and – ideally – explain a bit about what is missing or offer some fresh perspectives. One of the things that seemed missing to me from fan studies was much discussion about celebrity-following. I hope that the book begins a dialogue that will encourage us to widen our scope a little further, beyond a focus on fan practices and communities to think more carefully about on fan motivations. Of course, ‘textual’ fans follow auteurs and celebrity actors, so celebrity-following is a practice or set of practices, not a separate set of fandoms, but it is a practice that forces us to think about the “why” of fandom, not just the “how.”

The fascinating thing about media fandom, for me, remains that it affectively unites commercial culture, individual subjectivity and collective empowerment. My aim with Understanding Fandom was to explain it in an ethical way that might connect research on practices with a wider spectrum, if you like, of work on representations, identities and processes.

Mark Duffett is a Senior Lecturer in media and cultural studies at the University of Chester with research interests spanning fandom and popular music culture. As well as publishing Understanding Fandom (Bloomsbury, 2013), he guest edited a recent special edition of the journal Popular Music and Society, and also edited a Routledge book called Popular Music Fandom(2013) which featured chapters by Cornel Sandvoss, Joli Jensen and Matt Hills. In 2010 he organized an International Symposium on music fandom at Chester and was keynote speaker in 2012 at the MARS music conference in Finland. He is currently writing a book on Elvis Presley for the Equinox Press series, Icons of Popular Music, and co-organizing an April 2014 international conference on rock music and love in Montpellier.

 

Why Do We Need to “Understand”Fans?: A Conversation with Mark Duffett (Part Three)

There has been ongoing tension in recent years over researchers who are interested in understanding the personal motivations of individual fans (who may have no strong social connections with other fans) and those who are studying fandom as a specific subcultural community with its own traditions, norms, and hierarchies. How do you negotiate this conflict in writing your account?

With respect, I think that the question begins from a false polarity. It is not so much that we have personal fandom on one side and the fan community on the other. Rather, we share in a conceptual separation of the private and public sphere that was never fully sustained in an age of electronic media and is even harder to discern in the digital era. If we can start to understand that the public constitutes, invades or invalidates the private – and also that versions of the private can exist in public – then I think we can get much further in this discussion.

In relation to fandom, reconsidering the validity of the full distinction means devising and embracing concepts that conjoin or embrace both spheres. Our traditional tools have been limited there. Psychoanalysis and psychology offer quite powerful explanations of individual behavior that often, I think, start to break down when we make collective generalizations. Equally, the transformative works tradition offered a way out of previous intellectual dilemmas, but it did not come with a strong conception of why individual people become fans (except, perhaps, as a kind of communitarian, ethical act).

If we ignore commonly circulating (public) assumptions that audience members take up, in some ways I think that fandom still appears to begin as a ‘private,’ personal interest – a kind of autonomous statement of personal conviction – but it can then become the basis of public collective activity. The question for researchers is how to think in ways that reduce the distinctions between private and public to order to approximate real life.

As a label, fandom broadly began as a way to define groups of people who built their identities around media consumption. Because fandom is, socially, about our passions and declarations of subjective interest, it has become a way to personally express oneself. Unfortunately, it has also become a term of abuse for our shared fascination with the products of commercial culture.

However, I don’t think that all humans are born fans. My humanity is more essential than my fandom, but what does that mean? I’d locate my fandom as a human response to a social and economic system that hijacks, reconfigures and transforms human relationships. What that means is that there’s no need – other than image management – to (re)locate fans as creative, political, active or social; all human beings have those qualities.

Rather than thinking about how we might redeem fandom socially by seeing fans as redeeming texts, I’d rather locate fandom as a set of human, social relationships emergent in an industrialized era of electronic mediation: an era where we electronic traces of others can prompt our emotional experiences. From that perspective, fandom is a form of human chemistry pursued within a context where it inevitably gets alienated, amplified and shaped or directed.

There is a danger that in talking about ‘human chemistry’ we are liable to essentialize arbitrarily posited needs. However, I think there are some absolute basics that we can talk about, like the idea that generally we like company and want to feel socially-valued as people, or that we appreciate great creativity. These are universal needs that happen to be expressed within fandom.

I’d therefore see the genesis of fandom – sympathetically – as an ideological process. Rather than suggesting that fandom is something that begins completely in private, it is important to remember that we all carry notions of the audience as a collective entity. When we watch someone on screen, we know that others are watching them too. In the case of live studio audiences, we can see actually them, but they are always implicitly there.

Unlike some of my colleagues, I don’t think that the Internet age has fully ended this kind of collectivization; by lowering the barriers of entry to public debate it may have allowed many of us find a low level of celebrity, but it has also created important new indices of mass popularity (YouTube hits, Twitter followers, etc). As a personally recognized, individual conviction, fandom begins within this context of our individual understanding of the wider audience. So, even if we consume and become fans in private, we are always in the matrix of something much more communal.

Indeed, when we are convinced by a performance, we are likely to know that others are convinced too. We recognize our connection with a dedicated fraction of the audience and locate ourselves as part of “the fandom” or “the fanbase.” This means, conceptually, that we don’t fully begin in private and go public. Instead, we always have assumptions about the public and our relationship to it.

