Twitter – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Branding Hannibal: When Quality TV Viewers and Social Media Fans Converge Mon, 24 Aug 2015 13:00:51 +0000 Hannibal, Allison McCracken and Brian Faucette discuss the show's and network's branding efforts in relation to their appeals to "feminized" audiences. ]]> Post by Allison McCracken (DePaul University) and Brian Faucette (Caldwell Community College)

[Note: This is the first of a three-part series highlighting some of Hannibal‘s unique contributions to the television world, to commemorate its final week on NBC. The images and video in this post contain spoilers. Also macabre humor.]

Hannibal completes its third (and last) season this week, despite its critical acclaim and the devotion of its passionate fanbase (known as “Fannibals”). Critics have praised the program’s reconceptualization of the horror series and its compelling version of the familiar Hannibal character, but Hannibal has left its mark in other ways as well. This short series of posts examines how Hannibal has engaged with questions of gender: in remixing the markers of quality TV, in embracing the potential of its position within the fannish archive, and in privileging a complex teen girl character within its narrative.


A common exclamation for new viewers of Hannibal is “I can’t believe this is on network!” This astonishment reflects the dominant cultural hierarchies of value in which television critics have elevated non-network shows as “quality TV” for discerning viewers over network shows largely assumed to be mindless fodder for the undiscerning masses. As Elana Levine and Michael Z. Newman have argued (and critic Noah Berlatsky recently affirmed), such critical divides of taste and value perpetuate inequalities of class and gender in which quality is associated with middle class, male audiences/”masculine” tastes, and non-quality tv with mass, largely female audiences with “feminine” tastes.

This divide has become even more obvious as white middle-class audiences have largely fled the networks, preferring the suburban pastures of original programming on HBO, Netflix, Amazon, etc. In the face of this divide, networks have been even more willing to serve the audiences that remain by developing programming for undervalued viewers such as teens, women, queer people, and people of color, many of whom still watch live TV. In addition, networks have developed more programming from less critically regarded pulp genres (as opposed to “adult dramas”) such as musicals, science fiction, and horror.

NBC’s Hannibal is unusual in its ability to bridge this cultural divide by successfully developing a “class and mass” brand that has provided an innovative, unique model of program and promotion. Hannibal‘s brand appeals to and actively serves both quality TV audiences and an intensely invested fan base, led primarily by young women utilizing social media. The easy co-existence of these seemingly odd bedfellows is particularly remarkable given that the presence of young women is often seen to degrade (“feminize”) the quality bona fides of any media product. Yet just as Hannibal queered its source material, the program’s producers were able to develop a mode of promotional address that combined quality markers with overt acknowledgements of its fandom. Far from “degrading” the text, this integration has resulted in a richer, more experimental, more politically progressive program and a more inclusive viewer experience.

IMAGE2 Hannibal+series+premiere+billboard

In 2011, amidst the backdrop of reboots, rebranding, origin stories, and sequels, Hannibal seemed to be a perfect fit for NBC. The recent popularity of horror on American television—in series like The Walking Dead and American Horror Story—suggested to the network that a reboot of the familiar character of Hannibal Lecter would allow them to tap into this growing viewer demand. At the same time, NBC sought to establish a “quality” brand for the show. For example, the network committed to thirteen episodes rather than a full season, a break with network traditions that replicated the practices of cable’s prestige programs. The network also chose to skip the pilot stage because of the involvement of the French Gaumont studio group, who purchased the rights to the novel—and thus the characters from—Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon, which would serve as the foundation for the series. The inclusion of Gaumont as a producing partner gave the show an international feel; European high-art aesthetics were evoked throughout the series, which included location filming in Paris and Florence.

Gaumont’s CEO Katie O’Connell then hired Bryan Fuller to write the first script and serve as showrunner. As the creator of several critically acclaimed series including Pushing Daisies (2007-09), Fuller brought with him his own auteur brand. He promised to reimagine the source material by altering key aspects of the original books, including diversifying the cast; focusing on character development and motivation; and establishing a signature lush, beautiful, and sophisticated style for the program that would look and feel expensive. Likewise, NBC promoted these “quality” production aesthetics throughout its publicity for the series.


Still, Hannibal struggled to find an audience on NBC, which, unlike premium outlets, needed the buy-in of at least a portion of its mass audience for the program to succeed. In this regard, the network and the program’s producers encouraged the activities of the Fannibals. Demographic research suggested that a significant portion of the audience was “young, smart, well-read women,” which delighted Fuller, who adored their creative production, their appreciation of the show’s dark humor, and their emotional investment in his development of a romance between Hannibal and Will Graham. The network embraced the community, setting up an official Tumblr account for the series and sponsoring a fan art contest (winners below). The NBC Hannibal Tumblr mods have been widely praised for their understanding of the platform and their supportive, respectful interaction with fans.

Image4 FanArtContestWinners

In addition, Hannibal‘s producers and cast members, led by Fuller (in flower crowns, below), have frequently used Twitter to encourage fan activity, including regularly live-tweeting episodes; re-tweeting fan art and GIFs; and giving fans access to script pages, production details, and set photos. This sense of community between the series producers and its fans generated tangible results in the form of a third season renewal, as network officials and producers have openly acknowledged. This final season has both rewarded Fannibals’ ardor and affirmed quality TV tastes by further shifting the series from its procedural beginnings. Set partially in Europe, this season utilizes an art-house style of filming and focuses on character relationships in even more depth and detail, particularly that between the two leads. By developing program content that appealed to viewers across gender and class lines and by involving and supporting their “feminized,” network audiences, Hannibal constructed both an innovative program text and a series brand that will hopefully inspire television producers working across platforms to explore more ways of blurring cultural hierarchies.



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Hindi Cinema: Coming Soon To A Tweet Near You Thu, 13 Aug 2015 11:00:51 +0000 Post by Sripana Ray, The Telegraph, Calcutta

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, Sripana Ray, completed her PhD in the department in 2014.

BVRosieAs part of my current job, I recently did an ethnographic study, looking at how young, urban, middle-class Indians—the target audience group for the entertainment portal The Telegraph is about to launch—engage with online spaces. The two key conclusions that we drew from the several interviews we conducted in cities such as Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore were that India’s young, urban media consumers only look for instant information and that they use that information to realize their aspirations for a better lifestyle. As several of the respondents stated, that information—whether on politics, sports or films—is chiefly consumed on laptops, tablets and smartphones. There is no denying that with the proliferation of media technologies, this is the age of instant gratification–instant download, instant messaging, an Instagrammed world that needs to be made instagood.

