Week 10: Transmedial Interactivity

Transmedial Interactivity: communities / social media / fandom

Prepare Jenkins, Henry. “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars? Grassroots Creativity Meets the Media Industry.” Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. (New York UP, 2006): 135-173.

Jenkins Tarantino

Fuchs, Christopher. “Social Media as Participatory Culture.” Social Media: A Critical Introduction. (Sage, 2014): 53-67.


Guest Speaker Cameron McNall is an architect whose work encompasses scenario planning, sculpture, film, sound, multi-media and installation art. He taught for twelve years in the Department of Design / Media Arts at UCLA. He co-founded the design collaborative Electroland in 2002, and has created large-scale installation work in venues across the United States. McNall has won many awards for his work, including the Rome Prize in Architecture, the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Sculpture, the City of Los Angeles COLA (City of Los Angeles) Fellowship, a New York Foundation for the Arts Architecture Fellowship, among many others
Deliverable interactive practice assignment due (20%)

12 thoughts on “Week 10: Transmedial Interactivity

  1. This week’s readings are interesting because while we’re putting them both under the banner of “transmedial interactivity,” the heart of this week’s readings are what it means for something to be participatory. Jenkins defines the difference fairly nicely in “Participatory Culture in a Networked Era,” writing, “Interactivity refers to the properties of technologies that are designed to enable users to make meaningful choices (as in a game) or choices that may personalize the experience (as in an app). Participation, on the other hand, refers to the properties of culture, where groups collectively and individually make decisions that have an impact on their shared experience. We participate in something; we interact with something” (Fuchs, of course, would point out that yet again Jenkins privileges the cultural over the political or economic in that distinction).

    At the outset, I feel like I need to say that Jenkins is one of the reasons I came back to USC — I worked with him as an undergraduate, and I find the ways he thinks about media and culture to be both novel and very useful. That said, I’m also deeply critical of the utopian nature of a lot of his work, though I think that’s been tempered a lot in recent years. One of the reasons I like it, however, is that it is unabashed — in an earlier piece about the value of theory, he put it this way: “Digital theory embraces the utopian imagination, not as a way of predicting the future, but as a way of envisioning meaningful change.” Which is to say that I think Jenkins’ writing is often utopian because he wants to help positive pieces spread and grow.

    There are, of course, a lot of very valid criticisms of such an outlook. It’s a position that can really only be held by someone with a lot of privilege. Focusing solely on the positive makes the analysis incomplete and less-than-useful — after all, how can we foster the positive if we don’t know what missteps make it negative? And how, with a primarily positive outlook, can we grapple with the tactical cooptation that turns the positive into the negative? And those are just a few minor criticisms. For me, though, I will say that I like to focus on the pieces of an article that I like — it’s easy to poke holes in an argument and dismiss it, but if that’s all we do then we’ll consistently throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, I like to be charitable.

    Which is why I had a lot of trouble with the Fuchs piece. All he does is poke holes in fairly poorly constructed strawmen of Jenkins’ arguments. For example, he says that Jenkins’ definition of participation doesn’t take into account the history of participatory democracy, but never outlines what that does to Jenkins’ arguments, nor does he then engage Jenkins within his own definition. What little work Fuchs does do is to point out that Jenkins isn’t accounting for ownership, but never actually outlines the consequences of ownership aside from a short (overly deterministic) point about the corrupting nature of capital that is somehow not applicable to NGOs (which is far from substantiated).

    Further, Fuchs often reads with worst intent — at the bottom of 56, when he quotes Jenkins, Ford and Green saying they “do not and may never live in a society where every member is able to fully participate” they are not essentializing exclusion — they are recognizing its existence and the difficulty (and non-guarantee) in breaking away from it. But Fuchs opts to interpret it, as he does many more times in the chapter, in the least-charitable, most-strawmanned way possible. As someone who was part of defending Net Neutrality from the onslaught of large internet companies multiple times, I’m deeply sensitive to questions of who owns the internet we use, and I think Fuchs is right to focus on it. But doing it by merely pointing out that Jenkins doesn’t is a disservice to the argument because it ultimately means that Fuchs doesn’t outline the implications of a corporate-owned internet, envision an alternative, or chart a path in that direction. Admittedly, he may in other chapters, but he certainly doesn’t here and it makes his complications of Jenkins’ work feel shallow.

