I read a book: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Until recently, Clay Shirky was best known as the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. The book  was widely praised (seriously, Boing Boing calls it a “masterpiece”) and is still referenced  by social media strategist/expert/guru types as a must-read for anyone looking to explore the social dynamics that drive the use of technology, which at the time (and even now, to a certain extent) is not what drives most conversation about the internet and social media in particular.

Rather than focusing the catalyst of online social behavior on specific technologies  (i.e. what makes Facebook so popular?) Shirky argued that social tools facilitates common group behavior, conversation and social interaction. At the time, the beginning of Facebook’s online dominance and in the midst of growing fascination and panic about social media from the mainstream press. Shirky presented a reasoned, articulate and well-researched argument that the idea of “crowdsourcing” was not a new idea, but actually rooted in common, even traditional social interaction. The Internet just made that interaction happen more widely and more rapidly.

If you talk to any social media/internet  “expert” or “enthusiast” these days, this perspective is seen as common knowledge, but without Shirky’s well-presented theory and research to bolster this theory it wouldn’t have taken root.

In 2010, you’d think that this argument wouldn’t need repeating or clarification, but as traditional media continues to evolve and digital use continues to grow and become more ubiquitous, the panic of social theorists and mainstream media commentators continues unabated. The continuing debate of whether the Internet makes you smarter or more stupid seems to have a new chapter each day, but in Cognitive Surplus, Shirky’s latest book, he does add fuel to that fire, but also offers a modified version of his Here Comes Everybody thesis: The Internet has given us the tools to create, publish and share media  faster, cheaper and with more people than ever before

Shirky’s revised thesis is the reason that I think Cognitive Surplus is a must-read (there’s that term again) for media professionals in every field.

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Our MIT6 Conference Presentation: The Intellectual Property of Remix Culture

After a truly great time presenting about fan culture two years ago at MIT5: Creativity, Ownership, and Collaboration in the Digital Age, we presented at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media in Transition Conference — this year entitled MIT6: Stone and papyrus, storage and transition (MiT 6). While our conference summary is forthcoming, here is our presentation (originally entitled: The Intellectual Property of User-generated Content), though the full paper will be on the conference website:

Generators of remix culture create communities and content, making the intellectual property of others more valuable, but receive no compensation for their work that increases the value of another’s property, and receive little to no rights in what they have created or added. Our presentation focuses on a particular sub-set of user-generated content: derivative/ transformative works of creativity – such as music videos (or vidding), fan-fiction, fan-zines and websites – though it could be applied to any situation where there is tension between a corporate content owner and its audience about ownership of the “brand” usually due to concerns of degrading market value or anti-piracy.

Pwnage

So what do we mean when we talk about intellectual property? To greatly simplify, we are focusing on copyright and trademark. In the U.S, copyright attaches to works immediately, once a creative, intellectual, scientific, or artistic works is fixed in a tangible form — and exists for life of the creator plus 70 years. The right to create derivative works is given to the creators — but there is fair use that allows others to use copyrighted works. Trademarks are the “branding” imagery plus auxiliary content (Apple brand computers, Apple brand music providing network (iTunes), Apple brand symbol, etc.) — and require registration, can be kept forever, yet need to be protected to be kept. An additional complicating factor are licenses — either for use of specific intellectual property or for use of a platform, such as YouTube.

Henry Jenkins writes in Convergence Culture that

“American intellectual property law has been rewritten to reflect the demands of mass media producers–away from providing economic incentives for individual artists and toward protecting the enormous economic investments made in branded entertainment”

MONEY! MONEY!

Those who are part of participatory culture are often not seeking compensation in traditional ways, yet are not just doing it for the LOLs. Viviana Zelizer discusses the social meaning of money in her same titled book:

“Money [according to some theorists] destroys, necessarily replacing personal bonds with calculative instrumental ties, corrupting cultural meanings with materialistic concerns…. Observers of commercialization in Western countries have thought they saw devastating consequences of money’s irresistible spread: the inexorable homogenation and flattening of social ties.

Money may not be what fans are seeking — instead recognition, credit, etc — but what are likely at the bare minimum to be seeking the ability to continue to participate. And continue to strengthening social ties in multiple ways — to each other, to the work, and to creators/owners.

LESSIG! (done in Khan style)

Laurence Lessig’s recent book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy discusses our present situation, includes a lengthy discussion of the economics of two types of culture — commercial and sharing.

