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C3 Weekly Update

Editor's Note

Welcome to another edition of the C3 Weekly Update. Apologies for the delay from last week. Our opening note this week, entitled Talent Imitates, Genius Steals: A brief history of recombinant culture, comes from Faris Yakob at Naked Communications, whom some of you might remember from last year's future of advertising panel at FOE2. Faris' newsletter piece lays out the artistic legacy of "recombinant culture," that which has most recently manifested as the remix, the fanvid, and the mash-up. In doing so, he makes an implicit argument not only for remixing as legitimate, transformative, creative work that goes beyond mere copying (and, implicitly, beyond "piracy"), but is in fact integral to the new media landscape.

Our closing note this week is from media scholar Alice Marwick, who comes to us from the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and will be moderating our panel on social media at FOE3 this year. We will be running the first of a two-part piece on Internet Fame and the Cultural Logic of celebrity. In it she examines the nature of celebrity and self-publicity, and how we might understand the rise of the "microcelebrity" not as reflecting a more narcissistic public, but a shift in the availability of the tools of self-promotion and information circulation. Similar to Faris, she uses the legacy of a cultural practice to contextualize and get to the root of emergent forms and practices online.

In This Issue

Editor's Note

Opening Note: Faris Yakob on a brief history of recombinant culture

Futures of Entertainment 3 on the horizon - November 21-22, 2008

Convergence Culture Launches @ 5D Conference and in Brazil

Closing Note: Alice Marwick on Internet Fame and the Cultural Logic of Celebrity (part 1 of 2)

Opening Note

Talent imitates, genius steals: A brief history of recombinant culture

I believe that culture is recombinant. I believe that ideas are new combinations. I believe that stealing is genius, but copying is the reserve of the uninspired.

I believe that taking something and making something else out of it constitutes fair use and that preventing it will ossify our culture, painting ourselves into a copyrighted corner.

I believe, like the postmodernists, that you can attempt to create a higher order of meaning by standing on the semantic foundations of other creations, employing referents instead of starting from scratch.

I believe that the remix will become the dominant culture construct of a digital age, bits endlessly comingling with bits.

The idea of the remix can be traced back to the philosopher John Locke. Back in the 17th century, he posited that human imagination was essentially a sampler and sequencer – cutting and pasting perceived reality into new constructs. Complex ideas are combinations of simple ones: to form an idea of a unicorn, take a horse and a horn and mix them.

T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land liberally remixes ideas and snippets from innumerable other texts. Postmodernism posits all of culture as a self-conscious stock house of signs. Since meaning is impossible to definitively assign, the text pulls in pre-established signifiers, tracing its lineage back through all of literature, and using them to say something new.

Appropriation is itself an act of creativity.

The remix’s relationship with media began with the author William Burroughs and some scissors. Along with collaborator Brion Gysin he created the cut-up technique, incorporating snippets of other texts into his own work, synthesising to create. They attempted to replicate this in audio with reel-to-reel machines that they called ‘God’s Little Toy’. Burrough’s passed on the technique to experimental art band Throbbing Gristle who went on to pioneer the use of samples in music, heralding in the modern era of music.

Hip-Hop is a musical form predicated on remixing. DJ Kool Herc entertained block parties by isolating the percussion breaks in songs and mixing them into each other. Rapping didn’t get added in until later.

Remix culture dominates electronic music. The advent of the digital sampler allowed cut and paste musicians to easily recycle hooks from old tracks into dance music. Then those tracks themselves would be remixed by others in a continuous [re]cycle.

Remixing records ultimately gave rise to the mash-up – a genre which, in its purest form, consists of the combination of the music from one song with the a cappella of another. The movement was kick started by a seminal 2001 release, 2manyDjs that combined 45 different tracks into a single complex.

More recently electronic artist Girl Talk squeezed 35 samples into a single track, challenging the listener to parse them all, a modern musical analogue to Elliot’s Waste Land.

As William Gibson, the author that coined the term cyberspace, has pointed out “the remix is the very nature of the digital.” The cut up is habitual for the connected generation, normalised via Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V. As technology develops, the scope of what can be remixed has developed alongside it.

‘Trailer trashing’ is the term for a remixing a movie trailer. This trend began when a post-production house organised a competition to re-cut trailers to make them seem like different movies. The winning entry, a remix of the trailer for The Shining that turns it into an uplifting romantic comedy, spread across the connected like wildfire. It has spawned an entire sub-genre as remixers attempt to outdo each others’ ingenuity.

Eyespot.com and Jumpcut.com are video remixing communities. Like Youtube they enable users to post videos to the web easily, but they also provide tools to remix the videos online, blending elements from other posts into new movies.

