March 16, 2007

Weekend of March 16, 2007

*Editor's Note

*Opening Note: Henry Jenkins on the Desi and the Otaku, Part I of III

*Glancing at the C3 Blog

*Closing Note: Hugo Liu on Computational Aesthetics

--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------

Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3. As usual, this week's update includes links to all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog. Also, the site features tools to favorite the blog on Technorati, so be sure to do so if you read on a regular basis.

This week's update features an opening note from Dr. Henry Jenkins, who writes the first of a three-part series entitled "The Desi and the Otaku: Two Entries into Pop Cosmopolitanism." The second part of this series will be featured as the opening note in next week's C3 Weekly Update.

The closing note is from Dr. Hugo Liu here at MIT, who writes about his field of computational aesthetics.

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

--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------

The Desi and the Otaku: Two Entries into Pop Cosmopolitanism, Part I: An Introduction to Pop Cosmopolitanism

By: Henry Jenkins

This piece is the first of a three-part series which Dr. Jenkins has prepared for the C3 Weekly Update and is excerpted from his anthology Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture, a collection of Jenkins' work over the past 15 years which was published a few months ago by New York University Press. The second part of this series will be featured in the opening note of next week's Weekly Update.

On the way to the North Georgia mountains cabin where I go many summers to write, I stopped at a grocery store in Clayton and overheard a conversation between the grocery clerk and a customer ahead of me in line. The grocery clerk, who is a white girl with a broad southern accent, was trying to explain why she has a Japanese name on her employee badge and finds herself talking about an alternative identity she assumes through "cosplay," the practice of anime fans dressing up like favorite characters. Drawing a blank, she tried to explain what anime is and finds herself referencing children's shows like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-O. Again, the adult man looked at her with limited comprehension but gestured towards his son, who is newly atuned to the exchange and happy to acknowledge his own interests by pulling Yu-Gi-O cards out of his pocket. Finally, the confused man asks, "How in the world did you ever get interested in that?"

I might have pointed him towards the issues of Shojin Jump, the Japanese comics magazine, which was on sale in a small town grocery store which didn't manage to carry Entertainment Weekly, Time, or Newsweek. The father may be baffled but his son was growing up in a world where Asian media products were readily at hand. When the customer left, I signaled that I was a fellow Otaku, that is, a fan of Japanese media, and she opened up to me about the plans of her local club to go to a major Anime convention in Atlanta in a few weeks, and about rumors that there might be another anime fan working at the Wendy's down the street. She is a pop cosmopolitan, someone whose embrace of global popular media represents an escape route out of the parochialism of her local community.

Given the discussion that's been going on here about MTV Desi, I thought I would share some excerpts from my essay on "Pop Cosmopolitanism." For those of you who would like to read the whole essay, you should check out my new book, Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture.

Global convergence is giving rise to a new pop cosmopolitanism. Cosmopolitans embrace cultural difference, seeking to escape the gravitational pull of their local communities in order to enter a broader sphere of cultural experience. The first cosmopolitans thought beyond the borders of their village; the modern cosmopolitans think globally. We tend to apply the term to those who develop a taste for international food, dance, music, art, or literature, in short, those who have achieved distinction through their discriminating tastes for classical or high culture. Here, I will be using the term, pop cosmopolitanism, to refer to the ways that the transcultural flows of popular culture inspires new forms of global consciousness and cultural competency. Much as teens in the developing world use American popular culture to express generational differences or to articulate fantasies of social, political, and cultural transformation, younger Americans distinguishing themselves from their parent's culture through their consumption of Japanese anime and manga, Bollywood films and Bhangra, and Hong Kong action movies...

James L. Watson argues that the introduction of digital technologies will "accelerate" the "standardization of everyday life." I disagree. Certainly, networked computing will accelerate and intensify the world-wide flow of cultural goods, but precisely because networked computing is multidirectional and lowers transaction costs, it will insure that more nonwestern goods make it into the west. Moreover, tapping into the Internet will enable consumers to trace those goods back to their source, to learn more about their originating culture and to form relationships with their original producers and consumers. Pop cosmopolitanism cannot be reduced to either the technological utopianism embodied by McLuhan's "global village" (with its promises of media transcending the nation state and democratizing cultural access) or the ideological anxieties expressed in the concept of media imperialism, (with its threat of cultural homogenization and of "the West suppressing the Rest," as Ramaswami Harindranath describes it)...

