Learned Fangirl at SXSW Reads a Book: Fans, Friends and Followers (Part 2 of our exciting SXSW adventures)

So to start my series of posts about SXSW, I’m starting with a discussion of one of the books focused on during one of the panel presentations, Scott Kirsner’s latest work, Fans, Friends and Followers. If you are looking for a book on living up to the 1,000 true fans philosophy, this isn’t it.

As he states in the book,

there has never been a noisier, more competitive time to try to make art, entertain people, and tell stories. Everyone is doing it, and so there is an incredible surplus of content in every art form.

Surplus of content? This strongly implies that the limiter to content is the individual, rather than the possibilility of different individualss and groups with different tastes.

While I appreciate what Kirshner is trying to do, by helping artists reach their audience — there is a reason why this blog is called The Learned Fangirl — because we are concerned about how fans are being viewed by each other and outsiders.

So how does Kirshner describe the role of fans?

The very term “audience” may be on its way to obsolescence. Some artists prefer to think of themselves as cultivating a “community,” attracting “supporters,” or organizing and motivating a “street team.” Some like the term “fan base,” while others may choose to use the terms “collaborators” or “co-conspirators.”

Unfortunately, the role of fans — both throughout the book and in the admittedly brief presentation — is to be active participants  that can be removed from the process at any point should the artist choose. He never quite says this directly, but everything is directed at the artist — nothing on what happens when fans feel (or actually have) a claim of ownership over parts of their fandom.

And perhaps its my background, but I found the “reap all of the grain from the field” approach to be shortsighted. The only mention of rights occurs briefly, within a formal business arrangement, or passing references to Creative Commons.

The interviews that are the backbone of the book are interesting, but without a larger, overall helpful structure for artists, this shouldn’t be an end-point.

Recommended: Only for those that want to read inspiring stories. Or are newly thinking about how to become a famous artist.

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‘Cause we’re freak remixers baby!: Lady Gaga and remix culture

On this blog, we write often about the value of fan-created works, about how fans use their creativity, using works created and owned by others. And fans of Lady Gaga has been very busy, remixing and reusing both the video and song, Bad Romance. They vary in quality and skill, but most convey the message of “This is so cool — and I want to be part of it!”

Additionally, complicating matters, legally there is a difference between the use of a work in the entirety (such a cover version) and sampling, and between using the style of a video and the music — but for fans, these distinctions don’t exist. And the parody (making fun of this work) / satire (using one work to make a statement about something else), truly falls apart in the midst of montage/collage/remix culture, where one work can simultaneously have multiple messages.

Two years ago, American University’s Center for Social Media released a study, Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyrighted Material in User-Generated Video, suggesting strongly that remix culture is not only socially acceptable, but should also be legally acceptable because transformative reuse falls within the fair use exception/defense to copyright.

Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance song and video have proven to be the source material for all but one type of the nine types of reappropriation discussed in the study.

The types — in order of their frequency in my wholly non-statistically valid study (i.e. I watched lots of videos!), considering different types can exist in the same video:

  • Pastiche or collage: Several copyrighted materials incorporated together into a new creation, or in other cases, an imitation of sorts of copyrighted work: I subdivide these works into two different categories — the homage and the sample — both used extensively by remixers of Lady Gaga’s work.
  • Positive commentary: Copyrighted material used to communicate a positive message: Such as taking the “We traveled 10,000 miles to say we love you, Lady Gaga” approach.
  • Parody and satire: Copyrighted material used in spoofing of popular mass media, celebrities or politicians: Lots of examples, but have yet to find a good one.
  • Negative or critical commentary: Copyrighted material used to communicate a negative message: Many of the parody/satires included negative views of Lady Gaga, especially her physical appearance.
  • Quoting to trigger discussion: Copyrighted material used to highlight an issue and prompt public awareness, discourse: Such as commenting about Lady Gaga’s support of the GLBTQ community
  • Illustration or example: Copyrighted material used to support a new idea with pictures and sound: Such as quick, small, samples.

For these next two types, I don’t have examples below the jump — considering the always existing threat of takedown notices, I don’t want to be responsible for publicly pointing out kids having fun at concerts!

  • Personal reportage/diaries: Copyrighted material incorporated into the chronicling of a personal experience
  • Incidental use: Copyrighted material captured as part of capturing something else

The one type missing missing from these reuses is:

  • Archiving of vulnerable or revealing materials: Copyrighted material that might have a short life on mainstream media due to controversy. While Lady Gaga is controversial, there isn’t a need to archive this specific time.

Below are examples of some of these varied uses of the original — starting with the original official music video — from the official YouTube Channel.

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2010: the year when fandom becomes serious business

Around  about the end of last year,  all the big shit web 2.0 blogs started to pull together their prediction list for 2010. I was very close to pulling up such a list myself until I concluded that there was absolutely nothing that I wanted to put out there as a sure-fire prediction? Everything in this online world changes way to quickly for anyone to have a real handle on what the next big thing is, and it’s all subjective anyway.

