June 15, 2007

Weekend of June 15, 2007

*Editor's Note

*Opening Note: An Excerpt from Robert V. Kozinets' New Blog, Part II of II

*Glancing at the C3 Blog

*Closing Note: Ted Hovet on How Media Becomes "Old" and "Nostalgic"

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

Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3.

This week, we feature the final of the two-part series previewing Rob Kozinets' new site as part of our opening note.

The closing note this week comes from Western Kentucky University's Dr. Ted Hovet, who looks at the process by which media content becomes "old" or is considered nostalgia, citing some historical examples.

As usual, the newsletter this week features all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog.

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 samford@mit.edu.

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

Star Trek Fan Films: Prosuming's Final Frontier?
A Preview of Brandthropoposophy, Part II of II

By: Robert V. Kozinets

The following is the second part of a piece recently featured on Rob Kozinets' new blog, Brandthroposophy, his new site on "marketing, media, and techniculture." The first part of this piece ran as the closing note in last week's C3 Weekly Update, looking at the history of Star Trek. This week concludes a preview of Rob's blog by looking at his notes from his essay in the book Consumer Tribes related to these issues.

I write about this phenomenon and its implications for our understanding of these co-creative prosumers, and the entire consumer culture phenomenon that this reveals, in my chapter for the Consumer Tribes book.

Here's a quick, edited taste of that chapter:

"Star Trek is dead; Star Trek has never been more alive. In May 2005, the two-hour seasons finale of Enterprise, titled "These are the Voyages"-was broadcast on Paramount's UPN network. Perhaps it should have been titled "Those were the Voyages." There would be no new Star Trek series from Paramount, although a film is tentatively in development.

The cancellation broke 18 straight years of Star Trek series, with at least one, and sometimes two series airing at any time. Despair hit the fan community. Letter writing campaigns were marshaled. Fans fought valiantly, but unsuccessfully, to Save Star Trek yet again.

Yet Star Trek persists. Today, in apartment buildings, basements, livings rooms and public parks in Virginia, Texas, Scotland, and across the world, the fan base that sustained the series throughout its forty-year incarnation is producing new and professional looking episodes of Star Trek. Although many of these new fan-made series are recapitulating familiar themes and characters, others are being used to take the series to uncharted new territories, to blend in alternatives lifestyles, meanings, and identities that had long been excluded from the official Star Trek universe.

By analyzing this phenomenon, its popular reception, and its implications for understanding the mutating variegations of contemporary consumer culture, I suggest that this phenomenon of fan production is an act of tribal reclamation with wide-ranging implications.

. . . .

In the old days, fans would write fiction in the form of written text (for a fascinating history, see Hellekson and Busse 2006). The fan effort that previously went into the production of printed written fiction ("fanfic") and convention organizing is now being channeled-and it even seems amplified-into efforts to create a stunning variety of Star Trek-based entertainment product. Star Trek fans create their own podcasts and radio broadcasts. They have produced animated series such as the humorous Finnish "Star Wreck" and the Flash animation series "Stone Trek" which hybridizes Star Trek's world with that of The Flintstones. There are fanmade Star Trek music and rap videos, Star Trek novelizations, Star Trek protest trailers, and films-even a parodic Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of the official (and reviled) Star Trek V feature film. This is a burgeoning enterprise existing in a legal vacuum. As Jenkins' (2006a, p. 255), emphasizing the role of fans, rightly notes, "We might think of fan fiction communities as the literary equivalent of the Wikipedia: around any given media property, writers are constructing a range of different interpretations that get expressed through stories."

We are in new conceptual terrain and lack terms to describe what has happened to Star Trek as a media property. Star Trek has gone native or, better, it has gone wiki-it is now "wikimedia." Fans add to Star Trek and correct one another just like Wikipedia encyclopedia contributors add to the famously expansive universe of the online encyclopedia. By the term "wikimedia" I mean to describe a distinct media content form that has, either deliberately or unintentionally, gone open source and begun spawning new content through the efforts of non-profit, do-it-yourself, collaborative media creators acting outside of the structure of corporate, institutional organization or sanction. The existence and notioning of wikimedia has major implications for our understanding of contemporary consumer culture. But it is still almost entirely unexamined by academics. It also may have major implications for marketing strategy, as this chapter will only begin to unpack further on. The following section begins this undertaking by proceeding to the centerpiece of this chapter: a look at the production of new Star Trek episodes by fans.

