Welcome to another edition edition of the C3 Weekly
Update. With Fall already announcing its arrival, we, at consortium, have been dedicated to finalizing many details for the upcoming FoE 3 conference, where we hope to see many of you.
For this week's newsletter we are happy present you with contributions from two of our consulting researchers: Nancy Baym and Derek Johnson.
Baym, along with Annette N. Markhan, recently edited Internet Inquiry: conversations about method, a book that critically approaches the challenges behind online research methodologies. In her C3 newsletter contributionm she discusses the ways in which Swedish music fan communities behave online.
Our second piece belongs to the realm of television. Here, Johnson analyzes the role of "textures" in the process of building a coherent world for Battlestar Gallactica
As always, we hope you enjoy these articles. If you have any questions or comments or would
like to request prior issues of the Update, direct them to Ana Domb editor of the C3 Weekly Update, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In This Issue
Opening Note: Nancy Baym on online music fandom
On the road with Henry Jenkins: Keynote Address at upcoming 5D Conference and speaking at Maximedia 2008
Closing Note: Derek Johnson on world-building around Battlestar Gallactica
The new shape of online community: The example of Swedish independent music fandom (Part I of II)
Prepared for the 3C newsletter, adapted from Baym, N. K. (2007). The new shape of online community: The example of Swedish independent music fandom. First Monday, volume 12, number 8.
The rise of social network sites is often taken to exemplify a shift from the interest-based online communities of the Web's "first" incarnation to a new "Web 2.0" in which individuals are the basic unit, rather than communities. However, online communities are also taking a new form somewhere between the site-based online group and the egocentric network, distributing themselves throughout a variety of sites in a quasi-coherent networked fashion. This new form of distributed community poses particular problems for its members, developers, and analysts.
Music fans have been connecting online from the Internet's beginning and continue to push boundaries today. The earliest music fan communities on the Internet were mailing lists and Usenet discussion groups, many of which still operate. In the mid-1990s, music fans were among the first to build websites to foster community interaction.
In the 2000s, music fandom has played a central role in social networking sites. Not all have been fueled by the band-fan relationship like MySpace, but most interfaces encourage people to list or friend the bands they like in constructing their on-site identity. Dozens of music-based social networking sites have launched, including Last.fm, MOG, iLike, and Goombah.
Another important development has been the rise of mp3 blogs, in which fans post sound files of songs accompanied by description and/or analysis. Though it's easy to dismiss this as "pirating," these blogs serve crucial publicity roles. Many mp3 blogs are linked through blog rolls, creating a multi-sited community of like-minded bloggers.
As each new incarnation of online fandom has emerged, fan communities have distributed themselves more widely. Individuals become increasingly selective about which places they want to spend time. Online platforms and locales become increasingly specialized in the functions they serve for fans.
Swedish indie music fandom could arguably not exist outside of Sweden without the Internet. Swedish independent music gets little radio airplay, even in Sweden, and its fans depend on the Internet to locate new music and to connect with one another. As a fandom, they do not congregate on single sites. There is no "swedishindiefans.com" that serves as an all-purpose go-to site. They build community through a network of sites, building their own and taking advantage of those already on offer to strengthen their engagement with the music and each other. In doing so, they exemplify the new form of online community, one which extends far beyond fandom.
There are official sites associated with the scene, most notably those of the bands, their labels, and the independent music retailers that specialize in this music. Several fan-authored mp3 blogs focus on the Swedish indie scene, the most enduring of which have been Swedes Please (United States) and Absolute Noise (France). A fan-built archive site, Hello!Surprise! (Sweden) lists over 500 bands on 47 labels, and offers mp3s from many of them. None of these sites hosts much fan interaction despite minimal infrastructural enabling of that potential.
The closest to an all purpose site is IT'S A TRAP! (IAT), started by an American, Avi Roig, in 2002. As many as 25,000 people access IAT each month, approximately 57% of whom are return visitors. Yet even given the possible home of this site, which has a modestly-used discussion board, fans do not limit their community building to it. We can see this by tracing IAT out through other web locations. In addition to maintaining the IAT site, Roig has also created a presence for the site on three social networking sites: MySpace, Virb, and Last.fm.
The MySpace and Virb sites function primarily to publicize the label and the website, but the opportunity to friend and be friended by the IAT persona means that people can affiliate with IAT and, in so doing, mark themselves as participants in this fandom in a way that other participants will recognize. On Last.fm, however, IAT can be found as both a persona and as a group which anyone can join. The Last.fm IAT group has more members, more topics, and more discussion than the IAT board. Arguably, the community development amongst IAT readers is stronger offsite on Last.fm than it is within IAT.