The producers of contemporary Hindi commercial cinema have accommodated this generation’s immediate needs by reaching out through various online channels, especially social networks. Online discourses, particularly the ones conducted by film stars, give consumers of Hindi films a sense of belonging to the carefully constructed “real world” of these stars, feeding and fostering consumers’ aspirations.

Promotions of Hindi films routinely occur on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social platforms. Strangely enough, in the promotion exercise, there is a sense of fragmented gratification. The process has several stages, starting with the unveiling of the first look, usually a poster, followed by the release of the soundtrack and trailers. For some films, as was the case with Piku (Shootjit Sircar, 2015), a trailer is produced for the trailer—both of which were released on social media first. Thus, the Hindi commercial film becomes, to modify Tom Gunning’s term slightly, a cinema of staggered attractions.  (To view the clip below, click on the link to YouTube that appears after hitting the play button.)

The prefigurative route of assigning meaning to films, diverting from a strictly textual approach, has been a subject of growing interest among scholars. Martin Barker, in his article “News, Reviews, Clues, Interviews and Other Ancillary Materials,” notes that prefigurative materials or secondary texts, which include posters, trailers, reviews and interviews, “shape in advance the conditions under which interpretations of films are formed”[1]. These materials can give the audience a preview of what they would see and thus generate “expectations of pleasures,” or they might help form opinions about a particular film. These expectations and opinions, in turn, contribute to the construction of meaning of cinematic texts. The teaser of Piku, which shows the protagonists bantering about the quality of the upcoming trailer, gives viewers a hint about the characters’ personalities and the relationship they share, which is the premise of the film.

A central factor in the promotion of a Hindi commercial film is the star. In India, a film is labelled a blockbuster even “before the camera rolls,”[2] according to Andrew Willis. This means that the expectation of success determines the blockbuster status of a film. The elements that inspire such expectation include the director, the producer and the music composer, but most importantly the actors. The use of stars as a vehicle for promotion has evolved with time, primarily because of the public exposure stars get on television and online. The traditional methods of marketing a film, which included publishing and broadcasting sketchy information and gossip about film stars, have given way to a proper and more personal dialogue between actors and their audiences, abetted by the stars themselves. Through their Facebook and Twitter profiles, they talk about the films in which they star and give details about their personal relationships. In this sense, stars’ role in film prefiguration and promotion has now become much more direct. It is as if the stars have stepped out of the big screens to form an alternate narrative through an online discourse with fans that offers a glimpse of their “real” lives—the “reality” that these stars choose to reveal. It is a virtual transmission of projected reality.

Another strand of the promotional machinery becoming increasingly evident is the enmeshing of film stars’ virtual and real lives. Stars change their Twitter handles to the names of their characters in films–for example in Bombay Velvet (Anurag Kashyap, 2015) and Dil Dhadakne Do (Zoya Akhtar, 2015).

Bombay Velvet

Anushka Sharma tweets about Bombay Velvet and displays her film character’s name prominently.

The Bombay Velvet trailer was released on Twitter, as was the soundtrack. As displayed in the image above, the film’s lead actress, Anushka Sharma, put the name of her character, Rosie Noronha, above her Twitter handle. The lead actor, Ranbir Kapoor, does not have a Twitter account. But his father, Rishi Kapoor (also an actor though not part of Bombay Velvet), ensured Ranbir Kapoor’s presence on the social network by continuously tweeting about him.

Actor Rishi Kapoor tweets about his film-star son.

Actor Rishi Kapoor tweets about his film-star son.

For viewers, the public preview of stars’ private lives stimulates what Barker calls “expectations of pleasures.” However, the process of generating these pleasures is almost exclusively geared towards English-speaking audiences in urban India, especially with the Internet’s rising importance in this process. While the Internet can increase direct, close contact with the audiences, the interaction is meant for a particular section of the audience. Blogs, social networking and online gaming are all designed for urban audiences with Internet access and a requisite knowledge of English, since the web discourse is conducted solely in English.

The increasing use of English in discourses surrounding Hindi commercial cinema appeals to its consumers’ global aspirations. English proficiency constitutes symbolic capital that aids in the exhibition of urban, middle-class status and in gaining access to it. The cultural currency of education in, or at least knowledge of, the English language has emerged as a primary tool shaping middle-class identities and aspirations. It is also one that the Hindi commercial film industry increasingly uses as an essential mode of signification as it actively tries to draw the urban middle classes.

According to Janet Staiger, “the reception of the film by the spectator is determined by the object, not the spectator.”[3] But how does the object function at a particular time and for particular people? Staiger argues that a specific object, in this case a film, cannot be consumed in the same way by a group of viewers since “individuals have multiple (albeit socially constructed) identities.” But these self-identities are shaped by certain historical and social agencies such as nationality, class and gender that homogenize certain facets of identity, which in turn creates a collective consciousness. In developing India, the way secondary texts affect processes of viewing and the collective consciousness of Hindi commercial-cinema audiences is being recast through a continuous modernization exercise.

[1] Martin Barker, “News, Reviews, Clues, Interviews and Other Ancillary Materials — A Critique and Research Proposal,” Scope, February 2004 (

[2] Andrew Willis, “Notes on the Hindi Blockbuster, 1975 to the Present,” in Movie Blockbusters, ed. Julian Stringer (New York: Routledge, 2003), 257.

[3] Janet Staiger, Interpreting Films: Studies in the Historical Reception of American Cinema (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 51.



#SaladGate: When Social Media Disrupts an Insular Media Culture Tue, 16 Jun 2015 13:00:09 +0000 hill

Post by David Crider, State University of New York at Oswego

As someone who has previously written for Antenna about country music radio’s gender problem, I have been following the “#SaladGate” situation pretty closely. For those who are not familiar, longtime radio consultant Keith Hill was recently explaining his winning strategies in Country Aircheck Weekly. Hill stated that one way to improve ratings is to decrease the number of females on the playlist to around 15-percent. He concluded, “They’re just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females.” Well-known female country artists Miranda Lambert and Martina McBride took umbrage to Hill’s comments, and their fan bases followed suit, attacking Hill via e-mail and social media.

