Columns – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The New Hegemonic Hierarchy: Tracking (Men’s) Athletic Activity Fri, 29 Jan 2016 12:00:24 +0000 Post by Rebecca Feasey, Bath Spa University

RF5This post continues the ongoing “From Nottingham and Beyond” series, with contributions from faculty and alumni of the University of Nottingham’s Department of Culture, Film and Media. Today’s contributor, Rebecca Feasey, completed her PhD in the department in 2003.

I have previously written on the representation of masculinity and the male role in popular television programming and considered the ways in which a range of friends, fathers, heroes and martyrs might be considered in relation to the hegemonic ideal. While the pinnacle of hegemonic masculinity speaks of a powerful, forceful and self-sufficient figure, demonstrating economic advantage and physical prowess, men on screen were seen to negotiate this particular ideal while continuing to demonstrate male dominance over their female counterparts. I concluded this work by suggesting that contemporary men ostensibly challenge the rigid codes of hegemonic power in favor of maintaining their hierarchical status, and nowhere is this more evident than in the emergence and development of the MAMIL.

The MAMIL (an acronym for the Middle-Aged Man In Lycra, hereafter Mamil) is a term recently used to describe a 40-something man who rides an elite road bike for leisure and pleasure, and who is styled in expensive, form-fitting, unforgiving and carefully picked sporting clothes and accessories. Contemporary commentary informs us that Mamils “do not simply go on an hour-long run out. Rides regularly last three hours or more, while in the spring and summer they disappear for days to ride in ‘sportive’ events.”

RF1What interests me here is not the UK’s Cycle to Work scheme (the government tax-exemption initiative introduced in 1999 to promote healthier journeys to work), the carbon-neutral footprint or even the sartorial efforts of the Mamils in question, bur rather, the use and abuse of Strava (and other available GPS systems) for this particular group. Strava, Swedish for “stride,” is a website and mobile app used to track athletic activity via GPS. It is proving incredibly popular with Mamils who can now pit themselves against friends, family and what are termed “followers,” irrespective of whether they are nipping to the local shops or doing the 874-mile “end-to-end” Land’s End to John o’ Groats–style challenge.

Much contemporary work in masculinity studies tells us that men never openly discuss the hegemonic hierarchy or speak frankly or candidly about their position within it. Instead, men rely on markers of power and legitimacy to speak on their behalf. Promotions, company cars, updated business cards, expense accounts and designer accessories speak of wealth, and although physical mastery is clearly visible it is seldom a source of comment. However, the whole point of Strava seems to be the establishment of a more calculated, deliberate and exposed hierarchy of hegemonic masculinity based on the distance, pace and frequency of a rider. The Telegraph’s Matthew Sparkes tells us that:

RF0Strava has forever changed cycling, for better or worse. The website tracks you via GPS and publicly ranks your best time on ‘segments’ of road along with other users. Now even a short trip to the supermarket has an element of competition […] if Strava ceases to exist you could lose a treasure trove of bragging rights fond memories.

He continues:

Email signatures are normally functional affairs reserved for job titles, phone numbers and addresses. But wouldn’t it be great if you could somehow use yours to show off the fact that you hold the (KOM) King of the Mountain across the local Tesco car park?

Later still, he asserts:

What is Strava for if not competing mercilessly with friends and colleagues? […] [E]nter your “athlete number” […] and that of one or more other riders. It then searches through the archives and finds segments that you’ve all recorded times for, laying out the results out for all to see.

One long-time cyclist says that Strava encourages competitiveness rather than healthy riding because the Strava team send the rider messages every time one of their KOM sections has been beaten:

Uh oh! Alex Morgan just stole your KOM!
Hey CyclingTips,
You just lost your KOM on Mt Rael Climb to Alex Morgan by 1 second.
Better get out there and show them who’s boss!
Your friends at Strava

Sparkes recommends that Mamils take the day off, leaving the GPS at home to enjoy “a ride at your own pace with nobody peering over your shoulder.” His words might appear hollow, though, to those men committed to the banter and bravado that Strava encourages:RF2

Being a MAMIL, like all mid-life crises means acting like little boys. As 11-year-olds do, they have their in-jokes, asserting the perfect number of bikes to own is N + 1 (N is the number of bikes you have already). Another formula, which shows they are not entirely stupid, is S – 1 (S is the number of bikes that will prompt your wife to demand a separation).

It is commonplace for friends and acquaintances to offer kudos to one another after a successful ride. Such kudos might serve as a mark of respect for fellow cyclists, but it can also be read as one more way of marking hierarchies for the 40-something Mamil. The Mamil proposes a new take on the old masculine hierarchy. While it’s easy to mock, deride or undermine earlier iterations of hegemonic masculinity for their commitment to body sculpting, excessive hours spent in the office, or ostentatious soft-top cars or the motorcycling equivalent, it is harder to challenge the eco-friendly, physically fit Mamil. This is precisely why these new figures of contemporary masculinity are such skillful hegemonic creations.

Hegemonic masculinity has routinely relied on masculine camaraderie and jovial banter at the expense of women, and the Strava Mamil continues this bromantic scenario, but for a wider, invested and interested audience. Indeed, there is no Queen of the Mountain accolade. Nor is this phenomenon restricted to the UK. As one Wall Street banker puts it:RF3

Every day, bankers check the league tables, a scoreboard that shows who won the biggest deals. Then they check their Strava app to see who’s chewing up the pavement fastest on his $20,000 bike. That’s recreation on Wall Street. […] We like to push ourselves. And it’s not ’80s Wall Street. We’re not out buying Lamborghinis and paying for coke habits. We’re buying $10,000 bikes.

Fitness-culture discourse frames Strava as a “hotly contested virtual race of it’s [sic] own where Stravaddicts are venturing out on rides with the sole intent of sniping segments for themselves and claiming the top of the leaderboards.” While Strava puts discourses of competitive fitness in niche circulation, it also bolsters persistent male hegemony.


“Real” Transmedia: Cultures and Communities of Cross-Platform Media in Colombia Wed, 27 Jan 2016 14:30:56 +0000 Antenna image1Post by Matthew Freeman, Bath Spa University

This post continues the ongoing “From Nottingham and Beyond” series, with contributions from faculty and alumni of the University of Nottingham’s Department of Culture, Film and Media. Today’s contributor, Matthew Freeman, completed his PhD in the department in 2015.

The media industries readily produce fictional stories across multiple media, telling the tales of the Avengers across comics, film and television, inviting audiences to participate in the reinvigorated intergalactic Star Wars universe across cinema, novels, the Web, video games, and so on. This transmedia storytelling phenomenon is of course a common go-to strategy in Hollywood’s fiction factory of brand-oriented franchise-making, tied up with commercial notions of digital marketing, merchandising, sequels, “cash nexuses,” and so forth. But what is becoming increasingly apparent is that transmedia is so much more than media franchising. In an age where the distribution of media across multiple platforms is increasingly accessible, transmedia has emerged as a global strategy for targeting fragmentary audiences – be it in business, media or education. And yet while scholarship continues to dwell on transmedia’s commercial, Antenna image3global industry formations, far smaller communities and far less commercial cultures around the world now make new and very different uses of transmedia, entirely re-thinking transmedia by applying it to non-fictional cultural projects as a socio-political strategy for informing and unifying local communities. There has been little attempt to track, analyze or understand such a socio-political idea of transmedia: Henry Jenkins famously theorized transmedia within a digital and industrial context,[1] but what does it mean to examine transmedia from a cultural perspective?

In one sense, examining transmedia from a cultural perspective first means acknowledging the innate multiplicity of transmedia’s potential. James Hay and Nick Couldry, hinting at this very idea, argue that the oft-cited model of transmedia – that is, the one seemingly based on convergences in the name of commerce – is far from the only model, especially when positioned globally: “international differences are obscured by the generality of the term ‘convergence culture’, and it can be helpful to consider convergence ‘cultures’ in the plural.”[2]

And so in another sense, examining transmedia from a cultural perspective also means establishing a whole new cultural-specificity model or approach to understandings of transmedia, taking into account the politics, peoples, ideologies, social values, cultural trends, histories, leisure and heritage of individual countries and their smaller communities. Taking a cultural approach to analyzing transmedia surely means mapping the many faces of transmedia in many different countries. For instance, while in the US and UK transmedia has evolved into an established marketing and brand-development practice,[3] Image1emerging research across Europe paints a different picture of transmedia. In Europe, transmedia can occupy the role of a promotion tool for independent filmmakers, or that of a site of construction for social reality games, or even serve as a means of political activism.[4] In countries such as Spain, meanwhile, entire curricula are being developed around the potential application of transmedia as a tool for educational and literacy enhancement for students seeking global citizenship skills (Gomez 2013; Scolari 2013).

Hence one thing starts to become very clear: when conceived of or utilized as a cultural practice – rather than a commercially-minded industrial one – transmedia is suddenly no longer about storytelling, at least not in a fictional sense. Instead, it is about something more, something more real – that is to say, something more political, more social and more ideologically profound.

Allow me to offer some examples. Towards the end of last year I was invited to consult and to teach in the School of Sciences and Humanities at EAFIT University in Colombia. Antenna image2The invite was for the launch of a new MA in Transmedia Communication, the very first of its kind in Latin America. After consulting on the content of the MA program throughout the autumn, I then flew out to teach in Colombia, delivering a week’s worth of lectures about the different models, strategies and techniques of transmedia storytelling – focusing primarily on UK and US contexts. The aim here was to try and lay out the core characteristics and tendencies of many transmedia stories so students could then apply particular ideas when developing their own transmedia projects. What struck me about the whole experience was just how irrelevant some – though thankfully not all – of my own ingrained ideas about what transmedia actually is were to a Colombian audience. For them, transmedia is not – or rather should not be – a commercial practice of promotion, fiction, world building, franchising and the like. Instead, it is a political system that is nothing short of pivotal to developing social change in local communities; for them, transmedia is about reconstructing memories.

