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Screening Prompt: FlashForward

Categories: Screening Prompt

It has been very surprising to me how in class we have somewhat decided that Flashforward as the ultimate example of failed audience invitational programming considering, on paper at least, what potential the show seemed to have.  In the realm of the fictional world the show has not one but two online networks where people can join and share and get information, and yet ABC and the show runners seemed to completely miss the potential that these two outlets could provide for their program and their audience.  The “mosaic” website that they offered for fans to share their own fan-created flashforwards was uninteresting and ultimately provided no real enjoyment for anyone involved, and the alreadyghosts.com site was non-existent.  In thinking about how these two opportunities were underutilized it makes me think about what could have happened had they been utilized.  What is the effect of invitational programming, on both the program and the audience?

I begin by thinking about what mosaic could have been.  I think that the ideal use of the website (in the real world) could have been a give-and-take forum where fans could both get extra content about the show while also submitting their own.  Instead of having only fan-made flashforwards the show runners could have posted flashforwards from fictional characters in the show so that fans could read them and get the extra content, as well as relate their own fan-made flashforwards to the story world.  This would be an interesting approach in that it would provide a semi-read/write environment where fans could take content from the show and work in their own creativity to it, while giving the creators of the show some control over the way fans were participating with their programming.

In thinking about how this invitational programming affects the content of the show itself I think it is a tough balance.  In trying to make a show that encourages fan participation, you are essentially gearing your show to a smaller demographic of audiences.  By creating a show that encourages people to go online and participate it is very easy to alienate the more passive audience that do not wish to participate in the same manner.  My guess is that this was one of the causes for the eventual cancelation of Flashforward.  I also think back to a reading we did earlier in the semester about Lost writers and how while they appreciate the fan involvement and discussions about the show, that it is impossible to please everyone and that taking their insight too seriously inevitably ends badly.  This might be a inherent flaw in invitational programming.

Screening Prompt: Gossip Girl

Categories: Screening Prompt

As far back as I can remember teenage, high school, melodrama television programming has existed.  And whether it be watching reruns of Saved By the Bell, or guiltily watching The O.C. on DVD with kids who live on my hall, it is impossible to watch these shows without noticing the way in which cultures are represented in certain time periods.  Watching, Gossip Girl for our class was the first time I had seen the show, but I was taken aback (although I probably shouldn’t have been considering the class) but how much the show was projecting a culture of “millenials” and the way in which technology is infused in their lives.  To define them as millenials may be to broad, as the characters in the show do not represent all millenials but rather a sub-category of “teen-mill-enials.”  The reason I make this distinction is because I would be remiss to lump early-thirty-year-old computer programmers and bloggers into the same category has the catty high school gossip texters that were depicted in the show.  But I digress…

The point I am trying to make is not how to define these characters, but rather what they are depicting on the show.  Audiences watch a body of youth who are deeply attached to their mobile devices so as to stay in touch with up-to-the-minute information.  As a community they are learning important (at least to them) information together at the same time.  While this is a representation of a society and an audience that we live in now where everyone can receive real-time info at any given moment, I still think this is not the most important takeaways from the show.

The first issue illustrated by our screening that I think is significant is the idea of power and the weight of what is posted on the world wide web.  In one episode we are witness to gossip being posted online that results in student expulsion, parent uproar, and eventually faculty termination.  In this way the episode really gives evidence to the power of the blogger in society.  As simple as it is to post something on the internet (in this case it was done via text with no factual evidence given), the ramifications of that information being as public as it is are massive.  This represents a time in our culture when there really is a struggle for power amongst many parties including, the press, the authorities, institutions, bloggers, and readers.  We are in a transitional period where the rules are changing, and while the situation in Gossip Girl may be kind of insignificant and melodramatic the idea that is behind is much deeper and still unclear.

The second message I took away from the Gossip Girl episodes screened for class is much less subtle.  In the season finale we watched, where students try to expose who the Gossip Girl actually is, the episodes ends with Gossip Girl saying something along the lines of “you are all the Gossip Girl because without you this would not exist” (a bad paraphrasing perhaps).  This addresses another idea that we have been examining which is the necessity of audience participation and read/write culture.  The only reason why wikipedia, or heavily followed blogs, or transmedia practices work is because the community exists to fuel it.  Unlike TV programming in previous generations Gossip Girl is addressing this need for audience participation, both in a large sense for our culture and also specifically for itself.

