November 17, 2006
MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
November 17, 2006
*Opening Note: Aswin Punathambekar on Bollywood and Capital Displacing Kinship
*Looking Backward: Joshua Green's Note on C3's The Futures of Entertainment Conference at MIT This Past Weekend
*Glancing at the C3 Blog
*Closing Note: Hugo Liu with an Excerpt from "Superconsumer: A Postmodern Romance"
--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------
Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3. This week's update features an opening note from Aswin Punathambekar, a C3 affiliate who is currently at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Aswin writes this week about the changes in Bollywood and the process of capital displacing kinship and the implications of this shift.
The closing note is from a C3 faculty affiliate here at MIT, Hugo Liu. Hugo shares a portion of a recent essay about the "superconsumer."
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. The site now includes a tab to favorite the blog on Technorati, so be sure to do that if you visit it on a regular basis.
And this week's newsletter also features a statement from C3 Research Manager Joshua Green about the success of this weekend's Futures of Entertainment conference here at MIT, which was sponsored by the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT, in conjunction with C3.
Also, we are still ultimately planning to switch the newspaper distribution to a centralized e-mail site at some point in the future when we have all of each partner company's subscribers in the system. Several of you may have received invitations to accept membership to this e-mail list. If you have received an invitation, please accept it, as we work on transferring the newsletter's distribution to that format.
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 email@example.com.
--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------
Bollywood Inc.: When Capital Displaces Kinship
By: Aswin Punathambekar
What is the most striking and enduring feature of the film world in Bombay? Had you raised this question a few years back, you would’ve heard one word: kinship.
You would’ve learned that entry, access, and the business of filmmaking in Bombay are almost completely determined by kinship and social networks. Established directors launch their sons’ (or daughters/nieces/nephews) acting careers, stars marry other stars and their offspring enter the film world, producers raise funds based on long-standing relationships with distributors (and in some cases, the mafia!), film journalists get stories based on personal equations with stars and their public relations agents, and producers trust distributors to track a film’s revenues and determine its box office success or failure.
In fact, even that precious commodity called the “audience” is defined on the basis of personal relationships. Producers and directors rely not so much on numbers, but rather, on distributors’ experiences in different urban and rural territories. Box office numbers are notoriously unreliable and often go unreported. The “scientific” language of market research, well-established in the advertising, print, and television industries in India, is largely absent in the film industry.
Cut to 2006.
I heard exactly the opposite as I traveled around Bombay interviewing a range of professionals in the film industry. Consider what Tarun Tripathi, marketing manager at Yashraj Films, said: “It’s not enough to say arre sir, badiya picture hai, gaane bahut acche hain, foreign locations hain, hit hogi pakka, hum keh rahe hain. [It’s a terrific film, the songs are really good, there are foreign locations, it’ll definitely be a hit, I’m telling you.] It doesn’t work anymore to say you think the film will do well. The rules of the game have changed.”
Tripathi’s argument that the commercial outcome of a film could no longer be assessed based on what one “feels,” was not an aberration. Without exception, all the journalists, television executives, public relations agents, and marketing executives at film production companies that I interviewed over the course of 2 months emphasized that empirical audience research was now extremely crucial and highly valued in the film industry.
How do we explain this change?
Let’s consider the case of Kaante (Thorns, 2000), a film that served a test site for a range of stakeholders to define Bollywood as a modern and global culture industry.
Kaante was co-produced by Sanjay Gupta (also the director of the film), Pritish Nandy Communications (a television corporation that entered film production in 1999), and Raju Patel, an NRI with over two decades’ experience as a producer in Hollywood. Gupta’s story outline, an Indianized version of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, was converted into a bound script by a team of American writers in L.A., and the film itself was shot in L.A. over a period of 35 days, with an all-American crew, and actors from Bombay working 12-hour shifts and adhering to completion bonds. Premiered in L.A., and billed as the Bombay film industry’s first “truly international” film starring Amitabh Bachchan, Kaante went on to do well at the box office in India and abroad, and was even listed in the top 10 charts in the U.K. and the U.S.
Overall, Kaante became a much-talked about film for its success in bringing Hollywood’s values and practices into a film industry desperate to shed its image as a “feudal” and dysfunctional national cinema. But let us shift focus a little, set aside Kaante’s Hollywood connections, and consider what Kaante anticipated for Bollywood: the establishment of a network of social relationships that was defined not in terms of kinship, but through new circuits of capital.