Though documentary has for many decades played a vital role in Latin America’s media ecology, independent producers and universities are the key drivers in the country’s current transmedia trend. While at EAFIT University, a number of innovative transmedia projects caught my eye – all of which aimed to fulfill this promise of developing social change and reconstructing local memories. One project, now currently underway, aims to create non-official narratives of the Colombian armed conflict from the victims’ point of view. By using different media platforms such as games, maps, web series, books and museums, the Medellín victims will be able to communicate their thoughts about the Colombian armed conflict to local and national public spheres. Image2Another project, this one a graduate student’s, uses transmedia as a tool to gather and articulate the emotional fallout of the people from Medellín who have been displaced from their homes. The aim is therefore to document the citizens of Medellín, and Colombia, and show what it is like to be displaced in one’s own city, reconstructing an entire generation of historical memories concerning victims of internal displacement via the use of non-official stories and the representation of these stories across platforms.

In other words, in the context of Colombian culture, transmedia is not just a tool for social change – it is a blessing born out of a long history of cultural tradition that can help Colombians reconstruct the country after more than 50 years of armed conflict. As one of the students enrolled on EAFIT’s MA in Transmedia Communication asserts, “I strongly believe that transmedia in Colombia can contribute to creating processes of memory, recognition and solidarity for the victims of the Colombian armed conflict. I think that using and developing transmedia with local communities can be the clue to starting real processes of reconciliation in the country.”

The emphasis, again, is on using transmedia for something real. And so it seems particularly important to continue more fully interrogating non-fictional transmedia cultures – in the plural. Susan Kerrigan and J.T. Velikovsky begin to interrogate non-fictional transmedia storytelling through the framework of reality television formats, [5] just as Paul Grainge and Catherine Johnson (2015) consider the BBC’s coverage of the 2012 London Olympic Games through the lens of transmedia. And yet it is still far from clear in academic circles what it might mean to fully conceptualize a “real transmedia,” as it were. As my and William Proctor’s Transmedia Earth Network will aim to address, perhaps it is now time to move beyond emphases on industry and technology and instead to more fully embrace how cultural specificity (politics, heritage, social traditions, peoples, leisure and more) Image3informs “real” transmedia stories with real cultural impacts and powerful resolutions for communities around the world. How do the unique politics, heritages and social traditions specific to a given country inform alternative models of transmedia? In Colombia at least, transmedia is now used to reshape its cultures and its communities – and in the words of one Colombian student, this is because, in Colombia, “transmedia is still a field of experimentation; it is new, it is unknown and we are the ones defining it and making it important for all branches of our knowledge.”

Free from the shackles of its Western understandings, then, Colombia’s notion of what transmedia actually is raises important questions about the future of transmedia, both as a phenomenon and as a focus of academic enquiry. How else is transmedia being interpreted by other cultures? And how else might it begin to reshape cultural communities and to tell their real stories of political and social traditions around the world? Only time will tell…


[1] See Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: New York University Press, 2006).

[2] James Hay and Nick Couldry “Rethinking Convergence/Culture,” Cultural Studies 25.4 (2011): 473-486.

[3] See for example Jonathan Gray, Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts (New York: New York University Press, 2010) and Paul Grainge and Catherine Johnson, Promotional Screen Industries (London: Routledge, 2015).

[4] See Carlos Scolari, Paolo Bertetti and Matthew Freeman Transmedia Archaeology: Storytelling in the Borderlines of Science Fiction, Comics and Pulp Magazines (Basingstoke: Palgrave Pivot, 2014).

[5] See Susan Kerrigan and J. T. Velikovsky, “Examining Documentary Transmedia Narratives Through The Living History of Fort Scratchley Project,” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies (online 2015, DOI: 10.1177/1354856514567053).


Serial Goes Missing Fri, 08 Jan 2016 16:07:21 +0000 serial-season2

You could cite the sponsorship of Audible, the rise of Midroll Media, Gimlet and PRX’s Radiotopia, galvanizing events like Podcast Movement and the Third Coast International Audio Festival, but ask anyone and they will say that it was Serial and its 100 million downloads that elevated narrative-driven podcasting from dorky obscurity back in 2014. Serial was mainstream. Serial intensified and also transcended the This American Life aesthetic. Serial was serious.

It also clarified the affect surrounding its own mode of consumption. One did not merely follow Serial or like Serial in 2014; one was “obsessed” with Serial. It’s the word that came up most often in the coverage, and served as grist for ridicule and derivative works, of which there are now many – Breakdown, Another Dead Man Walking, Limetown. If TV has taken on the metaphor of substance abuse these days (we are “addicted” to Making a Murderer, we “binge” on Scandal), narrative-driven podcasting has taken on the argot of infatuation, of compulsion, of love.

That response was prompted by the podcast itself. Early in the first episode, there is a bit of theater when Sarah Koenig reflects on how a meeting with lawyer Rabia Chaudry prompted her investigation of the murder of Baltimore teenager Hae Min Lee and the issue of whether or not Lee’s former boyfriend Adnan Syed had really committed it. In an aside, Koenig uses the technique of false improvisation, seeming to rethink a word in mid-sentence, although the line strikes the ear as scripted:

This conversation with Rabia […] this is what launched me on this year long – obsession is maybe too strong a word – let’s say fascination, with this case.

Let’s not. When this first aired, here on Antenna Jason Mittell made the argument that the main character of Serial wasn’t Syed at all, but Koenig herself. In retrospect I’d go further. Because the show dramatizes how engrossed its host became with the investigation she was performing, her obsession was the “protagonist” of the show. After all, that which drives Serial’s seriality is neither the chronology of the story nor that of its reconstruction, but Koenig’s internal thought process, her uncertainty when faced with multiple avenues of interpretation afforded by the same datum. Remember the Nisha Call, the pay phone at Best Buy, Syed stealing from the donations at his mosque? We listened to Koenig organize and reorganize each of these, value and devalue them, recursively, incredulously, passionately. We listened to Koenig struggling with the stubborn ambiguity of an ever-growing wall of details. That is why (as critics are starting to realize) imitating Serial’s narrative is impossible to do without recreating its narration.


So Serial’s thorniest philosophical problem was never with ethics, but instead with something closer to hermeneutics. The last lines of the twelfth episode speak to this theme:

When Rabia first told me about Adnan’s case, certainty, one way or the other seemed so attainable. We just needed to get the right documents, spend enough time, talk to the right people, find his alibi. Then I did find Asia, and she was real and she remembered and we all thought “how hard could this possibly be? We just have to keep going.” Now, more than a year later, I feel like shaking everyone by the shoulders like an aggravated cop. Don’t tell me Adnan’s a nice guy, don’t tell me Jay was scared, don’t tell me who might have made some five second phone call. Just tell me the facts ma’am, because we didn’t have them fifteen years ago and we still don’t have them now.

In an ironic touch, Koenig cites detective Joe “Just the Facts” Friday of Dragnet, radio’s paragon of positivist “keeping going,” as she expresses skepticism about the certainty that such a method provides. What was at stake in Koenig’s obsession, ultimately, wasn’t her feelings towards Adnan (the allegation of romantic attachment strikes me as both unsupported and misogynistic) but her worry that certainty about him is unavailable. What if the truth isn’t out there? That is the fear to which Koenig was professionally and emotionally vulnerable, and by foregrounding that exposure rather than subordinating it, she gave the show dimension, made it special and weird.


Last month Serial returned, now with seven new staff members and a host of collaborators, including Mark Boal’s Page One film company, tackling an elusive subject: the disappearance and search for Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier who left his post in Afghanistan one night in June 2009 and was returned after a prisoner swap five years later.

The topic is complex, but in adopting it Koenig also marginalizes her own voice. We hear little about her own thinking, opinions, epistemological struggles. The first episode ends dramatically, with a phone ringing and Koenig explaining “That’s me, calling the Taliban.” But this is almost the only moment of personal ownership in the episode. By contrast, the first installment of Season 1 was full of that:

… This search sometimes feels undignified on my part …
… I have to know if Adnan really was in the library at 2:36 PM …
… If you’re wondering why I went so nuts on this story versus some other murder case, the best I can explain is this is the one that came to me …

koenigIn the Season 1 launch she uses the object pronoun form “me” 14 times to refer to herself. In the launch of Season 2 she only uses it four times.

She’s an outsider, learning terminology as we do and drawing on others. A recent article in Vulture characterizes Koenig as a novice in national security, describing Boal as the “embed” with contacts in government and a background as a screenwriter for films like Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker. In its very structure, then, Season 2 turns away from the model of the heroic individual quest, of “dramatic nonfiction narrative in the form of a personal journey” as Eugenia Williamson characterizes the This American Life aesthetic, and toward a model of collaboration. No doubt many journalists will cheer this change.

The team is making use of all of its resources. “The Golden Chicken,” the second episode, draws on 12 interviewees from Bergdahl’s battalion, 25 hours of taped conversations between Boal and Bergdahl, an interview with Taliban leader Mujahid Rehman, reporting by Afghan Sami Yousafzai who made contact with a fighter named Hilal, as well as documents from Wikileaks, all to reconstruct what happened to Bowe in the first weeks of captivity. If Serial’s new season is “about the knotted relationship between systems and people,” as Slate’s Katy Waldman puts it, then it also requires a number of systems and people to explore it.