    More though, it’s hard for me to take Fuchs’ criticisms as seriously when they are read alongside chapters like “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars” — which is primarily about ownership and use. I am particularly interested in this idea, from page 152: “The Web represents a site of experimentation and innovation, where amateurs test the waters. […] The most commercially viable of those practices are then absorbed.” Jenkins is talking about the relationship between fans and enterprises — such as how anime fans proved an import market (which has only gotten more interesting over the years as translation/import has gotten cheaper, but the community is still so steeped in piracy). But this ethos of experimentation is way more widely applicable online — in the past, messages and such needed careful focus group testing and evaluation — online, however, the ethos is to split test every decision for optimization, right down to the color of a button. To me, the constant optimization is more troubling than anything that Fuchs points out because it is a very specific negative part of capitalism that is now invisibly and intimately tied to our experience online, rather than part of vague corrupting drivers.

    So this week, I have different questions than usual — some for the Fuchs, some for Jenkins,m and some for the class.

    For Fuchs:
    – Do you see anything of value in Jenkins’ contributions to the field of media studies? Because this piece seems to only problematize his writing — but the move to problematize something feels like part of a project to get to the value at the core of the thing. So, in Jenkins’ writing, what is that to you?
    – You wrote this piece in 2013, and since then Jenkins has focused more on explicitly activist endeavors, such as in By Any Media Necessary. Similarly, he’s gone far deeper into fleshing out what he means when he discusses participatory culture, such as in Participatory Culture in a Networked Era. What do you make of those shifts?
    – How much of your argument is actually just that capitalism is bad and that the internet is born of capitalism?
    – The cultural is getting to be more and more a part of our political — does that change any of your criticisms, or temper them? I submit this image for proof: http://take.ms/HYtKZ

    For Jenkins:
    – Much of what Fuchs criticizes you for has changed — but you still put a much greater emphasis on the cultural as opposed to the political or the economic. I know you see these as all profoundly intertwined — can you explain what you see that relationship as being so that when you discuss culture we know what other impacts you see?
    – Much of your early work is about the potential that you see in the ways fans engage with material — what do you make of the ways that corporations have become so adept of much of that engagement over the last few years, either through their own creative practices or fostering it within their following?

    For the class:
    – How charitable do you like to be with authors?
    – What’s your outlook in terms of study — do you prefer to be critical or glean the positive? I know it depends, but we all have modes.
    – The internet is driven by our desire to use everything for free, so we sell our data for advertising — does this type of use let it be something that can be liberatory, or is it always capitalistic?
    – Large franchises we love are also inherently tied to capital given they are able to be produced based on their success. Is there any possibility for such practices to be liberatory? To be anti-capitalist? Does being better in terms of politics mean anything if it’s not perfect?
    – Does being in a capitalist society corrupt even non-corporations? After all, WikiPedia does need funding to operate and has in recent years needed to drastically increase the number of asks it makes because it needs more money than ever. If so, what does that mean for Fuchs’ arguments about the importance of ownership?

  2. I found Jenkins’s article and his idea that online fan culture and large media corporations can have a two way relationship to be very interesting, “The Web represents a site of experimentation and innovation, where amateurs test the waters, developing new practices, themes, and generating materials which may well attract cult followings on their own terms. The most commercially viable of those practices are then absorbed into the mainstream media, either directly through the hiring of new talent or the development of television, video, or big-screen works based on those materials, or indirectly, through a second-order imitation of the same aesthetic and thematic qualities.” It is fascinating that fans can interact with content in such a way that it inspires discussion or content production that may continue to influence the narrative world or industry. As Jenkins mentions technological convergence as a way that allows for viewers to engage with the material in multiple outlets, a further step in immersing into the realm of the content beyond viewing, listening to the soundtrack, buying merchandise, playing the video game could now be blurring the fans’ world and experience with the narrative world through DIY production. Jenkins explains that, “Media producers also actively monitor and, in some cases, directly participate in the fan discussions on the Web as a way of measuring grassroots response to their productions.” I was watching a TV movie recently which was followed by a question and answer session with the director and some cast members and the possibility of a sequel was brought up. The response from the director encouraged viewers to tweet, share, and post about the film in order to create hype for the franchise. This would allow producers to see directly what the fans liked or disliked, or wanted more of as they considered production on the next installment. This furthers the relationship between the industry and the fan as Jenkins mentions that fan produced content may be inspired by the work, or inspire trends in future commercial works. Another interesting point is his argument about intellectual property and fair use. Jenkins discusses that fans should be able to interact with the material by introducing, “new, and creative input,” but that this has been met with push back from media conglomerates. However, he argues, “If the media industries understand the new cultural and technological environment as demanding greater audience participation within what one media analyst calls the ‘experience economy,’ they seek to tightly structure the terms by which we may interact with their intellectual property, preferring the preprogrammed activities offered by computer games or commercial websites, to the free-form participation represented by fan culture.” This is an interesting insight into the current environment, and the way that fans now wish to interact and expand upon content. This “experience economy” and desire for interaction and engagement may go hand in hand with newer developments from the producers aimed at creating an experience such as VR at the movie theaters, or more interactive games. I saw a commercial this weekend for a Disney channel movie that was going to air with the opportunity to “play along.” The viewer would download the app and be able to “live play” along with the screening. It appeared to show that fans would be looking for details in the film that related to the new game and participating in discussions and leader boards. A Deadline article, “‘After’ Movie: Paramount Acquires Rights To Wattpad Book By Anna Todd,” discusses this impact of fan produced content, and one instance where, “Paramount Pictures has acquired screen rights to After, a novel by first-time author Anna Todd that has been the breakout hit of Wattpad, the online community of readers and writers where books are published a chapter at a time.” The article explains that attention was brought to this story after it was a popular trend on social media sites and that, “readers are so devoted they create fan art, videos and music designed to extend the story experience.” The author of the article, Mike Flemming Jr. explains that this interaction is what has inspired previous similar works to become movies. He says that, “‘We expect to see many more blockbusters and bestsellers emerge from the platform.’”

