From Nottingham and Beyond – 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).


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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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.



Film-School Education in India: Negation and Assimilation Thu, 08 Oct 2015 11:00:13 +0000 Post by Kiranmayi Indraganti, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore, India

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, Kiranmayi Indraganti, completed her PhD in the department in 2011.

This post proposes, briefly, a work-in-progress framework for understanding filmmaking education in India, its impact on filmmaking sensibilities and its assimilation and negation strategies in positioning itself as a force playing to an implicit global sensibility. Filmmaking education is historically located in “film schools,” where the attempt has been to provide focused inputs in directing, cinematography, and so forth, and more recently, areas encompassing digital media. India now has about ten film schools and fifteen to twenty other institutes/departments offering courses in film and video production.[1] Film graduates, with a degree in a specific specialization from Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, and other similar institutes, have long made careers in the vibrant, multilingual film industries across India. The boom of satellite television, DVD markets and Internet forums[2] has given rise to growing awareness of filmmaking processes, and a continued interest in filmmaking education. This has facilitated the emergence of private film schools in several cities.

Historically, the formal entry of film-school education in India in the 1960s spurred a rethinking of the prevalent modes of cinematic storytelling. Early film-school students learned about cinema and its history in broader terms than simply in relation to the cinema(s) of Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. Students were introduced to national cinemas from Europe and Asia among others, and to film movements and “auteurs” from around the world. This education became a dynamic forum for indie-film thinking and served as the fountainhead of alternative cinema.[3] The locus of this legacy and energy—the FTII, Pune—established itself as the premier film institute not only for the way it influenced the evolution of cinema but also for making possible various positionings of cinema within India. In other words, this education has become a force for students to think not only of how alternative they can get with their practice but also how significant they can be as practitioners within the prevalent filmmaking system. The contribution is vital to the way India’s diversity is articulated and fostered while providing a forum for dissent. This legacy has continued for long, but the notion of film school education in the last couple of decades has changed, with emphasis shifting to techno-centricity and economic, political and cultural gain on campuses. Film education has entered a new world (a much different one from that of the 1960s) that is “media saturated, technologically dependent and globally connected.”[4] In this world, the Internet absorbs cultural forms such as television, popular music, film and advertising, and creates cyber-spaces and emergent forms of culture and pedagogy, where people—young and old, men and women—receive a covertly mediated education in values, behavior and knowledge.[5] In the context of India’s media-saturated world, on one hand, there is greater visibility to the vocalizing of politics of traditional educational spaces, and on the other, the popular cinema throws challenges as a money-grossing machine, as a “significant other” to Hollywood in the global arena, modulated by a satellite-driven aesthetic. So, reviewing the role of film-school education, the relevance of its curriculum and creation of a filmmaking culture to which film graduates can migrate, can be a starting point to deepen the potential of this education and critically engage with creative self-expression and the circulation of dominant values (which will be my larger project).

In India, there is a dichotomy between film teaching and filmmaking. As is wont, curriculum at a film institute is characterized by a primary concern to prepare students to execute “narrativity” for camera: this includes understanding elements of time and space in realizing dramatic units or shots that connect well to present an actuality or a dramatic story. The curriculum is a means to take students closer to an “effective visual medium” and “good cinema” while responding to various levels of (their) self-expression. For film teachers, this requires a balance act: between what one sees/shows and what one teaches. We see films of a certain kind being made in India—making money and traveling or not traveling across India for whatever storytelling conventions they follow. On the other hand, we teach a certain set of principles to be integrated into practice. Curiously, the components we teach—whether a continuity exercise or chase sequence—privilege a realist aesthetic, aligned with a tightly constrained temporal and spatial canvas that stands in opposition to the larger context in which the reception of film narratives happens, with its allusions to epic tales and fables.[6]

Filmmaking teachers in India, like their colleagues elsewhere, rely on what works within the grammar of cinema here rather than the very mode of cinema, which predominantly celebrates pre-modern modes of entertainment, with episodic tales and self-consciously framed, operatic dramas.[7] Put simply, what we teach at film schools and what we see on screen as Indian cinema don’t always align. While this has been evident historically, and has perhaps helped parallel cinema to flourish, the film-school space, in the now-changed world, can afford to outgrow its own limitations and compartmentalizations. Despite the push-pull effect of different filmmaking sensibilities, the film-school graduates are (by default) also active contributors to the expansive positioning of Indian popular cinema on the global scene as directors, technicians and actors, owing to their co-opting strategy to work both on song-and-dance routines and on arthouse cinema.

