Report from SCMS: Friday

March 12, 2011
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Greetings from SCMS!  Two days in and it’s already proved an amazing experience.  This is my third time at SCMS (you can read more about how my perspective has changed from my first year to now over on the SCMS blog, where Jason Mittell, Hollis Griffin, Hannah Hamad and I have been sharing tidbits of our conferencing experience; if you’re not an SCMS member, you can create a temporary “guest” account to read).

For me, yesterday was all stars and industry.  I woke up early to catch the 8 a.m. panel on “Hollywood Goes to Court,” which featured some truly amazing work. Emily Carman presented on “image commodity rights” and star contracts in the 1930s, while Philip Drake, hailing from University Stirling, explained the specifics of the British Libel System, which permits celebrities and other public figures to launch (and win) massive libel suits in the UK which would have otherwise been thrown out of court – even if a publication is printed in and intended for an audience in the US, if that publication is available in the UK, even if just on the internet, it may be brought to court.  The ultimate result has been a chilling of free speech, even in publications unconcerned with celebrities, for fear of massive court costs.  Peter Decherney rounded out the panel with a discussion of “Fair Use and Information Communities,” commenting on the ways in which copyright holders engage in a sort of “brinkmanship” with those who claim “Fair Use.”

After brunch with Emily and Philip and an extended discussion of their research, I headed to “Movies and Money,” which posited that money is one of the fundamental components of filmmaking around the world — and also one of the most conspicuously absent from our scholarship.  All four panelists attempted to reinsert the presence and importance of cold, hard cash: starting out, Janet Wasko and Jacob Dittner discussed last year’s attempt to set up sites where users could place bets on whether or not a particular film would succeed at the box office – it very nearly happened, until the MPPA lobbied hard to squelch the idea in the senate.

Paul McDonald, whose work on the production of stars is foundational to my own work, then presented on “stars, gross participation, and the economics of talent in contemporary Hollywood,” pointing out the changes stars’ ability to negotiate salaries that include massive percentages of a film’s “back end.” (Side note: During the question and answer period, I managed to ask about “Tom Cruise’s back end.”) Eileen Meehan then offered a highly entertaining exploration of the ownership and rights surrounding the original Star Trek, culminating by exhorting Sumner Redstone to “beam her up” along with the profits gleaned from the Star Trek franchise.  Daniel Bittereyst finished the panel by discussing the possibility of applying political economy to the study of censorship, asking the audience to consider the role of studio interests when tracing what gets censored, where, and for what reasons.

Despite my inadvertent invocation of Cruise’s rear end and some aural disruption from the next panel over – conference walls can be far too thin, leading Paul McDonald to compete with a particularly loud clip by shouting the final section of his paper – I found the panel tremendously engaging.

Before heading to Grrrrl’s Night Out with one hundred other women from the conference, I stopped by the inaugural meeting of the Media Industries Interest Group, housed in a small room overflowing with interested scholars.  The group was “approved”  just days ago, and McDonald, as the organizing chair, went through the standard by-lines, regulations, a desired website, etc.  While the group is still in nascent form, I was struck by the breadth of scholars in attendance, particularly the number of graduate students whose work spans the conception of the “industry.”  I’m hopeful for the future not only of the interest group, but, with the recent publication of Alisa Perren and Jennifer Holt’s Media Industries and Amanda Lotz and Timothy Havens’ Understanding Media Industries, for the “sub-discipline,” for lack of a better word, as a whole.



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