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Reading 11/29 (is it really almost December??!?)

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Our readings (and/or listenings) for today discuss extensions of television texts to different forms on the internet.  It was difficult to tell exactly what point the author of the webisode article was making because of his/her mix of internet and parallel-universe-academia jargon; I had to look up a few things like “IMHO” and “wrt”, and “storydwelling” and “storyforming” are not actually terms with a circulation in academic discourse, are they?  I see that these words are part of the blog’s subheading, so I assume they would make sense to me if I read this blog regularly.  Anyway, I think the blogger’s point is the webisodes are sort of stupid and ultimately will never be a successful form because they are an example of TV folks trying to make a bite-sized version of the form they’re familiar with work on the internet, which is an environment where the rules are not the same.  I’m not exactly sure what he/she is proposing or would propose as a better internet extension (official ones, that is) of TV shows.

The Heroes discussion was interesting, though I just read the summary rather than listen to the whole thing.  I had no idea that the first season of Heroes DVDs was the best-selling box set of all time!  Surprising.  Though I guess that season was actually pretty compelling, fun television — my memory of it has become tainted by the way the show derailed itself quickly afterwards, provoking me to stop watching (and this was before the writers allegedly really shit the bed during seasons 3 and onward).  lol!

“Blogging”, chps. 5-7

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Great stuff, this!  I independently had a realization about the idea of blog narratives a few weeks ago.  Election day, in fact.  I sat down to post a few thoughts about the election and music on my own blog, The Ashtray Says, and ended up writing a 3000-word behemoth that went places I didn’t expect it to go and resulted in me realizing plenty of things that I was only first thinking through as I was writing them.  It got the most hits of any post I’ve ever made on there, and it was overall a really fulfilling experience.  I realized that if one really spends a lot of time blogging, writes about their personal life to some degree, and writes more posts than I do and tries to write them all thoughtfully and insightfully, one’s blog could totally start to become a little narrative of certain aspects of one’s life.  Obviously its truth value is all complicated and mixed up with the idea of your perceived audience, but it is not inherently less revealing and/or self-analytical and/or therapeutic to you than a diary, I think.

My absolute favorite current blog is a Tumblr blog called pitchforkreviewsreviews and it does exactly what i’m talking about.  I have so much to say about this blog so bear with me.  It acts as a narrative in two ways:

1) A semi-revealing narrative of a music-obsessed dude a couple of years out of college living in Brooklyn.  This is a lifestyle that I am at least curious about if not dead-set on living, and I feel a kinship with him with him unlike what I’ve felt reading any other blog, by a long shot.  I want to hang out with him!  He hides some details of his personal life, i.e. his last name (his first name is David and he often uses the alias David Shapiro) and his day job, which we all know is a dangerous thing to blog about.  But he is extremely forthright with a lot of other things i.e. past relationships, being a fat teenager, crying about comments posted about his “WEEZY F” inner-lip tattoo on some comment board, and crying about other various things.  So it’s obviously not a completely open account of his life, but it’s open and sincere enough that I feel like I have a pretty decent idea who he is and what his life is like.

2) Reading the blog in chronological order shows a narrative of the evolution of the blog itself, as in his purpose in writing it.  (I discovered it a few months back, and after reading a handful of posts and LOVING them, I went back to the beginning — March of this year — and read them all in order.)  It started out doing what its title says: reviewing the reviews of albums on pitchfork.com.  And it started out as a lot of invective about how much pitchfork sucks and how it has a fucking monopoly on current indie tastemaking etc, but after reading all five reviews that they post each day he quickly started to change his rhetoric.