Like the first season, this one dwells on discrepancies. The Taliban say that they did a traditional attan dance to cheer up Bergdahl in an orchard during his transportation, but he remembers nothing like that. Like last time, the heart of the show lies in interview tapes peppered with humdrum audio, like the sounds of Boal microwaving his lunch, which contrast the network news snippets at the top of the program – what Koenig calls the “antiseptic upstairs realm” of the mass media narrative. Like the first season, this one often focuses on vivid details. In the third episode, we learn that Taliban fighters drink Mountain Dew, think sunglasses look cool, and say “What’s up, bro.” The first episode explains what life was like in Bergdahl’s station in Paktika province by focusing on the burn pit, where pitiable soldiers took turns stirring their own burning refuse. It’s a shit-stirring scene at a post made famous by a soldier trying to stir up shit.

In theory, there is no reason why the new season, with its dark humor, with its war and torture, with its humanized subject and investigators, should differ tonally from the previous one. Koenig clearly has sympathy for her subject in the fourth episode, listen to her describe how a captor cuts Bergdahl’s chest slowly with a razor blade 600 times. With multiple accounts of these and other events, the same awe and uncertainty we experienced the first time should plague us. “Any one piece of this story can keep a person’s mind churning,” Koenig promises in an early passage.

And yet it doesn’t. Why? Because Koenig is not vulnerable to her story this time out; she tells the story without becoming a character in it. She has yet to speak to Bergdahl directly, and her retreat to the role of anchor bears the same antiseptic whiff as the TV media reports that the program borrows for its opening. We aren’t even following Koenig’s “mental churning” closely enough to know how fraught it might be. Without the pathos of a narrator’s affective relation to her narrative, the season comes across as superior journalism but inferior meta journalism. We’ve lost the innervating anxiety that made it special.

Just think of it at the level of sonic texture. Gone are the calls to Adnan, car rides with co-producers, footsteps into fields, knocks on doors, auditory situations in which we felt physically proximal to our host moving through space over a duration of time. Instead, Koenig speaks to us from nowhere in particular, pointing our ears at places rather than taking us along with her to visit them. Her intense intimacy with the audience is not mirrored by a similar sonic proximity to the people and places that the story is about, leaving the experience oddly hollow, even lonely.

zoomPerhaps Season 2 is too far away from its focus. Obsession always implies a collapse of critical distance, but Serial’s own metaphors go the other way. Early on in the first episode, Koenig likens the Bergdahl story to a children’s book called Zoom.

It starts with these pointy red shapes. And then, next page, you realize those shapes are a rooster’s comb. Next page, you zoom out, you see the rooster is standing on a fence with two little kids watching him. Next page, zoom out again, they’re in a farmhouse. And then, zoom further, you realize that all of it — the rooster, the kids, the farmhouse — are toys being played with by another child […] Out and out it zooms, the aperture of the thing getting wider and wider until the original image is so far away it’s unseeable. That’s what the story of Bowe Bergdahl is like.

It’s what the podcast is like, too. Even as we get closer to the story, we seem further away.

This is not the only time that Koenig refers to children’s media. Earlier on in the episode, she contrasts Boal’s salty language with Bowe’s schoolboy politeness, noting that the latter’s go-to expletive is Charlie Brown’s “good grief.” During the second episode, Koenig describes the Army’s thinking once it knew Bergdahl was captured this way:

They also knew that the Taliban’s goal would be to get Bowe to a hideout in the tribal region of Western Pakistan, because Pakistan is like home base. Or, to put it in Tom and Jerry terms, Pakistan is the hole in the baseboard where Tom cannot go.

Finally, in the third episode, as Koenig narrates the nightmarish tale of one of Bergdahl’s escape attempts. As Bergdahl falls off a cliff, the scene takes on the language of the comic strip:

Bowe lands on a dry riverbed on his left side. He said the word “oof” actually came out of his mouth, just like in a cartoon, loud enough so that some dogs started barking their heads off.

Small wonder that Serial feels just as bracing this time around, but flatter. Adnan Syed was a cipher; Bowe Bergdahl is a sketch.

And so, a year later, Serial remains the best game in town, an ambitious program, dense and with the best narrative rhythm in American narrative audio. It still boldly leads the field when it comes to signaling what podcasts can do. But it has lost its touch when it comes to refashioning how podcasts can feel. Is it fascinating? Sure. But so far obsession remains too strong a word.


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The Rise of Big Copyright: Content Protection and the Formation of Anti-Piracy Alliances Thu, 17 Dec 2015 12:00:53 +0000 Post by Paul McDonald, King’s College London

This post continues the ongoing “From Nottingham and Beyond” series, with contributions from faculty and alumni of the University of Nottingham’s Department of Culture, Film and Media. This week’s contributor, Paul McDonald, was Professor of Cinema and Media Industries in our department from 2011-2015. 

Image - Get It Right from a Genuine SiteA few weeks ago, the Get It Right from a Genuine Site anti-piracy campaign was launched in the UK. The campaign was run by Creative Content UK, a body formed the previous year to “boost consumer awareness of the wide array of legitimate online content services and help reduce online copyright infringement.” CCUK’s founding partners were the BPI (British Phonographic Industry), Hollywood’s trade body for international territories the Motion Picture Association (MPA), and the four main internet service providers in the UK: BT, Sky Broadband, TalkTalk and Virgin Media. Additional support for CCUK came from broadcasters (BBC and ITV), actors’ union Equity, the Film Distributors’ Association, the Independent Film and Television Alliance, the Musicians’ Union, Pact, the Premier League, the Publishers Association and UK Music.

CCUK is the newest arrival to the UK’s anti-piracy business and as such is representative of a trend now characterizing the modern media industries—the formation of inter- and intra-industry alliances to combat media piracy and protect copyrighted content. Over recent years, claims of escalating piracy have seemingly been accompanied by a concurrent escalation in the number of coalitions formed to combat it. Although not a new development, the formation of anti-piracy alliances has intensified over the last ten to fifteen years. As a way of grasping the implications of this trend, these developments might be described as the rise of Big Copyright, the emergence of new constellations of commercial-legal power in the media economy.

There are several reasons why this trend cannot simply be seen as a continuation of the oligopolistic tendencies of so-called Big Media by means of intellectual property. First, as a label for a concentrated cluster of private firms, Big Media has no formal collective identity other than perhaps memberships of trade associations for the film or music businesses. Big Copyright, on the other hand, materializes in a multitude of specific, named alliances that are the products of formalized agreements to collaborate. Second, Big Copyright brings together interests that spread far beyond the diversified holdings of even the largest, most diversified media and communication conglomerates. Big Media are part of Big Copyright, but the latter extends further, formed of unities among multiple copyright holders from across the business software, publishing, music, film, television and game industries, plus broadcasters, internet service providers, media retailers, marketing agencies, technology firms and in some cases police forces. These alliances have become power brokers in what Adrian Johns describes as the “intellectual property defence industry,” creating constellations of interests to aggregate social and political capital against piracy. While these groupings are led by the media industries, the raison d’être behind the creation of these alliances is to reach beyond the media sector by pressuring governments to act in the interests of rights holders, working with judicial and police authorities to enforce the protection of rights, and reaching out to the public by communicating lessons in good copyright citizenship. Finally, while Big Media largely means the major U.S. media firms, with the possible addition of Bertelsmann, Big Copyright is more internationally dispersed, comprising alliances formed around various national coalitions and including a few transnational members.

Image - FACT LogoBy way of illustration, I’ll briefly review here the alliances at the forefront of the content protection business in the UK. Formed in October 1982 through collaboration between the Motion Picture Export Association of America (MPEAA), the Society of Film Distributors, and the British Videogram Association (BVA), the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) was established in the early years of the home-video boom, when Britain was regarded by Hollywood as a hotbed of video piracy due to the low fines imposed for first offenses and lenient sentences for subsequent convictions. FACT is part of the MPA’s international network of national non-profit “content protection organizations” (CPOs), which now extends to over 30 countries, predominantly in Western Europe but also in parts of Eastern Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, and North and South America. Through this network, FACT has equivalents in other major international markets for Hollywood film and television, including JIMCA (the Japan and International Motion Picture Copyright Association), Germany’s Gesellschaft zur Verfolgung von Urheberrechtsverletzungen (GVU, the Society for the Prosecution of Copyright Infringement), France’s Association de Lutte Contre la Piraterie Audiovisuelle (ALPA, the Association for the Fight Against Audiovisual Piracy) and the Asociación Protectora de Cine y Música México (APCM, the Mexican Association for the Protection of Movies and Music). Image - APCM LogoCPOs localize the MPA’s global fight against piracy, providing on-the-ground points of contact for links with national governmental departments, law-enforcement agencies, and companies or trade bodies in the media sector. Although operating as a kind of outpost in Hollywood’s global fight against film and television piracy, FACT is now networked into the broader UK media economy. Alongside the MPA and the six major Hollywood corporations, FACT’s membership includes the main terrestrial broadcasters (BBC, ITV), satcaster (Sky) and cable provider (Virgin Media), plus film trade bodies (British Video Association, Film Distributors’ Association, and UK Cinema Association), and a leading sports rights holder (Premier League). As an industry body, FACT holds no statutory authority but instead functions primarily to aid anti-piracy efforts by collaborating with national law-enforcement and customs officials to investigate and prosecute alleged infringing activities. FACT operates partnerships with HM Revenue and Customs, Border Force, the National Crime Agency, Trading Standards offices, and fifteen regional police forces.

Image - Alliance Against Copyright Theft LogoFACT therefore represents a point of mediation between the MPA CPOs and various national companies, bodies and agencies. For over three decades, FACT has remained at the forefront of anti-piracy efforts in the UK, but since the late 1990s, this network organization has seen developments with the formation of various new alliances. Operating as a kind of über-association, the Alliance for Intellectual Property exists to provide a single voice representing the collective interests of the copyright industries to the UK government. Formed in 1998, the Alliance aggregates the interests of two dozen “trade organisations, enforcement organisations and collecting societies from across the creative, branded and design industries.” Beyond its own business, the Alliance pays communications consultancy Luther Pendragon to provide administrative support to the All Party Parliamentary Intellectual Property Group (APPG), launched in 2003 as an interest group within UK government that, according to the Register of All-Party Parliamentary Groups, serves to “debate and highlight the value of intellectual property (IP) and the importance of its promotion and protection.”

