May 18, 2007
MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
Weekend of May 18, 2007
*Opening Note: Henry Jenkins on the Concept of Wow!, Part II of II
*Glancing at the C3 Blog
*Closing Note: Preview of Upcoming C3 Case Study of Proselytizing and Archiving in the Wrestling Fan Community
--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------
Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3.
This issue features all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog. Also, the site includes 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 the second part in a two-part excerpt from Henry Jenkins' new book The Wow Climax. The second part of this series was featured in last week's Closing Note.
This week's closing note is the executive summary of a forthcoming case study by Sam Ford on the history of tape trading in pro wrestling fan communities and how fan archiving and proselytizing both increase fan engagement and provide the potential for new revenue streams for a content provider.
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 ---------------
Wow! Part II of II
By: Henry Jenkins
The following piece is the second part of an excerpt from the introduction of my new book, The Wow Climax, focusing on an understanding of emotional engagement and how it plays a part throughout the history of entertainment in the 1900s. This engagement, which I call the "wow" factor, illustrates the connection between emotion and entertainment that is especially important at a time that advertisers seek to tap consumers' emotions to create greater brand loyalty. If you missed the first part last week, it was in the closing note. That section looked at the vaudevillian roots of the concept of "the wow factor."
Not surprisingly, the vaudevillians developed their own folk theories of affect. Here's De Leon again: "The natural, at least customary, reserve of an American audience is comparable to the cement work damming a river. If the performer can open a sluice gate or spillway the tide of applause will rush out--we hope--in a strong compact stream. If through lack of fitting climax or showmanship no outlet for the pent enthusiasm is provided, it is very apt to trickle thinly over the top of the dam or swash around weakly in backwater bayous."
DeLeon's language is lush, even erotic, as he talks about the relationship that emerges between the performer and their public. He is, after all, talking about a climax, which causes the audience to lose control over their emotions, maybe even over their bodily functions. The vaudevillian wants us to laugh till we cry or turn read in the face or wet our pants or rock about convulsively or slap the person next to us on the back or.... The entire art of vaudeville performance was structured around achieving that basic emotional impact....
Of course, De Leon was not unique in recognizing the emotional dynamics shaping the popular culture. In his essay, "Montage of Attractions," Sergei Eisenstein outlines what the legitimate theater and cinema might learn from the mechanisms by which the circus thrills its spectators. Choosing a term closely associated with the fairground, Eisenstein defines the attraction as "any aggressive moment in the theater, i.e. any element of it that subjects the audience to emotional or psychological influences verified by experience and mathematically calculated to produce specific emotional shocks in the spectator in their proper order within the whole." As the essay continues, Eisenstein, like De Leon, catalogues different devices which can produce "shock" and "awe." For Eisenstein, perhaps the most vivid examples of "attractions" can be found in Grand Guignol "where eyes are gouged out or arms and legs amputated on stage." Eisenstein doesn't simply want to make us laugh; he wants to make us squirm....
Eisenstein's fascination with the mechanics of emotion needs to be understood against the backdrop of a larger Russian formalist preoccupation with the affective dimensions of popular theatre. Drama critic Sergei Balukhatyi, for example, wrote a detailed Poetics of Melodrama, which, as theatre historian Daniel Gerould notes, started from the premise that "all elements in melodrama--its themes, technical principles, construction and style--are subordinate to one overriding aesthetic goal: the calling forth of 'pure,' 'vivid' emotions. Plot, character, and dialogue, working in unision, serve to elicit from the spectator the greatest possible intensity of feeling." Melodrama, Balukhatyi argues, depends on "foolproof emotional bases," streamlined characters, a series of jolting twists of fate, simple and recognizable conflicts, and abrupt shifts of fortune, all designed to provoke an "immediate impression." Actions in melodrama, he suggested, were justified not by ideology or narrative logic but by the sheer force of the emotion which the scene was designed to express.
David Bordwell has extended Eisenstein's interest in the attraction to talk about the contemporary Hong Kong action cinema, which is similarly built around expressive performance and affective intensification: "In order to attract a mass audience, popular art deals with emotions like anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and indignation. Cinema is particularly good at arousing emotions kinesthetically, through actions and music. Bruce Lee asked his students to give their fighting techniques, 'emotional content,' such as purposefully directed anger. When this quality is captured in vigorous, strictly patterned movement, in nicely judged framings and crackling cutting with overwhelming music and sound effects, you can find yourself tensing and twitching to the rhythms of the fight." Bordwell's celebration of the "kaleidoscopic variety," the "expressive amplification," and the sensuousness of the Hong Kong cinema would have sounded familiar to DeLeon, Eisenstein, Balukhatyi, and their contemporaries....