A commercial economy [is centered on] money or “price” [as] a central term of the ordinary, or normal exchange.

Of all the possible terms for exchange within a sharing economy, the single term that isn’t appropriate is money.

But Lessig discusses a combination between the commercial economy and the sharing economy — the hybrid economy:

The hybrid is either a commercial entity that aims to leverage value from a sharing economy, or it is a sharing economy that builds a commercial entity to better support its sharing aims.

If those within the sharing economy begin to think of themselves as tools of a commercial economy, they will be less willing to play. If those within a commercial economy begin to think of it as a sharing economy, that may reduce their focus on economic reward.

Much of Lessig’s discussion about hybrid economies is applicable to fan culture and other examples of participatory culture and user-generated content. Therefore, our presentation is about both the successes and failures of hybrid economies and about how in order to get something of value, some measure of control over property needs to be loosened. Commodifying the value added by user-generated content varies greatly depending on who or what is determining the value. culture.

Tiziana Terranova also discusses the role of moral economy that discusses “free labor” found in fan participation:

“Free labor is the moment where this knowledgeable consumption of culture is translated into productive activities that are pleasurably embraced and at the same time often shamelessly exploited….The fruit of collective cultural labor has been not simply appropriated, but voluntarily channeled and controversially structured within capitalist business practices.

Firefly/Serenity (we have this section blogged here)

Harry Potter (we have a longer version of this section here)

Recently, J.K. Rowling won a case preventing the print publication of the Lexicon, a non-licensed encyclopedia of the Harry Potter universe. While barely mentioned during the trial, this case is not just about one book, but concerns the entire Harry Potter fan community.

The Lexicon was created as a online encyclopedia with a large number of fans helping to make the entries accurate. When Vander Ark signed his book deal, completely ignored were the countless fans that contributed and made the website a success. So the lawsuit was fight between the author and the compiler/host of a fan-created work. Yet the fans who have contributed to the Lexicon get neither money nor recognition of their contribution.

The longest mention of fans during the trial was by the publisher:

Q… if you win this case, out of the money that you receive, you don’t plan to give any of it to fans who submitted their work, their time, to submitting information from Ms. Rowling’s book to Mr. Vander Ark’s website, is that right?

Q. You’re going to give back money to the fans, is that what you’re saying?
A. If the book is successful, there’s a lot of possibilities.

Later, the judge said that the issue of fan payment/contribution was irrelevant:

Whether or not the fans contributed … is a side issue.

J.K. Rowling has always been supportive of the fan community surrounding her works, interceding on behalf of fanworks (she is however against fanworks that use underage characters in illegal physical situations). This case has led to a rift in the Harry Potter fan community, with the Leaky Cauldron (the most popular Harry Potter news-site/message-board) cutting all ties to the Lexicon.

A recent New York Times article, Public Provides Giggles; Bloggers Get the Book Deal, discusses how user input to websites, such as I Can Has Cheezburger? (book sold over 100,000 copies), has led to website owners receiving compensation while those that created value receive nothing:

the latest frenzy is over books that take the lazy, Tom Sawyer approach to authorship. The creators come up with a goofy or witty idea, put it up on a simple platform like Twitter and Tumblr, and wait for contributors to provide all of the content. The authors put their energy into publicizing the sites and compiling the best material.

Nowhere mentioned in the article is whether contributors receive recognition or compensation.

Star Wars

Star Wars is often talked about as a positive example — after all, there is a highly active fan community and a fanfilm contest. However, at present, Lucasfilm only allows for and takes control over certain types of fanworks — and zealously goes after those that do not fit their standards, even if those works arguably could be considered to be fair use.

Both Henry Jenkins in Convergence Culture (2006) and Anne Elizabeth Moore in Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity (2007) quote the same Lucasfilm exec, who said in the New York Times in 2002:

“We’ve been very clear all along where we draw the line. We love our fans. We want them to have fun. But if in fact somebody is using our characters to create a story unto itself, that’s not in the spirit of what we think fandom is about. Fandom is about celebrating the story the way it is.”

Moore describes the control Lucasfilm expects over the fandom as

It is an idealized brand environment that prohibits any potential negative, critical, or neutral comment.
…The Lucasfilm IP strategy, therefore, might read something like this: imitation is the sincerest, and only allowable, form of flatterry. Yet in practice, this narrow definition of fandom, while encouraging freedoms of certain speech, actively discourages others …[and] even punishes them. The strategy begins to look like a legally enforced suspension of critical engagement.”

