Fan fiction is …

Fan fiction is what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker. They don’t do it for money. That’s not what it’s about. The writers write it and put it up online just for the satisfaction. They’re fans, but they’re not silent, couchbound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.

- Lev Grossman in Time Magazine Online

This is the best, non-judgmental description of fan fiction I’ve ever heard of in main stream media. Man I love Lev Grossman.

Another week, another topic…

Another week and I have once again found myself floundering without a committed topic. Essentially, my issue is that I have far too many interests and things that I would potentially love to write about. Initially, I considered something in the field of adaptation, which I am super interested in outside of my University studies, but my issue with that lay in trying to find a topic that I could write about in only 3000 words.

Then late last week, as I drove home, a Lana Del Rey song came on the radio and I started thinking about the media backlash against her when the media discovered her real name was Elizabeth Grant, and that she had previously released music under her real name which was totally unsuccessful. It was only after rebranding herself as Lana Del Rey and creating this Lolita-esque persona that she attained success. As a fan, I followed the controversy as it was played out and found it incredibly interesting that she was being critiqued for her branding in an industry that has previously seen people with strong brands that are removed from their ‘authentic’ identities like Madonna and Prince, and more recently Lady GaGa. This topic interests me greatly, however I am a bit hesitant about it as I don’t know very much about branding and public relations and I am struggling to find a way to narrow this into a research topic.

And finally, there’s the topic that is dearest to my heart, and that is the appropriation of religious symbolism in the media. My interest in this topic stems from my love of television drama Supernatural,  which heavily borrows from the Book of Revelation and Milton’s Paradise Lost as a basis for their storytelling. I read a fascinating article on the portrayal of religion on the show that was written after it’s first 3 seasons aired, that came to the conclusion that the show reinforced Catholic hegemony. However the show is now into it’s 9th season and I can’t help but disagree with that reading. Interviews with the creator, Eric Kripke, reveal that he holds a Humanistic worldview and believes that the show does too. Additionally, the representation of Angels in the show has changed dramatically. They are not the sweet Cherubs, guiding our way. They are heavily aligned with the demons in the show, and their behaviour constantly calls into question the idea of the ‘good’ angel.

I read through the Journal of Media and Religion in the hopes of narrowing down a potential research topic and found several interesting articles that may help, although they may have also just have made things harder for me. One article discussed the framing of religion by journalists, and the nature of the process by which journalists present religion to their audiences. Whilst Supernatural isn’t journalism, it made me think, why can’t these same questions be applied to TV writers and producers? Additionally, another article on Religion in advertising brought up issues about the secularisation of religion in the media. I pulled this quote out of the article which struck me as relevant: “Innocent advertisements appear to have given way to more daring approaches employing God, the devil, angels, exorcism, live births in nativity plays and darker overtones hinting at violence and pedophilia. Both media and cultural trends appear to underlie this shift in tone.”

However I feel like I am thinking far too big with this topic. There is no way I could successfully study a show that has run for 9 seasons in a 3000 word essay without glossing over a great deal of stuff. I thought about focusing just on the presentation and corruption of Angels in the show but I still feel like I’m trying to bite off more than I can chew. However I then thought what if I forget about Supernatural for the time being and just look at the appropriation of religious symbolism for secular purposes in the media in general. I came across the Philedelphia Cream Cheese series of advertisements that all show some form of heaven and Angelic being serving a woman some cream cheese product. Perhaps I could make a study of just that series of ads? Trying to narrow down and focus a research proposal is hard.

Either way, I’m still just as confused as I was before, however I need to continue knuckling down to try and sort it out by thursday. I daresay it will probably be a middle-of-the-night epiphany that will decide my topic for me, but until then, I need to keep researching.

 

 

 

Fair and Unbalanced

I was recently informed about an anomaly within the journalistic profession. Having briefly studied journalism myself, I understood the journalistic aims for objectivity and balanced reporting. However recently a phenomenon in the media has occurred which means that by a journalist observing these aims, they may be misleading their readership.

The term ‘false balance’ has arisen from this anomaly and aims to determine how this could be so. False balance is most clearly observed through the debate on climate change. Journalists have been objective, and balanced and reported equally on those who support climate change and those who critique it. Yet, as discussed in documentary A Burning Question, 96% of scientists believe that climate change is indeed occurring and something must be done about it. There are a very small percentage of people who disagree, and many who do not have the specialised knowledge that scientists do, yet in an effort to remain fair and balanced, journalists have equally reported on the critics of the theory, giving more credibility to the theory that is does not exist than is warranted.