Hill has been on the defensive ever since, falling back on his 40 years of experience with music programming and consulting. He addressed many of his detractors directly via Twitter, and then appeared on the Radio Stuff Podcast to explain his strategy and his side of the situation. At one point in the interview, Hill noted that he had created a Twitter account during a convention panel six years ago, then never used it again until recently when the angry #SaladGate tweets started coming in. He added that the country radio audience is 55 to 65 percent female, and until now they were happy with what they heard. It was only when they were exposed to the internal data that they started to think the format was biased.

mcbrideIt seems to me that this is a classic case of disruption brought about by digital and social media and greater media literacy. Radio is a very insular media culture, driven by the same research metrics that have been used for decades. The Keith Hills of the world fall back on what has always worked because they see no reason to change. Fear drives their programming decisions; if they try something new or different, they could lose listeners. Until recently, they were immune from direct criticism because they worked behind the scenes and had much more anonymity than on-air personalities, who serve as the public voices of the industry. The rise of Twitter and Facebook has brought listeners to the gates of this insular radio industry, allowing them to shout, “Listen to us!” When listeners don’t like something, they can let radio management know, immediately and directly. Naturally, this development will knock a practitioner of ingrained methods off his/her axis.

Another potential disruption is the shift in how we receive our music. The advent of streaming has already broken down barriers of genre for many listeners; they now base their playlists not on whether it is Country or Rock, but instead by context or mood. Rock journalist Alan Cross points out that for Alternative Rock listeners, the gender of the singer does not matter like it did 15-20 years ago. The day may be coming soon when Keith Hill can no longer fall back on saying, “Women like male artists” simply because they had in the past, especially in a format where the majority of the audience is female.

The push toward greater media literacy has been underway for several years, and social media allows inside information to be spread much more quickly. More people are questioning the framing of media content and the media ecosystem in which it is created; in so doing, they discover patterns of bias. In short, as more people find out how the sausage (or in this case, salad) is made, it is likely that more people will find fault with the practices of Hill and others who shape the content. As the pushback grows, the radio industry will be forced to make changes because the fear of keeping things as-is will outweigh the fear of change.

lambertThe down side of this disruption is it also begets the “Twitter mob.” Hill received messages using every nasty name in the book, as well as a handful of death threats. He became the latest “target of the week” for those who enjoy tearing someone down. These people may be very passionate about their social beliefs, but they can also forget that everything they say via social media affects how people see them. In this case, as someone in a management culture that struggles to understand social media, Hill’s treatment on Twitter prompted him to call the site “a cesspool that overflows.” In a separate interview, Hill also stated that when he gets one of these angry tweets, “I know it doesn’t represent the mass Country audience.” The problem here is that when it’s Miranda Lambert or Martina McBride’s fans sending those tweets, it may not represent the audience as a whole, but it does represent some of the most passionate listeners. When it comes to social media, you ignore these motivated listeners at your own peril. However, when too many of them cross lines of decorum, they become easier to dismiss.

During his Radio Stuff Podcast interview, Hill acknowledged that there is a degree of sexism within radio and country music, but not by design: “Its outcome is sexist, but that’s because it’s simply responding to the market.” For those of us who study radio from a social-science viewpoint and wish to teach the next generation how to succeed in this or any other entertainment medium, it poses an interesting conundrum: How do we reconcile the imperative to “give the people what they want” with the fact that from a sociological standpoint, we disapprove of what they want? Continuing to improve media literacy certainly helps, as we teach our students to pay closer attention to the ever-changing needs of the current audience, instead of falling back on decades of outdated trends.


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David Letterman: So Long to Our TV Pal Wed, 20 May 2015 13:46:40 +0000 letterman_dave_young_gPost by Bradley Schauer, University of Arizona

Much of the press coverage of David Letterman’s retirement has framed it as the end of an era. According to this account, the traditional late night talk show – pioneered by Steve Allen in the ’50s, brought to its classical peak by Johnny Carson, and reaching its creative apex with Letterman’s baroque, ironic approach beginning in 1982 – has been rendered obsolete by a new emphasis on social media and viral videos. Even Letterman himself recently admitted that his show’s failure to embrace YouTube and Twitter was a problem: “What I’m doing is not what you want at 11:30 anymore… I hear about things going viral, and I think, ‘How do you do that?’”

Letterman in a suit of velcro, 1984.

Letterman in a suit of velcro, 1984.

On one hand, the differences between Letterman’s show and those of his youthful competitors are overstated. Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and the rest still adhere closely to the traditional late night formula: monologue, desk piece, two guests and a musical act. And Letterman, particularly in the first 2/3 of his career, specialized in short remote videos (Dave works the Burger King drive-thru) and spectacle (Dave wears a Velcro suit) that would have lent themselves to online distribution. Much of Letterman’s declining ratings with young viewers can be simply attributed to his age: a 68-year-old who makes jokes about the Andrews Sisters and Lorne Greene is never going to win the 18-49 demo.

On the other hand, Fallon’s YouTube clips do receive exponentially greater hits than Letterman’s, and it is due to more than Fallon’s aw-shucks charm. Letterman’s inability to go viral is a byproduct of his unique approach to the talk show format, one rooted in traditional modes of viewership. Whereas the newer shows’ short, self-contained segments are constructed for easy accessibility and viral distribution, Letterman rewarded the dedicated viewer. It was not only funnier if you watched the entire program, it was funnier if you watched every night. Strange jokes that were barely funny on their own became hilarious as they were repeated, out of context, across an episode and for weeks afterwards. In this way, Letterman’s show was truly cult television, creating an insular community of viewers that prided themselves on their separation from the mainstream. It was no surprise (except apparently to Letterman) when the more accessible Jay Leno began beating him in the ratings after the honeymoon period of the mid-‘90s.

floatAlong the same lines, Letterman’s funniest moments were rarely as funny when decontextualized from the show’s offbeat comic sensibility. More than anti-comedy, Letterman’s humor is typically a blend of two contradictory impulses: irony and sincere pleasure in the mundane. The purest example is “Will It Float?”, the recurring segment in which Letterman and Paul Shaffer would earnestly debate whether or not an item would float before two models threw it into a tank of water. The audience enjoys the overblown, ironic trappings associated with the skit (including a theme song and a hula-hoop dancer), but is also encouraged to take genuine pleasure in the question of whether or not the item will, in fact, float. Letterman satirizes the entertainment industry by valorizing the trivial. But the mundane does not make for effective YouTube clips – Stupid Pet Tricks can’t possibly compete when put up against the entire internet.

The newer shows’ heightened emphasis on celebrity guests is another important distinction. The usual observations about Fallon’s obsequiousness vs. Letterman’s disdain for modern Hollywood celebrity culture seem roughly accurate. The key difference, though, was that Letterman was the undisputed star of his show, his personality and sense of humor dominating and permeating every aspect. Fallon and the rest follow Leno’s example, acting as genial emcees who each night willingly take a backseat to their guests. And while Letterman was rarely as severe to guests as his reputation would indicate, it was usually clear whether or not he was interested in what they had to say. If he was, the interview had the potential to become a genuine conversation that revealed more of the guest than the faux-spontaneity of Fallon’s parlor games or James Corden’s skits.

