C3 Weekly Update

Editor's Note

Hello everyone, and welcome to a delayed edition of the C3 Weekly Update. C3's management is in the midst of a hectic week, preparing for a string of conference presentations, finishing up essays for publication, and managing a variety of exciting additions to the Consortium's community that we'll be providing more details on in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

We are in the process in particular of adding a new round of consulting researchers to our team, and we plan to announce who those new researchers are next week. For those who might not be familiar, our small core team here at MIT is bolstered by a variety of researchers from around the world, primarily at academic institutions, who speak at Consortium events, share their work through the C3 Weekly Update, and work with us on various projects. We are excited at the quality of scholars who have expressed interest in becoming part of the Consortium and who have expressed interest in some of the common goals and focuses of our forthcoming research, and we will be organizing full information about each of them for next week's C3 Weekly Update.

Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference

C3 Director Henry Jenkins, C3 Research Manager Joshua Green, and I are all preparing to present at this weekend's Society for Cinema and Media Studies panel in Philadelphia. We are all heading out shortly to participate in three different panels. My presentation will be part of the opening round of panels at the conference, at noon on Thursday. The panel will be entitled "Matters of Narrative," and my presentation in particular is called "Understanding Vast Narratives and Immersive Story Worlds." This will be based on my Master's thesis work which is available on the back end of the C3 site and publicly through the Comparative Media Studies site.

Jenkins' panel takes place from 3;15 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday. The panel is called "Television as a Cultural Center: The Future of the Public Sphere," and Jenkins' presentation is titled "The Public Sphere in a 'Hybrid Media Ecology': YouTube, Network Television, and Presidential Politics." This presentation will be related to the work Jenkins has provided here over the past several weeks, in preparation for publication in the paperback edition of Convergence Culture, among other venues.

Finally, C3 Research Manager Joshua Green will be participating in a panel called "Republic of Users" on Saturday morning at 8 a.m., making a presentation called "The People Formerly Known As: What Happens to the Audience When We're All 'Users.'"

C3 Principal Investigator and Co-Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program William Uricchio will be chairing a workshop entitled "The Future of Television Studies" on Saturday afternoon, and a variety of our consulting researchers will be there. We look forward to meeting for breakfast with several of you on Friday morning and discussing the Consortium's upcoming research plans and the work you're doing on these issues.

Upcoming Events

Our CMS Research Fair was a success last week, and I just wanted to draw attention to the fact that, while we'll be away at SCMS this weekend, the Program in Comparative Media Studies will feature an event Thursday as part of the MIT Communications Forum series here on our campus entitled "Prime Time in Transition," featuring noted television writer-producer John Romano, who has worked on such shows as Hill Street Blues, Third Watch, and Party of Five.

For those of you interested in the state of the U.S. television industry today, it will be an event worth joining us for. There will also be video and audio from the event available later this semester if you are interested but unable to attend.

This Week's Newsletter

This week's newsletter features an Opening Note from C3 Consulting Researcher Robert V. Kozinets, who continues our recent trend of looking at the U.S. Presidential Election in a "convergence culture," writes about the Barack Obama campaign in relation to the character of David Palmer on 24. The kernel for this piece came from Kozinets' blog, Brandthroposophy. This is the first of a two-part series, which will conclude in the Opening Note of next week's C3 Weekly Update.

The Closing Note this week comes from me, as I provide the first part in a two-part series from a draft of a piece for the forthcoming Essential Cult Television Reader, looking in particular at the success of Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. The purpose of the full piece is to acknowledge the show's place in history and its significance and to culminate with some notes on why these shows, in particular, are considered "cult television." Since MTV Networks is a partner organization, I thought I would share these observations to see if there might be further reaction from folks there, and overall to drive further thinking about the place of political parody, based on Henry's recent series here in the newsletter.

And, as usual, we include links to the latest blog posts from the Consortium's site. This week's blog posts include pieces from myself and our team of graduate student researchers, as well as C3 Director Henry Jenkins.