Consequently, the larger question is: can a case be made about film education in India as something distinct and evolving to accommodate the legacy of dissent and also intervene in the global success story of its cinema? This question makes a variety of investigations possible. For example, a) new storytelling strategies can be linked to learning strategies at film schools; and b) filmmaking can be studied more in relation to shaping sensibilities than in relation to the industry without ignoring the industry practice. In the Internet-driven world, film schools would benefit from becoming forums that can engage critically and actively with ideologies and competencies in order to optimize their value and challenge new stereotypes.


[1] Many Indian metropolises have various institutes offering either “VisCom” (Visual Communication) or a variety of media or communications courses. Film schools per se are fewer in number, with Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune; and Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute of India (SRFTI), Kolkata; topping the list. There are private schools such as Whistling Woods, Mumbai; L V Prasad Film and TV Academy, Chennai; Ramoji Academy of Film and Television, Hyderabad; besides well-established autonomous institutes such as Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi; and National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad; catering to aspiring visual storytellers.

[2] The Indian media and entertainment industry (which includes films, television, satellite, music, print, radio, advertising, gaming and animation) is estimated at 1,026 billion rupees. See “#shootingforthestars: FICCI-KPMG Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2015” (, p. 2.

[3] Noted filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s personal journey of joining FTII and spearheading a movement towards a certain cinematic aesthetics is just one of the many examples.

[4] Douglas Kellner and Jeff Share, “Critical Media Literacy, Democracy, and the Reconstruction of Education,” Media Literacy: A Reader, eds. Donaldo Macedo and Shirley R. Steinberg (New York: Peter Lang, 2007), p 3.

[5] Ibid. p. 4.

[6] Philip Lutgendorf, “Is There an Indian Way of Filmmaking?,” International Journal of Hindu Studies 10.3 (December 2006), p. 249.

[7] Ibid. p. 250.


Bollywood’s Superhero Genre: Transnational Appropriations, Labor and Referentiality Thu, 24 Sep 2015 11:00:43 +0000 Post by Nandana Bose, University of North Carolina Wilmington

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, Nandana Bose, completed her PhD in the department in 2009.

Shah Rukh Khan as G.One in Ra.One (2011)

Shah Rukh Khan as G. One in Ra.One (2011)

Hindi cinema in the new millennium has invested considerable labor in reimagining, appropriating and indigenizing new-millennial trends, discourses and globally circulating genres such as the sci-fi/superhero genre (as well as supernatural, horror and fantasy genres). Hollywood’s decisive millennial turn towards fantasy genres, driven by the global popularity and commercial success of superhero franchises such as The Avengers (2012, 2015), Thor (2011, 2013), Iron Man (2008, 2010, 2013), Captain America (2011, 2014), The Amazing Spider-Man (2012, 2014), and Batman (2005, 2008, 2012), has been aggressively embraced by Bollywood. The surprising popularity of comic-book–based superhero TV dramas among niche Indian audiences has “led channels such as Star World Premiere HD to air shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. [2013–], The Walking Dead [2010–], and Marvel’s Agent Carter [2015–] within hours of their international telecast.”[1] In postmillennial India, digital and virtual media convergences of the Internet and the video-gaming industry, and the rapid growth and bi-directional media content outsourcing by American and Indian digital graphics and visual-effects companies have significantly impacted the generic output of the Bombay film industry. The explosion and penetration of digital media cultures have inevitably influenced the types of genres Bollywood produces. The postmillennial superhero genre is constitutively informed by digital media cultures. The digital media world informs the superhero genre in two ways. First, it is enabled by satellite/cable and Internet accessibility for postmillennial Indians who are largely urban, educated, aspirational youths, aware of global genres and the latest media trends. Second, digital media technologies such as computers, cell phones and touch-screen interfaces are textually inscribed as content as in the case of superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s 2011 sci-fi/superhero blockbuster, Ra.One, inspired by the video-game format and aesthetics.