Image - Industry Trust LogoOperating since 2004 with support from the UK film, TV and video industries, the Industry Trust for Intellectual Property Awareness describes itself as a “pro-copyright consumer education body.” Membership of the Trust extends to 44 entities, including all the major film/video distributors and cinema chains and their related trade bodies, plus marketing agencies (My Movies, Think Jam), pre-school entertainment company HIT, optical-disc manufacturer Sony DADC, digital-entertainment technology provider Rovi, home-entertainment metadata supplier West10, and leading online retailers (e.g. Amazon, eBay) and supermarkets (e.g. Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco). In addition, the Trust has 88 partners from across the UK’s film and television business, including FACT and the Alliance for IP. To promote awareness of the value of IP, the Industry Trust has run multiple campaigns, including the series of Moments Worth Paying For ads screened across cinemas, digital outdoor spaces and online media.

Following the model of the Center for Copyright Information in the US, CCUK was launched with two purposes. Get It Right from a Genuine Site is the first outcome of CCUK’s commitment to pro-copyright public awareness campaigning.

CCUK was also established to implement the Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (VCAP), a system for rights owners to monitor transfers of infringing content over file-sharing networks, logging the IP addresses of infringers and notifying ISPs who send “escalating” warning letters to the relevant users. Issuing only a series of educative warnings means VCAP takes a lighter touch to deterrence than the enforcement of disconnections or financial penalties proposed by the 2010 Digital Economy Act. This has led to some questioning, however, particularly from the MPAA, over whether the program has any real teeth.

As the UK case shows, the landscape of anti-piracy alliance formation is confusing: not only has there been the proliferation of alliances, but many companies or organizations are also members of multiple alliances, and some alliances partner in other alliances. The formation of, but also the blurring between, alliances is particularly noticeable in how the presence of the Hollywood majors is unsurprisingly woven throughout these networks: the majors are individual members of FACT and the Industry Trust but are also collectively represented in these groupings and the Alliance for IP through the Film Distributors’ Association and the MPA.

AImage - Moments Worth Paying For-Anchorman 2s suggested earlier, Big Copyright grows out of nationally-configured coalitions of collective interests. So in the U.S., a similar array of alliances operates to those found in the UK. Representing trade associations across the copyright industries, the International Intellectual Property Alliance annually reports to the U.S. Trade Representative on the current state of IP regimes in foreign territories, with the aim of using the trading system to strengthen the international enforcement of rights. Copyright Alliance is a pan-media coalition that lobbies Congress for stronger copyright legislation, while CreativeFuture (originally Creative America) runs television, social-media and website campaigns on how piracy threatens jobs in film and television. Pulling back from the detail of these labyrinthine connections, at a level of abstract generalization we can see these coalitions serve a limited number of core functions in the fight against piracy: the political work of lobbying government for stronger legislative protections, the legal work of aiding statutory authorities to enforce rights, and the discursive work of public-awareness campaigning.

Frequently, analyses of the media industries focus on the organization of the conditions facilitating the production, dissemination and presentation of media content. Often this means concentrating on particular media firms. But the rise of Big Copyright demands we must now equally attend to how anti-piracy alliances are today very much part of the operational purposes of the modern media industries. By their very definition, these alliances are not companies but operate in the spaces between companies. For this reason, they may slip out of sight. This is not to say they are invisible or secretive, although knowledge of the precise workings is confined to industry stakeholders and is unavailable to the public. Rather they are just not an immediately noticeable component of the media business. With their proliferation, however, anti-piracy alliances have become a distinct category of player in the media industries. Thus, it is now vital we make these alliances visible for the roles they play in regulating the marketplace of rights and in shaping the cultural sphere.


“Not Linear or On-Demand”: Television in “the Internet Age” Thu, 03 Dec 2015 12:00:33 +0000 Post by Catherine Johnson, University of Nottingham

This post continues the ongoing “From Nottingham and Beyond” series, with contributions from faculty and alumni of the University of Nottingham’s Department of Culture, Film and Media. This week’s contributor is Catherine Johnson, Associate Professor of Film and Television Studies in our department.

In March 2015, Tony Hall (Director General of the BBC) outlined his vision for the BBC as it entered “the internet age.” Hall argued that while broadcasting had been responding to digitization for the past twenty years, until recently it had been relatively unaffected by the internet. This, Hall claimed, was changing as broadcasters responded to a new landscape in which television and the internet became more entwined.

Ofcom CMR Fig 1.5

Figure numbers and notes from original OFCOM source.

Ofcom’s annual Communication Market Report (CMR) offers a useful overview of the changing media landscape in this “internet age.” At the end of 2014, 56% of UK households had a TV connected to the internet, either via a set-top box or smart TV, and 83% of UK premises were able to receive superfast broadband. 54% of households owned a tablet (up 10 percentage points from 2013), smartphones were the most widely-owned internet-enabled device (present in two-thirds of UK households), and 4G mobile subscriptions increased from 3% at the end of 2013 to 28% at the end of 2014.

Ofcom CMR15 Fig 1.27

Figure numbers and notes from original OFCOM source.

Amid increasing access to internet-connected devices, broadcast TV viewing remained robust, with traditional live television accounting for just under 70% of the total time adults spent watching audio-visual content in the UK. However, this did represent a decline of 12 minutes annually from the previous year. Data from the UK ratings company BARB suggested that about half of this decline could be accounted for by viewing on catch-up, video-on-demand (VOD) and subscription services (such as Netflix).

Certainly, non-traditional viewing has risen over the past year. Viewing of non-subscription catch-up services (such as BBC iPlayer) has increased by 26% and 16% of UK households now subscribe to Netflix. Meanwhile, smartphones, tablets and 4G are driving consumption of television content on alternative internet-enabled platforms, particularly among younger audiences, with 16-24s more likely to use a computer or smartphone than a set-top box to access VOD TV services, and with 50% of 4G users accessing audio-visual content on their mobile phones.

Ofcom CMR15 Fig 1.39

Figure numbers and notes from original OFCOM source.

This is a complex landscape, with the changes in behavior and access to technology varying by age groups, location and economic status. What this landscape points to, however, is an increased interconnectivity between television and the internet. While this fast-moving environment raises significant difficulties for the regulation of public-service television, it also presents challenges to broadcasters attempting to navigate a landscape in which television is increasingly distributed and accessed online, whether through internet-connected set-top boxes and smart TVs or through online services available through PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

All of the UK’s broadcasters have an online web presence, typically in the form of a website and VOD service. These VOD services are available across a range of devices, including PCs and laptops, tablets, smartphones, games consoles, set-top boxes and connected television sets. In October 2015, the launch of Freeview Play made all of the public-service VOD services (alongside a suite of digital television channels) available on a television set without subscription, through the purchase of a Freeview Play enabled smart TV or set-top box. The UK’s pay-TV providers also offer their own VOD players as part of their subscription packages, and viewers can access standalone VOD services through individual subscription or download programs on a pay-per-view basis.

Table 1: Top online VOD services listed in Ofcom’s 2014 Communications Market Report, based on claimed use of selected online VOD services in the UK for 2013-14.

Table 1: Top online VOD services listed in Ofcom’s 2014 Communications Market Report, based on claimed use of selected online VOD services in the UK for 2013-14.

There is a tendency within reports such as Ofcom’s CMR to distinguish between broadcaster VOD services, such as BBC iPlayer, and new OTT providers, such as Netflix, with the former understood as “catch-up” services and the latter as subscription services used to access content not available on other platforms. Yet this positioning of broadcaster VOD services as “catch-up” fails to account for the ways in which they blend different modes of viewing in an attempt to appeal to the different “need states” of television viewing. It is important to recognize that broadcaster VOD services provide not only a mechanism to catch up on broadcast programs that have been missed, but also act as a site for accessing and viewing live and original programming. The UK’s free-to-air commercial public-service broadcaster, ITV, noted in 2014 that over 25% of all requests to its VOD service ITV Player were to watch live TV, and the interface now includes a “Live TV” button among its permanent tabs. In this case, the distinction often made between linear and non-linear television breaks down as viewers use non-linear on-demand services to access linear broadcasting.ITVPlayer Nov15

A year later in 2015, the UK’s other main commercial public-service broadcaster, Channel 4, re-launched its VOD player (4oD) as All 4, positioning it as its seventh “channel” and a central hub of its activities and identity as a broadcaster. All 4 replaced Channel 4’s broadcaster website as well as 4oD, effectively positioning the broadcaster online as a VOD service. Tim Bleasdale, Creative Director of the digital product design company Ostmodern, vividly described his company’s work on All 4 as creating “a world where 4oD has eaten the rest of”

The design of the All 4 online interface itself is based on offering viewers three differentiated experiences. “On Demand” is the tab through which to access catch-up and archived programs, including box sets. “Now” is the place to watch live broadcasts, interactive formats, clips, new shorts and social-media conversations. “On Soon” showcases exclusive online premieres, promos and trailers, as well as being the place to set reminders and alerts. Far from being a catch-up service, All 4 attempts to collapse the boundaries between broadcasting and VOD. As Laura Slattery of The Irish Times argues, All 4 can be understood as the presentation of “all of Channel 4’s linear channels (Channel 4, E4, More 4), its catch-up content and its digital exclusives in one place – reflecting the fact that younger viewers increasingly do not differentiate between live television and video-on-demand.” Jonathan Holmes concurs, claiming that All 4 represented “yet another sign that broadcasters no longer view online as an adjunct to their main mission, but as central to modern television.”All 4 Nov15

More controversially, in 2014 the BBC revealed its proposal to transform its digital channel BBC Three into an online-only service delivered through its VOD service BBC iPlayer. While this decision was driven significantly by the need to cut costs in a difficult political environment (as Liz Evans discussed in an earlier Antenna blog), it was also positioned by the broadcaster as a means of responding to changing viewing habits, particularly of younger audiences. Echoing much of the rhetoric around the launch of All 4, Damian Kavanagh (Controller, BBC Three) described the move as merging what is great about broadcast and digital in order to “give something of the digital world, not just in it.” Although the service has not yet launched, the BBC’s proposals for BBC Three online again focused around need states with the service positioned around two pillars: “Make Me Think” and “Make Me Laugh.”