If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the update, direct them to Sam Ford, editor of the C3 Weekly Update, at


In This Issue

Editor's Note

Opening Note: Robert V. Kozinets on Barack Obama and 24, I of II

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Closing Note: Sam Ford on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, I of II


Thursday, March 06-Sunday, March 09
Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference, Philadelphia
Featuring the following presentations:
Understanding Vast Narratives and Immersive Story Worlds by C3 Project Manager Sam Ford
Bond in Bondage: Ratings Creep, Violence, and Casino Royale by C3 Consulting Researcher Kevin Sandler
The Public Sphere in a "Hybrid Media Ecology": YouTube, Network Television, and Presidential Politics by C3 Director Henry Jenkins
Architectures of Participation: Wiki Fandom and the Case of LostPedia by C3 Consulting Researcher Jason Mittell
The People Formerly Known As: What Happens to the Audience When We're All "Users"? by C3 Research Manager Joshua Green
Framing Motion: Early Cinema's Conservative Method's of Display by C3 Consulting Researcher Ted Hovet
Scholarly Writing in the Digital Age workshop featuring C3 Consulting Researcher Jason Mittell
The Future of Television Studies workshop chaired by C3 Principal Investigator William Uricchio
Location Matters: Spatial Logics of Bollywood-Dotcom Convergence by C3 Consulting Researcher Aswin Punathambekar

Thursday, March 06, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Prime Time in Transition
Featuring John Romano: Bartos Theater, Wiesner Building, MIT Media Lab

Saturday, March 08, 2-3 p.m.
South by Southwest Interactive Opening Remarks
Featuring C3 Director Henry Jenkins and Steven Johnson, Austin, TX

Thursday, March 13, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Global TV
Featuring Eggo Müller, Roberta Pearson, and William Uricchio: Bartos Theater, Wiesner Building, MIT Media Lab

Friday, March 21, 10-11:30 a.m.
Valuing Fans Outside the Target Demographic: Soap Opera Fans and Proselytizing
C3 Project Manager Sam Ford's presentation as part of the soap opera area of the National Popular Culture Association Conference, San Francisco

Thursday, April 10, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Our World Digitized: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
Featuring Yochai Benkler and Cass Sunstein: Bartos Theater, Wiesner Building, MIT Media Lab
Co-sponsored by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media

Thursday, April 24, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Youth and Civic Engagement
Featuring Lance Bennett, Ian V. Rowe: Bartos Theater, Wiesner Building, MIT Media Lab
Co-sponsored by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media

Friday, April 25
Console-ing Passions 2008 Conference
C3 Project Manager Sam Ford presents "Outside the Target Demographic" as part of the Gendered Fan Labor in New Media and Old panel.

Thursday, May 08, and Friday, May 09
C3's Spring Retreat

Thursday, May 22, to Monday, May 26
Communicating for Social Impact, Conference of the Interntional Communication Association
C3 Research Manager Joshua Green will make two presentations at this Montreal event. Details forthcoming.

Opening Note

Barack Obama, 24, and the Hypermediation of the Political World, Part I

In the past, a lot of my research has considered the porous boundaries between consumer culture and so-called pop, or mass media, culture. I've found, in case after case, that what we commonly think to be a "serious" cultural realm, such as R&D or innovation, resistance and dissent, or religion and philosophy, is inevitably shaped in many interesting ways by the "pop" (as in soda pop?) mass cultural, consumer cultural, "just-for-fun" representations of the media.

Convergence Culture Consortium academics are very used to talking about the blurring boundaries between "high" and "low" culture, many of us making some of our strongest impressions in this area. But as most of us know, among the population outside of a very few academic departments, this is still a very provocative stance.

It's a two-way relationship, no doubt. Mass media is also shaped by important cultural, corporate, and canonical influences. And these supposedly distinct realms of culture also hybridize into many interesting forms.

With an exciting Super Tuesday now behind us, and more exciting election run-offs to come, I've been pondering the connection between the candidacy run of Barack Obama and the role of the mass media in this bid for the position of Leader of the Free World.