*Side note: He writes in a breathless, grammatically-flawed yet eminently readable style with very little punctuation and no periods at the end of paragraphs which rushes you right on to the next one.  So I apologize that when I write about him, I start to write like him.  Maybe you’ve noticed

Anyway, he started to write more and more thoughtfully about how pitchfork is good and how it is bad and how they have a distinct writing style but it is not the end-all-be-all of current music criticism, it has its own strengths and weaknesses as well.  He ended up writing a lot of really insightful things about music criticism and music itself.  Then he started writing more and more posts that were not actually reviews of reviews, and eventually stopped writing the reviews altogether, with a post explaining why.  He would write long posts about DJing a party or some chance encounter on a street or at a party with a musician or other public figure.  Then, very recently, he wrote a post explaining that he was now working on the script for a movie about himself that some producer wants to get made (!!!).  As we discussed in class today, this could be a lie, in fact the whole blog could be a fiction, but he is too sincere-seeming and the details too pitch-perfect for it to all be a crock of shit.  I’m very inclined to trust him.

So, as you can see, his blog is one which evolved drastically in a relatively short period of time, and reading it “front to back” gives one a clear sense of the narrative of his life and of the blog itself.

Part of this narrative is also the rise of his blog’s popularity, and despite my lack of hard data, I would dare to say that it was “meteoric” (a Times article when your amateur hobby-blog is like 4 months old constitutes meteoric, right?).  He probably could’ve monetized his blog but he wrote a post about not wanting to include ads and, at this point, wanting to keep his blogging/music passion separate from his day job.  This brings us up to chapter 6, and the idea of “personal brand”.  His personal brand is, well, personal, personable, sincere, insightful, and aesthetically simple.

A blog with basically the exact opposite personal brand is my second favorite blog.  It is Hipster Runoff.  It would take even longer (WAY longer) to explain than PRR, so I’ll let you do a little research on your own and just say that it is a blog about “alternative culture” that reports in an endlessly sarcastic yet weirdly poker-faced voice.  (Disclaimer, as with PRR, I write like HRO when I write about it.  With HRO it is the totally excessive use of scare quotes.)  The anonymous blogger goes only by “Carles” and is often racist, sexist, scatological and otherwise immature, but don’t let that deter you.  I had to read a number of posts before really “getting” his voice — it is totally unique and actually quite nuanced — the cheap humor is mixed with brilliant, incisive criticism of the “alt” figureheads he is parodying, as well as sudden bursts of existential dread.

Interestingly enough, I heard Carles talking about the idea of “personal brand” long before I read it in Rettberg.  In fact, he practically never shuts up about it.  In his world, almost every action by a band or music fan is construed as a deliberate attempt to construct/enhance/strengthen one’s personal brand.  Take this recent post on Sufjan as an example.  Stevens has certainly made a drastic shift in his personal brand during this “album cycle” (another one of Carles’ favorite terms), and he dissects this in his own weird style.

This has gotten long as shit and I need to go do other homework so I’m going to wrap it up here even though I’m leaving out some great stuff from this chapter.  The discussion of the “sterile, untrustworthy” traditional PR voice vs. the need for truth and integrity in blogging was awesome.  I also could use this argument to back up a not-contentious point I made in class recently which got unexpectedly shot down by, like, everyone, but I seriously need to move on to my other work.  I’m just gonna transcribe her kick-ass quote from the closing paragraph, because it sums up my views about the inherent neutrality of most technologies:

“Blogs and participatory media have both a liberatory potential, as is visible in the energy of the Iranian and Chinese blogosphere despite their governments’ attempts to quash free speech, and a dangerous potential for increased surveillance and control.  Blogs, knives and most other technologies can be used for good or for evil.”

Goodnight for now, internet.

11/17 Readings: FlashForward

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I’ll cut right to the chase today: the main connection I noticed between the two articles on FlashForward was that they were both written by people outside the typical demographic of fandom.  I’m not sure if this is the right way to say this, but something about each author’s situation made their fan experience different in some way: the first writer was 70 years old, placing her outside the typical age range of fannish practices (TiVo-ing episodes, doing further investigation online), and the other writer was from Australia, where the broadcasting delay on American programs places her (I assume Tama is a woman’s name) puts her at a disadvantage for experiencing digital content in the way it is intended.