The rise of the remix has even spread to the physical: Ninjazoo is a website that allow you to remix T-shirts designs, creating new designs using the designs of others.

With the emergence of Web 2.0 APIs, things start to get really interesting. Beyond display media, open source web standards allow for the remixing of applications and data. These mash-ups are the blurred edge of web creativity, creating new tools and services at the intersection of different data sets.

Flickr is mashed into Google Maps to display pictures of places. Yahoo Pipes lets you blend different RSS streams into a single feed. Digg is a mash up of different news sites. Youmashtube is a remix community built on top of Youtube’s API.

Go further and actually remix the web as you go. Intel’s Mash Maker and Firefox’s Ubiquity are both tools that allow the non-coder to create dynamic data remixes on the fly.

Augmented reality is the final frontier, allowing you to mix in data into the world around you, blending virtual images into the scenery around you, revealed when you point your camera phone. In essence, remixing your own perception of reality.

As all media becomes digital the remix will emerge as the dominant construct. An understanding of this is crucial for anyone interested in how people consume and interact with media: no longer passive but recombinant and collaborative.

Culture becomes inherently intertextual as prosumers mix and blend reference, samples and data from different sources to create ever more original combinations.

The only limit, as Locke would have pointed out, is your imagination.

Faris Yakob is a digital ninja at Naked Communications. You can read more from him at his blog Talent Imitates, Genius Steals.

Convergence Culture Launches @ 5D Conference and in Brazil

Prof. Jenkins' Keynote address at the 5D Conference was a huge success - and the perfect thematic launch to what proved to be a phenomenal inaugural event for the 5D Founding Members, The Art Directors Guild, The University Art Museum, CSULB and the presenting sponsor company Autodesk. An informal follow up commitment was made with conference organizers to present a Convergence Culture Panel of some sort at next year's event. And Event Organizer and 5D Founding Member, Production Designer Alex McDowell (Minority Report, Watchmen [2009]) will be joining C3 as a panel participant at FoE3 in November.

Equally as successful was Henry's presentation at the Maximedia 2008 Forum in Sao Paulo, Brazil as well as our first in person meeting with our new Global Sponsor Company in Sao Paulo, Brazil - Internet Group do Brasil S.A - better known as iG.com.br - the largest internet portal and content delivery network in Brazil.

Special thanks go out to Marcelo de Salles Gomes (and his father) from Grupo M&M for their warmth and hospitality while in Sao Paulo; Patrícia Fraga de Castro e Silva and her team at Petrobras for sponsoring the distribution of the Portuguese translation of Convergence Culture after Prof. Jenkins' presentation; Caio Tulio Costa and his team at iG for having C3 stop by their way cool offices in Sao Paulo for the first in person meet and greet of our collaboration. Caique Severo and Alessandra Blanco deserve a special thank you as well. Caio and Caique will be stopping by MIT C3 while in the USA in November, while Alessandra will be joining us at FoE3.

Finally, to Mauricio Mota of New Content. Thank you for your passion for the C3 mission and for your relationship building in Brazil on behalf of the C3 Research Project. Maurico will be participating in a panel at FoE3 as well, so plenty of time to catch up with him at the November event.

To everyone in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California and Sao Paulo, Brazil - Thank You! / Muito Obrigado! - and here's to a fruitful series of collaborations moving forward.

FoE3 on the horizon - November 21-22, 2008

As I posted on the C3 Blog, we are gearing up for FoE3 - Friday and Saturday - November 21st and 22nd. The site has now gone live with more details about the event here. This year's conference will work to bring together the themes from last year - media spreadability, audiences and value, social media, distribution - with the consortium's new projects in moving towards an increasingly global view of media convergence and flow.

Topics for this year's panels include global distribution systems and the challenges of moving content across borders, transmedia properties, franchising and world building, comics and commerce, social and spreadable media, and renewed discussion on how and why to measure audience value.

Stay tuned to the blog for more details and registration information in the coming weeks!

Closing Note

Internet Fame and The Cultural Logic of Celebrity (Part 1 of 2)

In early September I moved to the tech-obsessed San Francisco Bay Area, where I’m interviewing Web 2.0 entrepreneurs, bloggers, and “net celebrities” about status symbols and social hierarchies as part of my dissertation fieldwork. Inevitably, as I talk to people about my research, they bring up internet celebrities, Twitter, and what’s usually referred to derisively as “narcissism.” Why would anyone want to publicize what they ate for lunch? What’s the fascination with what your friends are doing? The constant stream of self-focused chatter (“lifestreaming”) currently in vogue among the technorati is merely the latest technology accused of encouraging a culture of public exposure and fame-seeking. I maintain that the internet hasn’t increased narcissism or made people more desirous of fame; rather, in a celebrity-obsessed culture in which publicity tactics are increasingly demanded in all professions, the internet simply makes these techniques more available to the average person. The “cultural logic of celebrity” combines with tools for publishing and disseminating information to create not just one-off memetic wonders like Tron Guy and Leslie Hall, but a new way of relating to others that Terri Senft calls “microcelebrity.” Are microcelebrities truly changing fame? What creates this type of obsession with self-publicity?

