CEU Hosts Leading New Media Expert Henry Jenkins
On June 21, CEU's Center for Media and Communication Studies (CMCS), Open Society Archives (OSA), Open Society Foundations (OSF), and the Centre for Media Research and Education, Budapest University of Technology and Economics (MOKK) welcomed Henry Jenkins, provost’s professor of communication, journalism, and cinematic arts at the University of Southern California for a guest lecture titled “How Content Gains Meaning and Value in the Era of Spreadable Media.”
Jenkins opened by referring to the beginning of “transmedia,”or the range of ways in which media travel, and gave key U.S. examples such as Walt Disney and George Lucas, who created media empires with dozens of distributive platforms from cartoons and movies to action figures and theme parks. Despite the dominance of large media conglomerates, today's technologically advanced world things allows media consumers to take a proactive role in production and distribution. “We are not victims of media but users, producers, and circulators of media,” Jenkins said.
Even the model which professional writers use has changed. Jenkins recently interviewed a longtime screenwriter who said he used to pitch stories to studios, then switched to promoting characters and now he offers fictional worlds. A smart move considering that a world provides seemingly limitless opportunities for additional content like side stories, secondary characters, and virtual representations where fans can interact. Jenkins gave the example of the very successful website called Fiction Alley where Harry Potter fans share fan fiction, fan art, and fan films all based on the multi-billion-dollar franchise. Jenkins characterized these types of fan sites as informal and supportive, making them extremely popular. “Not every member must contribute,” Jenkins said. “However, all must believe they are free to contribute when ready and that what they contribute will be appropriately valued.”
Creators of new media are working outside of traditional paradigms to author remixes and mashups that sometimes contain copyrighted material, Jenkins explained. This situation can be a somewhat double-edged sword for big media companies. For example, “Britain's Got Talent” contestant Susan Boyle would have been unknown in the U.S. if it hadn't been for web pirates uploading clips of the TV show onto the Internet. The clips were not authorized by the show's parent company, Fremantle Media, but when Boyle's album was released in the U.S. it outsold albums by Jay Z and Whitney Houston and a reissued Beatles album, raking in millions of dollars for Fremantle (which holds her contract, along with Sony).
Jenkins also discussed the global nature of media content and how the increase in distributive platforms can raise cultural awareness. He noted that a primetime TV series in the U.S. included a Bollywood-themed scene without providing any explanatory narrative because, he emphasized, it is no longer necessary considering the exposure which Americans now have to what was once only an Indian phenomenon. As another example, Jenkins showed an image of an Arab Spring protestor holding up a sign of support for Wisconsin's state employees, who were on the streets around the same time to protest a state bill removing unions' collective bargaining rights.
The lecture was based on Jenkins' forthcoming book with co-authors Sam Ford and Joshua Green, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, and their media mantra: “If it doesn't spread, it's dead.” In other words, if content is locked down, it lacks meaning in contemporary culture. The lecture was followed by a Q&A session moderated by CMCS' Annenberg Fellow in Civic Media, Ellen Hume.
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