March 23, 2007

Weekend of March 23, 2007

*Editor's Note

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

*Glancing at the C3 Blog

*Closing Note: Shenja van der Graaf on Bands and Brands

--------------- 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 second of a three-part series entitled "The Desi and the Otaku: Two Entries into Pop Cosmopolitanism." The final part of this series will be featured as the opening note in next week's C3 Weekly Update.

The closing note is from Shenja van der Graaf, who examines the ways in which product brands are entering into the music business.

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 II: 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 final part of this series will be featured in the opening note of next week's Weekly Update.

Last week's piece set the stage for Jenkins' concept of pop cosmopolitanism, in relation to our recent discussion surrounding MTV Desi here in the C3 Weekly Update. This week's essay primarily focuses on understanding the "desi" phenomenon in relation to the pop cosmopolitanism concept.

Cosmopolitans and locals, Hannerz notes, have a common interest in preserving cultural differences in the face of pressures towards homogeniety. The locals care little about diversity per se but want to hold onto their own traditions. The cosmopolitans recognize that they will not get the diversity they crave "unless other people are allowed to carve out special niches for their cultures and keep them." Grassroots convergence serves the needs of both cosmopolitans and locals. A global communication network allows members of diasporic communities to maintain strong ties back to their motherlands, insuring access to materials and information important to their cultural traditions and preserving social connections with those they left behind. Cosmopolitans use networked communication to scan the planet in search of diversity and communicate with others of their kind around the world.

This section documents the role of grassroots intermediaries in shaping the flow of Asian cultural goods into western markets. Specifically, we will be considering two kinds of cultural communities the role of the South Asian diasporic community ("the desi") in preparing the way for Bollywood films and Bhangra music and the role of western fans (or the "otaku") in insuring the translation and circulation of Japanese anime and manga. In both cases, grassroots cultural production and distribution demonstrated a demand for Asian content which preceded any systematic attempts to commercially distribute it in the West. Yet, we underestimate the impact of these grassroots intermediaries if we see them as markets or even marketers; they also play a central role in shaping the reception of those media products, emphasizing rather than erasing the marks of their national origin and educating others about the cultural traditions they embody.

The westward flow of Indian media content reflects successive generations of South Asian immigration. Immigrant grocery stores became the initial points of distribution for Hindi videos, which enabled a nostalgic reconnection with the world left behind. Bhangra emerged in the club cultures of Europe and North America, building upon regional traditions from India, but expanded to reflect points of contact with reggae, hip hop, and techno within an increasingly globalized youth culture. As Sunaina Marr Maira writes, "A uniquely Indian American subculture allows second-generation youth to socialize with ethnic peers while reinterpreting Indian musical and dance traditions through the lens of American popular culture." Cultural shows on college campuses and festivals in local neighborhoods enabled participants to perform and attendees to reaffirm ethnic identities. Combining classic dance and current club styles, the cultural shows construct India as both timeless and contemporary, as both a world away and right in one's own backyard, reflecting the conflicted character of diasporic culture. In Boston, Los Angeles, and elsewhere around the country, theaters (still mostly ma and pa operations) are opening which exclusively show Hindi-language films. The United States and Britain now account for 55 percent of international Bollywood ticket sales.

Pop cosmopolitans are inceasingly being drawn towards Indian fashon, music, and cinema, surfing the circuits of distribution which enabled first and second generation immigrants to maintain ties within the diaspora. Perhaps they stumbled into an immigrant grocery store in search of ingredients for a favorite curry and left with a few videos. Perhaps they caught some Bhangra at a local club. Perhaps an Indian-born friend invited them to one of the culture shows. Perhaps they happened onto a Bollywood website or flipped across an Indian-language cable station.

In this context, it is hardly surprising that Indian styles are increasing appropriated by western performers, such as Madonna's use of henna and Indian religious iconography in her "Ray of Light" tour or Baz Luhrman's imitation of a Bollywood aesthetic in Moulin Rouge. These western appropriations have further increased American awareness of the richness and vitality of Indian popular culture, as can be suggested by the surprising box office success of Mira Nair's film, Monsoon Wedding. Seeking to tap British interest in all things Bollywood, Andrew Lloyd Webber commissioned Bombay Dreams, an original stage musical with an all-Asian cast and with music by distinguished Bollywood composer, A.R. Rahman. As Weber explained, "There are more people seeing Bollywood musicals on screens on any given night than there are people watching plays in the West End." American and British film companies are helping to finance the production of Hindi-language films with expectations that they will do well not only in Asia but in the west. Summing up these trends, Indian-American filmmaker Kavita Munjai claims, "the young generation is flocking to see Hindi blockbusters. India is the flavour of the day in America now."

As Maira notes, the "desis" display deeply ambivalent feelings to Indo-chic, sometimes proud to see their national culture gain greater visibility, sometimes uncomfortable with the way western consumers misunderstand or misuse these traditions, and sometimes uncertain whether their own hybrid identities give them any stable position from which to police the authenticity of these new transcultural appropriations...Conflicts arise from the fact that the desi and the pop cosmopolitans are consuming at
cross-purposes: one seeking to make peace with their parent culture, even as they carve out a place for themselves in the new world; the other seeking to escape the constraints of their local culture and tap into the coolness they now associate with other parts of the world.