Fame and celebrity are not trivial. We live in a mediated era where celebrities appear everywhere, representing ways of thinking and cultural values (think of the furor directed against the Dixie Chicks for violating an unspoken Republican pact with their audience). Thus, investigating systems of celebrity creation, gossip, and celebration reveals highly resonant social forces and ideals. In contemporary America, fame represents the ultimate recognition, which is nothing new; Leo Braudy wrote that “the dream of fame in Western society has been inseparable from the ideal of personal freedom.” But this desire is no longer seen as a daydream, but as a possible reality – the American Idol ideology. Jake Halperin surveyed high school students about their desire for fame in his book Fame Junkies. He found that among teenagers who watched Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood every day, 65% believed they had at least a fifty percent chance of becoming famous. To them, being famous was a catchall for the ultimate reward of individualism: Cribs, cars, clothes, and jewelry, but also companionship, friends, and the end of loneliness. This conceptualization of “celebrity” was as an eternally perfect future.

Traditionally, “celebrity” refers to superstars in the George Clooney and Angelina Jolie model of people known for good looks, hit films, and exciting personal lives. But today, for every Madonna, we have countless tabloid fixtures like Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt, stars of the vague MTV reality show The Hills, known best for their uncanny ability to attract and manipulate the paparazzi. Heidi and Spencer’s frolicking for the camera doesn’t pretend to be authentic, meaningful, natural, or spontaneous. Instead, it exists within a tabloid culture that has trickled visibly down into everyday life. Local party photographers like The Cobra Snake became celebrities in their own right by publishing digital photos of hip young things out on the town, creating It Girls like 16 year old Corey Kennedy, a jailbait fashionista whose parents didn’t know about her double life until photos of her were published in Nylon magazine (and who has since appeared on the new 90210). Paparazzi photos are markers of stardom, to the point where Westchester, NY firm Party with the Paparazzi provides fake photographers, videographers, and even news reporters to wealthy teenagers for their super sweet sixteens.

In a celebrity-oriented society, or what Jodi Dean calls a “publicity culture,” what is valued is what grabs the public’s attention, rather than what’s serious, difficult, important, or complicated. A publicity culture is one in which performative social skills are prized. Whether one’s job is as a call center worker, nurse, or college professor, the path to advancement rewards extroversion, the ability to synthesize information into bite-size chunks, and public-relations finesse. In a highly capitalist, highly-service oriented economy, this cultural logic encourages neoliberal subjectivity, independent management of lives and careers, and the use of consumer products for continuous self-improvement.

The cultural logic of celebrity partially explains internet fame, facilitated by the explosion in availability of technological tools and skills with which to express this logic. Terri Senft, in her book Camgirls: Celebrity and Community in the Age of Social Networks, defines microcelebrity as “a new style of online performance in which people employ webcams, video, audio, blogs, and social networking sites to “amp up” their popularity among readers, viewers, and those to whom they are linked online.” Microcelebrity is about closeness and accountability. Microcelebrities know their fans, respond to them, and feel an obligation to continue this interaction, breaking down the traditional audience/performer spectator/spectacle dichotomy. The micro-celebrity has direct interaction with her fans, while traditional celebrities only give the illusion of interaction and access. Regularly viewing the cast of a television show in your living room every week creates a feeling of intimacy and familiarity that communication scholars Horton and Wohl called “para-social interaction.” These parasocial relationships can be emotionally gratifying, to the point where people tune in to particular programs to check in with their friends. Micro-celebrity extends this to networked webs of “real” interaction: IM, chat, comments and face-to-face meetups. This interaction is crucial to maintaining the microcelebrity’s fame or notoriety; it is a form of self-marketing, and self-branding.

Microcelebrity is not a low-rent version of television or film stars. We use the term “celebrity” because that’s the best word we have to describe a new type of subjectivity, a new type of understanding person-hood and individuality that necessitates the mass society: the audience. The expansion of this type of performance is linked not only to the availability of new technologies, but to the permeation of the logic of celebrity into the fabric of our day to day lives.

Alice Marwick is a Phd candidate on Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University, where her dissertation focuses on status and elitism in Web 2.0 communities. She has an MA in Communication from the University of Washington and has written and published extensively on the topic of social technology and social media.

 
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Compiled and Edited by Joshua Green (jbgreen@mit.edu) for the Convergence Culture Consortium.

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