What does the superhero genre mean to contemporary Hindi cinema? What might the millennial reiterations of this emergent genre tell us about Bollywood’s industrial and spectatorial compulsions? I suggest that the emergent superhero genre of recent Hindi cinema is an incoherent textual and extra-textual simulacrum of Hollywood superhero films. The Hindi superhero genre is a highly self-conscious, referential importation of an essentially American genre that hitherto has been only superficially indigenized and localized by inserting Indian character names, (occasional) Indian locations, and the staple song-and-dance sequences. The Krrish superhero/sci-fi franchise, comprising Koi…Mil Gaya (2003), Krrish (2006), and Krrish 3 (2013), is considered Indian cinema’s first such film series. The franchise explicitly references the Rambo series (1982, 1985, 1988, 2008) in the naming of its constituent films. The blatantly imitative logic of the franchise/genre is reflected in a telling comment by its producer, Rakesh Roshan, father of star Hrithik Roshan, who plays the titular superhero: “People who have seen the film [Krrish] are of the opinion that this film is not like Hollywood, it IS Hollywood.” The physiognomy, hypermasculinity, costuming and performative style of Bollywood superheroes (Krrish and G.One), and archenemies and sidekicks (Kaal and Kaya in Krrish 3, and the eponymous Ra.One) become unintentionally parodic reiterations and appropriations of the American superhero genre, exemplifying “the imitative logic of development which situates Bombay cinema somewhere between a not-quite and a not-yet Hollywood.”[2] Perhaps this may explain the mixed reviews and reactions to Ra.One on its initial release, despite its huge budget, the star power of Khan and surrounding media hype.

Hrithik Roshan in Krrish 3 (2013)

Hrithik Roshan in Krrish 3 (2013)

Postmillennial Bollywood superhero films are citations, extensive quotations of the dominant idiom of Hollywood superhero films, gesturing towards “the creation of ‘something new with the help of references.”[3] The citational nature of Bollywood’s superhero genre reveals transnational influences in terms of the superhero star body and hypermasculinity; and the creative talent, visualization and industrial labor involved in costuming and special effects. Since his debut in 2000, the superstar/hero Hrithik Roshan has sculpted a “pumped-up” physique through intensive sessions at the gym, adopting western bodybuilding practices such as DTP or Dramatic Transformation Principle. Inspired by Hollywood’s legendary macho men, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme, he transformed himself from a lanky “boy next door” to an icon of hypermasculinity befitting superhero roles. As the eponymous Krrish, Bollywood’s first fully realized Superman-style hero, Roshan displays a muscular yet lithe body in action sequences and performs gravity-defying, daredevil stunts without body doubles. An August 2012 Men’s Health cover feature provides a meticulous account of Roshan’s gruelling exercise and dietary regimen in preparation for his superhero role in Krrish 3 under the guidance of famed American trainer Chris Gethin, who was hired for an astronomical sum.

Kaya’s costume in Krrish 3

Kaya’s costume in Krrish 3

Imitative of the caped crusader and modeled on Hollywood superhero costumes and accoutrements (face mask, underwear and so forth), Krrish dons a skin-tight, superhero outfit that accentuates his physique and emphasizes the hero’s idealized hypermasculinity. Following in the tradition of overly sexualized Hollywood superwomen in skin-tight costumes, and inspired by Batman, one of Krrish’s archenemies in Krrish 3, a mutant named Kaya, is clad in such a svelte, clingy outfit, made of rubber and latex, that the star playing the role, Kangana Ranuat, complained that she felt naked in it. Meanwhile, the much-publicized blue-latex costume worn by Khan as protagonist G.One in Ra.One, reportedly costing a million dollars, was designed by Robert Kurtzman and Tim Flattery, and created by a team of specialists in Los Angeles.

Besides the transnational labor, talent and visualization involved in costuming, Hollywood special-effects teams have collaborated with Indian graphics companies (such as Prasad EFX) to upgrade the quality of visual effects in the Krrish franchise. Aided by Hollywood’s Marc Kolbe and Craig Mumma, who had both previously worked on such films as Independence Day (1996), Godzilla (1998) and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) as well as the prequel to Krrish, the E.T. (1982)–inspired Koi…Mil Gaya, Krrish set new standards in Indian film CGI. According to Mumma, “Krrish is indicative of Indian cinema’s ascent to the global arena. It will be a trendsetter because it is among the first few films to leverage global expertise and technology to make the film larger than life.” Thus, the local/global imaginative, creative and technological collaborations that engender the Bollywood postmillennial superhero film reveal “an international division of cultural labor that supports the invigoration of new markets and commodity forms.”[4] Transmedia extensions of Krrish as comic book (Krrish: Menace of the Monkey Men), video games (Krrish: The Game and Krrish 3), and animated television series (Kid Krrish aired on Cartoon Network India, and J Bole Toh Jadoo on Nickelodeon) predictably emulate the Hollywood model of transmedia reiterations of the superhero. The Bollywood superhero genre’s extra-textual mimicry of the pre-release marketing, merchandising, branding and transmedia franchising of Hollywood superhero blockbusters also deserves closer scrutiny.


[1] Sharmila Ganesan, “Spandex on the Small Screen,” Sunday Times of India, July 5, 2015, p. 13.

[2] Nitin Govil, Reorienting Hollywood: A Century of Film Culture Between Los Angeles and Bombay (New York: NYU Press, 2015), p. 45.