This is an issue as in an attempt to report on the facts, the public is becoming confused and the credibility of the arguments presented is being called in to question. Not all points of view are equally as valid. If more than 90% of experts believe, then why should the 10% that do not, received 50% of the airtime? In short, they should not. What they should receive is a proportionate percentage of coverage, appropriate to their validity and support. However, encouraging journalists to break from the traditional norms of objectivity and balance can, theoretically, lead to a slide in journalistic standards.

In order to combat the idea of false balance, a large deal of the responsibility is placed on those who do the reporting. It is up to the journalists to engage with valid and specialist stakeholders in the debates to ensure an appropriate balance is achieved. Through the case of climate change, the effect of this unbalanced reporting has lead to a lack of support for environmental reform. In this example, it must be objectivity that has to be sacrificed and, as mentioned above, the media must be responsible for accuracy of their reports. Otherwise dissent will continue to grown amongst a continually confused audience.

References

Boykoff, M and Boykoff, J 2007, ‘Climate change and journalistic norms: A case-study of US mass-media coverage’, Geoforum, vol. 38, no.6, pp 1190-1204.

EPAIredland 2010, A Burning Question, accessed 19/5/2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUPpWBCAy_o

All Powerful Media?

When analysing debates surrounding the media, it is important to consider the validity of each argument with regards to the audience. Whilst this sounds like an incredibly obvious thing to do, the audience reception of a media text is most often where arguments are their weakest. My point is it is nearly impossible to conclusively argue that by consuming a certain media text, an audience member was made to do, think, feel or believe something. This theory is called the media effects model and it essentially sees the relationship between the media and the audience as a hypodermic needle. That is, the media sends a message through the body of the needle which is injected directly into the minds of the audience.

The major flaw in this model is that is does not allow for the impact of context nor pre-existing discourse within the audience’s environment. It is unlikely that an axe murderer becomes violent simply after watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It is most likely that that individual has come from a violent or disruptive upbringing or perhaps has experience some discourse within his life that has influenced him so. Additionally, the model does not allow for a mass audience. There are thousands of people who play violent video games, such as Grand Theft Auto for instance; however not every individual who has played those games have then continued on to hijack another citizen’s car. If the message was so convincing that it caused one person to act in a certain way, should that not impact on the rest of the audience consuming the text as well?

However I do not relieve the media of all responsibility for their texts. I believe that the media does indeed influence individuals, although not on as severe amount as the media effects model may believe. After spending a day watching American tween programs such as Hannah Montana with my 8-year-old niece, I noticed that prolonged exposure to the American accent induced an American accent in my niece. This was entirely unintentional by Madison although she was a little please once I had pointed out. Additionally, she proceeded to question me about my prom, which I had to explain was an American tradition. This brief case study shows that there media texts can illicit effects within an audience of which the media must be aware of when constructing those texts.

References

Lumby, C & Funnel, N 2011, ‘Between Heat and Light: The Opportunity in Moral Panics’, Crime Media Culture, vol. 7, no. 3, pp 277-291.

Kangaroos and Koalas

The current state of the Australian Film industry is incredibly dismal. It is a commercially nonviable industry that survives on Government funding as it is seen to be of cultural importance. The current policy of protecting the Australian Film and Television industries because of their cultural value to Australian audiences is flawed and reform is needed to create a viable industry in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. One method of achieving success in the industry is to simply alter the current legislation. By removing the ‘Kangaroos and Koalas’ clause from the Significant Australian Content (SAC) test, Australian media content producers may stand a change in creating commercially successful material that can also succeed in an international market.

The introduction of the accelerated write-off provisions of Division 10BA of the Income Tax Assessment Act (Australian Screen Production Incentive) saw an increase in the number of films and television programs being produced due to government funding. Screen Australia controls funding through the incentive. There are three sub-categories of the Australian Screen Content Production Incentive, they are:

  • The Location Offset, a 15% tax offset for shooting a production in Australia.
  • The PDV Offset, productions can claim back 15% of their expenditure on post/digital/visual if a minimum of $5 million is spent on Australian PDV.
  • The Producer Offset, a 40% tax rebate if the production meets the SAC test.