On the set of NBC's "Late Night with David Letterman," 1982.

On the set of NBC’s “Late Night with David Letterman,” 1982.

Letterman’s show at its best had a loose, improvisational quality that hearkened back to Steve Allen more than to Carson. Especially during the low production values of the NBC years, it was as though Letterman were hosting the funniest public access show of all time. He was unafraid to use a sense of duration as comic fodder: for instance, cold-calling a CBS executive and then waiting over a minute in awkward silence for the secretary to see if he was available. As the years went by, and Letterman stopped attending rehearsal, the spontaneity only increased, with the host showcasing his gift for language in rambling shaggy dog stories told at his desk. (In his excellent show, Craig Ferguson would take these qualities to their extreme, ensuring that he would never be considered for the 11:30 slot.) Again, this type of humor does not work when reduced to internet clips where viewers demand instant gratification.

The outlook for late night talk shows is grim, with ratings only about half of what they were 15 years ago. I remember my students in 2010 vehemently supporting “Team Coco” during Conan O’Brien’s ouster from The Tonight Show, only to admit that none of them actually watched the show, but knew O’Brien entirely from YouTube clips and Twitter. Networks seem to value YouTube hits, but it has never been clear exactly how they are monetized in any substantial way. Taking into account the fragmentation of the post-network era, and the relative interchangeability of this new generation of late night hosts, it seems as though David Letterman’s legacy will be as the last real star of late night television, and, in all likelihood, as one of the last great American broadcasters. If there is a new David Letterman out there, his or her type of comedy will not find a welcome home on network television.


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Black Widow and Whedon Exceptionalism: Accounting for Sexism in Age of Ultron and the MCU Fri, 15 May 2015 19:46:56 +0000

Post by Piers Britton, University of Redlands

As I started planning this post, a few days before the general release of the second Avengers movie, issues of authorship and creative control—and attendant problems of narrative cogency in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—already seemed to offer a fruitful basis for comment and reflection. Not for the first time in his career, Ultron’s writer-director Joss Whedon was telling stories of conflict between himself and studio executives. At first remarks were notionally at his own expense: he jokily characterized the development of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as his misunderstanding of the studio’s brief for his three-year contract. Apparently his abrupt withdrawal from day-to-day creative involvement in the ABC series was the result of Marvel’s primarily wanting him to focus on the Avengers sequel. In the wake of Ultron’s release, in a podcast for Empire, Whedon painted a starker picture of creative differences that apparently opened up during production of the movie. He claimed that Marvel executives held to ransom the more surreal and intimately personal passages in Ultron, namely the vignettes of the heroes’ troubled visions brought on by Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and the sequence at a secluded farmhouse, owned by Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), which allowed for various ruminative two-handers between the principal characters. These are arguably the most “Whedonesque” segments of the blockbuster. According to Whedon, the Marvel team was preoccupied with scenes that tied into, and teased, future MCU movies, viz., those showing the mantic Thor bathing in the Waters of Sight. In short, Whedon offered a narrative of conflict between authorial sensibility and industry logic – Age of Ultron as an internally coherent, emotionally resonant text versus Age of Ultron as an iteration in a cycle – and thus a de facto preview of forthcoming attractions underscoring the fact that the MCU is “all connected.”

Almost at once this narrative of authorial conflict was overshadowed by a more immediately newsworthy one, which again spoke to tensions between individual entries in the MCU super-franchise and the avowed interests of Whedon as a writer and director. On May 4th Whedon terminated his Twitter account, immediately exciting speculation that this was a response to an online “backlash” against Ultron’s portrayal of Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). During the subsequent week a wide array of commentary centered on Whedon’s avowed feminism, and whether or not his treatment of Romanoff in Ultron upholds or (as was more widely opined) undercuts his claims to be a feminist. Objections to Whedon’s treatment of Black Widow focused on a series of plot elements, and one specific line of dialogue. Among other things critics objected to Romanoff’s being romantically paired with Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), to her being cast as the stereotypical caregiver—taming the Hulk with a lullaby, “cleaning up” after the “boys” in the team, etc.—and to her “domestication” in the scenes at Barton’s farm. While at the farm she discusses with Banner the possibility of their settling down, and we learn that she was rendered sterile in a particularly nasty graduation ceremony at her assassins’ academy. According to Todd VanDer Werff’s transcription at Vox, the line runs as follows:

They sterilize you. It’s efficient. One less thing to worry about, the one thing that might matter more than a mission. It makes everything easier — even killing. You still think you’re the only monster on the team?

The line is ambiguous in its import: at best, as VanDer Werff speculates, it is a clumsily constructed attempt to suggest that Romanoff is a monster by virtue of her whole career as a spy and assassin; at worst, as many claim, it atavistically reinscribes notions of a woman’s humanity being defined solely by her capacity to bear children.

Ultron1I don’t want to dwell on the various positions in the Black Widow debate per se, but I do want to reflect on the fact that I did not myself experience the film as sexist in its portrayal of Romanoff. Structurally, scenes that showed her domestic side or stressed her emotional vulnerability did not strike me as out of balance with the scenes that showed her as single-minded, rational, intensely courageous and supremely competent in her professional life. Nor did the manifestations of her self-doubt and uncertainty about life choices seem to me egregious in comparison with the corresponding treatment of her fellow (male) Avengers. However, there’s no doubt that my neutral-to-positive reading of her portrayal at large, and the “monster” line in particular, was determined by my willingness to give Whedon the benefit of the doubt – which in turn is based largely on my prior knowledge of his television work. In other words, in spite of my scholarly interest in the MCU as brand, by default I read Age of Ultron primarily as a Whedon text, not a Marvel text. The same seems to be true of his detractors: in spite of the odd attempt to read the furore in the context of Marvel’s endemic gender asymmetries, excoriation of Ultron’s sexism has for the most part been couched in terms that presuppose Whedon’s primary authorship.

So has Whedon’s self-identification as a feminist, and his reputation as at least a would-be feminist writer, served perversely to obfuscate larger patterns of authorial bias, drawing attention away from Marvel Studios’ problematic representations and exclusions of women? In the short term this may be the case, but probably not over the long haul. While the billion-dollar success of Ultron will likely do little in production terms to encourage reevaluation of storytelling strategy and values in the MCU, from a reception standpoint this latest cause célèbre seems almost certain to be historicized as part of a pattern. If we compare the sluggish, scattered responses to the undermining and cheapening of female characters in the last Bond movie, Skyfall (Mendes, 2012), the groundswell of frustration at Marvel’s institutionalized sexism—articulated most recently by one of Ultron’s male stars—suggests that Marvel’s new breed of tent-pole movie is likely to be a prime locus of critique on issues of balanced and diverse representation for some time to come.