  3. Charlie does a great job of pinpointing a lot of the specific problems I had with reading Fuchs’ chapter. I should say that I am also at USC in part because of Henry Jenkins, and I am invested in his (admittedly somewhat utopian) notions of participatory fandom, so I did come to the chapter with a bit of resistance. Ultimately, while I think Fuchs raises some fair points about labour and exploitation that Jenkins perhaps doesn’t engage in the works Fuchs looks at, his general approach is so antagonistic that I don’t think Fuchs ends up contributing anything productive. In other words, rather than approaching participatory culture with the aim of seeing what a consideration of participatory democracy adds to or exposes in the theory, he attacks participatory culture because it doesn’t conform to the ways he wants to use the word “participatory.”

    Just a couple points about Fuchs’ chapter (by no means a comprehensive critique):

    – After spending pages and pages complaining that theorists ignore political and capitalist underpinnings of everyday life, Fuchs says things like “I am a fan of The Simpsons, Monty Python, 3WK Underground Radio or bands such as Mogwai, Radiohead and The Fall, but I do not think that it is political to watch these programmes or listen to these bands” (59). But of course choosing to spend time, energy, and likely money on these shows and bands is a political act. Further, Jenkins’ point isn’t that just listening and watching are political acts, but that the creation of community and artistic output around these works have the potential to be liberatory, which Fuchs seems to dismiss out of hand.

    – Fuchs claims that political movements have no grounding in fan cultures and practices, ignoring that in fact fan communities often have been politically active (for instance, the Harry Potter Alliance’s fight with Warner Bros. over fair trade chocolate [http://www.thehpalliance.org/success_stories_nihn] or the Nerdfighters and the Foundation to Decrease World Suck [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nerdfighteria]). Further, Jenkins and others in Annenberg have been doing some interesting work with the ways that young political activists harness fandom practices and connections and the figure of the superhero in order to spark political dialogue and make it accessible. Fuchs also ignores the potential for fandom communities as points of access into political dialogues (for instance, Tumblr as a space for fandoms but also discussions of social justice and identity politics).

    Perhaps these communities aren’t going to immediately overturn capitalism, but that doesn’t invalidate participation in them as spaces for and springboards into political dialogue.

    On another tack:
    I love the implication in Jenkins’ work that any text can be interactive if the reader/viewer/listener chooses to engage with, modify, or create around it. This view of participation divorces interactivity from a specific medium—for example, from the idea that it is particular and/or inherent to digital media—which I think removes some of the restrictions around ways of interaction and might provide a solution to some of the issues of agency that we’ve been thinking about all term. Fuchs consider this an overly naive position, but I think that locating interactivity or participation outside of the specific work/medium itself and empowering prospect.