The Producer offset is incredibly attractive to overseas productions and can drastically cut the cost of a feature film. Essentially, its aim is to get international films made in Australia creating a massive boost to the Australian economy. However its greatest flaw is the requirement that the ambiguous SAC test be met.

In its current version and under section 376-70 of the Act, the determining body, Screen Australia, must consider:

  • The subject matter of the film
  • The place where the film was made
  • the nationalities and places of residence of the persons who took part in the making of the film (including producers, directors, authors, scriptwriters, composers, actors, editors, directors of photography, production designers and other film technicians)
  • The details of production expenditure incurred in respect of the film, and
  • Any other matters that Screen Australia considers to be relevant.

Source: http://www.cofc.com.au/articles/sac_guidance.pdf

Screen Australia’s guidelines for meeting the criteria of the SAC test further discusses how it interprets each element of the test and in particular, what they consider when assessing the subject matter of the film, colloquially known as the ‘Kangaroos and Koalas’ requirement.

Screen Australia interprets ‘subject matter of the film’ as requiring it to determine if the ‘look and feel of the film’ is significantly Australian; ie is the film ‘about’ Australia or Australians or does it reflect a cultural background that is particular to Australia?

Source: http://www.cofc.com.au/articles/sac_guidance.pdf

My issue with this act is the ambiguity of the parameters for consideration. Particularly the last point of the act, which effectively leaves the act open to Screen Australia’s determination. Additionally the judgments on who qualifies are conducted in secrecy so the public, and the industry cannot know why one thing that looked to qualify did not, and why something that does not look remotely Australia did.

For example, the 2009 film Knowing qualified for the Producer Offset. Within the film, there are no discernible Australian elements, yet it was filmed by an Australian director and shot in Melbourne and therefore it qualified. When a National Geographic series called Taboo attempted to qualify for the offset, it was denied because of lack of onscreen ‘Australianness’, despite 57% of the production taking place in Australia and 86% of the budget being spent here.

So in order to satisfy Screen Australian, producers are introducing clichéd representations of Australian culture in their media products. Whilst this may qualify them for the producer offset, it is polarising Australian audiences who are weary of culturally stereotyped media texts and avoid them, thus if a text cannot be successful in its country of origin, it is unlikely to be a success overseas. The concept of protecting the Australian film industry for its cultural importance for the larger Australian audience has little validity.

Knowing had a $50 million budget and managed to garner a worldwide box office total of $183,593,586. This was an incredible success for the Australian film industry even if its acquisition of the Producer Offset seemed flawed. The Australian Government needs to re-evaluate their stance on protecting this failing industry on cultural merits. Australia needs to accept the ‘global’ industry concept that survival of an Australian industry, facing rising costs, increasing domestic competition and growing international opportunities is reliant on its ability to produce films that are capable of being sold in overseas markets. I suggest that by removing the clause for Australian subjects in the SAC test, Australia can encourage larger investment by foreign film stakeholders and potentially create a commercially viable industry and access lucrative export markets. The time for cultural maintenance has passed and a period of commercial viability needs to begin.

References

Box Office Mojo 2009, Knowing (2009) – Box Office Mojo, accessed: 7/5/2011, http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?page=main&id=knowing.htm

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2011, Australian Screen Production Incentive, accessed: 6/5/2011, http://www.arts.gov.au/film/production-incentive

Knowing, 2009, film, Summit Entertainment, Escape Artists, Mystery Clock Cinema, Goldcrest Pictures, Kaplan/Perrone Entertainment, Wintergreen Productions

Screen Australia 2009, Significant Australian Content (SAC) Guidance on eligibility for the Producer Offset, Screen Australia, Canberra

Screen Australia, Screen Australia: Producer Offset, accessed: 6/5/2011, http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/producer_offset/

Taboo, 2009, Television program, National Geographic Channel

Lord of the iManor

Source: Remnantculture.com

The feudalism of the internet is a topic that I have encountered many times over the course of my Communication and Media degree. It is a concept that I have not paid much attention, nor given any credence to. However, after recently attending a lecture by Dr Ted Mitew, the concept has become a great deal clearer to me, and its importance understood.