The unusual perspective they both wrote from helped to bring out two things: how diverse fan practices can be, and just how much FF (last week it was GG, now FF…) has contemporary fan practices encoded into its DNA.  I’ll be writing about this, of course, in my screening response, so I don’t want to dig too deeply into it and use everything up.  The first article explains this quite well, especially because the author was not someone otherwise inclined to interacting with texts in a fannish way (in fact, she said that going to the internet for more was a practice completely new to her before FF).  Then, article #2 show just how integral the show’s digital extratextual material is to its experience by explaining how she missed out by not being able to consume this material in the proper context.  Anyway, I’ll be talking about all of this more in my screening response later.

11/10 Readings: Gossip Girl

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Due to some pretty extreme busyness, I sort of fell off the horse with our class blogging and reading at the beginning of last week, so now I’m trying to play catch-up.  I really wish I had done the reading about Gossip Girl before doing my response to the screening, specifically the NY Magazine article, because it probes a lot of the issues I ended up talking about, and I think I could’ve gone deeper if I had had that stuff as a groundwork.  In any case, I loved the NYMag article and it told me a lot of things about GG that I simply was not aware of.  That article is going to be the main thing I focus on here.

Some of my favorite writing about pop culture is the stuff that really brings out its inherent contradictions — in its production, its presentation, and in writing about it.  This article did that really well.  Here’s some of them:

1) The way shows can really seem “made for” its fans, like, as if the producers had some real respect for them, and still be so blatantly trying to pull the money out of their pockets.  We’ve talked about this uneasy relationship between producers and fans a lot this semester, and GG seems like the perfect embodiment of this.  People love that they get to consume this show yet it is so obviously marketed in so many ways.  In the article about CW’s moves towards mobile technology, one of the bigwigs said “We’re not afraid to talk to them like they talk to each other, we understand their lingo,” which demarcates a clear “us” and “them”, and indicates that the producers must feel they must penetrate into the zeitgeist of a demographic in order to market most effectively to them, and they do so shamelessly.

2) The strangely lovable quality these characters have (onscreen and off) despite their obvious immaturity and the fact that their lifestyle is somewhat detestable (onscreen and off).  I had NO idea just how huge and successful this show was, and how friggin famous its stars are. (The people I discuss television with and the places I read about it on the internet lead me to believe in an imaginary media landscape in which, say, Breaking Bad is one of the biggest TV success stories of the past five years.  Not so.)  Unless these two writers are just over-mythologizing the lives of these actors and actresses (quite possible), GG is one of the biggest series in pop culture right now and the crazy, postmodern, contradictory lives that its stars are living are weirdly fascinating.

3) This one definitely hits home with almost everything we’ve discussed in this course throughout the semester: the mixture of fannish obsession and critical, journalistic intellectualism that this article’s authors write with.  They throw in a number of breathless, “OMG” moments with what is most an article written with great astuteness and discretion.  (Surely you must meet stars all the time working for New York Magazine!  Could they really be so starstruck as they make themselves out to be here, or is it part exaggeration for the sake of sarcastic self-deprecation?)  ”I thought this was New York Magazine.  I thought you were supposed to be classy,” says one of the stars.  But perhaps it’s just impossible (not to mention a bit wet rag-ish) to complete ignore all the pulpy, fame-and-wealth stuff when talking about a show that is so completely centered on the same.

Most of all, the article really brings out one of the central (and one of my favorite) mysteries of pop culture, regarding how we can never know how much public image is being shaped and constructed — especially when it mentions the fact that GG’s creator could sort of be a real life Gossip Girl, planting information about the stars in the tabloids, making life imitate art.  But of course he would never admit to it, so we can never know.  This goes back to what I loved about the Louise Brooks article, and it’s why we should never completely forsake a focus on the artists themselves and just study their art — because the two can never really be separated, and studying the way they blend can be really fun.