As with All 4, Damien Kavanagh has described this as an opportunity to combine the delivery of traditional television programming with different forms of content, from short-form to image-led storytelling and increased interaction from viewers. However, while the channel would have a dedicated home online, the BBC claimed in its proposals that the different kinds of content would sit within different sites online, with short-form and digital content emerging on social platforms such as Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and long-form content appearing on iPlayer, as well as on broadcast channels BBC One and BBC Two. This model points to the difficulties of blending online and broadcast. Although VOD services such as All 4 and BBC iPlayer can act as hubs for television content online, the BBC’s proposals suggest that there remains a distinction between digital-only content (described by Kavanagh as short-form and digital) and broadcast content (understood as long-form programming). Within the BBC’s thinking, VOD services such as the iPlayer seem to emerge as extensions of broadcast channels (a place to access long-form programs online), rather than as a site that can accommodate other forms of “digital-only” content that might be better suited to social platforms such as Tumblr or Twitter.

While I am usually resistant to predicting the future, what is emerging is a television landscape in which VOD services sit alongside channels on our television sets and in which live broadcast programming is offered within the same online interface as on-demand and interactive content. This integration of online and broadcasting is unlikely to lead to the decline of live, linear television viewing, but it does change the relationship between broadcasting and on-demand. Indeed, when announcing the launch of All 4 David Abraham, Chief Executive of Channel 4, claimed that the future of TV lies “not with either linear or on-demand, but a creative and visual integration of the two worlds, blending the strengths of both into a single brand.” To understand television in the internet age, we need to recognize that far from being separate or distinct, linear and non-linear television are entwined in a media landscape in which broadcasting and online are, and will be, increasingly interdependent.


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Pretty in Pink: BBC iPlayer and the Promotion of On-Demand Television Thu, 19 Nov 2015 12:00:27 +0000 Post by Paul Grainge, University of Nottingham

This post continues the ongoing “From Nottingham and Beyond” series, with contributions from faculty and alumni of the University of Nottingham’s Department of Culture, Film and Media. This week’s contributor is Paul Grainge, Professor of Film and Television Studies in our department.

BBC iPlayer as a “pink portal” (2010)

BBC iPlayer as a “pink portal” (2010)

Ever since the BBC launched its on-demand service, BBC iPlayer, on Christmas Day in 2007, short-form trailers have appeared across the BBC’s broadcast channels to promote the availability of iPlayer as a new way of accessing and engaging with BBC content. The distinctive iPlayer logo, pretty in pink, routinely appears in TV end credits as a reminder of program availability through catch-up and as a call to action. The “play” symbol invites audiences not only to watch shows they may have missed but also to download content, interact with educational guides, share recommendations and personalize their viewing through sign-in (the last of these reflecting the BBC’s desire, expressed by Director-General Tony Hall in 2015, to “reinvent public service broadcasting through data”).

As well as using end credits, the promotion of BBC iPlayer in the UK market has also taken place in between programs, a range of teasers (10 seconds), trailers (30-40 seconds) and full-blown brand stories (up to a minute long) appearing as interstitials in the BBC’s linear schedule. These always make me watch. Not simply because I’m a sucker for a well-crafted promo, but also because they reveal something of the way that the BBC has produced, and continues to develop, vernaculars around on-demand television.

BBC iPlayer logo

BBC iPlayer logo

This has become tied to questions of how the BBC communicates its role in a fast-changing media environment. Unquestionably, the BBC has been successful in creating brand awareness for iPlayer. This was evidenced by a YouGov poll in 2013 that named “BBC iPlayer” the UK’s number-one brand in terms of consumer perception, ahead of Samsung (2nd), John Lewis (3rd), (6th), YouTube (7th) and Marks & Spencer (8th). And yet, despite the ubiquity of the brand, it remains the case that iPlayer accounts for just 2-3% of all BBC audience viewing. For those responsible for iPlayer strategy at the BBC, this signals a head-scratching gap between brand awareness and actual use among mainstream audiences. While rebutting claims in 2015 that iPlayer’s audience had dipped for the first time, the Head of BBC iPlayer, Dan Taylor-Watt, nevertheless remarked in a May blog post that “the challenge for us is to get everyone using iPlayer—whether that’s to make the journey to work better, the holiday in the middle of no-where [sic] in the rain more enjoyable or just easily catch-up on what you’ve missed from the comfort of your sofa.”

It is the nature of the “challenge” that Taylor-Watt describes that interests me—specifically, how promotion has been used to get audiences to think of iPlayer as part of their daily habit. Since 2011, marketing campaigns for iPlayer have been informed by a “three beyond” strategy: “beyond PC, beyond catch-up, beyond the early-adopter.” This has been expressed in different ways, but is marked by a move away from techno-representations of iPlayer as a “portal”—viewers gazing at phosphoric BBC content in mystical electro-space—and towards representations that depict the use and function of iPlayer in the spaces and routines of everyday British life.

In the move from portals to port-a-loos (the tempting alternative title for this blog), a 2012 trailer called “Beyond the Computer” would depict the iPlayer logo descending onto screen devices being used in a range of spaces across the UK, from buses, beach huts, canal boats and office blocks to windmills, flats and the aforementioned portable toilet. Promoting the extension of iPlayer onto multiscreen devices, this trailer emphasized platform mobility in contemplative representations of “digital Britain.

More recently, however, iPlayer campaigns have taken a different tack, and have focused more deliberately on what BBC managers that Catherine Johnson and I have interviewed call the “need-states” of on-demand television. This involves communicating the relevance, rather than simply the availability, of iPlayer to audiences. A 2014 campaign called “Always There When You Need It” demonstrates this attempt to show how iPlayer can serve the “entertainment needs” of prospective users. Targeted at the audience persona of “mainstream mums”—women in their thirties and forties with children, seen by the BBC as a group that under-uses iPlayer—the promo imagined “moments and opportunities” where iPlayer could fill gaps and fit into the time-pressed lives of people negotiating hectic, harassed and occasionally hungover moments of the day.

At some level, “always there when you need it” chimes with Max Dawson’s analysis of DVR advertising in the U.S. By the terms of his argument, digital television technologies became linked in the 2000s to discourses of attention management. Dawson connects this to wider neoliberal ideologies and the reflexive project of learning how to allocate attention profitably. Alert to quotidian moments, “Always There When You Need It” depicts scenes where iPlayer solves problems of time and attention in social, familial and workday life—from viewing “opportunities” on a delayed train to calming over-energetic children.

And yet, there is something in these promos that extends beyond a concern with the profitable allocation of attention. In cultural terms, they also contribute to the way the BBC has sought to promote its identity and value as a (digital) public-service broadcaster. In a period when the BBC is having to justify its purpose and unique funding arrangement ahead of charter review in 2016—and in the face of attacks by a Conservative government intent on reducing the corporation’s size—it is perhaps no surprise that the BBC has developed vernaculars that imagine, and assert, the BBC as something that wraps around British life.  While the purpose of “always there when you need it” was to highlight iPlayer’s capacity to meet entertainment needs, this trailer and subsequent promotions (such as this year’s “if you love something let it show” campaign, which invites audiences to share recommendations through iPlayer) have as much to say about the BBC’s own political “need-states” as they do the conditions and situations where audiences might turn to iPlayer as a service.

‘If You Love Something Let It Show" campaign (2015)

‘If You Love Something Let It Show” campaign (2015)


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First Forum Conference, USC School of Cinematic Arts Wed, 11 Nov 2015 17:29:42 +0000 by guest contributors Eleanor Huntington, Kelsey Moore, and Robert Sevenich


(photos by Sebnem Baran and Jinhee Park)

On Friday, October 16th and Saturday, October 17th, USC School of Cinematic Arts hosted the First Forum academic conference. This two-day event, “On the Fringe: Understanding Alternative and Subversive Media,” was executed by the ZdC Graduate Council through the Bryan Singer Division of Cinema and Media Studies, the co-sponsorship of the USC Graduate Student Government and the African American Cinema Society. First Forum assembled an international collective of industry professionals including filmmakers and actors, Academy archivists—as well as scholars—professors and graduates students—across an array of academic disciplines. The weekend events included five academic panels, a USC faculty roundtable discussion, keynote address, the exclusive screening of The Assassin (2015) with the presentation of the prestigious Sergei Eisenstein Award to its director Hou Hsiao-hsien, and “The Legacy of Blaxploitation” event. While coming from multi-generations and diverse backgrounds, research experience, and professional objectives, the conferences participants—comprised of panelists, respondents, guest and keynote speakers—were all committed to exploring filmmakers and media researchers focused on non-traditional works as well as marginalized modes of production, consumption, and reception for underrepresented spectators.

Much of the conference focused on the graduate student panels. Though the majority of presenters attend prominent Californian institutions including USC, University of California, San Diego, California State University, Northridge, and University of California, Santa Barbara, there were also participants from Northern Illinois University, University of Toronto, and University of Wisconsin-Madison. The panelists approached “fringe media” by defining and locating the fringe in particular generic, geographic, or historic contexts. The scholars identified fringe media in such disparate examples as public access television, ultrasounds, and K-pop fan activism and showcased works from widely diverse locations, including India, Kenya, East Timor, and Cuba. The five panels, featuring three to four presenters, established urban spaces, technology, cult cinema, national cinema, and pornography as the foci, which presented a broad knowledge range for conference attendees with little background in fringe media.