#SCMS15: The Conference as Media Event Mon, 30 Mar 2015 14:00:20 +0000 SCMS15In his well-known work on media events, Elihu Katz describes occasions including state funerals, moon landings, Olympic games, and the Eurovision song contest, as “high holidays” of media, with their ritual function, their experience by a mass television audience all watching at once. A major academic conference can be quite similar if you put aside the mass media part. It’s an annual gathering of the tribe to reiterate shared ideas and reproduce customs. We prepare extensively, dress up and don our nametag lanyards, engage in ceremonial rites (conventionalized panel introductions, congratulations on recent accomplishments, awards ceremonies, citations of canonical literature), share food and drink, tell our stories (often the same stories we have told before), and reaffirm our adherence to the group’s values. Although academic gatherings in the humanities tend to be secular, there is a quality of priestly authority in the presiding panel chair or the audience thronging to hear an accomplished “big name,” and participants read from their work, quoting and citing authorities like scripture, offering exegetic knowledge about texts familiar to the group.

A conference like SCMS reminds me in some ways of the high holidays of my childhood, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which I experienced as crowded shul (synagogue) services of long duration when everyday life stopped and the days had a higher purpose and their own rhythm and temporality. While SCMS is missing the participatory chanting and call-and-response liturgical song, we do have what feels like the special gathering of a whole community and a cyclical sense of another year’s passage. It’s a break from our ordinary surroundings and duties, and we feel (or wish to feel) that we are among fellow adherents. We often leave feeling at once energized by new ideas and exhausted by the intensity of the experience.

Just as Katz’s media events were first real-world events, even if they become substantially shaped through mediation, the academic conference existed before we began to treat it as a media event, or should I say, a social media event. It’s obviously not a mass media event like the Olympics. To the extent that the mass media give any attention at all to our conferences, it’s as dismissive mockery. But through Twitter and other social media we do represent the conference as it is unfolding and attend to it as a live audience. The conference is also shaping itself to suit this representation.

One reason why old people seem to never stop telling young people about life before the internet is that things really were quite a bit different! At the first conferences I attended there were VHS decks with TV sets on metal carts, and occasionally someone projected photographic slides. It was not uncommon for a paper to be read to the audience without any pauses for illustration and without visual aids. Word of an impressive (or terrible) paper might trickle out and spread by word of mouth. Perhaps a few months after the event a conference report would be published in a journal.

Twitter feedNow the temporality of the conference includes mediated liveness through the twitterstream, along with some video livestreams. As I write this from the airport departure lounge on Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m., I am also following a number of panels via Twitter as the conference still rolls on. Someone is analyzing Jon Jost’s films, while in another room someone is discussing the cable network Bravo. There’s a paper on computers in education, and another on Minecraft, all simultaneously in my feed this minute. Someone just tweeted a photo of a presenter’s PowerPoint slide. It has a quote from Jonathan Sterne’s book MP3 alongside a cat, naturally, holding a tin can to his ear as if to listen. And meanwhile 20 other panels are underway, from which no one seems to be tweeting.

At some panels I attended last weekend I tweeted from my phone, trying to capture key insights and hot phrases. Typing by thumb is slow for me, and I frequently stop to correct errors. I see only the tweet I am composing on the screen while I’m typing. But using your phone all day drains the battery, so for a couple of panels I switched to using a laptop with a big display and a full keyboard. In the Chrome Tweetdeck app, you can track multiple constantly refreshing columns at once. I kept open the usual “home” column of my regular timeline of tweets from the accounts I follow, as well as a #SCMS15 column of all tweets posted with that hashtag next to it on the right. I also kept open columns of my mentions and notifications, so that I could see if others were engaging with my tweets and could participate in backchannel conversations. During one paper I heard about US imports on UK TV, this conversation included at least one person joining in from the UK.

During the panels I was tweeting from, the #SCMS15 column was a perpetually cascading torrent of updates from multiple other panels. It can feel like perpetual information overload. I was usually accompanied by only one or two others tweeting from my panels, but some concurrent sessions were being tweeted by several participants, and some people tweet practically every point a speaker makes. Every time I picked up my eyes to look at the scholar giving the paper in my panel, the movement on the screen of fresh tweets arriving brought my eyes back down to Tweetdeck. In the backchannel, I often noticed people who were not present in the room, or not even in Montreal, participating in the conference by replying or even just by retweeting or favoriting tweets.

I know from my own account’s Twitter analytics that someone with more than 1,000 followers may expect a tweet to be seen by 100-200 others, which is a bigger audience than at any panel I attended at SCMS. If retweeted a few times, that audience can increase to 1,000 or more. (I’m just a humble media scholar; celebrities and commercial media institutions like CNN of course command much greater attention.)

Clearly the social media coverage is bringing awareness and participation to SCMS and to our work that cannot be compared with the old-fashioned in-person attendance. I think we should see this as open-access publishing. It also provides for distant participation by Society members and scholars in cinema and media studies who for various reasons do not attend the conference. Twitter isn’t always a great substitute for being there, and the live-tweeting sometimes feels fragmentary and confusing. Sometimes tweets seems to amplify and even glorify the ideas expressed in a presentation, and sometimes they seem to simplify or trivialize them. But when done well, live-tweeting can bridge distances and expand the conference’s reach in very productive and satisfying ways. It’s not the conference itself, but a remediation of it, projecting SCMS to broader communities.* One tweet I saw in my feeds and retweeted during the conference said, “I’ve never heard of #SCMS15, but the tweets I’m seeing from it pop up are fascinating.”

MontrealThe ritual functions of the social media event extend well beyond the content of the panels. For days and weeks and even months before the conference, some of my Twitter friends were premediating** #SCMS15 by sharing details of submissions, acceptances and rejections, travel plans, outfit plans, karaoke plans, poutine plans, etc. I saw tweets of people’s passports ready for travel. At the conference, on the main concourse level, a red carpet was set up with a backdrop suitable for photography, a poster nearby encouraging sharing photos online. I heard both positive and negative reactions to this and I wondered if anyone was using it as intended, but eventually the pics of conference participants posing as if to appear in the pages of US Weekly appeared in some friends’ Faceboook feeds.