Lessig says

A careful reading of Lucasfilm’s terms of use show that in exchange for the right to remix Lucasfilm’s creativity, the remixer has to give up all rights to what he produces. In particular, the remixer grants to Lucasfilm the “exclusive right” to the remix — including any commercial rights — for free. To any content the remixer uploads to the site, he grants to Lucasfilm a perpetual non-exclusive right, again including commercial rights and again for free.

The remixer is allowed to work, but the product of his work is not his. Put in terms appropriately (for Hollywood) over the top: The remixer becomes the sharecropper of the digital age.

Lucas is of course free, subject to “fair use,” to do whatever he wants with his creative work. The law of copyright grants him an exclusive right to “derivatives”; a remix is plainly a derivative. And it’s true that no one is forcing anyone to make a remix for free.

Nine Inch Nails (we have a shorter version of this section here)

Conversely, the band Nine Inch Nails and the musician behind it, Trent Reznor, has in recent years spearheaded novel approaches to user generated content that allows a symbiotic/collaborative relationship with fans and their work. It closely represents both the fundamental mindset of Open Source developer communities (distributed ownership) as well as adopting a model very similar to to the curious copyright culture in Japan, anmoku no ryokai, that allows derivative manga to be sold alongside their corporate-owned source. This approach won’t work for every corporate owner/creator, and it’s certainly not the only one, but it’s at least one current example of a hybrid.

NIN’s fanbase have had a traditional unusually interactive relationship with each other and with the band, serving as self-selected ambassadors and archivists for both official releases of the band and NIN fanworks:

NIN Historian: started in 2002, a fan run website that has documented memorabilia from live NIN shows from the bands inception.

NIN Remixes.com: an archive of fan-created remixes of Nine Inch Nails songs, which allows indivuals to upload their own work, and existed before Trent Reznor allowed his post – Interscope work to be distributed under a Creative Commons license. Remix.nin.com , started two years ago and exists alongside ninremixes.com, the fan run site that has existed for over 5 years. Universal Music group halted the launch of the “official” site

Year Zero ARG: As part of the Alternate Reality Game that accompanied YZ, three of the tracks were made available on flash drives ata couple of NIN shows. When the tracks were leaked on the internet, RIAA cracked down on the fans leaked tracks and remixes, even though the ARG campaign was officially condoned by Universal Music Group.

From Billboard:

“An RIAA representative confirms this, a move that boggles the minds of many. “These f*cking idiots are going after a campaign that the label signed off on,” the source says.”

Since the Creative Commons blog has already put together links:

First, there’s the critical acclaim and two Grammy nominations, which testify to the work’s strength as a musical piece. But what has got us really excited is how well the album has done with music fans. Aside from generating over $1.6 million in revenue for NIN in its first week and hitting #1 on Billboard’s Electronic charts, Last.fm has the album ranked as the 4th-most-listened to album of the year, with over 5,222,525 scrobbles.

Even more exciting, however, is that Ghosts I-IV is ranked the best selling MP3 album of 2008 on Amazon’s MP3 store.

The post (mirrored on Laurence Lessig) has an explanation for this:

So why would fans bother buying files that were identical to the ones on the file sharing networks? One explanation is the convenience and ease of use of NIN and Amazon’s MP3 stores. But another is that fans understood that purchasing MP3s would directly support the music and career of a musician they liked. The next time someone tries to convince you that releasing music under CC will cannibalize digital sales, remember that Ghosts I-IV broke that rule…

In The Economic Structure of Intellectual Property Law Posner and Landes state that

“When several artists contribute to creating an integrated expressive work, it is efficient to vest copyright in one person [or company] and who better than the initiator and coordinator of the project?”

Posner and Landes continue

… [I]f a work is offered as a substitute for another work, then it takes away sales from the copied work. If the work is offered as criticism, it may take away sales too, but not by virtue of the copying– by virtue of the criticism, which should be permitted.”

The Ghosts example is certainly an argument against that statement. Recently, NIN went a step further in extending creative control to fans by “discovering” 400GB of high definition concert video footage online and inviting fans to create their own video projects.