  4. Fuchs asks: Is Online Fascism Participatory Culture? My Response Is, Yes!

    Over the past year, I have been observing a neo-reactionary twitter community with some interest. They first appeared to me through a Youtube video that circulated soon after the 2016 Presidential election, in which a young man stands amidst a crowd of anti-Trump, post-election protesters and loudly declares that “Trump will complete the system of German Idealism.” He shouts to the camera, and to the gathered protesters that “Kant could not complete the system, Fichte could not complete the system, Schelling could not complete the system. But Trump will complete the system.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOk6HB609po ) This prophecy is couched in another set of predictions on Trump’s ability to disclose the truth about UFOs and the presence of cryptids (if you haven’t before, google it) . A little research revealed the speaker to be Twitter user @KantBot20k, whose Twitter persona closely mirrored the protest performance. He is a popular figure in a faction of neo-reactionary “Frog Twitter” , recently studied in such books such as Angela Nagle’s “Kill All Normies.”
    This Twitter universe, I argue, evidences Fuchs critique of Jenkins, and specifically his uncritical praise for how these communities “re-work” dominant ideologies. Fuchs writes, “activity and creativity of fans is not necessarily, as assumed by Jenkins in his deterministic and reductionistic logic of argumentation, a questioning of ideologies; it can just as likely be a reproduction of dominant ideologies (like racism)” (Fuchs 60). Jenkins does not necessarily disagree with his claim, Fuchs reminds us, but rather offers very few examples of fan groups participating in a regressive, or ideologically reactionary mode.
    The interesting ideological twist of Frog Twitter, as well as other neo-reactionary subcommunities, is that they seem themselves as exactly the cultural identity that Jenkins describes: as cultural outcasts, remixing and subverting dominant ideologies. The work of such Twitter personalities as Kantbot is surely to “troll”, i.e. to participate with the exclusive aim of provocation. Following Jenkins’ definition, however, Frog Twitter seems also to be an exemplary form of participatory media, “fostering a new public consciousness about how media images are constructed and opening a space for alternative experimentation and personal expression…”(Jenkins 11) outside of dominant cultural production.
    The net result is a more complicated picture of racist, reactionary online communities. Alongside the cyber-violence of bullying is the “remix” culture of racist, misogynist and transphobic meme production. Memes, it seems, are the sublime object of Jenkins’ hypothesis. Memes are the currency of these cultures, that self-conscioualy celebrate the gap between “their own production and the big-budget” media productions that they steal, and re-work. Indeed, the Frog in “Frog Twitter” refers to pepe, a frog meme appropriated by alt-right Twitter and Reddit users to celebrate their outsider, “deplorable” identity during the 2016 election cycle.

  5. In his article, Jenkins celebrates the blurring of the boundaries between consumption and production and the rise of “Do it Yourself” (DIY) culture. He claims that the emergence of two cultural trends, media convergence and participatory culture, combined with the availability of digital recording and editing technologies, enabled fans to be amateur filmmakers and creators in general. It is true that these technologies gave ordinary people more means to create, however, Jenkins still depicts a very romanticized picture of the entry to creative industries and Star Wars’ role in generating fan art. He ignores the questions of exploitation of creative labor and intellectual property. On the one hand, he actually gives an example of how Lucasfilm is no different from any other studio when it comes to exploiting free creative labor from the fans: “Lucasfilm offered Star Wars fans free Web space and unique content for their sites, but only under the condition that whatever they created would become the studio’s intellectual property.” (Jenkins, pg 8) On the other hand, he continues to justify these practices by providing numerous examples of how fans love the Star Wars inspired work they do, and implies that this satisfaction is what they receive in return. However, as Fuchs pointed out, “exploitation is measured as the degree of unpaid labor from which companies benefit at the expense of that labor. If exploitation does not feel like exploitation, then this doesn’t mean that it does not exist. It is exploitation even if users like it.” (Fuchs, pg. 64)
    Jenkins’ views on the entry to cultural industries are equally naïve. He argues that thanks to the rise of internet, fans can publish their work online, gain global audiences, and “the most commercially viable of those practices are then absorbed into the mainstream media, either directly through the hiring of new talent or the development of television, video, or big-screen works based on those materials, or indirectly, through a second-order imitation of the same aesthetic and thematic qualities” (Jenkins, pg. 17). He cites Tarantino and Smith as examples of amateur filmmakers who managed to make a career out of their fan works. However, such direct and clear career paths into industry aren’t available to most of the fans regardless of how good their work may be. Furthermore, this understanding of creative labor establishes giving out free labor as a legitimate way to start a career in entertainment industry. It enforces the idea that if anyone wants to produce something creative and share it with the world, they have to do it for free for an indefinite amount of time.

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