FirstForum6(Faculty roundtable — moderator Lorien Hunter, Akira Lippit, Michael Renov, Priya Jaikumar, and Marsha Kinder)

Following the completion of the student panels, the faculty members of the Bryan Singer Division of Cinema and Media Studies took center stage at an incredibly well-attended and well-received roundtable discussion on the role of academics in addressing marginalized fields of study. Drs. Priya Jaikumar, Akira M. Lippit, and Michael Renov, in addition to Professor Emerita Marsha Kinder, connected their own experiences researching and writing to issues facing the current generation of aspiring academics. This roundtable provided an opportunity to highlight the diversity of research at USC among its most noted scholars while it also allowed graduate students the chance to witness preeminent scholars debating the contentious issues involved in researching marginalized media topics.

In conjunction with these enriching panels, First Forum hosted and co-sponsored special presentation and events. Afternoon events included “Coming Soon! A History of Movie Theater Advertisements in the U.S.” presented by Academy film archivists Alejandra Espasande and Kelly Kreft. This visually enhanced presentation successfully tracked the historical trajectory of film advertisement from its beginnings grounded in vaudeville—and other forms of mass entertainment—to the conception and modernization of the film trailer. Espansande and Kreft concluded their work with an in-depth glance at the archival process itself and emphasized the importance of the archival field and its place within film scholarship.

FirstForum2(Academy Film Archive Presentation)

Their presentation was followed by a sneak preview of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assasin (2015), which was co-sponsored by USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Outside the Box [Office], East Asians Studies Center (EASC), USC Visions and Voices: The Arts and Humanities Initiative, and First Forum. Following the screening, USC professor Dr. David James presented Hou Hsiao-hsien with the School of Cinematic Arts’ Eisenstein Award, which has been presented only three times before. It is awarded to “world filmmakers for distinguished and visionary contributions to the cinematic arts,” and its past recipients include Agnès Varda, Costa-Gavras, and Pedro Almodóvar. Dr. Akira Lippit, Vice Dean of the School of Cinematic Arts, moderated a Q&A with the esteemed director, and their conversation primarily focused on Hou Hsiao-hsien’s unique style and the significance of the image.

The evening special event, “The Legacy of Blaxploitation,” was co-sponsored by USC’s African-American Cinema Society and First Forum. This discussion, moderated by Dr. Christine Acham, featured revered panelists Melvin Van Peebles, Antonio Fargas, Scott Sanders, and Michael Jai White. The panelists discussed on various elements of the 1970s Blaxploitation films, including the enduring influence of Peeble’s legendary first film, Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song (1970), and its effect on contemporary films such as Sander and White’s Black Dynamite (2009). Alongside accounts of individual films, they discussed the influence of Blaxploitation as a filmic movement. Panelists reflected on the economic influence of Blaxploitation films within the 1970s mainstream Hollywood market, and recognized their importance in introducing the black male anti-hero to the screen. This event—as well as First Forum’s additional special presentations—expanded the conference’s overall examination of “fringe media,” as it allowed for spaces of discourse concerning marginality that exist outside the traditional scope of academia.

FirstForum5(Christine Acham chats with guests discussing Blaxploitation)

Before the weekend was officially capped off with a celebratory party at Hotel Figureoa in downtown Los Angeles, Dr. Fatimah Tobing Rony provided insight into her current research that builds on her revolutionary publication The Third Eye: Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle in her keynote address to the conference. Following two days of student panels and outside events that sought to focus attention on media that is too frequently marginalized, her speech, entitled, “After the Third Eye: Theory and Practice,” cemented the importance of all the scholarship presented in moving towards a more inclusive academic and mediated landscape. All the presentations on fringe media during the First Forum conference spoke the evolving industrial practices, accessibility concerns, niche spectatorship and pleasure, and ideologies of the academy. Ultimately, the presented research and impassioned—even polemic—discourse surrounding marginalized media emphasized the increasing need to interrogate underrepresented entertainment production, distribution, and consumption.

Eleanor Huntington, Kelsey Moore, and Robert Sevenich are second year Masters students in the Bryan Singer Division of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Southern California.

This post is part of an ongoing partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Antenna: Responses to Media & Culture and the Society for Cinema & Media Studies’ Cinema Journal.


Low Power FM Radio: A Conversation with Christina Dunbar-Hester and Sanjay Jolly Fri, 06 Nov 2015 17:45:46 +0000 cover_finalThe following is a dialogue between Christina Dunbar-Hester and Sanjay Jolly about the state of radio activism and Dunbar-Hester’s recent book, Low Power to the People: Pirates, Politics, and Protest in FM Radio Activism (MIT Press, 2014). 

Christina Dunbar-Hester (CDH) researches the politics of technology in activism. She will join the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California in spring 2016.  Her book, Low Power to the People, is an ethnographic account of radio activism. 

Sanjay Jolly (SJ) was formerly the policy director at the Prometheus Radio Project, a Philadelphia-based media advocacy organization that, as stated in its mission, “builds participatory radio as a tool for social justice organizing and a voice for community expression.”

SJ: Why did you choose to study the Prometheus Radio Project and radio activism?

CDH: My initial motivation for research on radio activism was not mainly due to an interest in radio, per se—I was interested in discourses about digitality and the Internet being “all new,” with which the 1990s were saturated. When I found out about people advocating for radio even though they were highly sophisticated about technology–in other words who were not Luddites–I thought that would be an interesting site to interrogate the interplay between “old” media and “new” media. I was interested in ideas about how communication and technology might be changing, but I did not want to look at those topics in a novelty-focused vacuum.

SJ: What was the political situation around community radio activism at the moment of the book?

CDH: The period of my fieldwork was the mid-2000s. The earliest LPFM stations had been on the air a few years at that point, so LPFM was no longer brand-new, but advocates were still pursuing changes in policy that would allow many more LPFMs to be licensed. That goal was met in late 2010 with the passage of the Community Radio Act, finally. But those middle years were challenging—advocates approached Congress several times, in a variety of ways, but the legislative change to allow more LPFMs was slow and elusive. This was frustrating in certain ways because the introduction of LPFM in 2000 was a high point for media democracy activism, and advocates wanted to see that momentum carried forward.

SJ: Why did you choose to do an ethnography?

CDH: I have always been interested in how people make meaning out of their activities—what motivates any of us to do the things we do? How does meaning for individuals and at the level of groups get shaped, or change? These are extremely important questions for activism, I think: with limited resources of time (among other things), how do people choose which issues are important, and what strategies to pursue in order to enact social change? A question in my research is, what role does technology play in activist imaginaries, and why? Also, a lot of radio studies work is historical, and I wanted to complement and extend that work with contemporary research.

SJ: What surprised you most as you were conducting your research?

CDH: One of the things that surprised me was how much the activists struggled with preexisting cultural notions surrounding technology. Radio activists themselves were very enthusiastic about promoting tech skills and DIY to all kinds of different people. They had a strong and sincere egalitarian bent, and trying to teach tech skills to people who had traditionally been excluded from this domain was presented as a radical opportunity to change those power relations. But what often happened was that the activists were swimming upstream to promote tech skills and DIY across gender, race, and class lines. I wound up writing about the persistence of these difficulties, which was in some ways unexpected because of how sincere the activists were about demystifying technology “for everyone.”

Prometheus-sponsored "barnraising" at WRFN-LP in Nashville, TN, in 2005. (Photo: Prometheus Radio Project)

Prometheus-sponsored “barnraising” at WRFN-LP in Nashville, TN, in 2005. (Photo: Prometheus Radio Project)

SJ: Discuss how your activism played a role in your research.

CDH: As I write in the book, I don’t need convincing that a lot of the claims of media democracy advocates are right—a media system built around profit motives is missing a lot of what a media system can potentially do. I think articulating and building alternatives (building policies and building technologies themselves) are very important. But my goal is more one of critique—here, what are consequences of approaching the problems of the media system with one set of priorities, versus another set of priorities? I often wind up in a space where I’m thinking about that. It’s not quite “what could activists do to be more effective”—I don’t presume to have those answers, and I have tremendous respect for a lot of the efforts made by activists. It’s more, what do various proposed solutions solve, and what do they miss or foreclose? And, how does the lifeworld of activists shape the objectives they pursue?

CDH: Also, Sanjay, can I invert the question and shoot it back to you? What is the value of participation in research for activists?

SJ: I think there are really two aspects to that question. First, what is the value for social activists of being part of a research process? And second, what is the value of being subject to academic analysis and/or critique? I wasn’t around Prometheus at the time you were conducting your research, nor can I speak on behalf of activists in general. But having known most of the Prometheus folks featured in the book, I know that in your particular case there was really no downside for them to having an intelligent, thoughtful, down-with-the-cause young person hanging around their work. It’s unremarkable to say that it’s a good thing to have good people around. As I understand it, your methodology was more participant observation – i.e. you hung out and joined in on the work where appropriate – than it was traditional ethnography, so in a way it was kind of a collaboration. My sense as an outsider from the academic world is that when social science research isn’t about collaboration, participation, mutual respect, etc., the alternative often takes the form of appropriation and fetishization. With respect to that second question, I think social activists generally have a responsibility to be self-critical, and academic analysis can and should be a tool in shaping and reshaping activist practice.

SJ: “Boundary work.” What is it and how did it apply to your research?