Sometimes the tweeting felt overwhelming, and I think I prefer the phone over the laptop despite my clumsy thumbs. The heightened interactivity provides a buzz, but I can’t imagine sustaining it for a whole day or two or five. I also don’t like the distorted impression you get from keeping your eyes on the hashtag twitterstream as a conference news ticker. Each session of the conference has 24 concurrent panels. At any given time, most of the papers being presented were not being covered at all. The TV studies and fan studies contingents, who already have robust Twitter networks firing every day of the year, tweeted the hell out of panels on topics of interest to them. Some film historians I spoke with were intrigued and impressed by a video screen in the main conference concourse, near the red carpet, displaying recent tweets including the #SCMS15 hashtag. But they found the content a bit puzzling, not entirely certain what exactly the tweets were.

This may be a problem of Twitter, which is notoriously hard for many non-users to “get.” I told one accomplished scholar who doesn’t use Twitter about the many admiring tweets from his panel, one of which I sent to him via email. I thought he’d be excited to have made such a strong impression. Although grateful for the positive response to his paper, he is ambivalent about actually reading any more tweets broadcasting his work. He told me, “I wouldn’t even know how to get on Twitter.” So whether because of how communities of interest have formed online, or how unevenly Twitter has been adopted, SCMS as social media event is functioning to include and exclude.

While this may be just one person’s subjective impression, there seemed to be much less tweeting about film than other topics. (I hope that analysis of the conference Twitter data will help us understand more.) I often think the name “cinema and media studies” is illogical in its implication that cinema isn’t media, or that media studies and film studies are necessarily separate — if related — fields. But in this instance, I think it’s fair to say that the social media event is really a media event more than a cinema event. One thing distinguishing this social media event from a mass media event is how fragmentary and narrow its community can be. It has the mass media event’s qualities of liveness and drama and communal ritual. The dimension of common experience is much more fractured and tribal, though. At least for now, it doesn’t appear to bring us together as one scholarly Society. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, but it is a thing worth thinking about.

*Thanks to Christopher Cwynar for suggesting this point.
**Remediation is from Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin; premediation is Grusin’s concept.

Michael Z. Newman is on Twitter.


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And the Grammy Nominees are [On Twitter]… Fri, 05 Dec 2014 21:24:13 +0000 Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 3.12.45 PM

As viewing patterns have shifted dramatically over the past two decades, fragmenting audiences and delaying viewing in what we characterize as a post-network era, the televised award show has increased in value for broadcast networks. Live events work against delays, provide the possibility for social media buzz, and speak to a presumed broad audience that is becoming increasingly more difficult to capture with traditional programming. This has made the relative value of award shows increase, both for major awards (the Oscars, the Emmys, the Grammys) in respective media and lesser award shows that now have greater value than when they were perceived as illegitimate offshoots of the more reputable awards in said medium (such as the American Music Awards and the Billboard Music Awards, which are based on fan voting and record sales respectively).

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 3.15.48 PMOutside of isolated moments like Ellen Degeneres’ “Oscar Selfie,” however, major award shows in film and television have not necessarily changed their approach in light of their new value in a convergent media era, remaining largely the same in terms of flow and structure. By comparison, the Grammy Awards have gone through a tremendous overhaul, dramatically altering the number of awards presented during the televised ceremony, and shifting to a more substantial number of performances. While the presence of performances has always been a key draw for the Grammy Awards, the increase in the number of performances—going from 8 in 2004 to 20 in 2014—has shifted the ceremony further toward the live event spectacle that cuts through the challenges of broadcast television so effectively in the current moment. CBS has even built on its success with a yearly concert special timed to the Grammy nominations in December, announcing the nominees for “Album of the Year” and other major categories as part of a concert “preview”—this year with a holiday theme—of the January or February ceremony before releasing the full list.

If the changes to the Grammy ceremony itself reflect shifts in audience viewing patterns within traditional media, the strategy the Recording Academy is using to reveal this year’s nominees represents a more dramatic move away from traditional media. The release of award nominations has historically been handled through early-morning press conferences, wherein professionals within the respective field teams up with the Academy president to reveal major nominations ahead of the release of the full list of nominees shortly after. These take place at roughly 5:30am in Los Angeles, a time chosen in order to coordinate with the morning shows on the East Coast, with the nominations typically simulcast by one or more of them. It is an old tradition that has adjusted to include livestreaming, and that the Grammys has shifted to Primetime in recent years, but it remains predominantly tethered to an old media stalwart.

This year, however, the Recording Academy partnered with Twitter to reveal the majority of the nominees for this year’s awards one-by-one over the course of the day: although anchored by nominees Ed Sheeran and Pharrell on CBS This Morning and the Album of the Year reveal on the CBS nominations special, therefore retaining a tie to traditional broadcast environments, the partnership with Twitter is where the vast majority of discourse around the awards circulated today. Whereas all award shows are now actively engaged in social media, tweeting congratulations to nominees in hopes of retweets and further follows, the Grammys are not simply tweeting the nominees from their own account (which has 1.7 million followers): instead, they have parceled out the categories among a number of former winners or contemporaries in respective categories (Vampire Weekend, Joy Williams, Mark Ronson), prominent YouTube stars with musical aspirations and strong social media followings (Troye Silvan), syndicated entertainment shows or personalities (Ryan Seacrest, Access Hollywood, The Insider), and perennial Grammys host LL Cool J, among others—I’ve collected a Storify of most of them here. With most using the integrated video function on Twitter, and with each video including a plug for the Emmy Award ceremony on CBS in February, the videos serve to make the nominations themselves visible to a broader audience, suggesting a careful curation of “presenters” and potential audiences across various genres.

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 3.03.27 PMIt’s a decision that has confounded the traditional way nominations are covered in the entertainment industry: whereas journalists can typically speak to narratives in the awards, sites are now forced to gradually collect and collate information, building narratives—who has the most nominations, who was snubbed in certain categories—on the fly with only limited perspective until the majority of nominees (all but album of the year) were finally posted around 2pm ET. Beyoncé’s single announced nomination early in the day allowed her to pass Dolly Parton to become the most nominated female artist of all time, but anyone who ran that story needed to update it to reflect her final nomination count, which will remain unclear until tonight’s broadcast. Sam Smith tweeted about earning four nominations before getting out of bed, but that number increased shortly after, necessitating another message updating the number to five.

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 3.08.38 PMThe presence of social media has privileged live events because they are something people “talk about,” and have the potential to spread beyond their initial viewing audience as online buzz pushes people to tune in. In this case, the Grammys are tapping into the same potential for social media to spread word about the nominations, creating an environment where it is impossible for anyone engaged with entertainment journalists or musicians on Twitter to avoid Grammys reporting over the course of the day as artists and outlets livetweet their reactions to the nominations rollout. Whereas “Oscar Nominations Morning” has become a tradition in the context of social media, with Twitter and other social media conversations focused on what is considered a major industry event, the Grammys have sought to claim an entire day, an effort that shows how the adoption of social media is influencing established spaces of industry practice.