In particular, I've been thinking about the first season of Fox-TV's hit show 24, which featured counter-terrorism super-agent James Bond, oops I mean Jack Bauer, trying to save America's first -and very promising-African-American Presidential candidate from an assassination attempt.

24 has actually featured African-American Presidents (or to-be Presidents, or ex-Presidents) in every one of its six seasons, which I find significant as a pattern. The show gathers a considerable audience of about 13 million viewers in its initial Nielsen airing. But it also has a big aftermarket appeal in DVD rentals and purchases. It has inspired novelizations, games, music album soundtracks, t-shirts and all other manner of ancillary merchandise. It has left all the entrails we would expect of a mass cultural hit that resonated with a time enough to both reflect and carry notable impact on American culture. Not only has it reflected post-911 fears of terrorism and concern with National Security, it has also reflected difficult and conflicting attitudes about gender, race and "the Other."

Writing in "Canon Fodder" in June of last year, Lucia Bozzola made some similar linkages in a very insightful analysis that I quote from here. Bozzola asserts that 24 "has made the presence of an African American president not only normal, but also desirable. Take, for instance, how the presence of the dearly departed David Palmer, and in this season his brother Wayne is treated by the show. Their race isn't a big hairy deal. It's certainly not the point of the show. Contrast that to Hillary Clinton's canceled TV avatar Commander in Chief. The presence of a female president was precisely the point of the show, because oh my God, isn't that just so high concept weird?"

Reading between the lines a little, Bozzola is asserting that, because a woman President was treated as the central point of Commander in Chief, this highlighting emphasized the fact that the American collective unconscious found this more of a rupture, a disconnect, with the way things could be. In 24, the show simply accepted having a powerful and strong President, who happened to be African-American.

Then there is the matter of the characteristics of this racially Other President. On 24, [the actor] "Dennis Haysbert's David Palmer is smart, charismatic, informed, judicious. . . One of the reasons a freshman senator from Illinois with only two years of D.C. experience under his belt is even in the mix, let alone a major player, is because Obama proved in his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that he has the presence to be 'presidential'" (Bozzola 2007).

So much has been said recently about Barack Obama's "presidential" oratorical and rhetorical skills, and their significance or insignificance versus the action or experience of Hillary Clinton, that the significance of the issue seems moot. Presidents need to be charismatic, especially in challenging times where big changes, big risks, and collective sacrifices need to be made. I believe that many Americans feel that this is such a time.

Part of my early research has concerned itself with the way that mediated representations of future realities had a way of slipping into reality, sort of like the sort of crystallizations that scholar and thinker Rupert Sheldrake has written about as "morphic fields." (See his 1995 book The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature. The theory of morphic fields states that the initial time anything novel is done (such as to create a new crystal, or to come up with a new invention, or to elect a particular type of individual), an incredible amount of effort is needed to generate a new "field" which will govern that behavior in the physical world. However, once that boundary is broached, subsequent similar acts become increasingly easy, simple matters.

These ideas of morphic or morphogenetic fields have been taken up in paranormal metascientific discussions of the "Hundredth Monkey" phenomenon. I find it interesting to consider how many contemporary devices have been envisioned and named by writers (usually SF writers) before they were created in physical reality: rockets, space travel, submarines, robots, computers, communications satellites, mobile phones, tablet PCs, big-screen TVs, and on and on.

These are, to borrow a lovely turn of phrase from SF author Thomas Disch in the title of his 1998 book, The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World. In fact, I think this is what Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek may have been implicitly aiming for when he sought to show a group of diverse individuals united in the future, a representation he continually evangelized: African-Americans working side-by-side with Russians, a Japanese man, even an alien, during the heart of the Cold War. The idea may have been that this then-radical version of the future would have a sense of normalcy and reality that would then carry it into being. That, once represented on television, a new "field" would be opened making its creation in lived reality more likely.

The second part of this two-part series will appear in the Opening Note of next week's C3 Weekly Update.

Robert V. Kozinets is a consulting researcher for the Convergence Culture Consortium and Associate Professor of Marketing at York University's Schulich School of Business in Toronto. His research areas include branding, virtual communities, technology consumption, communal markets, themed retail, entertainment marketing, new product development, and postmodern consumer behavior. He writes regularly at Brandthroposophy, his blog.