CDH: What I mean in the book has to do with how activists drew boundaries between themselves and other groups with whom they shared certain goals, especially in terms of legislation to expand LPFM. What is of interest here is not that there were differences between the activists at Prometheus and other groups working on media democracy issues—we would probably expect this—but how Prometheus activists framed those differences to themselves, and how they tried to keep their mission and goals centered around values that were important to them as activists.

I borrow my notion of boundary work from scholarly research in social studies of science, such as Thomas Gieryn’s article on boundary work in science and Susan Leigh Star and James Griesemer’s “boundary objects” (which I import to studying “localism” in media policy here. I also write about boundary work as it applies to the similarities and differences between activism, policy work, and academic work here).

CDH: Sanjay, I don’t know if you have comments about this issue?

SJ: I had never heard the term “boundary work” before reading your book, but yeah, it’s right on. Especially in our policy advocacy, Prometheus has always had to confront tensions with other media justice allies and even those folks we call “frenemies,” referring mainly to community radio supporters on the religious or libertarian right. One example of this is how we’ve had to negotiate a common language to build consensus. If you read Prometheus material advocating for LPFM, you’re bound to find the word “localism.” It’s a term we rarely use to contextualize our work in private, but it was a more or less accurate principle of LPFM and it appealed across ideological positions.

Prometheus radio workshop. (Photo: Prometheus Radio Project)

Prometheus radio workshop. (Photo: Prometheus Radio Project)

SJ: Describe the history of the Prometheus Radio Project and the community radio movement since the book was written.

CDH: When I started research with Prometheus, they were not too long out of the microradio movement of the 1990s (and some of the members had been involved in pirate radio). They were delicately balancing a history of and commitment to political radicalism and their mainstream advocacy/reform work. They were focused on a combination of building radio stations, working on policy, and dipping their toes into spectrum/platform issues that weren’t about FM, such as community and municipal broadband.

CDH: But Sanjay, I would love to hear from you on both of these questions! You can describe the movement since the period of the book better. I’d also be interested in how you might add to or correct what I characterize as the most important aspects of the history.

SJ: Of course, the biggest thing that happened was the victory of Prometheus’s legislative campaign. In 2011, President Obama signed the Local Community Radio Act, and almost 3,000 community organizations applied for LPFM licenses. By 2016, more than half of them will be on the air. As far as I know (though I haven’t confirmed), it’s the largest single expansion of community radio anywhere in the world. What happens now is an open question. For Prometheus and the community radio movement, the legislative/regulatory expansion of LPFM is only a starting point. The work now is focused on how to translate local infrastructure into local power, how to realize LPFM as a democratic project beyond the abstract.

SJ: Do these victories matter today? Is radio still an important medium?

CDH: The question of whether “radio is still an important medium” is itself too narrow. First, what do we mean by “radio”? It’s a combination of technical artifacts and social practices, but to me the more interesting questions are how those boundaries get drawn—does “radio” have to be FM or AM? Probably not. Is all telecommunication in the electromagnetic spectrum “radio”? Probably not, either. But arguably all spectrum allocation has something in common with the issues that matter in “radio”—who owns and controls platforms, who has the right to speak on them.

This is why I think that radio, and LPFM in particular, is extremely important symbolically. There is not really an equivalent online space to LPFM—a portion dedicated to noncommercial use, on a platform owned by “the people.” Even platforms treated like they are commons—particularly social media—are not actually controlled by the people who use them.

SJ: Is there a connection between LPFM and the other major communications issues of today – net neutrality, Comcast mergers, etc.?

CDH: As you might suspect from my answer above, yes!! The re-interpretation of broadcasting and contestations–amongst activists, regulators, corporations, and users/audience members–that led to the creation of LPFM are hugely relevant as we consider how to carve out media justice on any platform, past, present, or future.

CDH: Sanjay, what do you think? What do you see as conceptual connections, and how do they relate to specific activist campaigns or policy issues?

SJ: Prometheus was never just about radio – that is to say, never about radio for radio’s sake. It was constructed as a political project in the broader struggle for democratic participation. In the case of radio, public policy was (and still is) oriented so that corporate interest trumps public interest. The FM band came to be dominated by a handful of media corporations, plus NPR. They controlled the infrastructure, they controlled the information, they dictated the narratives of political and cultural life, and that all came at the expense of democratic representation, especially of poor people and people of color. That’s the context for LPFM. But that’s also fundamentally the context for a host of other communications and technology issues – net neutrality, prison phone rates, media mergers, the surveillance state, etc. All of these, just like the fight over community radio, come down to the question of whether technology is to be appropriated for the sake of social control and elite interest, or to reclaim a modern democratic commons.


3-D Television and the Stereoscopic Archive Thu, 05 Nov 2015 12:00:29 +0000 Post by Nick Camfield, University of Nottingham

This post continues the ongoing “From Nottingham and Beyond” series, with contributions from faculty and alumni of the University of Nottingham’s Department of Culture, Film and Media. This week’s contributor, Nick Camfield, completed his PhD in the department in 2014.

In perhaps the most striking sequence in Bill Morrison’s Decasia: The State of Decay (2002), a boxer launches heavy cross-blows at a punching bag obscured by decomposing film stock. As the nitrate warps and bubbles, the boxer’s punches seem defiant. As Morrison recounted, “I wasn’t just looking for instances of decayed film, [but] instances where the image [was] fighting off the inexorability of its demise.”[1]

Still from Decasia.

Still from Decasia.

Rocky Marciano featured in 3-D Rarities.

Rocky Marciano featured in 3-D Rarities.

Nitrate film was highly combustible and subject to serious chemical deterioration, and Morrison did have opportunities to adulterate his decaying elements further. Decasia nevertheless serves as an anti-Bazinian statement on mortality and a powerful call for film preservation—an unending process of curatorship, working with nitrate and triacetate bases, and with analog and digital formats. As R. M. Hayes notes, 3-D filmmaking dates almost to cinema’s inception.[2] While preservation of the 2D cinematic archive is considered a valuable endeavor, the stereoscopic archive has received comparatively little attention. The mass production of 3-D televisions and home video players has opened spaces for 3-D film spectatorship and restoration, however, and for appropriations of older stereoscopic texts through expressions of nostalgia and subcultural capital.

As I argue in my PhD thesis, 3-D television emerged as a mass-produced technology as part of a cycle that crossed media platforms and bolstered development trends in each.[3] At the same time, discourses on safety and convenience and accusations of gimmickry informed 3-D television’s situation in the media marketplace.[4] Such complaints were rooted in longstanding claims about the unviability of 3-D media. If, as Keith Johnston maintains, 3-D has reached a “final moment,” in which historical discourses have arrested the technology’s potential,[5] one might observe that 3-D television’s fate was determined long before its introduction. Assertions that 3-D television has failed absolutely are widespread. Television reviewers stress that 3-D functionality is of little interest, yet they are obliged to discuss this aspect of performance. Satellite broadcasters have abandoned 3-D production, due to negligible viewing figures and to make room for ultra-high definition (UHD) platforms. A technology that manufacturers heralded as “revolutionary” has quickly become a sideshow attraction.

Gog-22BRejections of stereoscopic technology have emboldened 3-D media fans, however, and current aesthetic practices have further encouraged devotees. According to Barbara Klinger, 21st-century 3-D filmmakers have eschewed “pop-out” effects to preserve Hollywood’s invisible styling.[6] Keith Johnston likewise suggests that conservative aesthetic choices limited 3-D television’s appeal.[7] Filmmakers such as James Cameron have worked to distinguish 21st-century 3-D filmmaking from that of earlier periods. In breaking the fourth wall, the argument goes, 3-D “pop-out” disrupts narrative continuity. To address this difficulty, it is claimed, “pop-out” should be minimized and depth of field accentuated. Such assertions offer fans of older 3-D films something to rail against: namely, alleged corporate behemoths steamrolling their visceral pleasures. For aficionados, current aesthetic practices stand in contradistinction to a “golden age” of stereoscopic filmmaking slowly being revived on home video.

Dragonfly SquadronThough recent Hollywood blockbusters are well represented on 3-D Blu-ray, older titles have until very recently been neglected. Over the past two years, both conglomerate and independent Blu-ray distributors have issued dual-frame–format releases of older 3-D movies. Since none of these titles were re-released theatrically, home-video reissue represents the only opportunity to view them in anything approximating their cinematic form.[8] Moreover, without the advent of 3-D television, such restorations would not have been undertaken, likely abandoning many of these cultural artifacts to decay. In order of 3-D Blu-ray release, one can now (or shortly) access The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Dial M for Murder (1954), Amityville 3-D (1983), House of Wax (1953), The Bubble (1966), Dragonfly Squadron (1954), Inferno 3-D (1953), Kiss Me Kate (1953), Comin’ at Ya! (1981, forthcoming), The Mask (1961, forthcoming), and Gog (1954, forthcoming). Nonetheless, this list represents a small fraction of historical 3-D productions with still retrievable negatives.

3-D RaritiesPerhaps the most diligently restored stereoscopic release to date is 3-D Rarities, a collection of 22 shorts and novelties held by the 3-D Film Archive and distributed on Blu-ray by Flicker Alley. The films date from 1922 to 1962 and include documentary footage of New York City, anti–nuclear testing film Doom Town (1953), a Pennsylvania Railroad promotion, animated short The Adventures of Sam Space (1953), Casper the Friendly Ghost short Boo Moon (1954), and a Francis Ford Coppola–directed burlesque sequence from 1962.[9] Flicker Alley’s release prompted subcultural expression among enthusiasts, who dismiss recent Hollywood 3-D filmmaking in favor of a lost and unapologetically in-your-face aesthetic. Claims that Hollywood has domesticated 3-D allow fans of historical stereoscopic texts to position themselves in opposition to “mainstream” sensibilities and production techniques, as evidenced by user reviews of Flicker Alley’s release.