It is also an additional reminder that while who wins or is nominated for awards remains a key space of analysis for engaging with the place of awards in media industries and in culture more broadly, the process by which those nominees are determined or announced is equally central to the award show’s place within contemporary media studies.


#gamergate Thu, 25 Sep 2014 13:30:29 +0000 GamerGateIf you do not follow the gaming press, visit popular videogame blogs, read 4chan, or scan Reddit, you may not have heard about the latest barrage of abuse and harassment targeting, yet again, women in the games industry. Even if you do casually follow the aforementioned online spaces, you still may not be entirely sure what #gamergate represents, although the story has now been picked up by mainstream press outlets like Forbes, Slate, and The New Yorker. This brief Antenna post is not an encouragement to dive down a very ugly rabbit hole. In fact, it would be great if we all could collectively ignore the Internet’s current pitchfork mob for a little while, filtering anything related to #gamergate directly to the junk folder.

In brief: #Gamergate started in late August when an ex-boyfriend of independent game designer Zoe Quinn posted an intimate account of their failed relationship, including accusations that Quinn had several affairs with men who write for videogame news and review sites. This, he implied, explained why her interactive fiction game Depression Quest had become an award-winning success. The ex-boyfriend also explicitly stated that his purpose in posting his interpretation of their relationship was to ruin her career.

#Gamergate should have ended there. Exploiting the personal life of a woman to call into question her professional success is an all-too familiar tactic to delegitimize women’s work and status. In 2007, Ubisoft producer Jade Raymond endured similar public humiliation when popular gaming blogs accused her of using sex appeal to promote Assassin’s Creed, suggesting as well that she reached her position at Ubisoft only because she is an attractive woman. For Quinn, the accusation that her success is a result of sleeping her way to fame followed months of harassment and negative comments about her game from users on Steam Greenlight, many of whom claimed Depression Question was not a ‘real game’ worthy of development support from Valve.

Unfortunately Kotaku, one of the news outlets named by the jilted ex, responded to accusations that one of their writers had acted unethically. After a brief investigation, Kotaku determined no ethical breach had occurred, but the editor’s statement only brought further attention to the smear campaign. Video “evidence” was produced in the form of rambling monologues, and graphics tracing Quinn’s supposed relationships within the industry were created and shared widely on 4chan, Reddit and Twitter. Shortly after the initial ex-boyfriend post, B-list actor Adam Baldwin (best known for playing Jayne Cobb on Firefly) linked to a “Quinnspiracy” video and tagged the Twitter post #gamergate; Baldwin has remained active in the #gamergate tag.

An insular, cozy relationship between publishers, developers and game journalists has characterized the industry for decades, though complaints from readers have rarely affected any policy changes. Like other sectors of the entertainment press, industry-sponsored media junkets and gadget-leaden swag bags continue to woo journalists and reviewers despite calls for more objective news coverage and more meaningful game criticism. The back pages of Game Informer, Computer Gaming World (before it folded in 2006) and dozens of gaming magazines over the years are filled with photos of journalists and editors hanging out with celebrity game designers and triple-A publishers at industry parties.

While the outrage about Quinn’s connections in the industry seems to raise fair concerns about journalism ethics, the focus of #gamergate has largely not been on journalists or on the well-funded publishers and developers who have courted the press with exclusive access and freebies for years. Instead, Quinn and other independent game developers with far fewer resources were targeted for fostering relationships and building professional networks – an absolute requirement for success in any creative industry.

The #gamergate controversy frothed when a few game journalists and editors were linked to indie developers through the crowdfunding sites Kickstarter and Patreon, and at least one site adopted a policy of “disclosure” for such funding by writers. This sounds fine on the surface, but is a little more insidious when we consider who is usually supported through crowdfunding (i.e. indie developers, often with projects that fall well outside the triple-A mainstream); after all, nobody is asking the same writers to maintain a public list of major releases they’ve paid cash dollars for, even though by the same logic “supporting” development with money in any way should be suspect.

#Gamergate is not about ethics, or about making the industry more transparent. The rhetoric of #gamergate is a co-option of the concerns that women and minorities in the industry have raised for years. The reason #gamergate has struck such a chord now is because, indeed, the industry is changing. Diverse characters in games are more common and more women and minorities are making games. As others have commented, #gamergate signals a culture war within gaming that has been slowly building for decades and, following years on the margins, has finally broken through to the mainstream.

However, the conversation that should occur about inclusivity in games has been hijacked by an extremely conservative discourse that co-opts the language of exclusion in order to argue that the cultural shift occurring is meant to deny gamers their preferred experiences. Transcripts of 4chan conversations and Reddit threads where instigators of #gamergate strategize the online abuse of women and their allies who dare to challenge the status quo read like talking points crafted by conservative political consultant Frank Luntz and right-wing commentator Glenn Beck. It is a world turned upside down, and it would be funnier if it were not alternately scary and tiresome. Even as #gamergate has simultaneously reached mainstream attention and hysterical levels of conspiracy theory paranoia, it remains at heart an object lesson in the harassment that women in and around the game industry are subjected to.

If #gamergate has uncovered anything, it has revealed that some people with shared professional interests know each other, that some people with shared professional interests attend the same professional events, and that some people with shared professional interests are reminded, daily, that those very interests put them at risk. But, hey, we knew that already.


AT&T’s Branded Entertainment, Present and Past Mon, 07 Jul 2014 13:30:36 +0000 AT&T’s teen reality program, @summerbreak, is back for a second season. It’s not on TV and if you’re not subscribing to its Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, or YouTube feeds, or if you’re not already following key social media “influencers” who are “seeding”  material about the summer adventures of a group of Southern Californian teens, you may not have heard of it. AT&T is not concerned about audience members who are over the age of 25. Teens are the targeted audience; why “waste” program exposure on older audiences?

@summerbreak Instagram

Rather than interrupt the program with commercials extolling AT&T’s mobile phone services, @summerbreak simply integrates mobile phone usage into its scenes. The teen performers talk, text, photograph, and take selfies. They use video, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, and so on. Not only do they model ideal device usage, they also comment on each other’s usage: “You’re such a social media diva!” exclaims one teen to another who is tweeting their shopping expedition.

