Odds and Ends

It's Awards Season... Many of you are already starting to second guess which films are going to be nominated for Academy Awards. The past few days we are starting to see the major film critic's organization weigh in on the best films of the year -- so far, they are all over the map with no strong consensus behind any particular title. But my own focus is on the Edublog awards. As it happens, two of my projects this year got nominated. The white paper we wrote for MacArthur and which we serialized here on the blog is being considered for Best Research Paper 2006. And the public conversation which I did with danah boyd about MySpace and the DOPA act is being considered for Most Influential Post, Resource or Presentation 2006. Thanks for everyone out there who nominated me -- I am flattered!

Here's how the awards are described:

As the reality and potential of distributed learning and distributed learner identities and communities are increasingly acknowledged, articulated and understood education moves further towards facilitating truly learner-centered and learned driven environments. A lot has changed in the world of educational technology since this time last year. The continuing rise and mainstreaming of easy to use network-as-platform applications, and increasing access to affordable online speed and space, have seen the continued expansion of users of all ages creating and communicating online. Learners and educators still however face difficult issues around network restrictions, around data protection and ownership, and around commercial protectionism. This year has also seen a marked increase in hostility towards social networking sites in the US, demonstrating a widespread lack of appreciation of the informal and formal educational value of user-centered applications. The Edublog awards are more relevant than ever in this climate - a space for us to refocus the debate surrounding young peoples use of technology as irresponsible, dangerous or illegal, and look at the positive, powerful and transformative work which continues to be demonstrated.

Voting amongst the finalists will continue through December 14 with the winners announced on December 15. There are nominees in ten different categories representing a really interesting catalog of some of the most interesting writing online this year concerning youth and digital media. Many of my readers who are concerned with media literacy will find the nomination page a useful resource for further reading and reflection.

That's Transmedia Entertainment!

Paul Levitz, the President of DC Comics, shares some speculations about the future of comics in a fascinating interview with Newsarama.com. Levitz references his participation in the Futures of Entertainment conference and continues some of his thinking about comic's relationship to transmedia entertainment. Levitz thinks deeply about the comic's medium and clearly prepared himself thoroughly for his role at our conference, making a series of very thoughtful comments.

Here's what he said about the experience:

NRAMA: Thinking about the larger picture of the management of the characters and properties, are comics leading the charge in charting new territory? While there are

older properties and those that are as, if not more popular, like Mickey Mouse, but

Mickey Mouse hasn't had continuity or a line of stories that stretch back nearly 70


PL: I was at a seminar at M.I.T. a couple of weeks ago on the futures of entertainment. The panel I was on was titled "Transmedia" which they defined as moving creative ideas from one medium to another. The professor who was running the conference made a similar point - how come comics have been doing all of this? What is special and peculiar about comics? He made the point in terms of superheroes, and I argued back that I felt it was really true about all comics.

I think there are a few characteristics that are relevant. One, by the nature of what comics are, we've generally had to create open- ended stories. Think of the differences between Batman and The Fugitive. Although the founding tragedy might be as tragic, the character of Batman was designed to go on to a seemingly infinite number of adventures.He wasn't restricted to just taking place in a certain narrowcast, or a certain narrow geography. Many of the great comics characters, not just the superheroes, were built with fairly complicated and interesting fictional worlds around them. Uncle Scrooge - for example.

There's also an interesting argument to be made, and I'm not sure if it's right, but McLuhan raised the issue that the less well-defined a character was initially, the more the reader or views has to interpolate into it, and therefore was not stuck in a specific image that they would measure against. Comics, with their rather raw visual structure, work very powerfully into that argument, that is to say that when you're introduced to Batman as a drawn character, you're able to more easily transform your vision between Adam West, Michael Keaton, Christian Bale and the different approaches those take, as well as the different visual styles that are developed over time. Compare that to a character you fell in love with because a particular actor was playing him or her in a particular role. That's not a well-researched issue, and there are arguments to be had about it, I'm sure, but there's something in there somewhere.

So I think we've had some natural opportunities available to us because of all of this. We also have the advantage in some comic characters, including Superman and Batman, that for them to succeed from early on, they had to open themselves to different creative talents. That's a very important issue in this world of Transmedia. If you've got something that is being guided uniformly by one great creative mind - which can yield terrific creative results - it's harder to make the jump to multiple other media, because the thing is so intimately reliant on the idea that one person so closely "gets" or sees...or understands.