11/1 Readings: Coppa, Lothian, Russo

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I already mentioned this in class, but what was most unexpected and interesting about these articles was the way they used gender to problematize some very basic notions that I took for granted about transformative work and fair use.  Lothian asks, “who defines use as fair?”, and Russo states, “the transformative status that is so crucial to legal determinations of fair use is itself infused with ideologies of gender.”  Coppa also problematizes my assumptions about what the purposes of remix and vidding might be…she notes that they can be both critical and desiring at once, which had not occurred to me.

It seems that problematizing is just about our favorite thing to do in this class (okay I’m going to try to stop saying ‘problematizing’ now), and I think it’s an incredibly essential part of academic discourse but it can also be a bit exhausting!  If we undermine every taken-for-granted belief, I feel like I have to qualify my statements more and more until it’s hard to really say anything.  I think I said something like this in class earlier this semester. The fact is, sometimes I’m hesitant to speak up in class because if my statement isn’t incredibly delicately worded, I won’t have qualified enough to account for all our problematizations (dammit) and my point will be quickly torn to shreds.  This happened just the other day when I said something about official publications (as opposed to blogs) having the advantages of better resources, or something to that end.  I don’t mean to complain, but my head can sometimes just begin to spin with it all.

To get back to these actual readings, I would say that my head did begin to spin a little bit, but I enjoyed the ride this time.  I suppose having my ideas challenged means that I have to incorporate some of the new stuff and then think about why I believed what I did in the first place, and in the end I will reemerge with a stronger understanding of the concepts.  I’m sorry this blog entry is more about my thought processes than about the content of the readings themselves, but this is largely what I went away from the readings thinking about.

One thing that’s really been nagging at me in the past couple weeks is addressed by Russo at the end of her article when she asks, in so many words, “can there ever be a happy relationship between producers and remixers/fans/vidders?”  This problematization (I just can’t stop) of what should be a happy relationship between fans and producers is one that I just can’t quite wrap my head around — but I’m going to address that in my next blog post.

#18 – Manovich / Remix documents

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Just before fall break, I submitted my thesis proposal for an essay in the spring that I’d like to focus on remix culture, primarily, among other things.  So I’ve given a fair bit of thought to the topics we’re running through in our course material right now, but even though a lot of it is rehashing stuff I’ve already run into in one place or another, I still find it endlessly compelling and get sucked in very easily.  For one, it’s good to keep those ideas stewing around in my head as I’m starting to do research, but that’s not all there is to it.  Having read Remix, I was familiar with most of the ground Lessig covered in his “Wireside Chat”, but I still was rivited throughout (in no small part because his style is so compelling and digestible — how great it would be to make a thesis as smart, snappy, and passionate as that!).

Good old Henry Jenkins’ article was fine for a brief read.  Also, I hadn’t thought about the idea presented in the youtube video — that “remix” can extend to the very way we now structure our social interactions.  (As far as reading the comments, were we supposed to just notice how negative all of them were?  But the hatred found in youtube comment sections is as dense as neutron stars, so that wasn’t too surprising.)  I definitely got the most, though, out of the chapter from Manovich’s book.  I think I’ve read the chapter previous to it, about the Graphical User Interface, in the past, but I thought this chapter was brilliant (despite having an absurd number of typos).  It’s hard to write about techonology now in a way that doesn’t quickly become outdated, but his writing is grounded enough in deeper theory that this, clearly written nearly ten years ago, is still relevant.  He writes about the more abstract, cultural stuff — his section about how post-industrial life presents us with a series of “menus” is AMAZING — and then ties it in with some really crunchy technical stuff.  I found myself trying to discern his position about whether this state of things (in which art, identities, and culture are constructed from “pre-assembled parts”) is positive or negative — I’d have to say he seems more pessimistic than euphoric.  But overly rapturous, idealistic paeans to digital culture are usually a bit grating, so I appreciated Manovich’s moderate voice here.  I think I’ll definitely have to investigate this book a little more, because nothing else I’ve encountered so excellently shows the way our techonologies shape the way we create, and even the way we think.