There’s a bit of history behind this: after learning that a home video release of the most recent tour NIN was not in the cards (long story behind that, but at least according to Reznor, it was due in part to his former record label roadblocking him), some disappointed fans took it upon themselves to organize an online community to create a fan-produced video of the last show of the tour. From fan website http://thisoneisonus.org:

On 5th May, 2008, Nine Inch Nails released their latest album, The Slip, free online, as a gift to their fans. Or as Trent put it: “This one’s on me”.

On December 13th, 2008, dozens of Nine Inch Nails fans recorded the last show in the Lights In The Sky tour at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas:

By working together, we aim to create a DVD to document this show that will be released free online, and possibly as a not-for-profit physical release. This one, is on us. Our time. Our effort. Our present to all NIN fans.

This was all with the indirect “blessing” of Reznor, who even before the video leak, loosened up the video security at the the show, allowing fans to record their own footage. Now to be sure, artists condoning and supporting fan video isn’t entirely a new concept either: back in ‘04, the Beastie Boys gave video cameras to fans and released an entire feature concert film of fan-shot video. And long before they became Public Enemy number 1 to grassroots fan activity, Metallica released a video, Cliff ‘em All, that featured some fan-made video record during their early years. But providing what is essentially a DVD’s worth of video footage for fans to play with is notable: it’s a gesture that embraces the open source/Creative Commons approach to fan-works and fair use that presumes a kind of perceived collective ownership of property. (A court would argue whether the derivative works of remixes and fan videos belong to Reznor or the fans, but there’s cultural perception within that particular community that the footage is owned collectively the fan community at large.)

Each party receives compensation from this sharing economy: NIN gets to leverage the enthusiasm of fans, who are willing to invest time and money to serve as free marketing ambassadors for the band, while fans recieve a product to consume free-of-charge.

Conclusion

We’re at a point now where more content/owners creators depending on social media/viral and word of mouth marketing to extend their reach and fans using technology and media tools to create increasingly sophisticated derivative works that conflate the role of media producer/consumer/owner/ambassador. Now, we’re seeing those worlds bump into each other. Current copyright law and culture hasn’t yet caught up to these advances in technology and culture. Pat Aufderheide mentioned at her presentation at MIT6 about a 20th century mindset to fair use being carried over into 21st century practice, and I think that’s what we are seeing here.There’s room here for scholars and practitioners to identify these “best (and worst) practices” of this hybrid economy model to replicate and to guide policy decisions, with more companies at least exploring the possibilities of adopting an approach that allows for a safe haven for fans/brand supporters/etc. to create content that would benefits all parties, and also allow users to edcate themselves on their own rights and responsibilities as media producers in this public sphere.

Laurence Lessig says that:

“there is a deep divide between those who believe that obsessive control is the hybrid’s path to profit … It is for the privilege of getting to remix … that these new creators are told they must waive any rights of their own. They should be happy with whatever they get (especially as most of them are probably “pirates” anyway).

A decade from now, [a controlling] Vaderesque [approach to remix culture] will look as silly as the advice lawyers gave the recording industry a decade ago. New entrants, not as obsessed with total control, will generate radically more successful remix markets. The people who spend hundreds of hours creating this new work will flock to places and companies where their integrity as creators is respected. As every revolution in democratizing technologies since the beginning of time has demonstrated, victory goes to those who embrace with respect the new creators….Businesses will have to think carefully about which terms will excite the masses to work for them for free. Competition will help define these terms. But if one more lawyer protected from the market may be permitted a prediction, I suggest sharecropping will not survive long as a successful strategy for the remixer.

MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Conference — Futures of Entertainment 3

While we can’t make it to every great conference held at MIT by the cutting-edge Comparative Media Studies program, they have put on another great Futures of Entertainment 3 conference (discussion of Futures of Entertainment 2). And upcoming this year is Media in Transition 6, which we are planning to attend.

Interestingly, the Conferenceis first is being released on video through MIT’s homegrown TechTV site and then will be released through other means — but you can add it to your ipod. Surprisingly, the podcasts are listed as having the copyright status of “all rights reserved” — yet embedding is not only allowed, but listed as an option, Therefore, it seems as if the conference is being released more like a Creative Commons attribution-sharealike license. An unanswered question — if the conference is copyrighted, who owns the copyright? The speakers? MIT — of the whole or only of the compilation? If you would rather read about the conference, the liveblogging summaries are also available.

Goodbye to you: Is changing canon the best way to keep fans happy?