To be sure, there is probably no place on the planet where you can escape the shadow of Mickey Mouse. Entertainment is America's largest category of exports. The Global Disney Audiences Project, for example, deployed an international team of scholars to investigate the worldwide circulation of Disney goods. They found that in 11 of 18 countries studied, 100 percent of all respondents had watched a Disney movie, and many of them had bought a broad range of other ancillary products. But, while still strong, the hold of American produced television series, on the global market, has slipped in recent years.

Local television production has rebounded and domestic content dominates the prime evening viewing hours with American content used as filler in the late night or afternoon slots. Hollywood faces increased competition from other film producing nations, including Japan, India, and China, who are playing ever more visible roles within regional, if not yet fully global markets. Major media companies, such as Bertelsman, Sony or Universal Vivendi, contract talent world-wide, catering to the tastes of local markets rather than pursuing nationalistic interests; their economic structure encourages them not only to be the intermediaries between different Asian markets but also to bring Asian content into western countries.

Many American children are more familiar with the characters of Pokemon than they are with those from the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson and a growing portion of American youth are dancing to Asian beats. With the rise of broadband communications, foreign media producers will distribute media content directly to American consumers without having to pass by U.S. gatekeepers or rely on multinational distributors. At the same time, grassroots intermediaries will play an increasingly central role in shaping the flow of cultural goods into local markets....

Henry Jenkins is the chief faculty investigator for the Convergence Culture Consortium and is Director of the Comparative Media Studies program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities at MIT. His blog is available at Jenkins' new book, Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture, features Jenkins' work on fan communities, collective intelligence, and video games in the past decade-and-a-half, an anthology of several of his essays. The second part of this essay will be featured in next week's opening note.

---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------

The Cereal Serial, Part I: The History of Breakfast Cereal and the Trickster Icon. In this first-part of a four-post series, Thomas Green's recent article from The Journal of Popular Culture acts as a launching point for looking at the history of branding and cereal and the trickster characters that have become so closely associated with children's cereal brands.

MySpace Plans to Expand Services to News Aggregation, Commenting. Plans from Fox Interactive Media have been leaked regarding MySpace News, a news aggregation, commenting, and ranking site that will be married to the MySpace social networking site.

William Morris/Narrowstep Deal to Create Branded Channels for Each Star. The talent agency has teamed with the UK-based online TV company to create online video sites for each William Morris talent, leaving questions both about how accessible the William Morris content will be to sharing and quoting, as well as how this might change the nature of creating a fan base for talent.

Television Without Pity Sold to Bravo. The well-known fan community criticism site has been purchased by Bravo, leaving people to wonder both what editorial changes might be put in place under new ownership but also what expanded possibilities may be available for the site with an expanded budget.

CBS Uses YouTube for March Madness Cross-Platform Distribution, but Users Angered at Lack of Grabability. With CBS' Web site lacking the infrastructure to handle the potential surge of video streaming from March Madness fans, a deal struck with YouTube seems the perfect answer--but some fans are angered by the inability to imbed the videos into personal sites and blogs.

Viacom Lawsuit Directed at Google/YouTube for More than $1 Billion. The conglomerates will battle it out in court over copyright infringement issues that Viacom calls "massive" and "intentional."

MTVN Speaks Out on Their Vision of User Grabability and Quoting Moving Forward. MTV Networks discusses plans to empower the viral spread of video content through their own Web sites by incorporating greater ability to imbed and quote official MTVN video content.

Finding More Nuanced Ways to Discuss Convergence in Journalism. Journalism educators have to continue focusing on how to handle questions of media convergence in their J-school curriculum, as the idea of convergence has proven to be more than just a faddish buzzword.

Fashion Brands and Branding Style: Looking at Reviews for Mark Tungate's Book. Tungate's Fashion Brands: Branding Style from Armani to Zara provides several case studies on European designers that sheds an interesting light on the nature and process of branding and creating meaning and value around brands.

Two Interesting Ad Campaigns: Ink Is It and I Hate Steven Singer. Kodak and Animax Entertainment team up to create a series of viral videos that emphasize how expensive ink cartridges were before the new Kodak Easyshare was discovered, while Philadelphia-based jeweler Steven Singer continues to generate attention with his reverse-psychology campaign.

Y&R/ATWT's L.A. Diaries on CBS innertube: An Intriguing Approach to Transmedia Storytelling. The two CBS Daytime soaps have teamed up to launch an online video product which features a character from each of their shows and tell the story of what they were doing while away from their respective shows. The short-term digital series serves to fill in some narrative blanks, launch new storylines, and reintroduce characters to the national audience.

