Is this the final death knell for soaps? Or has the genre just gone international?

Flames of Desire -- Korean makjang Drama

With the recent cancellation of All My Children and One Live to Live, after Guiding Light and As the World Turns, many are calling the death of the American soap.

I think more than the end of these specific dramas, especially those that have watched the same drama with the generations before, people are saddened that the community aspects that soaps brought to the lives of many (especially women) will be gone. Many learned about the canon/fanon divide not from Star Wars / Star Trek, but from learning the histories of characters from older sisters, grandmothers, or family friends. Or were able to share the commonality of experiences, such as Megan’s week-long death scene on OLTL, with others. Sam Ford (friend of TLF) and others wrote about the commonality of fandom experiences of soap fans in the book, The Survival of Soap Operas (University of Mississippi 2010) .

He also has an article in Fast Company where he gets to the heart of how once soaps are gone — they are gone for good:

As opposed to the world of comic books, or pro wrestling, or sports franchises–where different media formats come and go, but the core narrative and the characters and the backstory lives on–soap operas are nothing without their network TV slot. With the network TV time goes the whole narrative. Decades of creative development. Thousands of characters. Lost and locked away from further storytelling.

Most of those that I know that at one point watched soaps have indeed given up on them. But not because of the reasons listed in many of the “death of soaps” articles — the lack of time, the inability to dedicate oneself to a long-running storyline, or Facebook games. Many of the one-time fans would

have continued, but the storylines became less relateable and less based in already established canon and character development — some of the super-ridiculous plots (even for a soap) included on All My Children having Erica’s thought-to-be-aborted fetus coming back as an adult and on One Live to Live having a rape victim and the rapist become co-grandparents. Or as one former soap fan said “I just couldn’t handle any more sexual assault storylines as plot devices. ”

But internationally, dramas that look very similar to American soaps are doing very well. Telenovas are very popular (though I admit I’m not very familiar with them).  Korean dramas have the potential to take over much of the same role than American soaps serve, but with time-shifting!

While there are many different subtypes of Korean dramas, there are definitely over-the-top romance dramas. And doesn’t this sound like a soap?

These dramas typically involve conflicts such as single and marital relationships, money bargaining, relationships between in-laws (usually between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law), and often complicated love triangles while the female hero usually falls in love with the main character who may treat her badly since the beginning, instead of the one who always cares for her.

Unlike American soaps, Korean dramas range usually from a dozen to 200 episodes — and while there can be extensions, the overall plot is planned out beforehand. Melodramas, similar to American soaps, are a popular genre, called makjang.

According to Dramabeans, makjang is

a stylistic, tonal, or narrative element in dramas that chooses to play up outrageous storylines to keep viewers hooked despite how ridiculous the stories become (adultery, revenge, rape, birth secrets, fatal illnesses, and flirting with incest possibilities are some makjang favorites). Shows can be part of a makjang class of dramas (Wife’s Temptation is a makjang series), or they can have makjang tendencies (Mary Stayed Out All Night went makjang toward the end). Generally considered a negative thing (“Gah, how makjang can you get?”), unless a drama intentionally embraces the style (such as Baker King Kim Tak-gu or Flames of Desire).

In an upcoming post, I’ll write more about an overview of Korean dramas — and how there is likely a Korean drama for everyone, ranging from Flames of Desire for the melodrama/makjang fan (overview of first episode with spoilers) to Sign for the CSI fan to Coffee Prince for the romance-through-secret-cross-dressing fan!

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“Us” Versus “Them” – Community-driven media, Corporate media and the space between

Like most people over the age of 25 on the Internet, I remember quite vividly the pre-social media internet landscape: the days of Tripod.com , BBS and web rings.

Technically, a lot of this community-powered online interaction is “social media” as well, but for many of us back then it was simply called “goofing off on the Internet.” Connecting with others and sharing  stuff, whether they were rants, reviews,  poems horrible fan-fiction,  whatever,  part of being in an online community.