#17 – “DJ Spooky’s Pretentious Ramblings”

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Paul Miller a.k.a. DJ Spooky quotes a lot of people in his “In Through the Out Door” essay for Sound Unbound; after all, as a DJ, quoting (one form of “sampling”) is his bread and butter.  He closes his essay with a gorgeous excerpt from Don DeLillo, and I think he’d like to believe that his “far out” writing style sounds like DeLillo’s lucid prose.  But it actually ends up sounding more like someone else he quotes earlier in the essay: George Clinton.  That is, a stoner rattling off pages of faux-”meaningful” nonsense that doesn’t make much sense outside his own head.  At least with the P-Funk mastermind, it was not meant to be taken as serious scholarship — Miller, on the other hand, is dead serious about things like “an ecosystem of hunter-gathers of moments suspended in a culture founded on a world where information moves only because someone invented and shared it.”  Read into that as much as you want.  The problem isn’t that I’m glossing over it too quickly.  It just doesn’t mean anything.

I’m really interested in this stuff, so I was disappointed that Miller’s essay was such a gigantic pile of horseshit.  I thought his online interactive remix experiment might redeem his writing, but it was almost equally pointless in its willful obtuseness.  For one, the web design was simply awful, and most of the interface didn’t even really let you remix anything at all, but merely change the size and velocity of various rotating discs.

Let me point you attention towards a couple of much more compelling pieces of remix creativity on the internet.  Kutiman is a youtube artist who creates music consisting only of elements pulled from other youtube videos, mostly of people playing an instrument solo.  He creates remarkably coherent music out of these patchworks; here’s one of my favorites, titled “I’m New”.  If you visit his own website (linked to in the video’s description), you can use an interactive interface to see all the original videos from which he culled his samples.

This next example is very near and dear to my heart.  I think it’s one of the best examples I’ve seen of how digital media can foster creativity and inspiration in unexpected ways.  The site is called “in Bb” (as is b-flat, the musical note), and in building it, the creator asked people to submit brief videos of them playing something simple, ambient, and non-rhythmic in the key of bflat.  As you can see, he then pasted his favorites into an array of videos, all on one page, that you can overlap, creating your own beautiful, textured remix.  It’s definitely worth checking out.

#16 – “Beyond the Box” Chp. 2 / “Blogging” Chps. 1 & 2

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As I headed over here to write my (forthcoming) post about The Social Network, I realized that this post was missing, and realized I’d posted it on my blog for Media Tech. and Cultural Change from last spring, which I’ve done several times but always caught myself.  When I log into sites.middlebury.edu it automatically takes me to that blog’s dashboard, but I finally realized that you can change your “primary blog”, so hopefully that won’t be happening anymore.  Anyway, here’s my post on the readings from the other day:

While Rettberg’s book is (or seems like it’s going to be) a comprehensive and accessible analysis of blog culture, it does not have the specific persuasive (or political?) bent that Ross’ book seems to have, and I guess this makes it harder for me to discuss it without just summarizing.  Basically she wants us to do something that a lot of the scholars we’ve read this semester want us to do: slow down and think more patiently about the phenomenon we are observing.  Blogging is neither the death of intelligent discourse as some academic luddites would have us believe, nor is it a completely new, revolutionary, democratic, ideal media environment as those on the other end of the spectrum might believe.  It has many precedents and takes many cues from earlier forms, and it has both great strengths and a few drawbacks.

I have a blog myself (besides the one for this class…it’s a mostly-music blog called theashtraysays.wordpress.com and I’ve been bad about updating it the past few months — this is about to change!), but I don’t consider it a replacement for the other forms of expression that I engage in, not by any means.  In terms of how it relates to me as an “audience”…well, I suppose it is there as a sort of encouragement for me to cohere my thoughts on the stuff I’m constantly consuming — even though this is usually music, not film. (Also, I suppose it lands somewhere between a filter blog and a topic-driven blog, in her terms).  But I’ll shut up about my blog now.  I’m looking forward to discussing all this in class.