Screening Prompt: Remixing and Vidding

Categories: Screening Prompt
When these remixes and vids were first introduced into our class discussions, the initial gut reaction I had was that we were examining films made by fanboys and (forgive the implied insult) TV geeks who were producing nothing more than flashes of their favorite science fiction content set to cool music.  However, given the extensive reading and analysis from the first half of the semester I found it impossible to maintain this much-too-simple attitude and was able to apply concepts that we had talked about in early cinema to the read/write content that we have watched in class.
There is undeniably a balance of spectacle and narrative in these vids/remixes similar to that present in early cinema but possibly taken to a whole new extreme.  These vids have a message and they are telling a narrative.  Whether it be about Lex Luther, Scarlett, or Sam “slash” Dean these vids have a narrative carefully constructed by the artist, and diligently analyzed by the viewer.  The message however is fused into the spectacle naturally by the medium.  We have discussed how one of the major criteria for these vids is that they are professionally edited, visually exciting, and set to effective music.  These are all elements of spectacle.  Unlike many of the early films that we watched in the first half of the semester, we do not have films that are purely narrative or purely spectacle, or where we have a narrative that pauses for spectacle.  For these vids and remixes the two are inseparable.
What makes all of this work is the element of audience participation and self-reflection.  Now one way in which this functions is that if you are watching a vid about a particular show it is probably because you are a vidder yourself and a fan of that show.  Right away this engages you as both a fan/viewer/critic as well as an artist/participant.  But what brings this audience engagement to a higher level is that the tools that vidders are using to create both narrative and spectacle are actual pieces of the subject matter and therefore provide commentary of the audience.  By showing a series of clips in rapid secession of the show “Supernatural,” you are illustrating what an audience of that show watches, and are using the medium of vidding to comment not only on the show itself but also on the audience for continuing to watch that show.

Supernatural Screening Prompt

Categories: Screening Prompt

The two episodes of Supernatural screened for class are two hours of television filled with self-referencial humor and a very “meta” analysis of fan culture.  In this fashion, the episodes address the relationships between the viewers and the producers of both Supernatural specifically and fan culture in general.  The easiest concepts to pick out are the ways in which the episodes poke fun at fan and producer alike.  Instances like the characters Sam and Dean scoffing at and not taking seriously the fans of their fictional selves, or when the author of the Supernatural books, Chuck, proclaims that he must be some kind of God who has cursed Sam and Dean to live out “bad writing.”  In these two examples, both the fans and the writers are belittled and laughed at.  It is necessary for both parties to have a sense of humor for these themes to go over well.  On the other hand there are definitely ways in which both viewer and producer are elevated and empowered.  The fact that the author, Chuck, ends up being a prophet protected by archangels illustrates the importance of the author, and the way in which multiple fictional Supernatural fans end up helping out Sam and Dean gives fans not only a feeling of empowerment but it is also a nod to the ways in which fans can function in a participatory way with the show (this occurs literally in the episodes, but can be seen for as a metaphor for fan participation outside of the episodes).

What are the repercussions of the way in which these cultures are imagined?

I think that there is a definite gender divide as a result of the representation of fandom in the show.  Women fans are represented as swooning girls in love (and often times sexually charged) with the fictional characters, whereas the men are depicted as wannabes who can only get happiness from (very poorly) imitating and living out the lives of other people.  I think in both cases, these gendered definitions of fans are insulting.

I think that another result of the themes from the episodes are an approval of certain types of fans but not others.  The only fans that are really accepted by the characters Sam and Dean (and maybe the producers of the show) are the two fans who end up helping Sam and Dean save the day, claiming some generic comment like “We had to help, it’s what Sam and Dean would have done,” and explain to Dean what the true meaning of the books are.  In this manner fans that appreciate the show, appreciate the message, and support the characters are fans that are appreciated.  Other fans, like the ones who make Sam/Dean sexual websites, or who only like to bash the books in public forums are put down in the two episodes.  In this sense, the show is really illustrating which kind of fans are respected and which ones are not.

Singin’ in the Rain Response

Categories: Screening Prompt

Singin’ In The Rain is a film that provides both incredible entertainment, as well as a sophisticated self-examination of Hollywood culture both in a modern and historical sense.  The film illustrates an uneasy time in the history of cinema, when both fans of the film world and the industry itself were unsure where things were going in the business.  This uncertainty is a theme that has not really been shown in any of the other films we have screened so far this semester and it tells a lot about both fan culture and the industry of the time.

Unlike Movie Crazy, Prix de Beaute, and Purple Rose of Cairo where fan characters are illustrated as being caught up in the magic of cinema, Singin’ In The Rain shows a time in cinema history where studio heads, producers and actors alike were terrified of losing fans and unsure about what the future held for them.  Much like Juddery describes in his article, “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” silent film stars were losing their careers, screenwriters and directors were lost, and nobody knew what technological advances would stick and what would only be a brief fad.  Singin’ In The Rain does an excellent job of evoking nostalgia of the silent film era, and showing a scared, uneasy, and even sympathetic Hollywood.

