Welcome to this week's edition of the C3 Weekly
Update. I wanted to start this week by noting that, in the future, the
newsletter will be coming out each Wednesday, so you may notice a
change with the dating of each Weekly Update to reflect this.
We want to provide more information this week on
the tentative schedule for the C3 Spring Retreat scheduled for
Thursday, May 08, and Friday, May 09. The event will begin with lunch
on May 08, followed by an afternoon of presentations from the C3 team.
Each of our graduate students currently working on the
project--Xiaochang Li, Ana Domb, and Eleanor Baird--will be presenting
some of their projects, while Joshua Green and I will be discussing the
work on YouTube and other Consortium projects. That evening, from 5
p.m. and 7 p.m., we will be hosting a public colloquium event for the
Program in Comparative Media Studies here at MIT that will feature,
among others, some of the Consortium's consulting researchers. This
will be followed by a reception for Consortium partners and consulting
Friday's events will run from the morning through
the afternoon. We will begin with comments from C3 Director Henry
Jenkins and Principal Investigator William Uricchio, followed by a
couple of panel discussions which will include C3 Consulting
Researchers and others. The afternoon will be spent in a series of
discussion groups that will bring together members of the core C3 team,
consulting researchers, and representatives of our partner companies.
We are in the process now of planning those
various panels out and will include information on the lineup of events
throughout the next several issues of the C3 Weekly Update. Please feel
free to contact us with any questions or feedback, and we're hoping to
have a good showing from each of our partner companies this year.
What's Going on with the Consortium
It's been an eventful week. Henry Jenkins, Joshua
Green, and I participated in panels at the Society for Cinema and Media
Studies annual conference in Philadelphia, and we plan to include
pieces on those presentations throughout the week on the Consortium's
blog, as well as presentations from a wide variety of our consulting
researchers. We had a great event in Philadelphia, and thanks again to
all the consulting researchers at the event who joined us for the
Consortium breakfast and for the great ideas discussed in planning our
retreat and future Consortium events and projects. We hope to see the
repercussions of what began in that discussion in the Consortium's work
throughout the next several months.
We are also going to be including information on
the blog this week about C3 Director Henry Jenkins' presentation at
South by Southwest and my participation in a Webinar with PR News
on companies' digital presence. Finally, we also have included on the
blog Xiaochang Li's notes on the MIT Communications Forum event last
Thursday featuring John Romano, called "Prime Time in Transition." See
her notes here
We now have comments back up and running on our
blog, so we invite you all to join us there and feel free to react to
our public writing about "convergence culture."
This Week's Newsletter
The Opening Note this week features the conclusion
of C3 Consulting Researcher Robert V. Kozinets' work on the Barack
Obama presidential campaign in relation to the character of David
Palmer on 24. Meanwhile, the Closing Note features the
conclusion of my work on The Daily Show and The Colbert
Report from a draft of my forthcoming short entry on the two shows
for The Essential Cult Television Reader. As usual, we include
links to the latest blog posts from the Consortium's site, including
writing from our graduate students, myself, Henry Jenkins, and C3
Research Manager Joshua Green.
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 email@example.com.
In This Issue
Opening Note: Robert V. Kozinets on Barack Obama
and 24, II of II
Glancing at the C3
Closing Note: Sam Ford on The Daily Show
and The Colbert Report, II of II
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
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
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
for Social Impact, Conference of the
Interntional Communication Association
C3 Research Manager Joshua Green will make two presentations at this
Montreal event. Details forthcoming.
Thurs., June 19, to Sunday, June 22
Culture Theory Conference 2008
C3 Director Henry Jenkins is included among the announced panelists at
this Suffolk University event here in Boston. More information
Barack Obama, 24, and the
Hypermediation of the Political World, Part II
This piece concludes the piece Kozinets began in last
week's Opening Note.
In past research, I have coined the term "hypermediated"
to try to capture some sense of the pervasive cultural influence of the
images and symbols we share with one another through the mass media
(and like Henry Jenkins, I think that the term "meme" and Dawkins'
comparison of ideas to genes is deterministic and not helpful).
Developed particularly to relate to the question of television
violence, George Gerbner's influential "cultivation theory" argues that
the mass media acculturate particular perspectives, making a particular
view of the world seem normal or prevalent. See, for instance, Gerbner
et al.'s 1980 essay "The 'Mainstreaming' of America: Violence Profile
No. 11," in the Journal of Communication. This doesn't happen
in one big burst, but slowly, subtly, over time. Gradually, the theory
says, our view of what "the real world" is like becomes "cultivated" by
the images we see in the mass media. So, after six years of seeing
representations of powerful, ethical, effective African-American
Presidents on 24, we gradually become acculturated to this at-first
In my field of consumer research Tom O'Guinn and L. J.