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Telling Stories Across Multiple Media Platforms: An Interview with WWE's J.R. (II of V). In the first part of his interview with Sam Ford, WWE's Jim Ross talks about managing massive content from the archive and connecting contemporary fans with the history of pro wrestling.

Telling Stories Across Multiple Media Platforms: An Interview with WWE's J.R. (I of V). Sam Ford provides the background for an interview with World Wrestling Entertainment's lead commentator Jim Ross.

Links for Those Who Attended My Tampa Talk. C3 Director Henry Jenkins writes about his recent talk at The Chronicle of Higher Education's Tech Forum.

Stopping the Signal: Another Look at China's "Great Firewall." C3 Graduate Student Researcher Xiaochang Li writes about the Beijing Olympics and discussion over governmental intervention in terms of Internet access in China.

Bringing "Awesome" to Self-Distribution. C3 Graduate Student Researcher Ana Domb writes about the festival model for "From Here to Awesome, a new project from Head Trauma's Lance Weiler.

CMS Research Fair Tonight at MIT. The Consortium, and the entire Program in Comparative Media Studies, presented the work of each of our six research groups last Thursday. Find out more about C3's sister research groups in this blog post.


Buzz, UGC, and Advertising at the Oscars (2 of 2). In the second part of this series, C3 Graduate Student Researcher Eleanor Baird looks at how the "hype problem" could change surrounding Oscar ads.

Buzz, UGC, and Advertising at the Oscars (1 of 2). In the first part of this two-part series, C3 Graduate Student Researcher Eleanor Baird compares advertising buzz surrounding the Oscars to advertising for the Super Bowl.

Learning from YouTube: An Interview with Alex Juhasz (Part Two). In the conclusion of this interview, Henry shares Juhasz's comments and YouTube videos to illustrate her points.

Learning from YouTube: An Interview with Alex Juhasz (Part One). Henry Jenkins provides a recent interview from his blog with Alex Juhasz, who taught a course on YouTube at Pizer College last fall.

Around the Consortium: GDC, His Girl Friday, and the Advertising Lab. Jason Mittell writes about His Girl Friday in the public sphere and what that model could mean for old television content, while David Edery shares notes about his GDC presentation and Ilya Vedrashko provides a round-up of interesting advertising and community-building news.

Google Videocracy and Online Upfronts. C3 Graduate Student Research Xiaochang Li writes about YouTube's recent Videocracy event and content on the video sharing site.

Follow the Blog

Don't forget – you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog.

Closing Note

The Daily Show and The Colbert Report as Cult TV (Part I of II)

News parody is hardly new. Lampooning politicians has long been the job of political cartoonists. Publications such as The Onion have been making a reputation for quality satire for decades now, while parody news was a staple on NBC's cultural icon Saturday Night Live since its first broadcast in 1975. Those with an historical eye would point even farther back, to the central role the court jester played in criticizing the decisions of monarchs in the Middle Ages.

That The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and spinoff The Colbert Report fit firmly within a rich history of political commentary through comedy does not make the accomplishments of these shows any less significant, however. Rather, this tradition demonstrates the powerful cultural history these shows have tapped into in becoming must-see television for a cross-section of U.S. citizens and international viewers who have increasingly used the on-screen parody of hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to express their own frustration with politics and give voice to a cynicism many scholars have been interested in over the past several years through the circulation of clips online and both figures' permeation throughout U.S. popular culture.

The Daily Show

The Daily Show debuted on Comedy Central on July 11,1996, originally hosted by Craig Kilborn. When Kilborn left the show to become a late night host on The Late Late Show in 1998, Jon Stewart was brought in, with his first episode airing in January 1999. Stewart, who had developed a following through hosting MTV's talk show The Jon Stewart Show, rapidly rose to greater prominence alongside the show. In this decade, The Daily Show has risen to critical acclaim with 10 Emmy awards and nine additional Emmy nominations. With the proliferation in popularity of The Daily Show and its now established place in popular culture, many current fans know little about the origins of the show during Kilborn's tenure. In particular, Stewart's involvement as a writer and co-executive producer has helped create a stronger political focus for the show than was present in its origins, and the show's political coverage of the 2000 election helped increase its visibility.

