August 18, 2006
MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
- Editor's Note
- Opening Note: Hugo Liu on Psychoanalytics of Mass Culture
- Glancing at the C3 Blog
- Closing Note: Aswin Punathambekar on Monetizing Citizenship
--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------
Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3.This week'sWeeklyUpdate features an opening note from MIT's Hugo Liu on the Psychoanalytics of Mass Culture, explaininghow thepsychologicalanalytic and treatment method is applicable to understanding consumers. The closing note features research from affiliated C3 researcher Aswin Punathambekar onmonetizing citizenship and the dotcoms' relationship with Bollywood. As usual, the update also includes links to all the entries from the week from the Convergence Culture Consortium blog. Some of you all are already contributors to the blog or else regular followers and even commenters on the blog. We encourage everyone who is part of the C3 team, including faculty and corporate partners, to engage in this public part of C3's work. Also, a couple ofcorrections regarding last week's update. First of all, sinceher name was spelled two different ways in theupdate, the correct spelling is Doris Rusch. Second of all,the announcement thatthe two faculty contributors for the week were principal researchers for C3 wasinaccurate. Joshua Green is the manager of the consortium, while Rusch is an affiliated faculty member. 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 Weekly Update, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------
Psychoanalytics of Mass Culture
By: Hugo Liu
Why should media producers care about psychoanalysis? After all, isn't psychoanalysis just about treating neurotics with arm chair conversation? Actually, there's a fair bit more to it-- namely, psychoanalysis is also a family of theories aiming to explain, model, and predict the mechanisms of the unconscious mind-- it prescribes a cognitive and aesthetic economics for people.
In fact, psychoanalysis is just the sort of framework that can help illuminate the rhyme and reason that underlies cultural trends and practices. Its basic premise is that human desires naturally keep the unconscious mind filled with psychic energies, which can be positive or negative, aroused or restrained, dominant or submissive, inwardly or outwardly, focused or unfocused. These energies impel a person to select goals and actions that give outlet to internal desires, and ensure that energies do not pen up overmuch. However, without sufficient self-awareness, and sometimes due to unconscious blocks called repressions, a person may lack the insight to choose suitable outlets.
Adding to the problem, not all outlets are obviously suitable-- sometimes hedonists find satisfaction in austerity and ascetics in indulgence because a psychic energy of one polarity can be re-channeled into an outlet of the opposite leaning. However, consider that some folks afflicted with depression are overrun with self-negating and life-negating energy; it is possible to channel those negative energies into positive outlets-- this reversal is called sublimation. Some sadists find sublimation in dentistry (an old joke), angsty teens are often recommended to sublimate discontent by weightlifting and exercise. Even Lisa Simpson found sublimation for her blues by playing saxophone (cf. season 1, episode 6: "moaning lisa").
We can also recognize instances of sublimation in mass culture by regarding consumers collectively as having an emergent unconscious, with desires and outlets. Some food for thought. The Open Source software movement had lost much of its steam in the early 90s because the U.S. government was paring its support. However, the end of the decade saw a revitalization of the Open Source movement, fueled largely by a sublimation of anxieties about Microsoft's aggressive proprietarism. Before Wikipedia reached critical mass, it was authored and edited by a disproportionate few-- several of its top contributors, who spent several hours everyday tidying up entries, admitted to using Wikipedia as a therapeutic outlet for obsessive-compulsive tendencies (cf. "Wiki Becomes a Way of Life," Wired Magazine, March 2005). Duringthe 2004 U.S. Presidential election season, the electorate was polarized and full of negativity. Political parties enjoyed some success in sublimating frustration and angst into political participation and donation. Riding these coattails, one interactive banner ad campaign capitalized on negativity quite directly by offering users the chance to "Punch out George W."
Psychoanalysis and the principle of sublimation might offer media producers the following advice-- think beyond the obvious uses or audience for your product and ask how your product can serve as an unexpected outlet for previous unconsidered energies pent-up in the collective unconscious. Think of the direction of collective mood and the recent experiences that have added to the affective landscape, and consider that all of these charged experiences-- say, 9/11, Katrina, reality television, and Google, e.g.-- can impinge upon what you are making, no matter how distant the connection may at first seem to be. Psychoanalysis would predict that all events and experiences can sway each other because they all produce psychic energies, which are fluid and fungible in unexpected ways. Human desires and satisfactions, after all, are a free market economy.