Shrum are our native experts in cultivation theory. Their award-winning
work has shown how cultivation effects lead heavy viewers of mass media
viewers to changes their estimates of consumption related elements in
society. In their 1997 study entitled "The Role of Television in the
Construction of Consumer Reality" in the Journal of Consumer
Research, called "The Role of Television in the Construction of
Consumer Reality," they found that people who watched more daytime
soaps had a statistically different view of the affluent consumption
patterns of the average person.
In his 1990 essay "Media, 'Reality,' Signification," in Culture,
Society and the Media, media theorist Tony Bennett also considers
the reality-creation role of the mass media, but he does it in a way
more subtle than that of the cultivation theorists. He explains that
the mass media have often been described and studied as "definers of
social reality," and that this description has very important social
effects in regards, for instance, to news reporting and the democratic
political process. However, the idea that the mass media define social
reality still partakes in the older notion that the mass media reflect
social reality, and thus that social reality and media reality are
separable. Bennett rejects this idea. Instead, he contends that the
media are agencies of mediation between thought and action, and provide
frameworks for interpreting events that actually structure our
As post-strusturalist scholar Madan Sarup puts it in the
second edition of An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and
Postmodernism (1993), "Media practices have rearranged our sense of
space and time. What is real is no longer our direct contact with the
world, but what we are given on the TV screen: TV is the world. TV is
dissolved into life, and life is dissolved into TV. The fiction is
realized and the real becomes fictitious."
I like this quote a lot. It goes beyond a concept like
"influence" that infers some sort of causality between separate
elements that we can tease out. But what we see is messy and organic
instead of nice and neat; this is dissolution, liquification,
intermingling. We can't even tell TV reality from real world reality,
one from the other. Are political candidates "real people" or "media
images"? They're both, simultaneously, of course. And that's the
essence of what I mean by hypermediation rather than cultivation.
Michael Collins, Apollo 11 astronaut, reported that
after he had returned from the first manned lunar landing, and had then
watched the moon landing coverage on television, he remarked to his
colleague Neil Armstrong, "Look, Neil, we missed the whole thing."
"Hyper" is a Greek word meaning over or above. By using
it as a prefix and combining it with the suffix "mediated," I seek to
describe a research perspective that explicitly recognizes the role of
media representations-with all of their rich their fictional and
intentional qualities-in all interpretations of reality. Not only this,
but the term hypermodern is meant to evoke the mass media's influence
in creating a sense of objective reality that is continually frustrated
and impossible to hold onto. Of course in this sense, the term refers
to French postmodern scholar Jean Baudrillard's immensely popular but
rather slippery term "hyperreality," from Baudrillard's 1994 book Simulacra
Baudrillard defines the hyperreal as "a real without
origin or reality" (1). He suggests that our daily existence is filled
with simulacra, simulations, images, counterfeits, empty copies. You
might think that he is saying that these many copies hide the truth
(the original, the real) from us. But he doesn't. He is saying that
there is no truth at all behind the copy. For behind the copies there
exists no truth to hide.
Now you see why I call this theory slippery.
Baudrillard tells us that what we accept as our daily
reality, something that seems so solid and true, is actually
"hyperreality" an imaginary realm. The simulations, like your fake
painting, your fake vase, your fake fantasies, your fake life, mean
that there is no way to tell the real from the imaginary.
This hyperreal world we live in surrounds us, and
presents us with a "landscape of advertising and motels, of the Las
Vegas strip, of the late show and Grade-B Hollywood film, of so-called
paraliterature with its airport paperback categories of the gothic and
the romance, the popular biography, the murder mystery and the science
fiction of fantasy novel," according to Fredric James in his 1983 essay
"Postmodernism and Consumer Society" in The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays
on Postmodern Culture. Baudrillard argues that the mass media
"directs the mutation of the real into the hyperreal," and that "TV is
watching us" (30).
But what Baudrillard sees as confusing and terrible can
also be quite liberating, as my central example of Barack Obama intends
to illustrate. Maybe it's not that everything real is fake, but that
every imagined fantasy holds within it the potential of the real. Then
what seemed for Baudrillard to be desolate and empty becomes, for me,
filled with progressive energy and utopian potential. From
Baurdillard's oppressive hall of mirrors, it's really only a small
hypermediated stretch to think that the media images of an
African-American President can become a strong cultural influence and
accustom people to particular new forms of governance.