Subsequently, The Daily Show has developed a dual status as not only providing savvy political satire but also including serious guests, which have included major political figures such as Madeleine Albright, John Ashcroft, John Bolton, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Bob Dole, John Edwards, Vincente Fox, Al Gore, Alan Greenspan, John Kerry, Henry Kessinger, John McCain, Evo Morales, Colin Powell, and Pervez Musharraf, among myriad others. The show also regularly features entertainment stars, scholars, and journalists. By October 2007, before the onset of the writers strike that took the show off the air for several weeks, The Daily Show was drawing about 1.6 million viewers per episode.

The Daily Show airs four nights per week, with a season that lasts throughout the year but which allows for several weeks of vacation for the cast and crew. In addition to Stewart, The Daily Show typically draws from a team of four or five regular comedians who act as "news correspondents."

The show typically includes a rundown of major news stories for the day in the opening segment, followed by a second segment that features a continuation of examining current news headlines or a prepackaged correspondent's report. The final segment is always an interview segment with the evening's guest, followed by a final commercial break and a final short segment called, "Your Moment of Zen," which typically features a video segment for which The Daily Show is making some sort of ironic commentary. This may be related to a segment from earlier in the show or a standalone video, often lampooning coverage that has appeared on news broadcasts. The only regular deviation from this structure is when the show features a particularly notable guest, when two segments are given to the interview portion of the show. After the launch of The Colbert Report in 2005, the final segment often includes a witty exchange between Stewart and Colbert, through the guise of offering a preview of what is coming up on Colbert's show immediately following The Daily Show.

The Colbert Report

With the rising cultural status and popularity of The Daily Show, Comedy Central launched a spinoff series to air immediately after the nightly show, in the 11:30 p.m. EST time slot. The Colbert Report, starring longtime Daily Show personality Stephen Colbert, debuted on October 17, 2005. Also airing four nights per week most weeks in the year, the Report has developed almost as strong a following, related to but distinct from its relationship with The Daily Show. Colbert's history with The Daily Show predates Stewart's as an on-air talent, and Colbert had served as a co-writer for The Daily Show during his tenure there. The spinoff was built around the extreme conservative stereotype Colbert had developed for his on-air character, serving as a parody of personality-driven news commentary shows rather than newscasts.

While Jon Stewart's on-air performance is portrayed as Stewart "being himself," Colbert is always explicitly playing an on-air character, one which he very rarely breaks, even if he often winks at the camera (sometimes literally). Colbert received even more attention after his 2006 appearance as the featured entertainer at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, where he excoriated U.S. President George W. Bush and U.S. journalists alike through his satirical monologue. By October 2007, before the writers strike, The Colbert Report was averaging 1.2 million viewers per episode, and the shown earned a combined eight Emmy nominations in 2006 and 2007.

Colbert's show generally begins with a rundown of the night's top stories before the show's opening titles, followed by a segment featuring Colbert's opinion on the top news stories of the day, concluding with "The Word," in which Colbert's spoken commentary is supplemented by an ironic subtext that runs in writing on the other side of the screen, often directly contradicting what Stephen says. The second segment may focus on other current events or else introduce a pre-packaged segment, an unadvertised interview, or one of Colbert's recurring segments. These include "Wag of the Finger, Tip of the Hat," in which Colbert praises or criticizes those involved in recent news events; "Better Know a District," in which Colbert interviews U.S. Congressmen and rather famously creates humorous post-production edits of political figures' comments; "Threatdown," in which Colbert lists what he considers the major current threats to U.S. citizens; in addition to less political segments like his animated series "Tek Janson" and "The Sport Report." The final segment features an interview, which Colbert also does "in character." Although Colbert does not feature a regular cast of contributors, he does have occasionally recurring characters show up who play a less prominent role in his show than Stewart's correspondents. (For more on "Better Know a District" in particular, see Geoffrey Baym's examination of the segment in the October 2007 edition of Popular Communication, entitled "Representation and the Politics of Play: Stephen Colbert's Better Know a District.