General Hospital: Night Shift Could Be Fascinating Case Study in Cross-Show Storytelling. The ABC Daytime soap opera is launching a spinoff that will be SOAPnet's first original dramatic series, creating the potential for cross-show storytelling to an unprecedented degree, if the producers choose to capitalize on the opportunity.

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--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------

From Aesthetics to Computational Aesthetics

By: Hugo Liu

This essay is based on comments that MIT's Dr. Hugo Liu recently made to the Portuguese magazine NADA, explaining his major field of research, computational aesthetics.

Aesthetics is the realm of art, beauty, and sentiment. Computational Aesthetics, then, is a new field of research that aims to understand, model, and simulate the artful, beautiful, and sentimental through computer algorithms. Now, it was always clear that computer algorithms would be good at rational and scientific thought, because logic and computer programs share a mechanical nature. Chess, for example, is something computers can play quite well because the rules of that game are clear and simple. But in contrast, computers are quite bad at making art, writing poetry, or relating to people emotionally--because the rules of aesthetical games are often confused and subtle beyond words and equations. The fact that art and beauty are difficult to describe has created great quarrels throughout intellectual history. The idealist philosophers Plato and Kant insisted that art and beauty were confusing for humans because their truth was metaphysical, beyond the reach of human reality. In the Enlightenment tradition initiated by Descartes, the subjective experience of art and beauty are dismissed as inferior to knowledge and science because they are not as tangible or as easily formulated.

My view of aesthetics is much closer to Freud's. His insight was that the experience of art and beauty arises when everyday situations cause the unconscious mind to erupt with emotion. Using that revolutionary idea, Freud was able to interpret dreams and laughter--two central problems of aesthetics. Freud's explanation emboldens computational inquiry into aesthetics because it implies that art and beauty's sublime are psychological rather than divine; art and beauty are not inferior to the rational, but rather, are circumstances more contextually sophisticated than rationality. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one area of computer science that has been intensely interested in models of the human mind. In Computational Aesthetics, we have applied many AI techniques to "implement" Freudian psychoanalysis in computer programs and machines. Thus we can now use computers to investigate a great variety of aesthetic questions--for example, happiness, taste, imagination, humor, frustration, suffering, irony, myth, intimacy, memories, and morality. Whereas philosophers have long pondered these questions, Computational Aesthetics affords us a laboratory for testing possible answers.

A frequent question asked of me is how researchers will one day imbue software and mechanical things with emotions. I respond by pointing out that there are already plenty of software and mechanical things that claim to have emotions. You might be familiar with Microsoft Word's help system, Clippy. It is an animated paper clip (or cat or dog) avatar that watches you as you type. If it thinks you are writing a letter to someone, it will raise its eyebrows in excitement and type to you "I think you are writing a letter! Do you need help with that?" Clippy can be excited, it can be sad, it can be bored; so then, Clippy has emotions, right?

Actually, wrong.

Emotions are not just about facial expressions; they are about deep understanding and intimate communication. A user might at first think that Clippy has emotions, but the user will be disappointed when they realize that Clippy's excitement and sadness are superficial and disconnected from the user-agent interaction. Clippy does not really understand the user. Even when I am annoyed and try to turn Clippy off, he cannot understand my frustration at all and just continues to smile. I give this example because a lot of software and mechanical things pretend to have emotions, whereas really they are using emotions as a gimmick. For software and mechanical things to have genuine emotions that people can believe, the emotions should be justified. Clippy's emotions might be more believable if he acts sad when the user writes a poem about despair, and acts excited when the user has just finished a difficult essay for school. A genuine emotion is a justifiable reaction to a human situation. Our pets often mirror our mood and that is why we credit them with having genuine emotions.

When the day comes that a software or mechanical thing has real emotions, we will know because we will be able to consider them our friends and build deep bonds with them. But that day is not here yet. For now, we still have to research better models of people's minds and their imaginations; their hope and dreams, fears and frustrations.

I think Computational Aesthetics is a breakthrough way to do research into emotions, because we can program software and mechanical things with the deep models of interaction predicted by psychoanalysis, and then really test how worthy these mechanical models are at simulating natural emotion and interaction. I have built several software and mechanical robots to do things like--help you relieve anxiety through laughter, or create artwork that you will connect to deeply. These aren't directly emotional because they don't smile or cry. But they are subtly emotional because they are sensitive to your hopes and fears and to your unique point of view.

Dr. Hugo Liu chaired the Computational Aesthetics workshop at the 2006 meeting of the American Association of Artificial Intelligence. He is presently guest editing a theme issue on the "Semantics of People and Culture" for the Int'l Journal on Semantic Web and Information Systems, published by Idea Academic Publishers.


Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (

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