Some stick with reading comics for their entire lives (the norm in Japan, though the type changes over the lifetime), while others put them away after childhood, or give up due to “women in refrigerators” sexism. I gave up on the X-men comics for good during the Age of Apocalypse storyline (glad I missed what happened to Emma Frost with the “bad use of baby” Stepford Cuckoos, and the Scarlet Witch’s family only in her head). A close friend, a literal lifelong comic book fan, had enough with his favorite superhero Spiderman after Peter Parker’s marriage (lasting twenty-one real world years!) to Mary Jane was erased.

But lest one think that striking over twenty years of canon storyline by Marvel would be it, DC ups the ante by changing parts of the origin story of Batman after almost seventy years. And they don’t end it there — with a gihugeic shocker to the entire Batman franchise (hint: the series is called Batman RIP).

Canon defying time, Batman!

Canon defying time, Batman!

This extreme change to the Batman mythos / canon could be undone, but I doubt it. This step seems made to upset both long-term and casual fans. I’m puzzled by the need to make such a dramatic change in canon, after all, the Batman franchise has survived Congressional hearings, and the franchise is flexible enough to include stories ranging from the campy 60s TV show to Frank Miller’s nihilistic misogynistic vision (and as a manga series in Japan). At present, the Batman transmedia franchise includes many varied elements — comics, movies, toys, video games, and these products are marketed at audiences ranging from toddler to adults.

But as Will Brooker discusses in his conclusion to Batman Unmasked, Batman has served many roles over time — and the icon will live on. Similar to Robin Hood, the story of a avenging hero who rights wrongs — in often illegal ways, the story of Batman will continue to be retold. Brooker hints at, and I come right out and state, that one company cannot fully control the limits of who Batman can be as long as children through play use their imagination to create their own stories (Batman is friends with a manatee and Spiderman? Sure!).

Interestingly, much fan anger was not directed at DC, but at the news media for spoiling the ending — in the U.S., USA Today and in the U.K., The Daily Mail and The Sun, which ran panels from the comic before the release date. Newspapers are interested in what is newsworthy (or if you are cynical, what will bring them revenue), so ignoring the fan community’s “I don’t want to hear it, I want to read it myself” impulse makes sense.

I wonder what will be the long-term consequences of changing elements of the origin stories and canonical back stories of these important comic book heroes in ways that veer beyond an easy restart. Will fans be interested in keeping up with the official story from this point on — or are they likely to seek out fanworks? Or will they just give up on the characters and comic books and seek entertainment elsewhere?

Using Social Networking Tools Effectively: Part Two: The Planet Money Story

As the second in our series about the effective use of social media / social networking tools, this post focuses on Planet Money. At the same time much of traditional media seems to be imploding, the ongoing “Planet Money” news service is an example of old and new media working together successfully while using social media.

This is one of the few podcasts I always make sure to listen to because it explains a very complicated situation in bite-size, but nutritional/educational chunks. Like Nightline, created around the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979 and serving as a source of in-depth investigative journalism until 2005, Planet Money has the opportunity to use our present financial crisis to serve as a new type of journalism — one that successfully incorporates social media.

So what is Planet Money?

“Planet Money” is an NPR multimedia team covering the global economy. It’s also the name of our blog, Twitter feed and podcast. [They allow readers to interact by] … e-mail us directly and/or join[ing] our Facebook group. Interactions with the public follow rules for discussion.]

We think a lot of people feel overwhelmed by the global economy. They know it’s affecting their lives. But they don’t know how to dive in, and they don’t find most stories in most media outlets helpful.

We think this because we feel the same way. But we’re lucky. We work at NPR and can call the leading economic thinkers and ask them to explain things to us. Slowly.

So we’re building what we hope will be a fun, safe, exciting, accessible place for people to explore the global economy and what it’s doing to them. We have two rules for ourselves: 1. Everything has to be interesting (and, preferably, fun or funny or poignant or somehow grabby). 2. Everything should be economically smart, but not economically dull.

Planet Money began based on This American Life’s amazing report on the subprime mortgage collapse, “The Giant Pool of Money,” or read the transcript (PDF). The first Planet Money podcast was really a co-production with This American Life, “Another Frightening Show About the Economy.”

But Planet Money doesn’t leave traditional media forms behind. One of their stories was a co-production with the New York Times about the worldwide implications of the debt taken on by public entities, such as one Wisconsin school system. And this story was not only in print and and on the podcast, but also on NPR’s Morning Edition.