Individual fans participate in this fandom in numerous ways. The majority read one or more of these sites without ever registering or leaving messages. Those who make their participation visible may do so by becoming writers, leaving comments, or, more likely, linking their profiles on social networking sites such as MySpace or Last.fm to bands, groups, and labels that mark them as members of this fandom. Some fans create YouTube profiles to which they upload Swedish bands' videos and/or build playlists of such songs for themselves and others to enjoy. Fans also use these sites in conjunction with one another, exporting charts from Last.fm into MySpace, LiveJournal, Virb, and elsewhere to display that this is their music.
Social networking sites support fan community by providing launching pads for individuals to contact. People may build personal relationships that go beyond friending to include sending one another messages that lead to other kinds of interpersonal contact. Trading music files through e-mail or upload sites such as YouSendIt or SendSpace is common, for instance, and friendships also develop through e-mail and instant messaging. Fans also connect in social network sites by creating groups. In addition to the Last.fm IAT group, for instance, are dozens of Last.fm groups devoted to Swedish music.
Some participants in this online fan community engage in local fandom-building activities in their hometowns. Online fans engaged in this scene run clubs booking Swedish bands in Glasgow, London, Madrid, and elsewhere. Others are less ambitious, but share the music they have found online with friends offline, integrating this scene into their local relationships as well.
To summarize, the Swedish indie fan community is distributed throughout many places on the Internet and off. Its online form dwells in neither the site-based communities of interest that earlier incarnations of online music fandom entailed, nor in the individualized social networking spaces that have purportedly replaced them. Instead it is in all of these places and others, spreading itself through a network of sites. Few if any fans frequent them all.
Nancy Baym is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas. She pioneered the study of online community and fandom in the early 1990s writing about how soap opera fans built relationships with one another while transforming television viewing into a collaborative endeavor. She is currently studying the "friend" relationship in the music-oriented social network site Last.fm and writing a book, Personal Connections in a Digital Age, about digitally-mediated community, relationships and social networks for Polity Press. She was a co-founder of the Association of Internet Researchers and served as its President. She blogs at OnlineFandom.com.
On the road with Henry Jenkins: Keynote Address at upcoming 5D
Conference and speaking at Maximedia 2008
Saturday, October 14th, 2008 Henry will be in Long Beach, California on the Cal State University Long Beach (CSULB) - delivering the keynote address at 5D: The Future of Immersive Design. The 5D conference (of which Henry is a Founding Member) explores the profound impact of rapidly changing technologies in design for narrative media — film and television, game design, animation, interactive media, architecture and environment — for artists, designers, scholars, educators, and students. The conference presented by the University Art Museum (UAM) at California State University, Long Beach and the Art Directors Guild (ADG) and is an assemblage of the design world’s leading pioneers and academics in an open exchange of ideas and insights about new design processes within the entertainment industry and the delivery of the immersive experience.
Henry is then off to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he will be speaking on Tuesday, October 7, 2008 at Maximedia 2008 - the largest, annual marketing and communications forum of its kind in Latin America. His talk in Brazil is entitled "Convergence of Media versus Divergence of Interests" and is moderated by Luiz Fernando Vieira
- Partner, Media Vice President - Africa Propaganda.
Both speaking engagements illustrate the ever-expanding interdisciplinary and global spectrum of the C3 framework and methodology - which you will begin to see manifest itself in the 2008/2009 research agenda when Henry returns to Cambridge to work with the C3 Team. Safe travels Henry!
The "Textures" of Battlestar: Producing the Off-Screen World
In his regular podcasts, Battlestar Galactica executive producer and developer Ronald D. Moore consistently points to and celebrates the textures built into the series. "He really provides a lot of nice textures," Moore says to praise a performer. Moore pines for deleted scenes that made heavy use of dissolves and "had more texture to them." While the Colonial Fleet's scripted dependency on tylium fuel is too "an interesting bit of texture," Moore also credits his directors and art department with contributing to the series through "textures that they add themselves." Battlestar is apparently built from textures at every level of production, from script-writing to mise-en-scene to editing. But what does this broad, all-encompassing term mean? What are textures? How do they serve the creative goals of producers like Moore?
Through an analysis of Moore's commentary on Battlestar, I argue that textures can best be conceived as tools for building media worlds that exceed single stories, images, or sounds and appear to persist and continue off-screen. Scholars like Henry Jenkins, Matt Hills, and Jeffrey Sconce have all offered significant theoretical insights into world building, but Moore's notion of texture provides an instructive glimpse into how such projects unfold in practice-not just in the pre-production work of development, but also in the production and post-production work of visual and aural designers.