Now, I make my living doing stuff on the internet, so I look at the online world through  that lens  and as someone who has and still does create online content “for the lulz.”

But as social media because less community-driven and more profit (or outcome) driven, and companies move into spaces that used to be strictly about individual and community-generated creative work, I think about if there is a way to retain the bottom-up culture of those spaces. Can community-driven and corporate online culture can co-exist or will the latter completely drive out or exploit the former?

I was looking at a music video on the VEVO YouTube the other day (for those not aware, VEVO is an online music video website with a highly branded presence on YouTube) I came across a number of anti-VEVO comments that led me to the following Facebook Page:

One of the first comments on the page was the following:

Youtube used to be a place for people to upload and share their videos, but ever since VEVO started taking over, it’s all about Hollywood music videos. Anyone remember “Charlie Bit Me”? He deserves #1 Most Viewed on Youtube, not “Justin Bieber – Baby ft. Ludacris”. So Youtube, please get VEVO off of your website and return it to the website it used to be.

Now, to play devil’s advocate, YouTube hasn’t been that website in quite some time, if ever. It wasn’t a user video, but SNL/Lonely Island’s “Lazy Sunday” that put YouTube on the map. (And of course there’s the irony of using Facebook as the platform to protest this.)  But I understand the sentiment behind it. Some people just want a space online where they can find and share stuff with their friends and peers, stuff  they can’t find anywhere else, even  if its baby videos, or a goofy Tumblr blog or mediocre local grindcore. For some, like the ad-free blog movement, there’s a strong belief that corporations have no place in this space whatsoever, though the current state of blogging seems to indicate that most don’t feel this way.

So I still find myself conflicted at times. I am still of the belief that community-driven content is what has made online culture  and social media as currently ubiquitous as it is. It’s supposed to be different from mainstream mass media, it serves a different purpose. At the same time, I certainly don’t begrudge  those wanting to participate in this space and reach an audiences in a new way. I also understand the motivation to create an infrastructure for creative professional to a living from the work they distribute online. That’s space in-between: creative professionals and small companies and  organizations that  use  social media and the web to build an audience: I don’t begrudge them either.

So what can be done? I think the line between “us” and “them” is always blurred, most social media consumers are social media creators – some just do it for pay or exposure, but are we seeing an erosion of many of the elements that make online culture what it has been for years in favor of  traditional mass  media with a different face?

RIP Flip Video Camera

Flip Video Camera fans, time to say farewell. TechCrunch reported earlier today that  Cisco is shutting down operations of Flip Video and laying off 550 employees.
Though sad news for those losing their jobs, it is hardly unexpected, as TechCrunch pointed out:

In a world where consumers can now record and stream video directly from their iPhone, Android or BlackBerry phone, Flip’s video camera business is no longer novel or useful.

Indeed, I’ve owned a Flip camera since 2009, and I will admit that I’ve only used it about 10 times, ditching it in favor of my digital camera’s video function (when I wanted quality) or my Android (when I wanted immediacy) While the video and built-in audio quality for Flip cameras was never so great to offer any kind of competition to higher end-camcorders, the Flip is a convenient tool for bloggers, “citizen journalists” and small businesses looking to do quick and dirty video on the fly. If nothing else, the Flip camera will have a legacy of  being one of the first tools that really enabled video-based user-generated content.

I suspect we will still see the Flip camera in use for a bit longer; it was the go-to cheap video device for a lot of non-profit social media folks for a long time, and for organizations/individuals that don’t have a large video budget but still want to create video content it’s a great tool. RIP Flip;  thanks for bringing video to the social media masses.

Guide for the Perplexed: QR Codes

From Clever Cupcakes, Montreal (@clever_cupcakes)

Ever seen those square bar code-looking thingies on the bus or train or in a magazine and wonder what they were? They’re called QR Codes and they are being used increasingly in interactive marketing in the U.S.