Politics and Media Culture in the U.S.

Most scholarship on The Daily Show has looked at the show's affects on democracy, citizenship, and journalism. For instance, in his 2005 Political Communication essay entitled The Daily Show: Discursive Integration and the Reinvention of Political Journalism," Geoffrey Baym argues that "the show uses techniques drawn from genres of news, comedy, and television talk to revive a journalism of critical inquiry and advance a model of deliberative democracy." Conversely, other scholars--along with many journalists--argue that these parody shows only encourage further cynicism and apathy. (See, for instance, Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan S. Morris' "The Daily Show Effect," from American Politics Research in 2006.) Other studies have looked particularly at a comparison between The Daily Show and news broadcasts. (See, for instance, Aaron McKain's "Not Necessarily Not the News: Gatekeeping, Remediation, and The Daily Show, from the December 2005 Journal of American Culture, as well as a July 2007 essay in The Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media by Julia R. Fox, Gloria Koloen, and Volkan Sahin, entitled "No Joke: A Comparison of Substance in The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Broadcast Coverage of the 2004 Presidential Election Campaign.")

Here, I aim particularly to offer some brief remarks on the intense level of engagement these shows have with their fan communities as a way to better understand The Daily Show and The Colbert Report as "cult texts," but that meaning is nevertheless particularly tied to its placement in the cultural and political landscape in the U.S. and internationally.

Targeted to a younger audience with what most would identify as a leftward slant on the political spectrum, these two shows rely on at least some degree of implied common "agreement" with its viewers, with the punch-line of many routines appealing to what it supposes is a common sense of "common sense" amongst its viewers. Thus, news content can often be shown with only minimal commentary, and new meaning is created just from the appearance of these events on The Daily Show.

On the other hand, The Colbert Report can present host Stephen Colbert's often ludicrous extremes of conservative viewpoints because it relies on the core audience of the show knowing that he is always in character. As Henry Jenkins said of The Daily Show in Convergence Culture, the program "challenges viewers to look for signs of fabrication, [ . . . ] In such spaces, news is something to be discovered through active hashing through of competing accounts rather than something to be digested from authoritative sources" (227)

One could argue, then, that these shows have actively encouraged a political media literacy that one could tie to the rise of political parody videos through sites like YouTube. Certainly, among the greatest contributions of The Colbert Report is the many ways it has encouraged viewer campaigns online, encouraging fans to submit user-generated videos using images of Colbert in a contest called "The Green Screen Challenge;" driving fans to enter Colbert's name in an initiative from the Hungarian government seeking public advice for what to name a bridge over the Danube and subsequently winning the contest; and encouraging viewers to participate in a campaign to change the truth about elephant populations by editing the Wikipedia entry to say that the African elephant population had tripled in a six-month period.

These initiatives on The Colbert Report demosnrate a type of activism that bears similarity to grassroots political campaigns but operate through the elements and aesthetics developed through online fandom. In fact, many of these initiatives stem from Colbert's active attempts to foster a relationship with his online fandom through what he calls "The Colbert Nation", including a site dedicated to Colbert fans which Stephen refers to regularly on his show. Stephen often parodies political activism in the way he calls on "his nation," but the show's ability to foster and maintain a vibrant online fandom has helped propel this show into being consistently among Comedy Central's top programming, along with The Daily Show. The immense popularity of these shows online also explains why The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are among the shows most heavily at the center of copyright debates surrounding video sharing sites such as YouTube.

The conclusion to this piece will appear in next week's Closing Note.

Sam Ford is Project Manager of the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium and editor of the C3 Weekly Update. He has his Master's degree from the Program in Comparative Media Studies here at MIT and writes regularly on fan culture, television, and digital culture.

The Fine Print

Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford ( for the Convergence Culture Consortium.


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