[3] Ibid., p. 69.

[4] Ibid., p. 72.


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Why Superhero Movies Suck, Part II Fri, 11 Sep 2015 11:00:48 +0000 A still-unimpeachable authority offers the rest of his surely irrefutable hypothesis.[1]

Post by Mark Gallagher, 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, Mark Gallagher, is an Associate Professor in the department. Today’s entry is the second installment in a two-part post, and resumes with the third point in a five-point diatribe. Part One of this two-part post appears here.

Avengers: Age of Ultron opens with a battle scene that recalls a comic-book splash page. But don't be fooled.

Avengers: Age of Ultron opens with a battle scene that recalls a comic-book splash page. But don’t be fooled.

3. As a magnet for fandom, superhero movies violate the implicit contract between producers and consumers. At the risk of bowing to nostalgia, I point to the letters pages of 1970s Marvel comics for their evidence of fan engagement and for editors’ own discursive efforts at artistic legitimation.

A Thongor fan weighs in on Creatures on the Loose's letters page.

A Thongor fan weighs in on Creatures on the Loose‘s letters page.

On one side, consider the hair-splitting response of one 1973 letter-writer to Marvel’s horror-fantasy series Creatures on the Loose, a fan distressed with the company’s depiction of obscure pulp-lit creation Thongor of Lemuria. (You know, THAT Thongor of Lemuria.) “Thongor just does not sound like the Thongor I know and love,” writes the aggrieved reader, Brian Earl Brown, before lavishing praise on the (soon-to-be-cancelled) series.

Fandom is of course about returns on investments of time in the form of (sub)cultural capital. Brown’s implied engagements with neo-pulp novelist Lin Carter‘s 1960s Thongor stories licenses him to judge the adaptation’s fidelity, and to weigh in subtly on transmedia style considerations (by noting the difficulty of adapting Carter’s “deceptively simple and lucid style”). Still, as purveyors of fantasy adventure, pulp fiction and comic books appear complementary textual forms, and both in the realm of low culture, hence the letter-writer’s concern with fidelity rather than legitimation.

Soon enough, though, readers and editors did take to the front lines (or at least comics’ letters pages) to argue for comics’ place in the landscape of art. Consider in this respect Marvel editors’ own sympathetic response (also in Creatures on the Loose, in early 1974) to another reader’s losing battle to legitimate his favored leisure form.


More dispatches from the id on the Creatures on the Loose letters page.


Addressing the letter-writer’s experiences of being “ridiculed, scorned, pitied” and more, Marvel’s editors note not only that “college courses in the literature of comics are springing up all over the country” but also, prophetically, that “filmmakers are studying the techniques” of then-prominent comics artists. Uh-oh.

Fast-forward 40 years, to the present. With the question of artistic legitimacy either resolved or simply abandoned—either way, think pieces about the merits of “graphic novels” appear less commonplace in the current climate than in the 1980s and 1990s heyday of Art Spiegelman‘s Maus (1991) and Joe Sacco‘s initial dispatches from war-ravaged Central Europe—mainstream comic books and their cinematic offshoots may now lack the fundamental transgressiveness that lent them vitality in the 1960s and beyond. Thanks to longstanding distribution practices, comics remain a fundamentally niche product. Recent digital-distribution initiatives notwithstanding, for the past thirty years in the U.S., serial comics have been sold only in specialty comic-book stores, limiting their readership to those people who set foot in such stores. Yet by serving up this niche commodity in adapted form to all four key quadrants of the filmgoing population, rights-holders Disney and Time Warner deplete the subcultural capital of their properties and their readerships.

4. Superhero movies relocate film-industry resources from more original material and siphon talent from richer projects. Many people involved in superhero films’ production are doing the best work they ever will, which is a compliment or insult depending on one’s judgment of the finished product.[2] Others—particularly actors given the visible evidence of their work—appear to be squandering their considerable talents. Mark Ruffalo may use his Avengers paychecks to bankroll his political activism and to appear in films that make greater demands of his craft, but his normally prolific output slows to a trickle in the Avengers films release years of 2012 and 2015.

Elizabeth Olson shows off her casting-a-spell pose on The Daily Show.

Elizabeth Olsen shows off her casting-a-spell pose on The Daily Show.

Elizabeth Olsen delivered an impressive debut performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) but as the Avengers’ Scarlet Witch spends much of Age of Ultron frozen in a “I am casting a spell” pose (as she memorably demonstrated on a Daily Show appearance preceding the film’s release).