Consider the people and groups involved with Kaante. It is critical to recognize that companies like Pritish Nandy Communications did not just bring “clean” money into the business of filmmaking. They brought with them an entire apparatus of media production, including a conception of the “audience” that was very different. The “audience” was imagined not only by those involved in the typical production-distribution-exhibition cycle of a film – producers, writers, director, stars, and distributors – and determined, in the final instance, in terms of how many people worldwide watched the film in a cinema hall. It was not just a matter of speculation by distributors who, as Pritish Nandy remarked at a marketing seminar, “possessed an uncanny ability to smell what kind of film would work in which territory.”
The “audience” was also mobilized in interactions between Sanjay Gupta, the film’s director, and Indiafm.com, the website which received a million hits in two days when it launched the Kaante trailer; between Pritish Nandy, founder-CEO of Pritish Nandy Communications, and Sanjay Bhutiani, an advertising executive from Leo Burnett Entertainment, the agency which handled Kaante’s marketing; between Sanjay Bhutiani’s team and marketing executives at Thums Up, a cola company that offered Rs.7 crores for in-film placements; and finally, in negotiations between television companies and advertising agencies, defined by the ratings that the numerous Kaante promotions received.
What the case of Kaante made clear for everyone in Bollywood was that the “audience” need no longer be defined and understood primarily in relation to the performance of the film at the box-office. The “audience,” where film is concerned, was redefined as a commodity that had purchase in a number of different sites of mediation, the most prominent and important ones being advertising and television.
Kaante signaled a shift that is central to understanding the emergence of Bollywood Inc. as a global culture industry: the web of relationships that define the social world of filmmaking in Bombay has now expanded to include people and groups for whom the kinship-based functioning of the film industry is neither meaningful nor viable.
Mapping this new network of relationships will be an important first step towards understanding how Bollywood now works, for speculating how the industry will perform over the next decade, and whether Bollywood can indeed develop as a viable and global alternative to Hollywood.
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.
---------- ANNOUNCEMENTS ----------
A Note on The Futures of Entertainment
By: Joshua Green
C3 Research Director
Friday and Saturday, we enjoyed a very successful event. To propose a conference on "the futures of entertainment" strikes me now as a fairly bold move. Despite the conference's broad focus, however, the event ran together as a considered and thorough discussion of some of the opportunities posed by the changed environment which we navigate. The panels we drew together examined the changed context in which entertainment and media companies communicate with their audiences. While we delved deeply into only a few sites--the new television landscape, user-generated and transmedia content, online worlds and fan cultures--the entire event seemed underwritten by a serious attempt to come to terms with the implications and challenges of the current media space.
I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised by how well the conversational format we adopted for the panels laid out. Rather than restricting speakers to a set limit from which to present their 'position,' engaging the entire panel in a conversation resulted in some quite intelligent mining of the topics to hand. Participants began commenting on how engaging they found the sessions from as early as lunch on Friday afternoon (after only one panel). From a moderator's perspective, it was enjoyable to hear the sessions run themselves, and to need only to prod the conversation in this direction or that on a few occasions.
The crowd for the event was an interesting mix, including some academics and students, as well as reps from the advertising industry (both creatives and planning), new media developers, content creators, and industry folks. I would like to thank formally all of those who offered their time to participate in the event. Whether sitting on a panel or speaking from the audience, the range of perspectives we were able to bring to the table was made possible by the willingness of the partners to offer comment on the changing shape of the industry. In particular, I would like to thank Andy Hunter from GSD&M, Molly Chase from Turner, Caterina Fake from Yahoo!, and Todd Cunningham and Eric Gruber who joined us from MTV Networks. The success of the conference rests heavily on the fact we were able to line up on each panel a range of perspectives on each topic.
---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------
FOE: Reason Report on the Conference. A report from the magazine is now online from reporter Jesse Walker, who was in attendance.
FOE: Bloggers Respond to Panels. Various attendees of the Futures of Entertainment conference have blogged about their experiences at the event and give their take on various panels and the event as a whole.
FOE: Not the Real World Anymore. The panel featured John Lester from Second Life's Linden Labs, Ron Meiners from Multiverse Online, and Todd Cunningham from MTV Networks, as well as Eric Gruber with a demo of Virtual Laguna Beach.
FOE: Fan Cultures. The panel featured Diane Nelson from Warner Premiere, Molly Chase from Cartoon Network, and danah boyd from UC-Berkeley.
FOE: Futures of Entertainment Pics Up on Flickr. The C3 team provided a variety of images from this weekend's event that have been made available online to provide some visuals for those unable to attend.
