Saturday, 12 June 2010

Another exam case study- Fans: WeMedia or Media in the online age

In this post, I shall suggest ways in which the work of Henry Jenkins writing particularly in 'Convergence Culture' (2006) could be useful in the exam using fan videos as a case study.

The conventional image of the fan, as portrayed in fictional representations, is of a deranged fanatic, endangering the life of the fan's hero. Examples would be Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin in King of Comedy (1982) or Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes in Misery (1990).

Henry Jenkins' work on fan fiction challenges this view as simplistic; in Convergence Culture he looks at a number of case studies to suggest that fans are engaged in quite a range of cultural activity. His chapters consider:

Survivor and ‘spoilers’- the ways in which fan groups online collaborate to find out about upcoming episodes and circulate information about them or 'spoilers'; American Idol and ‘democracy’- the first US programme to use mass text voting, a way in which some would suggest that the audience participate in a form of limited democracy to choose their winner. The Matrix and ‘transmedia’ looks at the ways in which a text can be produced in a number of different forms- the films, animations, comic books, each of which adds a different element to the jigsaw of the story and which cannot be fully understood on their own. Star Wars and fan film production- of which there are many thousands on the net, some of massive technical prowess and Harry Potter- kids as writers and activists, where Jenkins looks at the ways in which young Potter fans have become involved in political movements based upon how they have interpreted the stories applying to real life issues.

Jenkins argues that the web has created ‘knowledge communities’ where fans meet together online to share interests and discuss them in depth. He sees fansites as having a sort of 'collective thinking' and sets of rules and credentials, where some things can and some things can't be said and where individuals can gain kudos for their knowledge as expert contributors in the same way as they would in the academic world- for example site admins or the most regular posters often have special status in fan groups and forums compared to newbies.

Jenkins' definition of convergence is wider than the generally used definition around technology and the digitalisation of media content, as he looks also at the ways in which the integration of media industries into conglomerates represents an economic convergence but perhaps most importantly how the online age creates a social and cultural convergence too- with audiences coming together socially online from all over the globe and start to make things which they share online.

This cultural production by fans of fiction that extends beyond the original text has been around since long before the web, but the distribution of it has become significantly easier since the online age began. If you want to use fan production as a case study in the exam, here are some starting points. have a look at the videos and click on the youtube link so you can see the user comments and also the videos to which they relate- other fan production. Some are examples of what I would call 'acting out', some involve extending the story, one is a celebration of other fan art to explore the relationship between characters in a story, some involve re-mixing and mashing them up, but all involve distribution of fan production and sharing amongst an online audience, often starting with a 'knowledge community'.