C3 Weekly Update

Editor's Note

Welcome to the final edition of the C3 Weekly Update for 2008.

In our first piece, we have part two of Gail De Kosnik's discussion of the American Dream as a trasnational phenomenon through Filipino online protests. In our second article, Jason Mittell tracks down for an interview the creative team behind the spreadable media YouTube phenomenon Vlad and Boris.

As always, we hope that you enjoy these articles. This week's newsletter was compiled and edited by Daniel Pereira ( for the Convergence Culture Consortium. Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any suggestions or comments.


In This Issue

Editor's Note

Opening Note: Gail De Kosnik on Filipino Anti-Fandom (Part 2 of 2)

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!

Closing Note: Jason Mittell ahead of the spreadability curve - an interview with Vlad & Boris (Part 1 of 2)

Opening Note

Performing Transnational Anti-Fandom: Filipinos Protesting The Daily Show and Desperate Housewives Online (2 of 2)

The United States annexed the Philippine Islands as a colony after defeating first the Philippines' former colonial masters in the Spanish-American War of 1898, then the Filipino insurgency of 1899-1902. From that point to the year that the U.S. granted the Philippines in 1946, the U.S.' promise to the Philippines at the outset of the colonial project was not eventual citizenship in the American nation, but eventual citizenship in the American project, which included democratic self-rule based on moral and intellectual worthiness - "fitness," as President McKinley put it. It is important to recognize that from the start of the U.S.' colonization of the Philippines, what Neferti Tadiar calls a "common material imaginary," characterized by "dominant dreaming practices" (Tadiar 31), was established. From the early 20th century, the Philippines was encouraged and commanded to dream of full citizenship in an American New World Order, an America that would extend beyond the borders of the nation called the United States - a global America, a worldwide American Dream, in which all people would be free and self-governing because they deserved to be and had worked for it. My invocation of the Bush-era term "New World Order" is purposeful, for it is only recently that many of the ramifications of the dreaming practices implanted in the Philippines by its U.S. colonizers, and in many parts of the third world by first world nations, have become clear: what the First World, particularly the U.S., has been aiming at over the last century is a supranational or extranational imperialism, in which smaller and poorer nations become willing and eager members - citizens - of a global empire characterized by American-style political democracy and economic development. The Philippines was one of the testing grounds for the transnational American Dream.

American exports to the Philippines, particularly of cultural productions, played a large part during the colonial years in the U.S.' "tutelage" of Filipinos. The inundation of Filipino cinemas, television screens, and radios with American cultural productions only increased after independence, particularly after the end of the Cold War and the "deregulation" of U.S. media. David Morley and Kevin Robins write,

"No longer constrained by, or responsible to, a public philosophy, media corporations and businesses are now [since the 1980s] simply required to respond to consumer demand and to maximise consumer choice…. Audiovisual geographies are thus becoming detached from the symbolic spaces of national culture, and realigned on the basis of the more 'universal' principles of international consumer culture. The free and unimpeded circulation of programmes - television without frontiers - is the great ideal in the new order. It is an ideal whose logic is driving ultimately towards the creation of global programming and global markets....The new media order is set to become a global order" (Morley and Robins 11).

The "new media order," which is (or will be) founded on the first world, especially the U.S., exporting its cultural productions across the globe, and the "new world order," which is (or will be) founded on the first world, especially the U.S., exporting American ideals and systems of governance across the globe, are both components of the "international dreamwork" of which Tadiar speaks, which I am calling supranational Americanness, or the extranational American Dream. Filipinos' digital protests against The Daily Show and Desperate Housewives last fall brought to light just how fantastical and unrealized is the U.S.' dream of rendering all nations, especially third world nations, culturally as well as politically American.

Graham Murdock's theory of cultural citizenship proposes that during the 19th century, "it became increasingly clear that the activities and aims of the major capitalist companies were antithetical to the extension of citizenship. If people were to become full citizens they had to have access to the material and symbolic resources that secured social inclusion and facilitated participation....[F]ull citizenship...required access to relevant symbolic resources and the competences to use them effectively. Efforts to secure full cultural rights centered on the development of an array of public institutions - the education system, museums and galleries, public libraries and public broadcasting" (Murdock 10-11). In this, Murdock echoes Morley and Robins' assertion that broadcasting imparts a sense of belonging and membership to individuals in a nation. Murdock's primary object of study is television, and he argues that contemporary television fails to grant its diverse viewers full cultural citizenship because, making a similar claim to Morley and Robins, commercialism and the need to optimize audience size has displaced any sense of responsibility on media producers' part to "construct a shared culture."

