7.15.07: Convergence

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York and London: New York University Press. ISBN-13: 978-0814742815.

Convergence Culture is a nonfiction analysis of the effects of new media on popular culture. A professor of Humanities and co-founder/co-director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies program, Mr. Jenkins has an excellent reputation in this area of cultural studies.

This book covers mass media convergence and the way it is shaping pop culture, participatory culture, working on the premise that the old and new will be interacting with each other in original and yet unexplored ways. Consumers and producers are no longer as separated in their silos, with gains and losses in control on either side. He prefaces through new media consumption of popular culture newborn knowledge communities are forming, “collective intelligences” (Pierre Lévy) whom, by pooling resources have increased their sphere of influence with media businesses.

He offered six primary examples and a plethora of sub-examples. First, Survivor, the television show as an example of individual consumers forming online knowledge communities built around mutual interests. Process & ethics of shared problem solving in an online community. It also shows how shared knowledge created a consumer power base capable of modifying the behavior of a large media group.

Hard on the heels of Survivor, he follows with American Idol, as an example of a term he coined, “affective economics”, where the “company invites the audience inside the brand community”. Former viewers through development of winning artists and losers, effectively become the product in Idols showcase. Here we see the nature of the commodity starting to break down the walls between producers and consumers. With American Idol, reality TV introduced a more immediate interaction opportunity for the viewing audience than we saw in Survivor, which was more asynchronous in nature. Collaborating with AT&T, viewers were invited to call in or text-mail their votes on the contestants. The viewing audience was given the illusion, the fantasy of empowerment.

Moving on from television to the movie industry, in The Matrix, we are shown the art of world making through cross media storytelling technologies. Here the originators of The Matrix world embraced and welcomed outside creators and audience participation towards the successful development of broader ranging and deeper, more complex layers of creative products. By comparison, in both Harry Potter and Star Wars, we see an initial welcoming of fan participation in the forms of parody, writing in character and within world and development of complementary products. This eventually comes to conflict as the stories acquired mythic status and fan participation expanded beyond expectations, when the movie industry tries to regain control of their copyrighted fantasy worlds.

There are a number of additional examples, exploring many other tangential ideas. Structurally, his secondary examples were inserted periodically, columnar style with this sub topic running from page to page throughout his main chapter storyline. While I have enjoyed this style in magazines, online and off, I found it distracting in book format. It is my opinion that his topic could have been better served with fewer examples if he wished to go into such detail.

I have to say that I have only marginal experience with several of the mass market examples, notably Survivor and American Idol having only watched a partial airing in either case. I am familiar with earlier TV examples of attempts at participatory TV, any number of game shows popular from the 1960s and 1970s, such as The Price Is Right being a clear example. From my perspective, what has changed is the speed and number of people which can congregate virtually to discuss the subject online and visibly being a consumer group with power. I am a fan of The Matrix, and a number of the graphic novels referenced in this section as well as Harry Potter and Star Wars. I would say that in addition to speed and number, fans have more inexpensive, accessible means of creating and publishing their own works now as opposed to twenty years ago when we simply dressed in costume and went to conventions to show our enthusiasm. Add to this a free stage; the web and the artist or actor in us is set liberated. Is this about the convergence of new media or simply and expansion of existing trends with the use of new media?

Two other books of his: Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Media Consumers in a Digital Age and The Wow Climax: Tracing the Emotional Impact of Popular Culture have also been issued in 2006. Reclaimthemedia.org (accessed 7.13.2007) recommends including all three on ones bookshelf for the complete view into Professor Jenkins “social-media insights.” Rebeccablood.net(accessed 7.13.2007) preferred Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers because though it was “much more academic” it covered primarily fan communities. From other reviews I have read, I may have been more satisfied with reading Fans, Bloggers and Gamers, as it covered a narrower topic area.

Subject related links:

C3

Ian Bogost, Watercooler Games

Randy Picker, University of Chicago Law

The Matrix @ PopPolitics.com

Questions:

1) How much of this is really new instead of just moving from analogue to digital? Discussions about our commonalities through use of fantasy (p.233) existed in the 1970s through 1990s in women authored science fiction fantasy genre (printed books). They took social injustices to other worlds and played with them safely. They then wrote in each others worlds as contributing authors to edited “world theme” publications.

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3 Responses to 7.15.07: Convergence

  1. Pingback: Reviews: Convergence Culture « Net-Centric Economics

  2. cevansc says:

    Comment on RANDA
    Henry Jenkins supplies a host of examples of participatory culture. I don’t know, however, how he could have missed The Price is Right as further proof that life and culture as we know it did not begin with Al Gore and the Internet. Though the participation on The Price is Right was not virtual, the producers of the show still made a silent compact with the audience that everyone had the opportunity to get a ticket to the show and to be chosen as a contestant. What a thrill to think that equal opportunity exists in the Hollywood lottery system (game show). In reality, did the producers secretly select non-randomly the college student from Michigan over the housewife from Medina? Isn’t television only looking for the best and the brightest to showcase for those stuck at home?

    The enthusiast conventions couldn’t possibly be replaced by online communities no matter how fervent they become. When you get “dressed in costume” online, there is no potential for physical interaction, no collective memory. Surely the human being isn’t game for sitting around 20 years from now, alone, thinking about how great that one Monday online gaming session was, with three unknown people, using avatars. Instead, wouldn’t we prefer to sit around 20 years from now reminiscing about the time the neuroscientist convention and the Star Wars convention were scheduled on the same weekend in New Orleans? Talk about nerd fest!

  3. Randa says:

    You have an excellent point on “what will we remember”, our fleeting online browsing or our weekend in New Orleans? I know which horse I would bet on!

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