Beyond thinking carefully about our prior understanding of audiencehood and concurrent notions of the fanbase, there are several other ways that I attempt to conceptualize that unified private-public fannish self in the book. One is the notion of a “knowing field,” which I’d locate as a kind of phenomenology of participation in the fanbase. This idea posits fannish conviction as a shared inner territory of emotional certainty: suggesting “knowing” almost in the carnal or mystical sense, rather than simply holding a stock of appropriate knowledge.

The “knowing field” becomes something that, as fans, we enter and/or move across, which I suppose makes it quite similar to Cornel Sandvoss’s notion of Heimat, the difference being that Sandvoss understands Heimat more through its linkage to personal safety or self-esteem. The idea of “knowing field” is more about conviction and does not posit psychological foundations, at least in the same way. You have sometimes located fandom as a kind of equivalent to sexual identity: inner, perhaps essentially felt, based on desire. I’d also see it, perhaps, as a bit like patriotism: a recognition of emotional commitment to something that we also know is shared with others.

A second bridging idea is to think about Durkheim’s notion of totemism: although not all fandom is the same or a secular substitute for religion, I do think that Durkheim’s notion of totemism can explain quite a lot about fannish motivations in relation to the the power associated with celebrities. Totems are foci of collective attention who gesturally return the energy of collective attention back to their individual followers through personal one to one transactions. The idea says quite a lot about notions of fame and human aura. It makes some sense to say that celebrity-following fandoms are an extension of totemism as a human process of attachment organized in a media age.

Another bridging concept I introduce in the book is the idea that we share “imagined memories” to describe socially prized moments of performance. Each imagined memory is based on a thing you wished you had experienced, but never did, like, say, being at Woodstock. It is not exactly a fantasy, because it really did happen to someone else. However, it is not your memory either, because it happened to someone else. By valorization in the media and more precisely in the narrative of history, it is therefore a kind of fantasy that authenticates itself as something like a memory.

The term points to the paucity of phrases like ‘cultural memory’ in describing the mediated past: for a few people these memories are real enough (although, even for them, the memories have been inflected by the subsequent story of the event). Imagined memories only matter because of what came after them and are therefore spaces of emotional investment that are necessarily contradictory. In a sense, then, they are commodity templates: they are both made to matter by stories and characterized by their own rarity value (not everyone has the ‘real’ memory). This is precisely why they become starting points for further commodities (media documentaries, heritage tourism, anniversaries, re-enactments, etc).

Each of those concepts – the “knowing field,” totemism, imagined memories – is deliberately partial and open enough to account for variety; each has its share of flaws, but does attempt to get beyond an artificially separated public and private sphere and to chart a course between personal and collective fandom. They attempt to talk about power, affect and communality without recourse to the usual generalizations.

Throughout, there’s an emphasis on exploring fandom as a “performed” identity rather than as a natural or essential one. What do we gain by this focus? What are some of the ways and contexts through which fan identity gets performed?

I do question essentialism in the book, but I’m not sure that I entirely replace it with performance. Personal fandom is, in my view, something that is neither essential nor, exactly, performed: it is not at the root of one’s very being, but it does begin as something internal.

When I talk about fannish subjectivity, I tend to locate its origin in a form of self-recognition (a kind of “I realized I was a fan…”): an inner recognition of connection and subjective fit rather than an outer attempt to persuade anyone else. However, I know that performative elements come into play once we start to look at social communications. I am therefore partly reporting on what existing writers like Matt Hills have said – performance, after all, is something that shows fans are active.

Beyond that explanation, I also think that we could do with more bridging concepts. The term “performers” is used quite a lot in the book to allow me to keep the register open and not narrow down to specifically speak about fan objects as “actors” or “singers.” Performance is, nevertheless, a powerful perspective precisely because it has the potential to easily make connections between our existing repertoire of ideas.

If used it with understanding, it allows us to begin mediating between issues of textuality, spectacle, identity, communication, empirical situatedness, temporality and history, creativity, agency, style and affect – all of which are relevant, I think, to discussing fandom. How can one discuss cosplay, for instance, without talking about performance?

One of the issues here, though, is that performance studies research has been seen as a separate scholarly tradition emerging from theatre studies and slowly integrating itself with cultural studies approaches. Scholars like Phil Auslander are beginning to integrate that tradition with the study of media cultures.

 Mark Duffett is a Senior Lecturer in media and cultural studies at the University of Chester with research interests spanning fandom and popular music culture. As well as publishing Understanding Fandom (Bloomsbury, 2013), he guest edited a recent special edition of the journal Popular Music and Society, and also edited a Routledge book called Popular Music Fandom(2013) which featured chapters by Cornel Sandvoss, Joli Jensen and Matt Hills. In 2010 he organized an International Symposium on music fandom at Chester and was keynote speaker in 2012 at the MARS music conference in Finland. He is currently writing a book on Elvis Presley for the Equinox Press series, Icons of Popular Music, and co-organizing an April 2014 international conference on rock music and love in Montpellier.