Scarlett Johansson has enjoyed a succession of compelling roles, but any bipedal runway model could just as well play her Black Widow character in the Iron Man and Avengers series given the role’s limited requirements. (#1: Look good in body-hugging outfit. #2: Talk sassy.) Is the sprawling Avengers franchise the price we pay to get Under the Skin (2013)? I hope not (but note to studios: please do give us another Under the Skin, even if you wouldn’t fund the first one).

Some actors—Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in the X-Men films (2000-2014), and Robert Redford in last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier—have benefitted from scripting that allows them to, in a word, act. Perhaps no one loses if Jessica Alba’s work in the 2000s Fantastic Four films (2005, 2007) prevented her from making Into the Blue 2, but certainly many people with talents in front of and behind the camera turn down other film projects in favor of the high visibility (and possible residuals) of tentpole superhero films. (Sure, I know too the scientists who could be developing the next Internet are instead hard at work on iPhone fart-simulation apps, but still.) Even those whose performance styles suit the material well can be ill-served. The Iron Man role, for example, limits Robert Downey Jr. to vocal and facial performance in support of his body double or CGI avatar’s screen image. He’s skilled at both but is capable of much more.

Age of Ultron literally gives Robert Downey Jr. little space to act.

Age of Ultron literally gives Robert Downey Jr. little space to act.

5. Superhero movies pollute film discourse. Like Donald Trump’s Presidential candidacy, superhero movies appear a harmless diversion but actually refocus the cultural conversation in unproductive ways. As dreadful acronyms such as “MCU” and “Phase 3” (the latter meaning, “we’re determined to run this thing into the ground”) infiltrate entertainment discourse and popular consciousness, one might reasonably assume that superhero films represent some kind of high-water mark of contemporary cinema.

Many other high-calorie multiplex products occupy comparatively less intellectual real estate—the Transformers series (2007-2014), for example, does not excite viewers and commentators in the way recent superhero adaptations have done. To me, more than anything, a film such as The Avengers looks expensive. As a vehicle for directorial artistry, or acting talent, or narrative complexity—or for more expressly technical categories such as impressive cinematography, sound design and visual effects—it’s pretty unmemorable. Like most other Hollywood superhero films, its contribution to film economics is substantial, its contribution to film art is negligible, and its contribution to film culture is dare I say dispiriting.[3]

Make what you will of this lament from an aging white male who finds his cherished Rosebud replaced with a 160-horsepower Ski-Doo. And credit superhero films with managing to make even fare such as this summer’s Jurassic World—the “why not another one?” sequel to a calculated-blockbuster franchise that sprang to movie life in full bloat over two decades ago—appear fresh and original. But perhaps the violation I feel is instead resentment at receiving studio superhero behemoths at the wrong moment. After all, I thought Watchmen (2009) was one of the year’s best films—if the year was 1989. And Quentin Tarantino’s remarks in a New York magazine interview last month ring at least partly true for me:

The Black Panther's first appearance, in a 1966 Fantastic Four issue.

The Black Panther’s first appearance, in a 1966 Fantastic Four issue.

I wish I didn’t have to wait until my 50s for this to be the dominant genre. Back in the ’80s, when movies sucked—I saw more movies then than I’d ever seen in my life, and the Hollywood bottom-line product was the worst it had been since the ’50s—that would have been a great time.

Still, this year, even de facto industry cheerleaders show signs of unrest. Media outlets trumpeting spotty opening-weekend performances for recent releases such as Ant-Man and Fantastic Four (both 2015) appear to exhibit exhaustion with the superhero phenomenon, and perhaps for oversized tentpole releases generally. As for me, I’ll start looking elsewhere for costumed characters onscreen, whether it’s the pleasingly ridiculous tussling models of Taylor Swift videos (de facto superheroines all, but sullying no previous creations), or better yet, the delirious art mutants who parade through Ryan Trecartin’s outlandish chamber dramas. Just keep me thousands of miles away from that Black Panther movie, because I like that character just fine in two dimensions, on yellowing newsprint.

[1] Preview of corrective coming attractions: for an international, and more level-headed, take on this trend in contemporary cinema, join us on September 24, when Nandana Bose contributes to this column with her analysis of recent Bollywood superhero films. For other recent, thoughtful takes on superhero films, head over to Deletion for its current “episode” on sci-fi blockbusters, and particularly to the entries from Liam Burke and Sean Cubitt.

[2] In this respect, I have only praise for the giant canvas afforded Sam Raimi for three Spider-Man films (2002-2007) and for Anthony and Joe Russo’s helming of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) as a 70s-style conspiracy thriller.

[3] Consult the comments section of this link for raves about The Avengers‘ rumored $260 million budget, which for many fans translates into sure-fire “epic” quality.


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