The first few shows were especially exciting because it was clear that everything was being done on the fly. Yet the social networking tools were created within the mission statement above, with the goal of interactivity — so important for all media, but especially for public radio, which depends on the public taking action to keep them on the air.

One of the most interesting aspects of Planet Money is the seamless way old terminology and new terminology work side by side. One of those up-to-date people who understands RSS? You can add a feed. Prefer a daily newsletter (really just an email RSS)? Sure! Not comfortable emailing to Planet Money’s address? You can contact via a web form. It also is likely the only place where Warren G’s Regulate has been used to highlight a news story about government regulation — hilarious, yet highly bizarre.

Both the information architects and the content providers of NPR have created one of the go-to places for information about the economy. And the input of readers and listeners is making the experience more valuable for other listeners and readers. Considering the Planet Money “experience” has been around for only a few months, I look forward to seeing what the future brings.

The social and economic impact of comics: Kami no Shizuku and Marvel’s Colbert presidential campaign

Interested in finding the right wine or electing the right candidate? Look no further than comics! Kami no Shizuku (The Drops of the Gods), a Japanese manga series is influencing wine purchases across Asia, and the U.S. has had Stephen Colbert as a Marvel superhero comic book presidential candidate.

As mentioned in articles in the Japan Times and the International Herald Tribune (then reprinted in the New York Times with new photos), Kami no Shizuku has been one of the factors in increasing wine consumption across Asia, including a twenty percent increase in Japan. Specific wines also increase sales after being mentioned — Colli di Conegliano Rosso Contrada di Concenigo saw an increase of 30 percent in sales.

But there have been unpredictable consequences of the sommelier suggestions, including

there was so little demand for Burgundy that even top hotels did not bother stocking it. But after the comic extolled Burgundy’s virtues, stores and hotels scrambled to secure stocks, which immediately sold out.

The main character, Shizuku Kanzaki, describes a 2001 Bordeaux from Château Mont Perat as

“It’s powerful but it also has a meltingly sweet taste, with an acidic aftertaste that catches you by surprise. It’s like the voice of Queen’s lead vocalist [Freddie Mercury], sweet and husky, enveloped in thick guitar riffs and heavy drums.”

The idea of a well-received wine-based manga is not strange within the general context of manga. While in the U.S., comics are viewed as the domain of children, in Japan (and increasingly with South Korea’s manwha) manga is read across the age spectrum, with specialty publications, based on gender and interest. For example, there are two successful transmedia franchises based on tennis, one for boys, Prince of Tennis, and one for girls, Ace o Nerae!.

Colbert as President?Moving from the impact of fiction on real life, we move to the impact of a fictionalized version of a real person fictionalized further. Stephen Colbert’s quasi-fictional presidential aspirations were considered to be important enough to be discussed by the Wall Street Journal. According to Marvel, this ten-month campaign was a first,

never before has a real-life person been able to keep himself in the narrative for so long without it being a paid product-placement arrangement

The differences between reality and fiction are striking:

Last October the comedian announced on his show, “The Colbert Report,” that he was running for president. The Democrats declined to put the entertainer on their primary ballot, and Mr. Colbert didn’t pay the Republican’s $35,000 fee to get on their ballot.

Mr. Colbert’s candidacy .. was integrated into Marvel’s fictional landscapes with bumper stickers, T-shirts and billboards … in at least 19 of its titles, including “She-Hulk,” “X-Men: Manifest Destiny” and “Secret Invasion.” [He also appeared] as a walking, talking cartoon character in an eight-page insert in “Amazing Spider-Man”.

But the interaction between the reality and fiction leads to an interesting result, with this example of authorized real-person fanfic leading to increased sales for Marvel.

Blurring the line between fiction and reality leading to real-world economic impact has every indication of increasing. It’s interesting to note how much has changed since the guest star as him/herself era to improve rankings in the 70s. I’m looking forward to how this will impact rights of publicity versus creating an accurate/reality-based fictional universe — will licensing increase or will disclaimers? And what happens if instead of increasing sales or viewership, negative statements within the fictional universe have a negative economic impact, such as a negative wine review in Kami no Shizuku?

The Batmobile has two wheels and the Joker stole a schoolbus: tyke Dark Knight books are Two-Faced transmedia storytelling

I cannot stress this enough: The Dark Knight is not a movie for children, as it induces nightmares in experienced adult action fans. While being an awesome action movie, I am shocked that it wasn’t R-rated based on the level of violence, cruelty, and overall negativity.