The fans play an important role in the dynamic of the film.  Again, as Juddery describes, and as we have discussed with the start of fan magazines in the late 1910′s and early 1920′s, fans beginning to learn more about the actors and actresses that they saw on the screen represents a major shift in the Hollywood dynamic.  The character Lina represents the story of many silent film actors who struggled to maintain their image when their voices were recorded.  The idea that fans have a certain idea of what an actor/actress is like in real life, and that that idea affects how they respond to them on screen is one that is worth considering in modern times with the presence of gossip columns, celebrity blogs and sources like TMZ, but Singin’ In The Rain is very significant in that it provides commentary on this practice during the time in cinema history when this was most important.  The introduction of sound let the fan in even closer to the industry and its stars, and the shift had a huge effect on how fans appreciated/participated with cinema, and how the industry changed their content/production methods.

42nd Street Response

Categories: Screening Prompt

The film “42nd Street” illustrates a relatively straight forward, but nevertheless interesting dynamic between spectacle and narrative.  While the two are separated in a pretty clear way, the effect that it has on audiences is quite significant in that it is able to give the audience a feeling of participation.  Connected to this desire of participation is the idea of fandom which is addressed in the narrative of the film.  The combination of this fan culture narrative and the ability to hook audiences in with the spectacle/narrative balance, makes the film quite gripping for certain viewers.

As discussed in Pattullo’s reading, Busby Berkeley had a distinct choreographical and directoral style in his show-within-a-show, “backstange musicals.”  By separating the spectacle and the narrative in an aggregate way, viewers get the narrative behind the scenes look, and then a completely different performance spectacle.  This dynamic is very effective in that the audience feels like a part of the artistic process when they see the backstage narrative aspects, which very much adds to their enjoyment of the spectacle. An example of this separation in “42nd Street” is when are main characer Peggy is rehearsing for hours and hours to the point of collapse minutes before her performance, and yet during the actual dance numbers at the end of the film the character shows no sign of fatigue.  The musical numbers, while still within the realm of the narrative, are completely separate performances.

In terms of fan culture, the plot has much to do with the idea of real world fans getting their big break and rising to the top, much like the story we saw in “Prix du Beauté.”  Fan culture of the time, a predominantly feminine one, was filled with fans who idolized the films and the stars and dreamed to one day become one.  The story of Peggy who barely gets cast into the show in the first place and ends up becoming a star is a storyline that many fans would be interested in.  In addition, the behind the scenes aspects of the plot (even though they are about theater and not necessarily film) could give fans who were intrigued about the mystical filmmaking process a view of what actors, directors, and producers go through to make a show.  The participation effect discussed early is only more effective when dealing with an audience of fans who are already hungry to participate in the first place.

Prix De Beauté Response

Categories: Screening Prompt
The balance between spectacle and narrative that has been discussed in class is definitely one worth discussing when it comes to “Prix de Beauté.”  There is without a doubt both a strong narrative in the film, as well as a large amount of spectacle and attraction.  What differs this film however from other films like perhaps “Steamboat Bill Jr.” is how connected the spectacle and narrative are on a tangable level.  One could argue that films like those of Keaton or Chaplin, were loose narratives meant to chain together the attraction of comedic bits.  In this case, the narrative of the film is literally about spectacle and so we have a stronger storyline that is filled with spectacle and seems to have more of an organic feel.  Unlike a film where you have a bit of narrative, then spectacle, then narrative, etc, this film merges the two together almost invisibly which is what makes the film so effective.
In terms of what makes this spectacle so entertaining, the theme of gender comes in to play and it is also worthwhile to take Hastle’s reading into consideration.  A simple, and probably accurate, description of the film could be “boys, c’mon down and see this attractive star strut her stuff!”  The film depicts rich and powerful men looking at beautiful women in expensive dresses.  In this sense the spectacle is very gendered in that it is putting the women on display.  It could definitely be argued that the storyline and the emotional struggles/decisions of the protagonist also send out messages to both men and women alike about gender roles in society.  In either case the issue of gender is being addressed.  The other way in which the spectacle of the film is defined is by the star Louise Brooks herself.  As read in Hastle’s piece, Brooks was a celebrity known for her looks, her possibly active sex life, and her ambiguous sexuality.  There is no doubt that when you put this type of a celebrity in a film where she models bathing suits and party dresses and has intimate moments with multiple male characters that this adds to the appeal of the film.  Not only is the attraction present in the diegesis of the film, but there is also a definite attraction in seeing a talked about celebrity further clarify (or possibly make more ambiguous) the image of who she is.