In reference to script writing, Moore suggests that textures are all those elements that make a world like Battlestar's cohere as a consistent, believable place by providing deeper flavors or understandings of that universe beyond the plot at hand. As Moore explains during the podcast for "The Passage", "this is just straight-up character and texture of the show, and it doesn't move plot." Though supporting characters like Dualla and Gaeta play peripheral roles in episodes like "Resistance", Moore asserts that "they're just part of the fabric of the show...they provide such important texture and humanity into life aboard the battlestar...which really makes the world work." Moore specifies the central role that textures play in world building, and his staff writers have internalized this textural practice. Mark Verheiden explains that his episode "Final Cut" "explored some of the less featured characters and gave the world of the ship some additional texture." These textural characters thus remind audiences that the world off-screen persists when the plot focuses elsewhere.
Scripted textures, therefore, point to what is not on the scripted page. In his podcast for "The Captain's Hand," for example, Moore argues that
This notion that Cottle was performing abortions throughout the Fleet, very quietly and with no questions asked...provided this backstage look at what was happening off-camera during all these episodes. That there was a life to the fleet...People's lives were continuing on...And just because we didn't show them to you up in CIC didn't mean that things weren't happening below decks.
Moore's rhetoric suggests a story world transcending the script, a system whose wheels continued to turn when its creators looked away. Moore uses similar language when talking about the third season episode "Dirty Hands":
This episode, I think, opens up the world of the Fleet in a way that none of the episodes really have. How does the Fleet operate? Well, there's a tylium ship out there. There's a refinery ship out there. And they have their own world, their own reality...their own narrative of what's happened in the Fleet that is separate from what has happened aboard Galactica.
Through texture, an entire civilization operates beneath a televisual surface that cannot contain it.
Scripted textures animate the Battlestar world by pointing to its persistent operation in off-screen spaces; but what purpose is served by the visual textures celebrated by Moore? Elements of mise-en-scene like performance and production design have traditionally defined the look of media worlds, with cinematography framing that pre-designed world from the outside. But Moore has harnessed cinematography too a textural tool for world building. Rather than mediating the world, the camera in Battlestar has been positioned as an object within the world. As Moore promised in his series manifesto:
The first thing that will leap out at viewers is the dynamic use of the documentary or cinema verite style. Through the extensive use of hand-held cameras, practical lighting, and functional set design, the battlestar Galactica will feel on every level like a real place... Our ships will be treated like real ships that someone had to go out and film with a real camera...questions we will ask before every VFX shot are things like: "How did we get this shot? Where is the camera? Who's holding it? Is the cameraman in another spacecraft? Is the camera mounted on the wing?"
Battlestar's cinematography does not just frame the world; it offers visual textures that participate within it by suggesting an off-screen space filled with in-world camera operators. These textures situate style within the world, instead of in outside mediation of it.
Editing has been similarly positioned to support in-world textures. As producer Bradley Thompson explains in the podcast for "Scar":
We start with such large scripts...compared to what actually ends up on the screen. So it's almost as if we've taken documentary cameramen to go out and shoot this entire event... [W]hen you finally get into the editing room it's like we saw this whole battle, now what do we show in the 42 minutes or 40 minutes that we've got of program time? [There's] this stuff that's already in them that we may never show.
Conceptualized this way, editing does not construct story space via montage, but instead selects from a story space that seems to persist in time off screen. The edited episode provides a partial look at an excess of off-screen activity.
Sound textures too complicate the boundaries between style and narrative world. When developing his score for Battlestar, composer Bear McCreary began by imagining what popular music would sound like within the world of the series. So when Moore requested a cover version of "All Along the Watchtower" that his characters would hear in-world, McCreary could draw upon his own score as a template for not only the non-diegetic sound of the series, but also the diegetic sound of the world presented by the series. These aural textures of the score suggested an entire off-screen musical tradition in operation within the world.
As loosely conceptualized by Moore, textures are those elements of narrative, mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing, and sound that produce an excess of off-screen activity to animate a coherent, persistent world. While the term remains unwieldy, articulating distinct sites of labor within a complex production process, textures make sense of world building not only as a narrative project, but also as a stylistic one. To suggest that something has texture is to suggest a pattern of depth; instead of smooth surfaces texture offers spaces to be explored beneath the surface. By thinking in terms of textures, Moore helps us to see how narrative, image, and sound can be used to create television worlds that continue off-screen.
Derek Johnson is a PhD Candidate in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His dissertation examines the historical development of the media "franchise" as a form based on shared intellectual property networks, as a specific set of production and consumption practices, and as a discourse used to make sense of media culture.