Hugo Liu is a postdoctoral scholar at MIT's Media Laboratory and with the Comparative Media Studies program. His Ph.D. dissertation theorized a computational model of cultural tastes and used that model to make quantitative predictions about attitudes and trends in the blogosphere. He recently had the pleasure of speaking on methods for describing the aesthetics of food and wine at Robert Mondavi's 40th Anniversary celebration in Napa Valley.
----------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------
E3: End of an Era? C3 director Henry Jenkins explores the downfall of the popular gamingconference in more depth, looking at what changes the video game industry might undergo in the wake of the conference's end.
CBS Joins Transmedia News Race with Simulcast. Sam Ford looks at how the network plans to poise itself in the race for best transmedia news coverage among the networks when Katie Couric takes over the lead position for CBS in September.
WWE Media Effects Debate. Sam Ford looks into the fallout from fervent debates regarding World Wrestling Entertainment's programming linked to date fighting among teens, based on a1999 study by a team led by Robert H. DuRant recently published in Pediatrics.
Procter & Gamble Productions Launches Classic Soaps Channel Online. Sam Ford looks at how PGP's programming on AOL Video will help exploit the company's archives while potentially adding great depth to the two current PGP shows, As the World Turns and Guiding Light.
Passions Available on iTunes. Sam Ford looks at the implications of the NBC soap becoming the first daytime serial drama to be made available on the popular Apple digital distribution platform.
Weeds Season Two Premiere Streamed Online. Sam Ford looks at MSN Video'soffering offreeviewing of the show's second season premiere and how Weeds has continued to prove that making a product available in multiple platforms does not hinder but rather aids in continued viewing and DVD sales.
VCR Still Causing Controversy. Sam Ford writes about the continued debates about commercial ratings from Nielsen, this time focusing on whether VCR viewers should count or not, with both sides arguing based on the ambiguity of whether those who tape programs ever watch them.
Mentos Marketing Campaign Encourages User-Generated Content. Sam Ford writes about how, although Diet Coke demonstrated a strong aversion to YouTube material showing Diet Coke/Mentos explosions, the mint company has capitalized on brand interest by creating a contest centered on the craze.
ComicCon: The Power of the Devoted Niche. Henry Jenkins posts more of C3 Media Analyst Ivan Askwith's notes from this year's ComicCon in San Diego, looking at niche audiences and innovative marketing toward attracting those audiences.
FOX Debuting New Interactive Media System. Sam Ford writes about the News Corporation's newest product and the planned distribution of FOX television and film through their own Web-based digital video downloading service.
Janet Jackson Asks Fans to Design Her Cover. Sam Ford looks into the pop star's invitation for contributions from her fan community and the implications of whether or not she decides to use fan art for the packaging of her upcoming album.
--------------- FOLLOW THE BLOG ---------------
Don't forget - you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog:http://www.convergenceculture.net/weblog/
--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------
Monetizing Citizenship: How Dotcoms Became a Part of Bollywood
By: Aswin Punathambekar
On June 6, 2000, the trailer of Kaante (Thorns) was launched on IndiaFM.com. Traffic to the site was so high, it crashed within 30 minutes. Backup servers were added, and the site registered more than a million hits in two days. Sanjay Gupta, the director of Kaante, took this information to distributors and got his entire film funded without having shot a single frame (and without a script, for that matter!). Narrating this story, Saleem Mobhani, founder of IndiaFM.com, lamented: “you would think this incident made the film industry take the Internet seriously. But no, they started expecting money. Because some Internet sites were willing to pay for Bollywood content, the film industry began thinking about the Web as a revenue stream instead of a medium for promotion and global reach.”
The situation today is vastly different. Every film has a well designed website with trailers, production notes and behind-the-scenes details, music clips, ringtones and wallpapers, and a discussion forum for stars to interact with their fans. Not only has the marketing budget in Bollywood gone up considerably over the past 4-5 years, no marketing strategy is now considered complete without a new media component. Question is, from being ignored as a medium that barely 2% of the Indian population used, how did the Internet become an integral part of the film business within a brief span of 1-2 years?
My take on it: dotcoms helped the film industry reconfigure a vaguely defined “overseas territory” into a well-defined market that could be mapped, targeted, and monetized. Before I explain how exactly dotcoms managed to do this, a quick, but important detour.