FOE: Joshua Green's "Viscerality and Convergence Culture." Comparative Media Studies post-doc. and C3 Research Director Joshua Green presented on the differences between the iPod and the Zune and the importance of a visceral connection and viewing technology as a social link rather than as software.
FOE: Transmedia Properties. The panel featured Paul Levitz from DC Comics, Alex Chisholm from Ice Cub3d Studios, and Michael Lebowitz from Big Spaceship.
FOE: Rachel Clarke's Licence to Roam. A blogger attending the Futures of Entertainment conference was providing extensive notes on the event throughout the weekend, with sometimes multiple posts on each panel.
FOE: User-Generated Content. The panel featured Rob Tercek from MultiMedia Networks, Caterina Fake from Yahoo!, Ji Lee of The Bubble Project, and Kevin Barrett from BioWare.
FOE: Television Futures. Betsy Morgan from CBS Digital, Josh Bernoff from Forrester Research, Mark Warshaw from FlatWorld and Smallville, and Andy Hunter from GSD&M.
FOE: Henry Jenkins' Introduction. The director of the Comparative Media Studies Program and the Convergence Culture Consortium spent the opening of the conference explaining some of the underlying principles behind the panels planned for the Futures of Entertainment.
Updates Coming for Futures of Entertainment Conference. The Futures of Entertainment conference this weekend was updated consistently on the C3 Weblog.
Nielsen Plans to Release VOD Measurement for National Programming. How will the measurement of VOD for national programs shift the understanding of how and when people watch programs, and how disputed will the numbers be as far as their accurate indication of VOD viewing?
NBC Video Podcasting Nightly News, Meet the Press. NBC's news division is the first to offer complete video podcasts of the programs as they air on television a few hours after the initial broadcast, as the race between the news divisions of the three traditional major television networks continues into cyberspace.
Strategic New Convergence Partnerships Around Us. The partnerships of Revver with Fame TV, the MTV Networks/Nexon Partnership for the distribution of Nexon products and Neopets, and the first MySpace Concert Webcast are all interesting new experiments furthering concepts of media convergence.
TiVo Branching Further into Internet Content, Providing New Conduits for User-Generated Video. The new TiVo technology is providing the opportunity to watch amateur video on the television through Internet downloading, further blurring the distinction between what is television and what is online video.
Nobody's Watching Continues Its Survival Online While in Limbo. While NBC is still not clear about what the future of the show will be, the creators have been budgeted to continue creating webisodes and interesting crossovers with appearances in and around the taping of other programs. Will this keep the initial grassroots support of the show alive during this holding period?
Convergence and Conversion: A Few Interesting Studies on Religion and New Media Technologies. This month's Convergence Newsletter features a variety of studies on how religious organizations and religious relationships are incorporating aspects of what is being considered convergence.
The OC Gets Buzz from Acknowledging Competition: The Power of Internet Rumors. A few references to its direct competitor Grey's Anatomy has gotten some extra attention for the struggling Fox drama and has launched a round of rumors of a crossover between the two shows. Is this good publicity? Was it intentional?
Chili's Everywhere: The Restaurant's Aggressive Integration Campaign on Veronica Mars and The OC. Two of the more influential teen-centered shows featured very visible scenes from Chili's in the past few weeks. How much is too much, and does this Chili's push present a positive form of product placement or something that goes over the line?
Web 3.0 and the Common Sense of the Internet? What is Web 3.0, and how are a variety of people across the Internet describing the coming changes? Henry Jenkins counted us down into Web 3.0 at our conference this past weekend, a little tongue-in-cheek, but what are people projecting to be the next version of online life?
Friendbombing on Facebook and the Confusing World of Social Netowrking. A New York Times piece provides a look at one father's attempt to join Facebook to keep an eye on his son, only to be friendbombed by classmates and further examines the perceived age divide for users.
Review: George Gerbner's and the Media Education Foundation. The late father of the "Mad World Syndrome" theory of mass media's videos, produced a decade ago, still hold sway in how many people view the corporate construction of the global media industries.
Friends with Benefit from One Tree Hill a Great Example of Transmedia Project Used as Fundraiser. The now-CW Network show released a CD earlier this year as a fundraiser for breast cancer that was organized as a fundraiser on the show, giving viewers the chance to simultaneously donate proceeds to a good cause while also having an artifact from the narrative world.