As Russ Belk and I have noted in numerous other articles related to videography in consumer and marketing research (e.g., Belk and Kozinets 2005), technological and manufacturing advances in digital videocameras and digital video production and editing software have enabled amateur film-makers to create professional-looking videographic works that would have been prohibitively expensive even a decade ago. These technologies have freed up the art and craft of video making so that they are accessible to almost anyone with some ingenuity and access to a budget of a few thousand dollars. The increasing pervasiveness of Internet access and broadband connections has simultaneously made distributing these films easier than ever before. Fans had been making their own small-budget films for many years. But fan creations have reached new heights of professionalism and pervasiveness and, as in many other spheres, Star Trek fans are leading the way.

According to a recent article "up to two dozen of these fan-made 'Star Trek' projects are in various stages of completion, depending what you count as a full-fledged production" in countries such as Holland and Belgium (Hakim 2006). And according to various FAQs posted on web sites and quotations in various articles covering the phenomenon, Paramount, the studio that owns the rights to Star Trek has been tolerant, and its executives have consistently declined comment on these developments. As long as fans do not sell or profit from their work (an established fan community standard), Paramount allows them to continue creating and distributing new episodes of Star Trek."

Star Trek as Wikimedia is the subtitle of that chapter. I wonder is this really is the final frontier? What happens when fans are able to create, distribute, and market their own creations? And that's where I'm going to let this story lie.

But check out some of the brilliant fan creations of Star Trek online, including the following all-original new fan series:

New Voyages--which includes guest writers and actors from the original series, with high production values to boot

Hidden Frontiers--the longest running series, and the one that takes the most liberties with the canonical Star Trek universe

Starship Exeter--great sets and interesting characters; limited number of episodes so far

Robert V. Kozinets is a Faculty Advisor for the Convergence Culture Consortium and Associate Professor of Marketing at York University's Schulich School of Business in Toronto. His research areas include branding, virtual communities, technology consumption, communal markets, themed retail, entertainment marketing, new product development, and postmodern consumer behavior.

His new blog, Brandthroposophy, can be found at http://www.kozinets.net/.

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

Spam May Increase, But Has People's Tolerance as Well? A new Pew Internet study reveals that people may be coping better with spam than they have in the past, particularly with non-pornography types of spam email.

Days of Our Lives Now Available on iTunes. The only remaining NBC soap opera is now available through three different distribution platforms (network, cable, digital) as it fights to remain on the network in light of Passions' upcoming move to DirecTV.

An Interview with Bruce Leichtman: Part IV of IV. The television industry researcher shares his views on VOD, the digital deadline, and other current issues surrounding video distribution in the final part of this interview with C3's Sam Ford.

An Interview with Bruce Leichtman: Part III of IV. The head of Leichtman Research Group examines the current state of online video and other issues of high-definition TV in the third part of this four-part interview series.

An Interview with Bruce Leichtman: Part II of IV. HD television expert Bruce Leichtman shares his thoughts on his recent research into the adoption of high-definition television by both the industry and consumers.

An Interview with Bruce Leichtman: Part I of IV. In the first part of this four-part interview with Bruce Leichtman, C3's Sam Ford talks with him about his background and focus of the New Hampshire-based television research firm.

Yahoo! and Access Hollywood Unite: omg! C3's partner joins forces with the television tabloid to form a new online site for celebrity gossip and the sort.

The Launch of Brandothroposophy. C3 Affiliated Faculty Robert V. Kozinets' new blog has launched, providing in-depth looks at his research and observation on the latest in fan and brand cultures, among other issues.

Recent C3-Related Pieces from Henry Jenkins' Blog. Jenkins features an interview with C3 Affiliated Faculty Ian Condry about his work on Japanese culture and particularly on hip-hop in Japanese culture and the global spread of anime, as well as a conversation between Louisa Stein and Robert Jones in the latest installment of gender issues in relation to fan studies.