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 final part of this essay will be featured in next week's opening note.

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

Netflix Users Steadily Competing to Find Better Recommendations for the Rental Service. Returning to a phenomenon C3 first covered back in November, this piece looks at the Netflix Prize competition to tap into the intellectual capital of the masses in order to improve its recommendation system by 10 percent.

MySpace Battles to Keep Other Businesses Off Its Users' Sites. As a variety of niche businesses rise up around the social networking site, MySpace is doing everything in its power to internalize any related features and cut everyone else out of their users' sites.

RS-DVR Struck Down in Fedearl Court, But the DVR Isn't Going Away. Cablevision's hopes of continuing to offer a remote storage digital video recorder was crushed in federal court this week, but many commentators are questioning what the networks really gained.

YouTube Video Award Winners Announced Monday. The infamous online company/community is further entrenching itself in online culture by awarding the best original productions that have appeared on its site in 2006.

CBS Forms Deal with Sprint for Significant Mobile Television Content. CBS will provide video clips, live streams, and full episodes to Sprint users, with CBS retaining the rights to advertising within the content.

Ad Sale Increases Driven by Rise in Internet Sales, Top 100 Spot Sales, While Product Placement Numbers Drop. The latest Nielsen Monitor-Plus study also indicates that Spanish-language television and spots on outdoors shows had substantial growth in 2006.

CBS News Contest Provides Venue for Student Journalists, with the Winner Getting a Summer Internship with Katie Couric. College students will submit articles and videos looking at local angles on international concerns such as climate change and the war in Iraq, with the CBS News visitors getting the chance to help choose the best student work.

Citizen Journalists and Professionals Collaborate in New Wired Project. Assignment Zero, led by the Wired staff, includes the contributions of citizen journalists in looking at the phenomenon of using the crowd itself as a source.

Acceptable.TV Features Hybrid of Voter Control, User-Generated Content. VH1's new show presents a series of potential mini-pilots from the show's acting troupe that fans vote to renew to the next week, along with a segment on each show featuring user-generated content.

The Cereal Serial, Part IV: Visual Icons--The Kellogg Characters. The fourth part of this series looks at the characters created who act as icons and marketers for the various cereal brands and what this indicates about Kellogg's marketing approach.

The Cereal Serial, Part III: The Kellogg Web Site. The third part of this series looks at Kellogg's ability to present both in-depth product information and brand extensions on the Web.

The Cereal Serial, Part II: In-Store Display. The second part of this series looks at the ways in which Kellogg's cereal projects are arranged on the shelves and how this reflects the marketing logic of the various cereal brands.

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

Bands and Brands

By: Shenja van der Graaf

Recently Starbucks announced the launch of their own record label signing both established and new artists. This struck a chord with an upcoming briefing here in London involving music buffs investigating the future role of advertising and brands in selling music, but also with an interest I had in MyCoke. A recent email regarding the number of decibels my avatar possesses on MyCoke made me login again. However, what back then seemed to be an interesting foray into this territory seems to have been ditched in favor of a rather reduced site where 'Music Makers Meet Music Love' (whatever that may mean) - offering a dull monthly podcast and the possibility to purchase a CD.

A few years ago, before SpiralFrog took over the front page of the Financial Times, it had not even occurred to me (and I guess many of us) that advertising revenue might be able to fund legal downloads. And since SpiralFrog's apparent implosion, many are skeptical as to whether it truly can. Back then, many of us would play with ideas along the lines of that music retail would continue to fall, which seems not to be far from the truth; with Music Zone's recent demise and, the profit warnings HMV made again a few days ago, saying that its shares are plummeting and have reached the lowest level over the past four years.

It was Apple, the non-music brand to tap into the cool world of digital music via the iPod and, by association, the iTunes Store. But even iTunes does not grow fast enough to make up for diminishing retail sales. It makes me wonder whether even more brand involvement in music should be an answer. Could the brand-band relationship go further? Is there even potential for both parties to cut out the middleman and do deals direct - such as a Universal/Zune type deal, done with a non-technology brand instead of Microsoft or Apple?

Considering MyCoke's demise, will we see more of this sort of activity (do we want to?) - e.g. brands licensing the technology and the repertoire to launch their own music service, or, following Starbucks' example, even signing and developing suitable acts themselves? Starbucks does benefit from an advanced and well-working global distribution system, but will that be enough? And given the expenditure and the risks involved in trying to pre-empt music purchase trends, perhaps a more suitable approach would be brand sponsorship of existing online music properties, which is a tried and tested strategy in live music. Sticking to the London scene, alongside Carling venues and O2 Wireless Festivals, how long will it take before we see a Vodafone, eMusic and a Levis LastFM?

Right now it seems to be unlikely because for most advertisers this will be too much of a musical commitment instead advertiser-funded download models might beckon - more like Qtrax instead of Channel 4. So whether we talking launching labels, sponsoring new music services or advertising over new download platforms, there may a whole set of ways for brands to fund bands. The questions remains then as we have seen for Coca-Cola, whether people can get hooked.

Shenja van der Graaf is an international scholar who has studied at Utrecht University, Leiden University, the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, the Oxford Internet Institute, and the London School of Economics, where she is currently working on her doctorate. She studies the Japanese, American, and European media industry and markets.


Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (

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