Is 24 helping to prime America for an
African-American President by virtue of the fact and the way that this
President has been fictionally portrayed? I think that my own
hypermediation theory and Gerbner's cultivation theory would both
indicate that the answer is yes. The determining question is, of
course, is this effect widespread enough to show up at the polls?
This theoretical stance takes nothing away from the
candidates themselves. There is clearly much more going on about Barack
Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain the actual people, their
campaigns, what they have to say and stand for, how well they organize
and so on, that is not accounted for here. All this theory explores,
really, is the signifier "African American." But the racial issue has
been and will be an important categorizational factor in all things
American. And in this sense, of familiarity and trust with the match of
categories (racially "other" plus President), we all know that this
campaign is significant in a way no other American Presidential
campaign has been. That's why an exploration such as this one can shed
some light as well as generate some heat.
In so doing, theory bumps up yet again with reality,
with prediction, with hard facts among the Convergence Culture
Consortium's faculty's thinking. As we head into the heat of this
election, I think that Barack Obama's chances for election are very
solid. That says something about the American people, no doubt. About
Barack Obama's skill, commitment, and vision. About changing tides and
inclusiveness in this country. But it also might, just might, say
something about the role and power of the mass media in making progress
happen, in visualizing a more egalitarian and open society, and in
preparing the way for a better world.
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
the Consortium: SCMS, Comments, No Meanings, and Facebook. Sam Ford
writes about new Consortium consulting researchers forthcoming, the
return of comments on the blog, Grant McCracken's contemplation of a
Coke machine, Aswin Punathambekar's writing about "Elite TV" in India,
GSD&M Idea City's notes on Mark Zuckerburg's keynote at South by
Southwest, and new C3 Consulting Researcher Nancy Baym's recent work on
in the Age of YouTube. C3 Director Henry Jenkins provides some
YouTube videos about the U.S. Presidential Campaign.
Dreaded 1,2,3 Challenge. C3 Director Henry Jenkins passes on an
online meme on his most recent reading from authors Ian Bogost,
Stasi, and Stephen Applebaum.
Communications Forum: Prime Time in Transition (2 of 2). In the
part of this series, C3 Graduate Student Researcher Xiaochang Li
concludes her recap of John Romano's recent appearance here by looking
at some of the audience questions directed toward him.
Communications Forum: Prime Time in Transition (1 of 2).In
the first of this two-part series, C3 Graduate Student Researcher
Xiaochang Li writes about the Prime Time in Transition MIT
Communications Forum with television writer and producer John Romano.
Over: Viral Marketing and Alternate Reality Games (2 of 2). To
conclude her look at the "Find the Lost Ring" by pointing out five key
components shared by successful viral marketing and ARGs.
Over: Viral Marketing and Alternate Reality Games (1 of 2). C3
Graduate Student Researcher Eleanor Baird writes about McDonald's "Find
the Lost Ring" ARG in the first of this two-part series.
Move on Scrabulous!": Hasbro's Legal Facebook Faceoff. C3 Graduate
Student Researcher Xiaochang Li writes about the current controversy
surrounding Facebook's Scrabble-like game and the interesting
aspects of the dispute.
Downmarket Aesthetic. C3 Research Manager Joshua Green writes about
YouTube's popularity and its relation to lower-quality video on the
Stories Across Multiple Media Platforms: An Interview with WWE's J.R.
(V of V). In the final part of his interview with Jim Ross, Sam
Ford discusses how pro wrestling is handling its mobile offerings,
video games, high-definition television, as well as its traditional
print offerings, such as magazines and books.
Stories Across Multiple Media Platforms: An Interview with WWE's J.R.
(IV of V). Sam Ford's interview with Jim Ross focuses on how J.R.
manages his persona throughout a variety of columns and business
ventures, such as his independent blog and online store and his college
Stories Across Multiple Media Platforms: An Interview with WWE's J.R.
(III of V). Sam Ford continues his interview with pro wrestling
voice Jim Ross by talking about how the Internet has changed the way
pro wrestling companies operate.
Follow the Blog
Don't forget – you can always post, read, and
online conversations with the C3 team at our blog.
The Daily Show and The
Colbert Report as Cult TV (Part II of II)
In last week's Closing Note, I presented the
introduction of this piece, which looks at The Daily Show and The
Colbert Report as cult media texts. This week, I look particularly
at what categorizing them as "cult TV" means for understanding these
shows and their popularity.