Why Do We Need to “Understand” Fans?: A Conversation with Mark Duffett (Part Two)

You argue here that anti-fandom is not necessarily always a totally outsider or oppositional perspective, that under some circumstances, the industry or individual performers actively “invite” the anti-fan response. At first glance, this may seem counter-intuitive since the industry clearly hopes to attract the largest number of consumers. So, what are some of the reasons why producers might court or encourage anti-fan responses?

The idea that the industry hopes to attract the largest number of consumers assumes a monolithic entity (the media industry) with one market place and one audience, ignoring notions of consumer targeting or niche marketing.

This is one of the areas where popular music studies might productively contribute. I cite Bob Dylan as a clear example of invited anti-fandom in the book. Courting controversy has been both a catalyst for publicity and a form of audience segmentation, particularly in rock. Controversies have expressed social change at certain points in time and have also been a familiar part of the production process. From around 1956 to 1976, some of the most commercially successful music was based on the idea of a generation gap that articulated, at its mildest, a kind of autonomy and permissiveness, and at its extreme represented a push towards obscenity. Allusions to sexual debauchery became a genre convention in rock and the knowing evocation of moral opposition was characteristic of whole subgenres – notably punk. Individual artists, from Jim Morrison and GG Allin to the Dayglo Abortions, continually at pushed the boundaries, sometimes without any other recognizable cultural project.

In his foreword to Understanding Fandom, Matt Hills seems to suggest that the process might be unique to popular music, but I am not so sure. Certain forms of exploitation or art cinema purposely push at boundaries and violate concerns, like Christianity, that groups in society hold dear. It’s clear that Srdjan Spasojevic’s movie A Serbian Film (2010), for instance, was designed to shock and provoke offence.

Perhaps what we need to think about the relationship between invited anti-fandom and different industrial regimes. One point here is that products that seem to deliberately evoke anti-fandom regularly go on to become ‘cult’ phenomena. Another is that parent corporations can treat them at arm’s length, signing independent producers to distribution-only deals so that they can skim profit but avoid the risk.

I don’t, therefore, fully see anti-fans as a kind of free-floating audience; perhaps they too can be ‘courted’ by the industry as a marketing strategy. Perhaps we can even talk about ‘anti-fanagement.’

You argue, at places here, that academics miss some of the picture when they define fans in relation to political ideologies or corporate interests, suggesting that fans are never simply compliant or oppositional, but rather fans are “relatively indifferent” to the industry. Explain.


Fans use economic mechanisms for cultural purposes, while media industries use culture for economic ends. Both parties interact and are, to some extent, merged. They each, however, have distinct priorities. Fans are inspired by media products, but their concerns and practices cannot – as the Fiskean tradition demonstrated – be reduced to industrial planning.

The words I use quite a lot to talk about fans and their concerns in relation to the media industries are “tangential” and “collusive.” By this I mean that fans can be relatively indifferent, co-operative or oppositional, depending on which fan culture we decide to examine and when we decide to examine it.

While I have no doubt that fans can act collectively as ethical communities, I also think that is a danger that we tend to forget the “business as usual” aspect of fandom – that television fans were, for instance, generally more interested in watching the final episode of Breaking Bad than contesting High Bridge / Sony Pictures. This does not mean that they were pawns in someone else’s game who bought into hype. It means they felt that the show spoke to them, they enjoyed it, and they were engaged by its narrative. They became fascinated and dedicated.

As I think you noted in Textual Poachers, such fans may well “rescue” a series after the network stops broadcasting it – although, of course, networks themselves now often help to facilitate that. So maybe there is a kind of goal towards which fans are heading that can be further facilitated, either by agents in the industry or those outside it.

I think, though, that because our academic traditions work to ignore or reject a focus on the enjoyment of commercial culture, we are in danger of forgetting that win-win situations are part of this spectrum of relationships. Rather than searching for the dramatic moments where fans contest media producers, to understand fandom it seemed a greater challenge to me to start providing non-generalizing, non-reductionist frameworks within which we might explain why fans are sometimes complicit in doing what they do.

I should add, however, that “business as usual” is not static and also includes fans organizing into communities, creating different factions, and acting collectively. I do not necessarily see it as a term that excludes group ethics or politics, but rather one that encompasses ordinary activities and motivations.

Mark Duffett is a Senior Lecturer in media and cultural studies at the University of Chester with research interests spanning fandom and popular music culture. As well as publishing Understanding Fandom (Bloomsbury, 2013), he guest edited a recent special edition of the journal Popular Music and Society, and also edited a Routledge book called Popular Music Fandom(2013) which featured chapters by Cornel Sandvoss, Joli Jensen and Matt Hills. In 2010 he organized an International Symposium on music fandom at Chester and was keynote speaker in 2012 at the MARS music conference in Finland. He is currently writing a book on Elvis Presley for the Equinox Press series, Icons of Popular Music, and co-organizing an April 2014 international conference on rock music and love in Montpellier.