But if you want your child to have official Dark Knight related merchandise or books there is plenty available including a slew of items for 3 to 8 year olds. Yes, Dark Knight for your preschooler!

The Batman franchise has always been effective at covering the story of Batman from different angles through different media sources, in what is now called transmedia. Pre-Batman Begins Batman transmedia is discussed in Will Brooker’s Batman Unmasked and Roberta Pearson’s & William Urrichio (eds.)’s The Many Lives of the Batman. As Henry Jenkins has written, before the release of Batman Begins, DC comics had origin story comics specifically telling more about the back story of this version of Batman. But officially sanctioned transmedia Dark Knight Batman becomes deeply troubling by completely ignoring age and maturity distinctions.

The most jarring transmedia storytelling for tykes takes place in four stories, all the type of paperback “flippy book” usually featuring Little Critter, the Bernstein Bears, Dora the Explorer, Thomas the Tank Engine, Sesame Street, and other children’s favorites. Two are branded as “I Can Read Level 2,” the same level as A Bargain for Frances, the Amelia Bedelia series, the Arthur (chimp, not aardvark) series, and the Frog and Toad series.

But the Dark Knight‘s Gotham is no Richard Scarry’s Busy Busy Town.

The plots of these books infantalize the plot of the movie in disturbing ways. The plot of Batman Versus the Joker is: The Joker steals a schoolbus, the police can’t find him because there are so many schoolbuses on the street — so let’s send Batman to catch him on his two-wheeler Batcycle, and after a short chase, Batman catches the Joker! In two other books, Rachel (as “the girl” — not as a lawyer), is briefly kidnapped by the Joker at the birthday party she throws for Bruce (Batman!) and Batman quickly saves the day!

The Dark Knight is a dark, dark, dark movie, and these children’s books seem almost made in a different universe, perhaps the world of Batman as personified by the 60s television show. Adult Batman fans, especially those familiar with fanworks or the “What If?” and the “Elseworlds” series, can suspend canon / “what I know to be true” for an enjoyable story (even if it is Batman the Vampire).

However, these Dark Knight books are for children, small children, who just cannot handle the movie! Creating children’s books based on this movie is like Two-Face, seemingly nice on the surface, but with underlying pointless cruelty, once the kiddies who have read the book are subjected to the movie.

In discussing video games directed at children, Sarah Grimes mentions transmedia branding deliberately being used to involve kids in non-appropriate materials:

I too think that children are poorly served by the games industry [with] a lot of badly designed games [] using popular media-brands (Bratz, Spongebob, etc.) as a Trojan Horse to create intertextual value and to get kids’ playing them.

I am not the only one disturbed by these books, with a pre-release of the Dark Knight move-tie-in article in Slate and Nell Minow of Movie Mom saying

These books are essentially ads for movies that are inappropriate for children and the Federal Trade Commission and the MPAA should prohibit this kind of licensing for products intended for those who are too young to see the movie.

The idea of a masked crusader who fights bad guys and makes everything better can be done in a (reasonably) child-friendly way. For example, there is a-non Dark Knight movie Batman book that simply describes the origin story, Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight by Ralph Cosentino (interview here). Bluntly, this is the cutest version of Batman I’ve ever seen, perhaps because he looks like a Lego person. While still too scary for the sensitive child, this book is age-appropriate in a way the Dark Knight movie-tie-ins aren’t. I will be reading the Consentino book to the superhero-loving children in my life when they are old enough.

While some fan-created works, such as Harry Potter fanfiction and fanart, has been criticized for taking a children’s series into a more adult arena, in that situation, fans rather than content owners were creating the not-appropriate-for-small-children material. Oftentimes, owners and creators talk about how only they can be true to the story and characters, stating that official equals best.

But in this Dark Knight transmedia case, the owners of the material are creating materials for children that have no legal differential from other intellectual property (copyrighted or trademarked materials) in the Batman pantheon (there is no cause of action for misuse or spoilage of one’s own trademark!). And until the FTC decides to step in, DC has no economic disincentive or legally compelling reason to stop — there is no larger marketplace of ideas for Batman (ownage) and DC can do whatever they want with him. For example, have Batman and Robin work with Scooby Doo and Shaggy in the 70s.

I strongly believe that basing children’s books directly upon the storytelling in a just-about-R-rated movie is a wrong step in creating seamless transmedia storytelling — children deserve to not be introduced to a world beyond their emotional capability through a back door.

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