So, for better or for worse, from early on, it was sort of battle- proven that Superman and Batman were ideas that multiple writers and multiple artists could get into and do good, creative work with.

As I suggested here in some of the outtakes from Convergence Culture, comics have a special relationship to convergence -- indeed, comics have been transmedia from their inception. Today, Buster Brown is best known as a brand of children's shoes but the character spanned across comic strips, Broadway musicals, and a range of other commodities at the turn of the century -- one of the first comic strip characters to make a significant impact on the public. In the first few years of his history, Superman moved from comic books to comic strips, radio shows, live action film serials, and animated short subjects, with each of these media making distinct contributions to the evolution of his mythology. Many historians argue that the character would not have had the same impact on our culture if he had not been so well designed to play out across such a broad range of media platforms. Levitz makes a good case here that it is not just the superheroes but a range of other serialized comic characters (including Uncle Scrooge) have also enjoyed extensive transmedia careers.

Today's No Prize goes to CMS graduate student Geoff Long for spotting this interview and calling it to my attention.

Speaking of Japanese School Girls...

We have been lucky enough to have a distinguished scholar of Japanese manga and popular culture, Sharon Kinsella, teaching in the Foreign Languages and Literature Program at MIT this term. Kinsella, the author of Adult Manga: Culture and Power in Contemporary Japanese Society, spoke at the last CMS colloquium of the term, sharing some of her work in progress, Girls and the Male Imagination: Fantasy of Rejuvenation in Contemporary Japan. Her talk, "Girls as Energy: Fantasies of Social Rejuvenation," might have been called "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Japanese School Girls But Were Afraid to Ask," crisscrossing between different media and across political discourse and popular culture, to argue about the ways that the schoolgirl becomes a figure of desire, dread, and fantasy identification among adult males in that society. Her talk included some interesting insights on texts which will be known to many of my readers, including Spirited Away, Battle Royale, and Sailor Moon, but also a broad range of b-movies and soft-core porn titles which helped me to read these cult classics through some new lens. The podcast version of this talk has just gone up on the CMS homepage and is recommended to anyone interested in Japanese popular culture.

While you are at it, you might also be interested in checking out some of the other programming on anime and other forms of Japanese popular culture which my colleague, Ian Condry, has put together through his Cool Japan program. For example, here's the transcript of a fascinating session he hosted on Violence and Desire in Japanese Culture: Anime Capitalism. Podcast of this and other Cool Japan events can be found at the Anime Pulse website.

Sharon Kinsella will be repeating her talk on Japanese school girls at Harvard University through an event being hosted by the Cool Japan program. Here are the details:

Prof. Sharon Kinsella's talk

"Men Imagining a Girl Revolution"

will be held

THURSDAY, December 14


William James Hall, Room 1550

Harvard University

My Mii -- Oh My!

Alice J. Robison, who just finished her doctorate working with James Paul Gee at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been working this year as a post-doc in the Comparative Media Studies Program. This term, she has taught a course for us on games criticism and next term, she will be offering a course on new media literacies. When she's not teaching in the program or contributing to our various games and new media literacy initiatives, she has been spending time playing with her new Wii. I am still among the uninitiated among the ways of the Wii, despite being very enthusiastic about the concept of the new interface. As I understand it, the Wii ships with an avatar creation tool and players can build their own distinctive anime style characters known as Mii.

Here's what Wikipedia tells us:

In certain games (including Wii Sports, WarioWare: Smooth Moves, Wii Play, and The Sims Wii), each player's caricature will serve as the character he or she controls in game play. Miis can interact with other Wii users by showing up on their Wii consoles through the WiiConnect24 feature or by talking with other Miis created by Wii owners all over the world. This feature is called Mii Parade. Early-created Miis as well as those encountered in Mii Parades may show up as spectators in some games. Miis can be stored on controllers and taken to other consoles. The controller can hold up to a maximum amount of 10 Miis.

Inspired in part by the Second Life Avatar which I featured here the other week, Alice has created a Mii in the likeness of, well, me. You might call him a mini-me/mii. The pun's just keep coming folks. Here's what it looks like:


Thanks, Alice. (I am told that she has also built Mii for some other prominent games scholars. Maybe some day we can create a collector set of leading media theorists which graduate students can pit against each other. It will certainly result in my much lively seminars.)