But yesterday, i started thinking about many of the online trends in fandom, and specifically many of the topics we’ve covered here at The Learned Fangirl,  and they all seem to point to a particular trend that may come to a head in coming year.  So, here’s my one prediction for 2010:

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Guest Post: Sam Ford: Worlds Without End?

The soap opera was once defined in part as providing worlds without end, as some have put it: fictional worlds that carry on daily for years, decades even. While characters and actors would come and go, the shows often centered on the same community, and sometimes even the same character. Much as with a sports franchise, there was an idea that the soap opera was a media tradition that grandmother and mother would pass on to daughter and granddaughter, and the multiple generation of characters on the show mirrored the generations of (largely female) viewers who not only commonly watch but likewise discuss and debate what they see.

Certainly, this is what has set the soap opera apart from the telenovela, its counterpart devised south of the border which shares the frequent (often daily) airing but focuses on a finite story rather than a “world without end.” Nowhere else on television will you find a phenomenon like 91-year-old Helen Wagner of As the World Turns fame. Her character, Nancy Hughes, spoke the first line on ATWT when the show debuted in 1956, and she was seen as recently as last week, dishing out advice to her family and friends. Some viewers of ATWT have followed Wagner’s Nancy for more than five decades. Further, Nancy is joined by a whole host of characters that have been played by the same actor for years. Don Hastings and Eileen Fulton are soon set to celebrate 50 years in their respective roles as Bob Hughes and Lisa Miller on the show, and they are joined by actors who joined the show in the late 1960s, the 1970s, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In short, anyone who grew up watching ATWT can likely tune in today and see an actor who “started” during their initial viewership of the show.

But these “worlds without end” aren’t as definite as they used to be. There once were scores of soap operas on the air. Now there are seven. Another World was cancelled in 1999 after decades on the air. Its Procter & Gamble sister show, and the longest-running soap opera in history–Guiding Light–went off the air this year after 72 years. Rumors have circulated in the past year about the impending cancellation of ATWT, One Life to Live, and Days of Our Lives, and ABC recently moved All My Children’s production from New York to Los Angeles in part as a cost-saving measure. All seven U.S. soaps remaining on the air have seen significant ratings declines in the past few decades.

At the moment, the seven U.S. soaps remain on the air, and these shows still have millions of passionate viewers who tune in daily to watch characters they’ve been viewing for decades. The question remains: are soap operas still relevant to U.S. audiences? Where has the industry gone wrong, if some elements of the decline should not just be seen as the inevitable drop in viewership in a media landscape of multitude rather than a limited number of broadcast television channels? Are there strategies that soap operas might engage in to not only stay relevant but perhaps re-invigorate the genre?

These are questions I’ve been tackling with UC-Berkeley’s Abigail De Kosnik, Miami University’s C. Lee Harrington, and a host of scholars, industry representatives, fans, and critics, as part of a book that will be published in 2010 by the University Press of Mississippi called The Survival of the Soap Opera. We believe that the strength of the soap opera, and it’s continued viability, lies with capitalizing on these shows’ rich histories, continuing to experiment with new forms of production and distribution, and finding new ways to deepen the engagement of diverse audiences and define success through that deep engagement.

Given The Learned Fangirl”s deep commitment to fan studies, we’d love to hear from any readers who have a history with soaps. Feel free to drop a comment here or shoot me an email at samford@mit.edu. I’m curious what you think! Do soap operas have a future? If not, what will the legacy of the U.S. soap opera be, if its ratings decline and eventual extinction is deemed inevitable? Is the trend toward deep serialization, ensemble casts, and interpersonal relationships we see in primetime television today directly or indirectly attributable to the soap opera? These are questions we’re looking to tackle in our collection, and we’re excited to hear what you think.

[Editor’s Note: Sam Ford is Director of Customer Insights, Peppercom, and MIT Research Affiliate. We were so pleased to have such a fan of wrestling and soaps moderate our fan-related panel at MIT5! ]

My name is fangirl; we are legion

Recently, the power of the fangirl has been seen as having potential economic power, especially with the huge opening of New Moon. And regardless of one’s own personal feelings about Twilight , these fans have power in through sheer numbers.

I’m not sure why this is a sudden revelation, but it likely has to do with the more familiar “hiding in plain sight” fangirl of the comics, gaming, sports, music, etc. variety, considering that in *all* of those areas, the stereotypical fan is a dude.

“[Male fans] tare tolerated as “normal people” at Comic-Con while hordes of girl fans [of Twilight] are not.”

Jezebel has an interesting post on this “chicks spend money on entertainment!” phenomenon:

New Moon explodes the myth… that fanboys hold all the power,” Pamela McClintock writes for Variety. … Women buy movie tickets, and we’re interested in great stories with women in the lead roles. And! Fangirls should be taken seriously. As Women & Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein writes for The Huffington Post:

… I’m not trying to say that all women’s films will be as successful as New Moon because that’s silly. These kinds of movies come along rarely cause Hollywood hardly makes them. But this weekend’s number indicate that they should make more of them.