The Daily Show and The Colbert Report
What particularly makes these two programs part of The
Essential Cult Television Reader, though? If one accepts these
programs' impact on the political process, on journalism, and on
parody, that still does not qualify a show as "cult media." This volume
will not include essays on Meet the Press or late night
television talk shows, despite their influence on citizenship and
politics in the U.S.
What does "cult media" refer to, then? Popularly, the
term "cult media" seems to refer to content outside the mainstream, so
a cult television program might be seen as a show that is not widely
popular but particularly beloved by those who watch it.
One might question, however, whether a show watched by
millions in its regular airings on Comedy Central and through various
methods--legal and illegal--online could really be considered cult. My
concept of the mainstream relates less to quantitative measures,
though, but rather content's positioning outside the cultural
mainstream. Shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report
position themselves as embodying a particular lifestyle or mindset, and
thus affiliating as a viewer of this show might position one's self as
a particular kind of television viewer, fan, and citizen. That
identification is central to the cultural resonance of both these
Further, both The Daily Show and The Colbert
Report create a certain dedication among viewers, leading to a
greater depth or quality of viewership that exceeds the quantitative
numbers these shows register. A large number of the viewership of these
shows don't just watch them; they identify with these programs in a
deeper way, whether that is subscribing to the skepticism Jon Stewart
regularly articulates on air or being a professed member of "The
In addition to actively participating in building deeper
fan followings, these shows define themselves as cult through operating
outside the cultural mainstream through two principal methods. First,
these shows create a common identification for their viewers by
defining themselves against particular figures through regular
political parody. Fans of The Daily Show and The Colbert
Report can define who they are through the show's lampooning of who
they are not. Second, these shows foster the feeling of an "in-crowd"
among regular viewers through the repetition of particular jokes. Both
hosts rely on information or cultural references that might
particularly resonate with a younger demographic, those who consider
themselves more digitally savvy, or those who prioritize civil
liberties over security issues, for instance. In short, these shows
build a dedicated viewership through their constant reference to externally located content that
dedicated viewers are assumed to already know, just as members of a
religious congregation might be expected to know a parable or reference
to scripture without need of greater explanation, to return to the
religious connotations at the core of the term "cult."
In other research, I have proposed that certain
entertainment products develop into what I call immersive
story worlds, which I describe as properties which have a serial
storytelling structure, multiple creative forces which author various
parts of that story, a sense of long-term continuity, a deep character
backlog, contemporary ties to the media property's complex history, and
a sense of permanence. For me, U.S.-style soap operas, comic books, and
professional wrestling are the fullest manifestation of this
phenomenon, and all would consequently be considered as among the most
robust forms of "cult media" for me. They are all perceived in some way
to exist outside the cultural mainstream and all foster a deeper sort
of fan involvement, in part because of many ways they require fans to
actively make sense of their history. Unfortunately, none of these
texts were included in the volume I wrote this piece for. For comic
books, this is obviously because they are not television programming at
all. For pro wrestling and soap operas, despite being mainstays on
television line-ups since the origins of television, perhaps they are
seen as somehow too culturally marginal to be "essential" cult
Looking at The Daily Show and The Colbert
Report as fictional entertainment programming, these shows
similarly have a large volume of content with four new episodes per
week and no off-season. They likewise feature a cast of common
characters, multiple creative forces, and a type of continuity that
often requires knowledge of the history of the show to understand the
relevance of particular recurring jokes. In these aspects is where the
"cult media" aspect of these news parody shows most solidly lie. These
programs foster a deeply engaged "in crowd" who not only watch but are
encouraged to establish the show in some way as part of their
worldview. Further, they create a textual complexity through the
development of jokes and characters in programming that airs a combined
four hours of programming each week, with no off-season.
There's little doubt that the degree to which these two
programs have propelled their fans to identify with and around the
shows has become of intense interest to cultural critics and scholars.
While a centralized meaning for the term "cult media" will likely
remain a debated topic, these shows' development of an "immersive story
world" of sorts--coupled with their existence at the intersection of
journalism, parody, and fictional storytelling--position them at the
center of a debate about what "cult media" means. Whether one wants to
consider the fan activity and intense engagement with these shows as
"cult-ish" depends on that definition. However, with no sense that
these shows have an established "end date" in site, The Daily Show
and The Colbert Report might be seen as among the strongest of
"cult media" texts indexed in the volume I wrote this piece for.
Sam Ford is Project Manager
of the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium and editor of the C3 Weekly
He has his Master's degree from the Program in Comparative Media
Studies here at MIT and writes regularly on fan culture, television,