These little barcodes can store text or URL info and are used to  point  your phone to information  like websites,  videos, contact information, etc. Some visual artists have incorporated QR codes into their work,  such as this 2009 public art exhibition in Amsterdam , and some entreprenuers have adopted novel uses for the technology like the above QR Code cupcakes for Twestival Montreal, a Twitter – based charity event.

Having originated in Japan, QR Codes have been used for marketing and entertainment in Japan and Korea for years now and are nearly ubiquitous, but for the most part hasn’t caught on here in the U.S. with the same enthusiasm. I have two theories as to why:

1.) Consumers haven’t been sufficiently educated about what QR Codes actually are and how to use them by the companies/organizations using them.

I noticed an ad on the train earlier today promoting a non-profit. There was a QR Code at the bottom. The text: “Take a picture of this QR Code to learn more about us!”

Two people on the train were looking at the ad. One person asks the other, “What’s a QR Code?” The other says “Oh, it’s a Google app.”

There were two levels of fail going on here. First off, the ad itself failed to explain what a what a QR code is and only vaguely explained how to use it. Secondly, I believe the individual on the trainl who did recognize what a QR Code was had conflated QR Codes in general with one particular use of the technology,  specifically Google Places.

In general the  marketing/tech world has a bit of work to do to educate the public on this technology. It’s not difficult, but some level of explanation would help to encourage its use, which them brings me to the other issue hindering the use of QR Codes:

2.) Most of the time QR Codes point to really boring content that no one cares about

Most of the time, scanning a QR code doesn’t really offer much for the user. Marketers use QR codes as a vaguely interesting way to point people to existing content that users wouldn’t care about even if they were sitting at their computers at home: boring websites, boring ads, boring contact information. There’s still a “so what” factor with QR codes, where the content hasn’t caught up with the technology. What would motivate someone to scan a QR code when they can check out your organization’s website at home or work? Offering exclusive information or special deals could be the solution.

I was definitely on the QR Code bandwagon for a while, encouraging it for my workplace and for volunteer projects. I still think it’s a great technology with a lot of potential uses but waiting for it to catch on surely isn’t working. The company or organization that manages to educate users while offering something new and different will eventually win this race. It could be Google, based on the exchange I saw on the train, but time will tell.

Today in WTF: Grammys combine Hard Rock/Metal Awards

Among music fans/geeks, the news circulated quickly (mostly on Twitter)`that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences –  the folks that run the Grammys – plan to eliminate 30 of its categories , mostly to avoid redundancies among categories. Fair enough, right? Best Hawaiian Zydeco Instrumental Duo will probably only have one  nominee every year, correct?

But as a metal fan, I’m both amused/slightly annoyed at the news that the best Hard Rock and Metal performance categories would be combined.With this new change, bands like Velvet Revolver, Buckcherry and Nickelback will be considered as the same genre of bands like Slayer, Iron Maiden, Mastodon and Dragonforce. According to the Grammy’s, attempting to distinguish bands between the two genres was “splitting hairs.” To that I say, sure it’s splitting hairs if you only listen to metal from the 1980’s.

The hard rock/metal category was always rife with controversy from the very first  award in 1989, when the Grammy’s infamously snubbed Metallica in favor of Jethro Tull. Actually, it’s fair to say the Grammy’s never understood anything about metal considering they only just awarded Iron Maiden this year. But I have long hoped that the existence of a metal category meant at some point when the old industry vets finally retire, the award could actually mean something for the genre, in a small way,  that the best metal releases of the year would MAYBE be nominated, and MAYBE win and MAYBE turn on new fans in the process. Silly thought, I know, but a girl can dream.

Instead, I anticipate a lot of  Kings of  Leon and Daughtry to take up space in that category in the coming years. In the meantime, there’s definitely room for metal publications/blogs like Decibel or MetalSucks or even *sigh* Revolver to play the role of tastemaker while reflecting the scene more accurately.