To rewind a bit, it is important to know what exactly media commentators mean when they talk about the ‘feudalism’ of the internet. Feudalism is a hierarchical system in which there is a single chain of command through which the society is controlled. In historical terms, it describes a Lord of a manor, who controls the actions of the peasants. In his lecture, Dr Ted Mitew compared this historical metaphor with that of the Apple corporation. He argued that Apple controlled the iManor, from which consumers (peasants) bought their iPhones and iPads (or their land). These tethered devices are owned by the consumers, however through iTunes and the App Store, Apple controls the use of these devices by only allowing approved Apps to be sold through the store. Additionally, these devices cannot be altered by software. They are very static pieces of technology that cannot be manipulated for undesired purposes (unless of course they are jailbroken).

However why this is so important is not necessarily clear. In January 2012, it was reported that Apple had sold more iPads than any single PC maker sold computers during the previous year. Whilst this signals that congratulations are in order for Apple, it also highlights the appeal and demand of these tethered devices. This raises the debate that these feudal companies (walled garden) pose a threat to the open internet. What happens to the freedom of the internet if the majority of consumers access the internet through devices controlled by a corporation? Again, using Apple devices as an example, iPhones and iPads cannot view Flash Player. If a website contains something created through Flash Player, it cannot be viewed by that person. If the rise in consumption of Apple products continues, web designers will have to abandon Flash Player in place of something more Apple friendly. Thus we see the threat to the freedom of the internet that Feudalism can cause.

One cannot ignore the obvious appeal that Apple products hold, communicated through their massive consumption. Yet it is important to consider the threats that these walled gardens of the internet pose. Whilst Apple has been used as an example here, it is not the only walled garden existing on the internet. Facebook is another example in which users cannot alter the use of the website outside what Facebook permits, and information cannot be accessed from outside websites such as Google. Whilst initial terminology surrounding the feudalism of the internet can seem ambiguous, once broken down it is easier to understand and the greater ramifications of the concept revealed.

References

Mitew, T 2012, BCM310, ‘Feudalisation of the Internet’, lectures notes, accessed April 23rd April 2012, eLearning@UOW

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth… almost

The blog is a creation of the emergence of Web 2.0. Even though its life span is relatively young as a media format, it has experienced substantial changes to the way it is used and what it is used for. Technorati is an online organisation which has been tracking the blogosphere since 2002. In 2006 it recorded its 50 millionth blog. By no means is this an absolute figure and despite being several years out of date, it still indicates the sheer enormity of the online blogosphere.

Part of the appeal of blogging is the idea that a consumer is no longer entirely passive in their consumption of media. They are now a prod/user – a producer/consumer hybrid – and have the ability to create content for the entire online world to enjoy. One particular type of blogging that has emerged is citizen journalism. Essentially, citizen journalism is reportage on current events from someone who is not a professional reporter and often close to the action. Their ‘reporting’ can be in the form of micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter, an uploaded video on YouTube or even in the traditional blog post form on platform such as WordPress. Each platform allows for instantaneous publishing, something that untrained journalists would not achieve in traditional media outlets.

One of the largest criticisms of citizen journalism is the notion of reliability and credibility. Without the regulatory bodies of traditional media outlets such as the broadcast news and newspapers, individuals can essentially blog whatever they wish without much care for traditional journalistic values. Wikipedia is often critiqued for unreliability of its articles, however on its news page, Wikinews, the organisation has attempted to foster citizen journalism whilst establishing a review process to ensure reliability and credibility. Pieces posted on their site are often a collaborative project of different editors and reviewers. Multiple citations of evidence are required to be published and if something looks invalid, reviewers have to option to edit or remove the post entirely. Additionally, for important high-profile news stories, reviewers and writers need to have proved their worth to be able to partake in the creation of the news. For example, a recent post about the Kony 2012 campaign stated that only individuals of a certain rank may edit in. This reduces things such as trolling (individuals attempting to vandalise a page) and misinformed reporting. Whilst this type of regulation is not possible for all aspects of citizen journalism, it highlights a way to help reduce bad reporting.

Source: Wikinews (Click to enlarge)

But an important question is who actually accessed blogs for news reporting? Technorati’s 2011 report on the state of the blogosphere interviewed thousands of bloggers – who would be prime candidates for accessing citizen journalism– on how they accessed information online. What they found was that most bloggers still used traditional media organisations for their news updates.

Source: Technorati

As for reliability and credibility, the respondents also indicated that they didn’t trust blogs for accuracy as much as traditional media such as newspapers and television.