Walter De Leon also would have recognized many of the techniques identified by David Freeman in a recent book, Creating Emotion in Games, including the appeal to scientific expertise implicit in the author's reference to proven principles of "motioneering." The book goes on to identify 32 different categories of emotional techniques which game designers can use for intensifying the game experience. As Freeman explains, "When emotion is added to a game, then the game will appeal to wider demographics. The game gets better press, gets better buzz, and is more likely to generate allegiance to the brand. The development team will have increased passion for the project. All this translates to increased profits and a much richer game experience."
After all, games began--like cinema itself--as an arcade attraction; their core aesthetic principles stemmed from the need to pump up players so that they kept dropping quarters into the machine. As games moved into the home, they became known as "twitch" entertainment, a phrase which refers to the need to constantly hit buttons to keep the action flowing, but which also suggests the nervous energy they generate from the player.
The techniques deployed differ from medium to medium but the vaudeville performer, the early cinematic showmen, the wrestler, the action or horror film director, and the game designer are all trying to use every device their medium offers them in order to maximize the emotional response of their audience. In so far as these popular artists and performers think about their craft, they are also thinking about how to achieve an emotional impact.
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 http://www.henryjenkins.org. Jenkins' new book, The Wow Climax, features Jenkins' work focusing on various media forms and emotional reactions that result from them.
---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------
Wrestling Fans Can't Benefit from HD?: Cultural Biases and WWE to HD. An HD expert claims that WWE fans won't be able to take advantage of pro wrestling in high-definition because they can't afford an HD set, but is this based on qualitative or quantitative data or just a cultural bias?
Second Life Survey. C3 Affiliated Researcher Shenja van der Graaf is conducting a survey on Second Life that readers are encouraged to take.
Soap Operas, Target Demographics, and Angry Fans. An angry fan has posted a response to Soap Opera Digest's Carolyn Hinsey, raising interesting questions regarding the validity of focus groups and the ways in which some in the soaps industry understand their viewers.
New Ways of Reaching Audiences, Maintaining Identity, and Proselytizing and Evangelism. Fan proselytizing and grassroots marketing are transforming the music industry and the ways in which new acts get discovered, as a variety of recent sources point out.
AOL/Third Screen, Microsoft/aQuantive, and Nielsen Commercial Ratings. Three interesting new developments in advertising and viewer measurement on television, the Internet, and mobile platforms will likely have a significant impact on the media industry.
MySpace Strikes Various New Deals for Branded Content. The News Corp.-owned social network strikes deals for branded channels with such names as The New York Times and National Geographic, as well as Reuters.
Web 2.0 and the Maintenance of Identity. Sam Ford looks at Grant McCracken's recent commentary on maintaining online identities, based on a recent piece from BBC's Bill Thompson.
Surya Yalamanchili and Categorizing Reality Show Fans. The P&G brand manager and former Apprentice star provides his own categorization for the different types of reality show fans, based primarily on their level of knowledge and engagement with the show and the people involved.
Fan Types: Robert V. Kozinets and Online Communities. As a followup to the previous post on fan behaviors, this entry focuses on C3 Affiliated Faculty Rob Kozinets' four categories for fans in online communities, based on their commitment to a media text or brand and their level of engagement in the community.
Fan Behaviors: Five Ways of Understanding Modes of Fan Engagement with Media Texts. Sam Ford provides a framework for understanding fan engagement derived from a study of pro wrestling fans in the live arena, sparking a continuing conversation about understanding how fans engage with media texts in various settings.
ABC/Sprint Deal Pushing for Mobile Content in Linear Channel/VOD. Disney and ABC formed a partnership with Sprint to launch both linear and VOD channels for mobile content that will include both short clips and full-length content.
FanLib Provides Another Home for FanFic Writers. Ivan Askwith looks at FanLib as a hub for fan fiction writers and particularly at the partnership between the site and The Ghost Whisperer, which sought out fan versions of the season finale.
NBC: Putting Engagement Upfront. Ivan Askwith provides notes from some of the biggest news from NBC's announcements at the upfronts, including a lot of interesting transmedia extensions and interactive projects for the upcoming television season.