The model of cultural citizenship that Murdock applies to a single nation's broadcasting, I am applying to the Philippines and to many third world nations. Murdock lobbies for the responsibility that a nation bears to adequately represent its citizens in the cultural sphere - a responsibility that includes representing the nation's diversity, and promoting dialogue across diverse groups. I view Murdock's framework as suitable for thinking about the sense of disenfranchisement, exclusion, and even betrayal that Filipinos felt upon seeing U.S. television programs use the Philippines for quick laughs.

When the Philippine diaspora engaged in digital protests against the Daily Show and Desperate Housewives, they were engaging in a form of political action that has, over the last seven years, been remarkably effective for Filipinos. Digital media, specifically cell phone texting, played such a crucial role in helping Filipinos seeking to depose President Joseph Estrada in 2001 to organize mass protests that Estrada later said of his political downfall, "I was ousted by a coup d'text." (Pertierra et. al. 101). The power of the cell phone to incite ordinary people to action, which numerous articles called "text power," was one of the most reported-on aspects of the anti-Estrada revolution. Although the Philippines is an impoverished country, its status as one of the leading recipients of the U.S.' outsourced jobs in digital enterprises, such as programming, animation, and database management, makes Filipinos' competence with digital technologies unsurprising. The seriousness and magnitude of the Daily Show and Desperate Housewives controversies are minor next to the nation-shaking 2001 revolution, and yet there is some basis for comparison. Might we not regard last fall's online protests as Filipinos' latest mobilization of disenfranchised citizens via digital technologies? In objecting to their continual exclusion from the American cultural sphere in which they have so long dwelled and played a part, Filipinos protesting online in fall 2007 were attempting to hold a powerful institution to its promise of inclusion and representation, just as Filipinos in 2001 who organized via texting successfully held another powerful institution accountable for abandoning its promise to represent its people.

Works Cited

Karnow, Stanley. In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines. New York: Ballantine, 1990.

Murdock, Graham. “Rights and Representations: public discourse and cultural citizenship.” In J. Gripsud (ed.), Television and Common Knowledge (London: Routledge, 1999).

Pertierra, Raul et. al. (ed). Txt-ing Selves: Cellphones and Philippine Modernity. Manila: De La Salle University Press, 2002.

Tadiar, Neferti. Fantasy Production: Sexual Economies and Other Philippine Consequences for the New World Order. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2004.

Abigail (Gail) De Kosnik is an Assistant Professor in The Berkeley Center for New Media and the Department of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies. She researches intersections of minority discourse with artistic appropriations.She is currently co-editing a volume on soap operas, How to Save Soap Opera: Histories and Futures of an Iconic Genre, with Sam Ford and C. Lee Harrington.

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!


This will be our last edition of the C3 Weekly Update for 2008. Have a safe, restful holiday - and see you in 2009.


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

Closing Note

Interview with Vlad & Boris

On October 14, a YouTube video appeared on a new account entitled "vlad and friend boris presents 'Song for Sarah' for mrs. Palin" ( It bore no identifying markers of its creation beyond the names Vlad and Boris. A music video attesting a Russian crush on Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, it slowly began spreading via email, Facebook, and blog links. Within a week, it had surpassed 100,000 views, and appeared on television newscasts in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. Soon top political blogs like Daily Kos, Andrew Sullivan, and Talking Points Memo were linking to it; as of Election Day, it received over 430k views, over 600 YouTube comments, and maintains a perfect 5 star rating.

I was fortunate to be an early adopter of Vlad and Boris, having received the link from one of my former students. I've been tracking the video's spreadability, and have been impressed both by the quality of the piece (it's really re-watchable, which accounts for a good number of those views) and the dissemination with little effort by the producers. Certainly much of this success is due to how central YouTube has been to the 2008 election, as it's hard to imagine a video on any other topic making as big a splash so quickly. But I think much of its success is also tied to the underlying mystery surrounding the piece - is it really produced by a couple of Russians? Was it "professionally done"? (I've seen sites that suggest it was a stealth SNL piece.) What would it mean to the election if a VP candidate were the subject of sincere affection and/or mockery by Russian videomakers?