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--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------
An Excerpt from "Superconsumer: A Postmodern Romance"
By: Hugo Liu
Excerpted from 2006 essay "Superconsumidor, um romance posmoderno in Nada, vol. 8
The story of the superconsumer is that every naive consumer can be awakened and freed from the authority of culture through critical experiences—cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism, and perspectivism. What is interesting is that particular stages of the superconsumer’s journey can be traced to the writings of almost all philosophers of the postmodern. The three most interesting of these stories are Levi- Strauss and Derrida's story of the bricoleur, Jameson's story of postmodern intertextuality, and Bhabha's story of beyond. Each tells of a different key stage in becoming superconsumer.
In The Savage Mind (1962), Claude Levi-Strauss introduces a character called bricoleur. Like a handyman who is a jack-of-all trades but master of none, the bricoleur lives life as a generalist—he thinks a little about this, he thinks a little about that. The opposite of the bricoleur is the engineer, who is a specialist and thinks a lot about only one thing, and in only one way. The engineer is often viewed as a symbol of the knowledge achievement of modern society, while the bricoleur is often derided as primitive and unsophisticated. Jacques Derrida, however, turned the tables on the usual view. In his 1966 lecture on deconstruction—a cornerstone strategy for challenging the authority of modern knowledge—Derrida pronounced that the engineer was actually the fool, a victim to the illusion of certainty perpetrated by modern society. In fact, the bricoleur is the heroic one—his opportunistic approach allows him to not only survive our inherently unstable and confused cultural world, but even to defy it; hence he achieves a mythopoetical power. In contrast, the engineer cannot cope with the inconsistencies of a globalised culture, and being riddled with cognitive dissonance and fear of hypocrisy, he will ultimately give up. The account of bricoleur and engineer invites comparison with our superconsumer story. Every naive consumer begins as an engineer, initially reverent to cultural authority, and mistaking cultural beliefs for infallible truths. While many of these consumers will live and die without ever questioning cultural authority, some will be transformed through uncomfortable experiences that awaken their minds to a strange realisation—that each culture, its values, and its knowledge are myths-refined-by-time rather than facts, and are built on quicksand, not on bedrock. Awakening is an uncomfortable process that can cause one to feel lost and stuck in an existential quandary. But the most courageous and opportunistic engineers can transform into daring bricoleurs who master the rules of many cultures, and use each culture’s rules to undermine the rules of every other culture. This is the art of cultural criticism, and a vital skill shared by bricoleur and superconsumer.
If the values of every culture and belief system were individual texts, then the bricoleur jumps opportunistically from text to texts—he is intertextual. However, unless Derrida’s proactive bricoleur, Jameson’s protagonist, who we call the intertextualist, is overwhelmed and has not yet found the courage to make sense of the massive globalised culture. Jameson’s intertextualist thus marks an earlier point in the journey to superconsumer—he is the naïve consumer bombarded by cultural teachings from all directions, but he is beginning to awaken because he is increasingly desensitised to this sea of cultural messages. In “Postmodernism and the Consumer Society,” (1998) Jameson describes postmodernism as an era when we are always swimming between different cultures and images. He is greatly alarmed by this development—citing pastiche, or dry parody, and schizophrenia of imagery as two unwelcome and unsettling realities of today. Jameson frets that pastiche, the free mixing of cultural styles and motifs, is a mode of expression that has lost its soul and approaches meaninglessness.
Jameson foregrounds a frightening side of our postmodern reality. To experience pastiche, one needs simply to turn on a television and flip from channel to channel—the old black and white films that once were so great, now seem two-dimensional compared with colour films and special effects; late-night infomercials disguise themselves as talk shows and interviews—are they presenting information or selling products? Taking the blurring effect of pastiche to the extreme—as if one were to change the television channel quickly enough--Jameson describes postmodern life as a schizophrenic experience where meaning degrades into images
“As meaning is lost, the materiality of words becomes obsessive, as is the case when children repeat a word over and over again until its sense is lost and it becomes an incomprehensible incantation. To begin to link up with our earlier description, a signifier that has lost its signified has thereby been transformed into an image.” (ibid., 11)
Jameson’s intertextualist is nauseated by the postmodern mesh of clashing cultures and consumerist propaganda, and is overwhelmed by feelings of “unreality.” But disorientation and saturation are necessary milestones in any journey to enlightenment—they plant the seed of discontent. The moment when cultural narratives are seen as pastiche, like different channels on a television, is the moment that cultural messages have begun to lose their authority in the consumer’s eye. Soon, even intertextualists will reform their victim mentality, and start to scrutinise culture’s flood of messages. They may even return to exploit pastiche for its art, creating surrealistic hypertext adventures such as auteur David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Jameson himself may have expressed hope for such courageous future persons, truly at ease with the sea of culture, by predicting the rise of a “new international proletariat.”
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.
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