The second chapter of Ross’ book, as I mentioned, has what I’d call a more explicitly “political” focus — she is looking at the relationships of power between the entertainment industry and the digitally-enabled fans of the (in this case) TV shows that come out of this industry.  I’m tempted to repeat my “fans really can’t complain; no one’s forcing you to be a fan” statement from a few posts back, though I suppose I’ll have to stop that kind of talk if this is to be a major theme as we proceed.  I guess I’d just also like to add that the idea of some industry control over extra-textual tele-participation is not inherently a bad thing.  Sometimes the industry possesses resources that allow fans to come together in more fulfilling and efficient ways than if the fans were, say, starting up a website of their own accord.  Of course, the industry is usually clumsy and a bit too greedy, but I’m still hoping that the current state of our media industries will eventually cause them to be a bit more humble and lower their expectations a bit.  But who knows.  Okay that’s all for now.

#15 – Felschow – “Cult Fandom in Supernatural”

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Thankfully, I found this essay much more compelling than the other one.  I think Laura Felschow indulges in a few lazy misinterpretations of the text in order to suit her argument — that the poor widdle fans, though they have more power now then ever before, still can be turned on by…um, the people who are SPENDING THEIR LIVES MAKING A THING THESE FANS LIKE.  Sorry, I guess I’m feeling a bit cynical today, I really did like this essay, but I’ve just read so much Marxist criticism at this point that arguments like this feel a bit inconsequential.  I get what she’s saying, but nobody should be complaining here!  The producers are getting paid (in money and admiration) to create a product of their own invention, and the fans are privileged enough to be able to afford the technology that allows them to consume this product.  Now, they even have the power to occasionally influence the direction of the show! So the producers turned around a poked a little fun at them on this episode of Supernatural? All I can say is: First World Problems, guys.

Anyway, the essay was at least clearly written, with no stomach metaphors.  I find shows like Supernatural quite interesting — shows that have a low enough budget, and a timeslot with little pressure for viewership placed upon it, that the producers feel comfortable taking risks and let the show head in strange directions.  I’m not sure whether or not Supernatural‘s creators anticipated its development of a cult fanbase, but it allowed them to do some things that I don’t think you see on your average cable TV network.  “Going meta” to the extent that they do, especially when a show is already in its fourth season, it definitely a bold move, because once you go meta, as they say, you can’t go back.  Whether or not the fans were “wronged” by this move (I’d like to see Felschow’s reaction to the fan convention episode we watched, which was much more derogatory…do I detect some thinly veiled homophobia in this show’s writing?) it was clever, and enjoyable to watch for a bunch of outsiders like our class.

#14 – Rowlett – “They’re Letting You Write Your Thesis About That?”

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Well, Kelly, I hope you do a better job on your thesis than you did on this essay.  I had some serious problems with this essay — not with its ideas, which were, well, familiar, but with the way they were presented.  Really, her ideas about internet fandom are sort of old hat, and the only original thing here was her metaphor, that if fandom is like a body, then fan fiction is its STOMACH.  Even at its relatively brief length, this essay was the very definition of a (WEAK) analogy taken WAY too far.

In some ways, I think Rowlett might have been watching too much Xena, because her cheesy writing is perfectly suited to describing Xena’s ridiculous, over-the-top cheesiness.  There are headings like “A Stomach Totem” and “A Stomach of One’s Own”, and we were treated to PRICELESS sentences like this: “Unlike the phyiscal stomach, but with the persistence of the flesh, fanfic devours its own components, and yet, the writers live to tell the tale.”  There’s a problem with your metaphorical writing when it’s commenting on NOTHING EXCEPT THE METAPHOR ITSELF.  At the end, she even asks: “Do metaphors of the organic incorrectly ascribe a connectness to human processes?”  I think you’re on to something there, OL BUDDY!!!  I fully agree with her assertion that high culture elitist and Marxist cultural critics have little respect for the intelligence and agency of the fan/”consumer”, but again, this isn’t really breaking news.  Basically I spent a lot of time laughing out loud at the silliness of Rowlett’s writing while reading this essay.