Silver Surfer Coins Generate Reaction from U.S. Mint. The publicity stunt promoting the new Fantastic Four film in partnership to the Franklin Mint gets complicated by governmental intervention.

Soap Operas and the History of Fan Discussion: Part V of V. The final part of this five-part series looks at the focus of Sam Ford's research in particular on soap opera fans and where it fits into the history of both soap fan culture and the academic study of those fans.

Soap Operas and the History of Fan Discussion: Part IV of V. The fourth part of this five-part series focuses on how online fan communities surrounding soap operas exists within a history of fan interaction, and also how the history of research on soap opera fans in an academic forum has developed.

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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 ---------------

Revisiting "Old" Media: Archives, Nostalgia, Obsolescence

By: Ted Hovet

In my ongoing interest in defining the role of the media educator within a convergence culture, I find some productive tension in the role of history and historical research.

From a content standpoint, when (and how, and why) exactly does a particular piece of culture (an episode of a TV show, a video on YouTube, a popular song) go from current to recent to "old"? When does it cease to be a part of contemporary culture and instead become archived as "history"? The same questions can be asked for the forms and methods of delivery of that content. The VCR, clearly, is now history--how much longer until the DVD player will be so as well? A television set? (For an excellent and nostalgic collection of pictures of some "historic" machines, from a cylinder phonograph to the Apple Lisa and beyond, visit http://www.cedmagic.com/history/). Finally, once something has passed into history, what is its relevance for students, educators, and media workers?

First, and most obviously, passing into history does not necessarily result in obsolescence as fans/teachers/scholars keep alive the content and at times even the forms of "old" media. In my own research into early cinema, I ran across this interesting account in a trade publication for exhibitors from 1901:

"On Monday, the 18th [of June] which was the fourth anniversary of the Biograph at the Palace...several of the films that were introduced when the Biograph first commenced its career, were shown to a highly appreciative crowded house" (The Showman, March 22, 1901).

While it is difficult to know the precise nature of the audience's appreciation (they may have experienced nostalgia or simply found them humorous), the positive response to these "old" movies embodies the same impulse that drives "oldies" radio, networks like TV Land, and innumerable websites devoted to content that has passed into history.

Obviously, a productive path for teachers/scholars/fans is to analyze content and forms that have sustained (or found) a significant presence and fan base well beyond their "expiration" as something "new" (an analysis which would include how their recirculation impacts current culture).

Secondly, in an era of multiple platforms and delivery devices, an analysis of history will help teachers/scholars/fans to interrogate the significance of the relationship between context and content. As archives of content increasingly become available online and on demand, we might still find great value by investigating the means by which the content was originally produced and displayed.

As a brief example, a search on archive.org allows students in my Japanese cinema class to view documentaries about Japan made just before Pearl Harbor and during the height of World War II. (http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=mediatype%3Amovies%20AND%20collection%3Aprelinger%20AND%20subject%3A%22Japan%22). This offers an extremely productive analytical comparison, allowing students to see the shifting work of visual rhetoric and propaganda over a short period of time in response to global circumstances, reflecting the great value of these collections.

But this immediate juxtaposition, importantly, would have been impossible for the original viewers of these documentaries, which is why viewers today must also be conscious of the historical context, the intended audience, and other factors behind the production and distribution of these images. As content is increasingly removed from its original context, media educators, historians, and fans can encourage an understanding of both.

Finally, the persistent presence and popularity of so much "old" media raises the question of the history and "survival" of current "new" media as it begins its inexorable move from what is to what was. In contrast to the many industrial products of the past century that may have been built with an intentional "planned obsolescence," to what extent can (or should) new media build in plans for its own recirculation as history?

Ted Hovet is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Film Studies at Western Kentucky University. He teaches classes on American studies, film theory, the history of narrative film, and composition and has published on early film exhibition, pedagogy, and film adaptation. His current research focuses on the ways in which various media create "lines of display" that distinguish the content from the context and the introduction of new technologies into educational settings.

Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (samford@mit.edu)

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