Fans derive clear pleasures from an older stereoscopic aesthetic, while decrying 21st- century Hollywood practices. As one reviewer enthused, “This is the first real example of what 3-D was to me when I grew up. Short and to the pointy!” Others remarked that “Unlike modern 3-D films, vintage 3-D is incredibly strong and will push your 3-D television to its full potential”; “Don’t expect today’s Hollywood films to come close to the level of dimensional enjoyment you will experience here”; and “Contemporary 3-D movies just don’t take advantage of the medium the way these classics did.” Such observations pervade commentary on 3-D Rarities, along with calls for access to a wider catalog of historical 3-D texts. In the absence of such representation, there is comfort in the knowledge that a limited archive of stereoscopic titles is currently both rejuvenated and enjoyed.Boo Moon


[1] Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray 3-D Rarities includes similar training footage of Rocky Marciano, who, through use of negative parallax, seems to hit a punching bag through the screen plane. This footage has been carefully stored and digitally restored, unlike the heavily degraded stock Morrison sought out for Decasia. Links to trailers including excerpts from both sequences are included above.

[2] R. M. Hayes, 3-D Movies: A History and Filmography of Stereoscopic Cinema (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1989), p. 3.

[3] Nicholas Camfield, 3DTV Year One: Force, Resistance, and Media Technology (PhD Thesis submitted to the University of Nottingham for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, 2014), pp. 47-94.

[4] Ibid., pp. 95-220.

[5] Keith Johnston, “Pop-out Footballers, Pop Concerts and Popular Films: The Past, Present, and Future of 3D Television,” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 19.4 (February 2013): 438-455.

[6] Barbara Klinger, “Three-Dimensional Cinema: The New Normal,” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 19.4 (February 2013): 423-431.

[7] Johnston, op cit.

[8] Not every production listed was originally exhibited using Polaroid (dual-frame) 3-D, with some presented in anaglyph (red/green) formats. All 3-D Blu-ray titles referenced above are presented in superior dual-frame formats, however.

[9] Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray release was preceded by a special screening of 3-D Rarities at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).


A Very British Migrant Crisis: Paddington and the Children’s Film Thu, 22 Oct 2015 11:00:54 +0000 Paddington’s compellingly topical contribution to discourses of migration.]]> Post by Lincoln Geraghty, University of Portsmouth

This post continues the ongoing “From Nottingham and Beyond” series, with contributions from faculty and alumni of the University of Nottingham’s Department of Culture, Film and Media. This week’s contributor, Lincoln Geraghty, completed his PhD in the department in 2005.

image1 The recent national media coverage of a very international problem that news broadcasters around the world have termed the “migrant crisis” has highlighted Britain’s conflicting and problematic attitude towards immigration. The words “foreigner,” “other,” or “outsider” have been used in the press as a means by which politicians can lay claim to protecting British interests and sealing off British borders. Alongside the rush not to aid fellow European nations by taking a fair share of refugees lies an increasing amount of euroskepticism that characterized much of the debate about the UK’s relationship with Europe during the 2015 parliamentary election. Campaigns by the three main parties and those such as the UK Independence Party all professed that immigration was a problem they alone could fix. Indeed, this past week has seen lines drawn in the battle to convince Britons to vote “Yes” or “No” in 2017’s promised referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU. Those supporting the “Yes” campaign would more than likely say Britain should not allow Europe to dictate immigration policy. Nonetheless, notwithstanding the EU referendum, Britain has continued to remain aloof rather than cooperate with other European nations such as France and Germany to solve common problems. Determined to take advantage of its island status, it distances itself from the fact the country remains an attractive draw to thousands of migrants who wish for a better life in the UK.

It is with all that said that I recently watched the British children’s film Paddington (2014). In many ways it is a film all about immigration–after all, Paddington arrives in the UK hoping to find a place to live after his own home is left devastated by natural disaster. As a stranger in stranger land, Paddington enjoys a wide-eyed innocence when confronted with prejudice and suspicion. But despite initial fears of this animal “other,” Britain, or more specifically England, represents a utopia–a land of plenty (especially marmalade sandwiches)–where Paddington feels at home and his adopted family feels at home with him. With immigration and the migrant crisis so prevalent in the press today, it seems easy to think that we are only now engaging with the issues that make it such a divisive topic. However, judging by the content of Paddington, how as a children’s film it tackles quite adult themes of otherness and displacement and the fact that the original books were published in the 1950s, it would seem that the figure of the migrant and the idea of Britain as safe haven for immigrants have existed in children’s literature and popular culture for decades. Indeed, using children’s film as a platform for discussing such issues suggests that the genre has had a history of dealing with real-world social problems, of which we should be taking greater account when studying the film industry in its contexts.

Written and directed by Britain’s Paul King, the film was made by the UK’s Heyday Films, the same company that produced the Harry Potter series, and France’s StudioCanal. Based on Michael Bond’s famous English series of children’s books, the film was adapted for an international audience, casting popular and renowned UK actors such as Hugh Bonneville, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent and Peter Capaldi alongside Australian American Nicole Kidman. For its modest $55 million budget it made $258.6 million at the box office. Its main star, of course, is the CGI Paddington Bear–voiced by UK actor Ben Whishaw (who replaced Oscar winner Colin Firth late in the production)–and it is through Paddington that we are introduced to the Brown family and the eccentricities of British society and culture.

image4Paddington is befriended by Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent, above), who is also an immigrant, having fled Hungary as a child during World War Two to escape the Nazis. Both see London as a utopic space, a place to escape the hardships of their respective homelands. In the film, Mr. Gruber runs an antique shop in Portobello Road and Paddington visits to help investigate the identity of the explorer who came to Peru all those years ago. A scene combining live action and animation allows Mr. Gruber to talk about his childhood when he came to London to escape the war. This strikes a chord with Paddington, who himself is awestruck with wonder at all the items on display in the store. Mr. Gruber treats Paddington with respect, is interested in his stories about the explorer, and sees the bear as wise beyond his young years. Paddington’s youthful energy rubs off on Mr. Gruber, and the pair feel a sense of kinship.

Unlike Gruber, the mean and miserly old man next door, Mr. Curry, is not fond of Paddington. Played by Peter Capaldi, who was cast in 2013 as The Doctor on Doctor Who, Mr. Curry is depicted as a lonely bachelor. His hatred of Paddington could be viewed as xenophobic–an illegal alien from South America living in the privileged surroundings of West London’s Notting Hill–and I would argue is meant to resonate with British audiences as reference to contemporary political debates concerning immigration prevalent in the UK during the run-up to the General Election and the rise of UKIP. Indeed, Kyle Grayson argues of the original books that they illustrate “how political theorising may take place in the vernacular space of popular culture” and that the figure of Paddington as immigrant works to unpack “liberal conceptions of identity, migration and tolerance while drawing attention to specific negotiations of difference.[1] Similarly, Angela Smith maintains that while the stories “are subtle in their articulation of racist and xenophobic discourses which […] present the case for toleration and understanding towards immigrants,” Paddington has to try to fit in just as “the immigrant conforms to the dominant culture’s norms.”[2] Therefore, the film replicates the books in the representation of Paddington as a non-threatening other who eventually wins over Mr. Curry and proves his worth to his adopted family, the Browns, by bringing the family together.

Both Paddington and Mr. Gruber’s search for a new place to call home can be considered nostalgic. This desire for a home is the epitome of nostalgia, whose rhetoric and experience is framed by a feeling of absence and longing: what Susan Stewart says “leads to a generalized desire for origin, for nature, and for unmediated experience.”[3] Nostalgia is also linked with nation, and in Paddington we can see this connection in London’s representation through icons and stereotypes of Englishness: red double-decker buses, soldiers in front of Buckingham Palace, red telephone boxes, the English “bobby” policeman, rain, the city skyline (featuring, for example, the House of Parliament), tea and tea drinking, English reserve and manners, Mr. Brown’s stiff upper lip, and a host of other tropes throughout the movie. Indeed, for Margaret Meek in her study of English children’s literature, nostalgia is a “thread” in the “texture of Englishness.”[4] Thinking about the marketing of the international family film genre, the prominence of familiar icons of England and Englishness can be understood as part of the translation of an English children’s story for an international audience–relying on well-known tourist images of the country to brand the film as English, and using cultural stereotypes to add humor and to emphasize Paddington’s identity as stranger in a strange land. However, more importantly, their use within the narrative exaggerates the sense of nostalgia that both Paddington and Gruber feel for home. It is perhaps the incessantness, their constant flagging (to borrow Michael Billig’s term) as symbols of English nationhood and identity throughout the film’s emotional high points, which in the end transforms the exiles (the bear child and old man) into adopted nationals–assimilated immigrants in a narrative of nostalgia, family and nation.

Children and old people are important components of nationhood. Such emphases in the film make it stand out as a relevant text through which we might understand media fascination for, and problematic coverage of, the “migrant crisis.” In addition, as a children’s film it highlights that from a very early age, young audiences are being introduced to topics that will no doubt resonate when they get older and are able to participate in debates surrounding Britain’s relationship with Europe and the wider world. As a British film in 2014, when the country was bombarded by newspapers and politicians asking us to listen to them and trust their views on important issues such as immigration, it perhaps even more importantly questions the underlying ideologies at the heart of the media we consume and the childhood characters with whom we have grown up.


[1] Kyle Grayson, “How to Read Paddington Bear: Liberalism and the Foreign Subject in A Bear Called Paddington,” The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 15.3 (2013), p. 391, p. 378.

[2] Angela Smith, “Paddington Bear: A Case Study of Immigration and Otherness.,” Children’s Literature in Education 37.1 (2006), p. 48.

[3] Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), p. 24.

[4] Margaret Meek, “The Englishness of English Children’s Books,” Children’s Literature and National Identity, ed. Margaret Meek (Stoke in Trent: Trentham Books, 2001), p. 96.