The truth is a bit more mundane, but still quite impressive. The creators of the video are four recent graduates of Middlebury College (three majoring in my department of Film and Media Culture) living in New York City. They told me about the video upon its release, and I've enjoyed monitoring its success. And I realized that the world of online video tends to be fairly anonymous, especially as videos are spreading. So I figured I would take advantage of the happenstance of my connection with Vlad and Boris to interview the creators and explore how they see their own practices and culture circulation.

JM: First off, can each of you introduce yourselves, identify your role in the Vlad & Boris world, and explain your background and current work within the media world.

LK: I'm Lucas Kavner - I play Vlad and also wrote the song. I currently work as an editor for a recent web startup called Unigo ( and am also a writer and actor here in the city.

JB: My name is Joe Bergan, aka "Boris." I studied film and media culture in college and I have a deep intellectual curiosity about new media and its great potential in the near future. I currently work as a freelance AP in television production.

AvAA: My name is Astri von Arbin Ahlander, and I was the Art Director on Vlad and Boris…Perry and I have made several shorts together before, on which I worked as Art Director and Producer. I have also made a couple of short videos on my own... I am currently enrolled in the MFA program in Nonfiction Writing at Columbia University.

PB: My name is Perry Blackshear, and I was the director, DP and editor of Vlad and Boris, which in this case, is about four times less important than it sounds. I'm currently enrolled in the MFA program in Film Production at NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

JM: Can you walk me through the process that led to creating the song and video?

LK: Yeah, this was just one of those instances where we had an idea, I actually went home and recorded it quickly, and was able to convince everybody based on the song that this would be a hilarious video. After that, all the pieces kind of just came together.

JM: You released it on YouTube with no self-identification besides Vlad & Boris. How much did you conceive of it as a hoax to make people think these were really two smitten Russians, or at least two Russians mocking Palin? How does the Vlad & Boris experience depend on believing that it might be "real" in some way?

PB: I'm almost positive that our attempt to keep it "authentic," was the hook that allowed it to be successful. It really is much funnier if you believe that they are Russians making fun of Americans and themselves, and much more mysterious. A friend and I had just invested in a 35mm adapter for our NYU projects, and I decided to use it with my mother's Pentax lenses on my DVX100 to make everything look vaguely like 8 or 16mm film... the shallow depth of field, the vignetting, the wonky focus, which for some reason I thought people might equate with Russia. I think mostly it is a testament to two things: Astri's near perfect rendition of Russia decor and costume, and blind luck.

JM: Once it was uploaded to YouTube, what strategies did you undertake to get it to spread? Did you try to get friends to perpetuate the hoax, or allow it to multiply regardless of attribution?

JB: This video has really shown me the power of social networking. Lucas and Perry posted the video on Youtube and on Funnyordie …I think people found it funny so we didn't have to tell people: "pass it on to five friends or else you'll have bad luck for 7 years!" …I love how the Youtube view counter works to show support. It's a brand of authenticity, I think once you get over 100,000 hits people notice it, like an album going gold - people will just consume it because it's popular. I think it took a week to reach 100k, but then almost over night it hit 200k.

AvAA: I think the real trick of going viral on Youtube is reaching that breaking point, which is around 50,000 views. Once you do that, it takes on a life of its own. And the more views it has, the more likely it is to show up on the Youtube feeds on their home page, and the more likely people are to stumble on it by accident. Basically, once you reach that breaking point, it takes off. The real work is getting it up to that point in the first place. We did that through a lot of facebook messages and emails to people in our personal networks. We were also fortunate enough to have the video passed along to media contacts in more established places pretty early on. Getting it on sites like the Washington Post and the Daily Kos during the first week certainly did a lot to up the numbers.

Jason Mittell is a consulting researcher with the Convergence Culture Consortium and an Assistant Professor of American Civilization and Film & Media Culture at Middlebury College. His book – Genre and Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American Culture (Routledge, 2004) – offers a new approach to exploring television genres as cultural categories as utilized by television industries and audiences. He is currently writing a new book on contemporary developments in American television narratives and how they intersect with shifts in the television industry, media technology, and audience practices.

The Fine Print

Compiled and Edited by Daniel Pereira ( for the Convergence Culture Consortium.


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