C3 Weekly Update

Editor's Note

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 researchers.

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 and 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


In This Issue

Editor's Note

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

Glancing at the C3 Blog

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 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.

Thurs., June 19, to Sunday, June 22
Consumer Culture Theory Conference 2008
C3 Director Henry Jenkins is included among the announced panelists at this Suffolk University event here in Boston. More information forthcoming.

Opening Note

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 novel idea.

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 consciousness.

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 and Simulation.

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.

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

Around 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 Facebook.

Politics in the Age of YouTube. C3 Director Henry Jenkins provides some YouTube videos about the U.S. Presidential Campaign.

The Dreaded 1,2,3 Challenge. C3 Director Henry Jenkins passes on an online meme on his most recent reading from authors Ian Bogost, Malfalda Stasi, and Stephen Applebaum.

MIT Communications Forum: Prime Time in Transition (2 of 2). In the second 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.

MIT 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.

Crossing 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.


Crossing 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.

"Your 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 intellectual property aspects of the dispute.

YouTube's Downmarket Aesthetic. C3 Research Manager Joshua Green writes about YouTube's popularity and its relation to lower-quality video on the site.

Telling 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.

Telling 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 football columns.

Telling 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 carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog.

Closing Note

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 as Cult Television

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 programs.

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 Colbert Nation."

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 television texts.

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 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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