Edison’s Films

Categories: Screening Prompt
Through the series of Edison’s films screened for class we are able to get some idea of what audiences were looking for in the beginning of the twentieth century, how they were participating in viewing, and even how their desires shifted over the course of even such a short period.  It is without a doubt that the allure of the spectacle of attraction were present in these early films.  The mesmerizing short of Coney Island at night is nothing but spectacle, both in the sense that it is displaying the incredible technology that allowed filmmakers to capture moving images at night, and in that it is just aesthetically very entertaining.  That said, it is clear that the spectacle of attraction was used in contexts slightly more sophisticated than just a dazzling light show.  While “Three American Beauties” showed the astonishment of a vibrant red rose caught on film, it also had patriotic message.  ”Dream of a Rarebit Fiend” did have a narrative to it, but it was one that’s only real purpose was to facilitate the spectacle of different special effects.  In class readings and discussions we have been debating the importance of the spectacle and arguing wether much of the classic film theory regarding the evolution to narrative is legitimate or not.  It is clear from Edison’s films listed above that there seemed to be a meshing of spectacle and narrative from an early period.
This also may illustrate the way in which audiences were participating with the films screened.  It is not hard to imagine audiences swerving their heads around during the chaotic special effect of the drunk Rarebit Fiend on the street, almost as if they are on some kind of roller coaster attraction, enjoying the ride.  This isn’t to say that the audience was credulous and completely awed by the imagery of the drunk-o-vision.  I use the analogy of a roller coaster because much like a roller coaster where you know that you are supposed to put both hands in the air and scream, I would argue that audiences of these early short films may have been taken in by the spectacle but that they did so knowing what they were getting in to.

The Purple Rose of Cairo…

Categories: Screening Prompt
What I found most interesting about The Purple Rose of Cairo, in terms of our audiences class, was the exact moment when I felt the film and my role as an audience member shift.  For the first 15-20 minutes of the film I was a normal audience member, taken in by the story and characters of the film, letting myself be passive in the on-screen world. As soon as the Jeff Daniels character breaks the fourth wall (both in the fictional film, and in part the actual film) it was like I was snapped out of a trance and became very aware that I was in an audience, watching a film, and that this film had a meta message that I was supposed to be paying attention to.  In this sense I thought the film did a very good job of making me think about the act of moviegoing and the act of being a member of an audience.  Much like the Cecillia in the film who gets engulfed in the world of cinema until a character steps off the screen and turns her life upside down, I too was engulfed in the movie world until his departure from the screen.
While this was the way in which I felt the film addressed me as an audience member individually, I also thought the film provided some commentary on audiences collectively.  The response of the fictional audience in the film to the missing character (some outraged, some very interested) to me represented the spectrum of audiences, some of which do not like to deviate from the structure of classic cinema, while other are very interested in the alternative.  I also thought that the character Cecillia represented our culture as one that intently follows all of the stars and films of today.  In the end she finds that the real world and the actual actors/characters are way more complicated than the illusions of cinema which is something I think resonates in our media/celebrity fascinated society.

What I found most interesting about The Purple Rose of Cairo, in terms of our audiences class, was the exact moment when I felt the film and my role as an audience member shift.  For the first 15-20 minutes of the film I was a normal audience member, taken in by the story and characters of the film, letting myself be passive in the on-screen world. As soon as the Jeff Daniels character breaks the fourth wall (both in the fictional film, and in part the actual film) it was like I was snapped out of a trance and became very aware that I was in an audience, watching a film, and that this film had a meta message that I was supposed to be paying attention to.  In this sense I thought the film did a very good job of making me think about the act of moviegoing and the act of being a member of an audience.  Much like the Cecillia in the film who gets engulfed in the world of cinema until a character steps off the screen and turns her life upside down, I too was engulfed in the movie world until his departure from the screen.
While this was the way in which I felt the film addressed me as an audience member individually, I also thought the film provided some commentary on audiences collectively.  The response of the fictional audience in the film to the missing character (some outraged, some very interested) to me represented the spectrum of audiences, some of which do not like to deviate from the structure of classic cinema, while other are very interested in the alternative.  I also thought that the character Cecillia represented our culture as one that intently follows all of the stars and films of today.  In the end she finds that the real world and the actual actors/characters are way more complicated than the illusions of cinema which is something I think resonates in our media/celebrity fascinated society.