#1: Non-Resident Indians and their Dollars
The 90s was the decade of the Non-Resident Indian (NRI). For the first time since independence, “Indianness” was being defined from outside the country (think Silicon Valley and Indian immigrants). And Bollywood was quick to notice. Through a number of blockbusters that revolved around NRI life, one thing was made clear: NRIs were a part of a “great Indian family” that now spanned the globe. Needless to say, NRI dollars helped! The film industry rethought the distribution map, and the “overseas territory” became as important, if not more, than domestic ones in terms of box office revenue.
#2: State Policy
In 2000, the Indian government accorded filmmaking the status of “industry.” This move opened up the industry to new sources of funding including banks, large corporate houses, and NRI venture capitalists. “Industry” status also initiated discussions of “corporatisation.” The argument went: to shed the image of a disorganized “national” cinema, and evolve into a global culture industry, Bollywood would have to set its house in order and “corporatise” (to begin with, sever ties with the mafia!). On another front, the Indian government also began offering dual citizenship to NRIs, handing out cards that proclaimed: Person of Indian Origin. By the late 90s, NRIs were citizens of India in both symbolic and material terms.
This is the larger economic, political, and social frame within which the emergence and establishment of dotcoms can be understood.
Dotcoms as Knowledge-Brokers:
Dotcoms emerged as indispensable cultural consultants by leveraging a new media technology in ways that simultaneously appealed to both the film industry, and audiences outside India.
1. Dotcoms convinced the film industry that they were uniquely positioned to reconfigure a geographically vast yet poorly defined “overseas” territory into a well-defined NRI market. Speaking a new and high-tech language of metrics such as traffic, page hits, downloads, subscriptions, box office returns in different cities in the U.S. and U.K., and data culled from discussion forums, dotcoms like IndiaFM began generating “knowledge” about overseas audiences’ engagement with Bollywood content - knowledge that was previously unavailable to filmmakers operating primarily from Bombay.
For example, a director in Bombay had no sense how his/her film embedded itself in the day-to-day lives of NRIs. Dotcoms offered to map, target, and monetise an overseas territory that was immensely lucrative. They served in the capacity of “cultural consultants” for Bollywood’s transformation into a global culture industry that actually understood its audiences.
2. By featuring trailers, organizing chat sessions with stars that involved audiences from all over the world, and so on, dotcoms brought NRI audiences into the same temporal frame as audiences in India. For e.g., NRI audiences no longer had to wait for fans in India to upload trailers taped from television. They could now chat with stars and other fans in India. Their involvement with Bollywood, in other words, was as direct and immediate as it was for audiences in India.
For the first time, producers, directors, and stars operating primarily from Bombay could imagine the NRI audience in more concrete terms. The data that dotcoms offered helped those in Bombay to think about and mobilize assumptions about NRI audience tastes and expectations. And conversely, NRI audiences could now assert their presence as not just “citizens,” but also as a consumer segment with immense purchasing power. Dotcoms’ ability to mobilize the Internet to monetise NRI audiences’ sense of citizenship-via-Bollywood is the single most important factor in the Internet becoming an important site for production of a transnational Bollywood culture.
The importance of Bollywood’s encounter with the Internet can be assessed by looking at how trade practices are now changing. Consider, if only briefly, the case of distribution. Until recently, the standard practice was to sell distribution rights to a film to one distributor for the entire overseas territory. This distributor was not only in-charge of marketing and promotions overseas, but also controlled revenues from the entire overseas territory. Bollywood-New Media convergence has had the effect of opening up this domain. Producers in Bollywood now get trade queries directly through the film’s website, instead of having to rely on middlemen and a handful of powerful distributors who had, until now, controlled and carved up the overseas territory.
Mapping all the other domains of Bollywood that have intersected with new media will take time, but will needs to be done if we want to understand how Bombay is consolidating its position as media capital of a transnational center of cultural production. Over the next few months, I hope to use C3 as a space to expand on the ideas and themes introduced in this piece. And I look forward to your comments and feedback.
Aswin Punathambekar is an alumnus of the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT, the co-editor of the forthcoming Bollywood Reader (out from NYU Press in 2007) and is currently working on a Ph.D dissertation on Indian cinema, new media and public culture. He writes at http://bollyspace.blogspot.com.
Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (email@example.com)
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