All this stands in stark contrast to AT&T’s past branded entertainment programs. From 1940 to 1958 on radio, from 1959 to 1968 on television, The Bell Telephone Hour offered classical music and musical theater performances. AT&T’s film Rehearsal (ca. 1947) simulates the program’s rehearsal process for a live radio performance of excerpts from operas such as Don Giovanni by the Bell Telephone Orchestra and guest singers. As the conductor stops and instructs the orchestra and the director in the control booth prompts the announcers, the film shows the hard work that goes into successful performances of highbrow culture.

However, despite the radical differences in style, content, and substance in AT&T’s branded entertainment past and present, @summerbreak and The Bell Telephone Hour share some goals.

In the past, advertisers assumed that media like radio had direct and powerful effects. They used radio to educate consumers either about products or about a corporation itself, assuming a powerful tool like radio should be used for the public good. In sponsoring programs of classical music, opera, and legitimate theater (instead of popular music, say), some radio advertisers hoped to instill gratitude in audiences and to polish an image of themselves as models of good taste, beneficent patrons, and technological innovators.

Rehearsal Bell Telephone HourIn the middle of the Rehearsal (at about 15:50) an announcer explains how AT&T has improved on long distance communication through a short history, beginning with bonfires on hilltops, proceeding to audion tubes and radio relays, and culminating in a couple’s earnest long distance phone call. Cultural uplift and technological progress dovetail so beautifully we may forget about the corporation’s monopoly profits.

Today, advertisers like AT&T have come to doubt the power of a direct pitch; they believe instead in associational messages and images. AT&T, no longer a paternalistic monopolist, is now only one of many companies competing in emerging media, and its success with youth markets will most likely shape its future. Brands like AT&T no longer use advertising as a business form of “education,” which might alienate their teenage audience. Instead, they seek to integrate their brand messages smoothly and subtly into youth culture.

Nonetheless, @summerbreak arguably retains the overall educational goal of The Bell Telephone Hour: by featuring attractive Southern Californian teens modeling mobile service usage, the program implicitly educates viewers on current cool teen behaviors, lingos, and social media trends. And it retains the goal of association with aspirational culture—not highbrow music but cool teen behavior. AT&T hopes its teen audience feels validated by the representations of cool teens doing cool things with their phones. By reminding teens that AT&T knows teens are cool, AT&T can hope teens will reciprocate the validation and believe AT&T is cool too.


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On Kale, Transmedia, and Winning GISHWHES Fri, 23 May 2014 13:00:01 +0000 Saturday_Viking_boat_25_smallerHave you ever had a life experience you never expected? One that makes you step back and ask: how did I get here? That was me, for basically the whole weekend of the winning team’s reward trip for GISHWHES: the Greatest Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. A few choice moments: rising up into the air in a sea plane with half of my teammates, or sitting around a waterside bonfire with our team plus Misha Collins and the other organizers of GISHWHES — these are now cherished memories that in part I can’t quite believe happened, and yet that I’m having a tough time coming back down from. It was made even better that I was there with a strange mix: my five month old son, my BFF, and a group of teammates who had never before met in person but who together had created innumerable strange things (like team uniforms made from kale) in the name of the scavenger hunt that brought us together.GISHWHES Item 137

GISHWHES is a dada-istic experience of creative mayhem coordinated by actor/genius Misha Collins and his very talented/visionary collaborators, including the mysterious Miss Jean Louis Alexander, who communicates to gishwhesian participants primarily in poetic email missives. You may know Collins as the actor who plays the angel Castiel in the CW series, Supernatural, or you may know him as his satiric Twitter persona, @mishacollins. I discovered Collins through Supernatural, and have followed his various online projects avidly (his twitter, the charity Random Acts, the web series Divine and Cooking Fast and Fresh With West, even Stonehenge Apocalypse), but it was with GISHWHES that I felt most clearly the invitation to participate and create.

I’ve participated in GISHWHES for all three years, for the last two with my now-winning team, Vatican Cameos. The team that wins GISHWHES each year is rewarded with a weekend trip and visit with Misha Collins. For the first year (in 2011), this meant eating pasta with Misha in Rome; the second winning team (2012) spent the night with Misha in a haunted castle; for our year/team (2013), we went to Vancouver, rode on a Viking boat, and flew on a sea plane to an island retreat where we held a séance/bonfire and conjured up some local car salesmen.

Long before I could have fathomed I might be on a GISHWHES winning team, I wrote that GISHWHES models the potential for “transmedia creative authorship” that “finds its engine in the collective coordination and agency of all involved.” I’ve also written about the sense of the intimate collective created by thoughtfully designed transmedia projects — a sense of community facilitated by interaction across coordinated yet open-ended digital fronts. GISHWHES sees the intimate collective and raises it an inappropriate public, in which individuals, families, and team members shed all sense of shame and go out and create silly, provocative, and/or insane public art, later to be shared across online networks. GISHWHES takes the fannish/digital ethos of playful creativity and experimentation and, importantly, awareness of community and our place in it and responsibility to it and enacts it in the world, resulting in images like the ones that pepper this post.

GISHWES Item 20 Although GISHWHES is rooted in embodied as well as digital engagement, I wasn’t prepared for what it felt like to be united with my team and with the GISHWHES creators in person as we were taken on an extravagant and crazy journey through Vancouver. My past work has almost always at least indirectly argued that the relationships we build online can be substantive and nuanced, and every bit as “real” as in person relationships. I almost felt this belief challenged by the experience of meeting my full team and the GISHWHES crew in person. But if we were just a bunch of strangers who hadn’t had this past digital history, meeting together wouldn’t have had the power it did.GISHWHES Item 23

I’ve also always held that as scholars and fans, we congregate around the star “text” rather than the person, and I’ve stayed away from interviewing the figures I study. I’ve written an entire essay on Misha Collins, and at the time it would have felt anathema to me to consider interviewing him; that would have been for a different methodology, a different project. (Since then, I’d already begun to chip away at this assertion in my experience with a press pass at LeakyCon and the access that it gave to producers and actors of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.) I found this assumption of mine, too, challenged fundamentally by my experience in Vancouver. Misha seemed excited to talk to me about the thought processes behind his Twitter persona and his various transmedia endeavors, and I found myself very much wanting to have that conversation, to integrate his perspective on star texts and branding and the power of limits in digital creativity, to see how what he had to say, or better yet, our dialogue, would change the picture I had created.

Our experience of winning GISHWHES was a rare one and one that very few will be lucky enough to have. But it drove home to me something that I think is at the heart of GISHWHES as a whole and a reason for its growing success: GISHWHES unites our virtual and real worlds, our online and in person social networks, and overturns our assumptions about both. Now I feel the loss of seeing my team in person but look forward to the digital and embodied mayhem we will create this August, when we gish again.


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