But not all women like gender-specific (or directed) fandoms — and sometimes girls and women are looking for non-sexist, non-racist material regardless of whether there is female representation (as a edit to the Bechdel rule).

But there are often different ways in which women and girls approach fandom, in economic and other ways:

  • What does the crazy fangirl plotline on Supernatural mean?
  • Why is there a wave of hardcore bands with female-centered names with no female members (Daughters, Baroness)?
  • Why does so much of Genghis Tron merch seem appropriate to decorate the room of a small child?
  • Was the way the Doctor decided what happened to Donna an assault?
  • Which reboot, Star Trek or Sherlock Holmes, better lives up to its slash potential?
  • Is the new Powergirl powerful or sexist? Or both?
  • What is the reason there has not been a mainstream popular girl-focused manga/anime series in the U.S. since Sailor Moon?
  • Will wizard rock and twi-rock find mainstream success, considering nu-goth?

And these types of questions are more important in connecting with female fans as a big opening weekend for one movie in a popular book series because (secret here!), the next girl/women-focused movie isn’t going to do as well.There are still plenty of ways of energizing female fans — but figurine washing laundry and contests to ComicCon that don’t allow female fans just aren’t going to cut it in this brave new fandom world.

 

I Read a Book: Greg Kot’s Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music

Greg Kot’s Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music is a must-read for those interested in how economics combined with listener actions have led the traditional music industry to its present morass. And therefore, the subtitle should be: How the music industry decided short-term profits were more important than life-long fans.

While I prefer a more linear style, the book is written in chapters focusing mostly on one artist or group per chapter — which makes sense, considering this is a work of music journalism. I appreciate that Kot, a non-lawyer, explains the law and cases correctly (yet with the dismayed “this is really the law?!?” tone needed). And while not using the terminology of one thousand true fans, he explores what having dedicated fans means for bands now — versus under the old regime.

But there are some seriously odd moments while reading as a fan. I’m not really sure why when describing the backstory of Metallica, Dave is mentioned, but there is literally no mention of Kirk! (Or Cliff. Or Jason.) But I’m digressing…

I expect a certain degree of errors in any work, but please, dude, know your halos! Any NIN fan knows that Broken counts. Especially when writing about T.R.’s dealings with record companies.

What Non-Profits Could Learn From Fan Culture About Social Media

chuckHaving worked in the non-profit sector for several years, and being a fangirl all my life, I can say – seriously! – that fan culture and the non-profit world would have something in common: both often rely resource of highly motivated, passionate individuals using their time (and sometimes money) to spread the word about their cause – for non-profit volunteers, that cause could be human rights, for fans it might be keeping “Chuck” on the air.

I’m not going to place a value judgment on this, though I know a common criticism of fan culture is that “the world would be a better place if [fans] would spend that kind of time/energy working on less frivolous projects: volunteering in the community, politics, etc. (Probably not 100% fair or accurate, and Henry Jenkins has already formulated a very eloquent response to that critique in Textual Poachers)

What I do know is that when it comes to using social media, fans are savvy about using social media to organize and motivate groups to action, and fan culture may be a useful lens for non-profit professionals using social media to view their own campaigns.

No really, hear me out.

Build proactive allies/supporters through social media, not just “volunteers”

Fans are pretty self-motivated when they are excited about something, they’ll spread the word about a band/TV show/movie/ book series they’re into without even needing to be prompted or instructed to do so. Take the The Leaky Cauldron, the Harry Potter-focused fan website that has grown to become a sophisticated fan news outlet and online community, with active forums, blogs, a weekly podcast and fan- organized conferences. All of this was done with the indirect blessing of Potter author J.K. Rowling.

Or consider the “Save Chuck” campaign. When NBC’s nerd-spy show Chuck was on the bubble for cancellation, fans started a grassroots campaign via social media to inform Chuck‘s parent network (NBC) and major sponsor (Subway) about the show’s fan support.  Using Twitter, icons and badges, fans were mobilized to spread the word about Chuck online, and also used their fan power to raise money for The American Heart Association, a partner charity of Subway. The We Heart Chuck Campaign raised $10,000 for the AHA in one week, and Chuck was also saved in the process.

It’s about community, and it’s personal; consider giving people the tools to spread the word in their own way.

I think nothing gets a potential supporter jazzed quicker than feeling like they can DO SOMETHING NOW, even if it’s something small like posting a badge to their blog, or retweeting a message.

Some organizations seem to focus their social media efforts on acquisition: bringing traffic from Facebook to a website. But what about taking a “street team” approach to social media? That means giving supporters/volunteers the resources and space to spread the word themselves in the ways that they feel most comfortable and effective and to create their own communities of supporters with friends and family.

I’m not saying non-profits should give volunteers carte blanche to create their own online communities without any professional input. My point here is that fans  took it upon themselves to create and build a community of support from the ground up, supplying  fellow fans with the appropriate tools  help to take their message viral.

So how can non-profits inject some of that spirit into their own social media efforts?