Valuing 50+Audiences: The Myths of Advertising. A great piece from The New York Times focuses on how TV Land is hoping to buck the trend of devaluing audiences over 50 by targeting baby boomers, as television in general struggles with the myth that 18-49 is what matters.
MSNBC Hopes to Attract People to Its Site with News-Based Casual Gaming. The NewsBreaker Game launched with a particularly interesting NewsBreaker Live campaign in movie theaters, as MSNBC hopes to create a casual game that fits in with its news product.
--------------- 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.org/weblog/.
--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------
Wrestling Tape Traders: A Forthcoming Case Study of Fan Archiving and Proselytizing
By: Sam Ford
A C3 case study headed by Sam Ford is forthcoming on the history of pro wrestling tape traders and how they have coexisted with and paved the way for new business practices in the wrestling industry. What follows is the executive summary from that paper, which previews a lot of the key themes that will be addressed in greater detail in that study.
The behavior of tape-trading pro wrestling fans provides a useful case study to further understand fan proselytizing and archiving. These activities are key ways fans grow media properties and brands. The model of proselytism explored here builds on theories we have previously written about in the ethnography of a Boston-area college residence hall, "No Room for Pack Rats: Media Consumption and the College Dorm." That study examines the pivotal role sharing media plays in recruiting new fans, exploring the way the most active fans that stockpile and share content often see themselves as ambassadors for the product.
For decades, professional wrestling has been surrounded by a group of ardent fans seeking deeper engagement than just watching the weekly television show or going to the local arena. In earlier years, these more active fans formed social links across the country to trade news about the wrestling shows from their "territory," at a time when each region of the country had its own dominant wrestling promoter and roster of stars. The VCR drastically changed the way these social links operated. Instead of trading results and accounts of wrestling from their territory, fans started trading tapes, enabling the most involved fans to see not only their local stars but also the most popular wrestlers from around the US and even the world. Fans began archiving weekly shows, sharing the footage with new fans they met and cataloging footage before many promoters realized the value of old content.
This forthcoming case study builds on recommendations media companies identify, legitimize, and empower fan proselytism. In addition, this study looks at the value content holders, advertisers, and networks can derive from activating fan desires for content from archives. It explores the way World Wrestling Entertainment used long tail economics to monetize fan desires for wrestling content.
The study will provide insights into why fans trade copyrighted material and how all aspects of the media industry could learn from the more benevolent aspects of these activities, even while prosecuting blatant media piracy. Further, this case study will examine how content providers could balance monetizing content from the archives with continuing to allow fans the autonomy to use that content to recruit new fans and deepen others' relationships with the media property.
Similar to the ways fan behaviors foreshadowed a US media market for anime, pro wrestling fans realized the benefit of the archive long before wrestling promoters. Now, the company's desire to monetize the archives and the fans' desire to share content has created a precarious balance among fan proselytizers, blatant piracy, new video sharing technologies, and a long tail business model. The WWE's purchase of various archives and the continued persistence of video trading provide a lens on the changing relationship between companies and active fans in convergence culture.
This case study will focus on:
1.) The roots of tape trading in pre-VCR fan behaviors. Fans created social networks through fan clubs and newsletters to share results and discuss events taking place across territories.
2.) The rise of tape trading as a bartering activity. Fans who already knew each other through these social networks provided weekly wrestling shows for their national and international contacts.
3.) The business plan of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, where one wrestling fan and professional journalist took advantage of the social network to create a central source for pro wrestling events across the country.
4.) The tensions between fan traders and increasing professional traders who would provide content to those still building collections and sell compilations to those who had nothing new to offer.
5.) The ways in which the WWE has monitored the interests of tape traders and bought up the archives of now-defunct wrestling promoters, selling them via DVD and video-on-demand, starting with its purchase of rival Turner organization World Championship Wrestling in 2001.
6.) The continued existence of wrestling tape traders and how the behaviors have changed now the WWE offers official content from the archives on a more regular basis.
Sam Ford is a a graduating Master's student in the Program in Comparative Media Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a media analyst for the Convergence Culture Consortium and has headed up the C3 Weekly Update and the C3 blog for the past year. Previous white papers for the consortium have included Fanning the Audience's Flames, which he co-authored with Dr. Henry Jenkins, and No Room for Pack Rats, a study of media consumption behaviors in a dormitory setting.
Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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