Source: Technorati

Whilst being an important debate, the argument surrounding credibility of citizen journalism needs to be contextualised. Professional journalists understand the importance and the significance citizen journalism can add to their own reporting, but also understand that they can be unreliable sources. Additionally, the online blogosphere recognise that amateur online journalism can be inadequately researched and understand that when they access it. Research shows that most bloggers still access traditional media’s online sources for news, and if anyone were to access citizen journalism blogging they would be the prime candidates. Finally, whilst Wikinews proves to be a successful example of regulation of citizen journalism, it is impossible to regulate all the blogs in the blogosphere, and individuals need to be aware of this when choosing to reject traditional news formats in favour of new platforms.

Social Paranoia

It is no surprise that in the rise of social networking – and the seemingly constant stream of micro-blogging individuals seem to undertake these days – paranoia has sprung up around the platforms that allow us to catalogue our lives so completely. Suffering from a chronic illness myself, I can easily understand the appeal of social networking sites (SNSs) such as Facebook and Twitter in connecting with friends and family when one physically cannot. Additionally it allows for individuals to remain present in their social circles, something that is critical to adolescent development.

The SNS context is generally pretty upbeat. Happy and encouraging posts are celebrated; sad and negative posts are maligned. However updating a Twitter or Facebook feed takes a few seconds and very little effort, something which can appeal to an incapacitated individual, who may wish to share that that day; they managed to go for a walk or perhaps managed to get out of bed. Yet this poses a problem for individuals on disability benefits.

If employers scan SNSs for employee behaviour what is to say that insurance companies do not do the same thing, attempting to catch out disability frauds. British MP Nadine Dorries posted a blog discussing people who tweet excessively in which she states:

‘…if it’s someone you know is on benefits, [and tweets excessively] contact the DWP.’

Is this the right attitude to have towards disabled people celebrating milestones that other individuals may not have any context to judge within? In 2009 a Canadian IBM employee was on leave from employment as she was suffering from depression. Her insurance company chose to discontinue her monthly sick-leave benefits as her recent photos of her at the beach and at her birthday party clearly showed she was no longer suffering. The employee argued that she only attended the functions at the insistence of her doctor and that, in actual fact, her depression had not relieved any.

When disabled individuals use SNSs, they are faced with a dilemma; comply with SNS norms and face persecution from society and insurance companies, or reject the norms and face being maligned by their social network. It is no wonder many, such as Steven Sumpter (aka Latent Existence on Twitter) choose to remove themselves from the social networking sites altogether just to cover themselves. This was not what social networking was designed for.

References
Incurable Hippie, 2011,Just Because You’re Paranoid Doesn’t Mean They’re Not Out To Get You, weblog, accessed 4/4/2012, http://wheresthebenefit.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/just-because-youre-paranoid-doesnt-mean.html

Albanesius, C 2009, ‘Woman Loses Disability Over Facebook Pics’, PC Mag, 24 November, accessed 4/4/2012, http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2356282,00.asp
Dorries, N 2010, Twitter Obsession, weblog, accessed 4/4/2012, http://blog.dorries.org/id-1672-2010_9_Twitter_Obsession.aspx

Professional Skill #12: Essay Writing?

When I first read Richard Miller’s article The Coming Apocalypse there was a point he made which seemed to trouble me: ‘literature is a refuge for those who cannot contend with the present’. It wasn’t after many hours of internal debate that I suddenly awoke in the middle of the night and understood what Miller meant by this. Communication and media students are expected to constantly be on top of the current media trends and debates which sometimes can change from one day to the next. This requires constant research on an individual’s personal time. Learning to navigate the latest social networking platform can take hours to become fluent, yet is essential to gaining employment.

In his article, Miller has identified that currently Universities have their students in media degrees tied up writing long essays that essentially will never be read by anyone other than the teacher marking them. Throughout my degree I have written plenty of essays that gave me plenty of knowledge, but not necessarily any practical skills. This is a fact that inspires a great deal of anxiety. My experience with employers in the media and communication field have asked for tasks such as maintaining a social networking presence such as a Facebook or Twitter account. They have indicated they need blogs written, and research conducted of social networks and opponents social networks. Not once have they every required an essay written, a skill which my degree has provided me with exceptionally well.

Miller proposes that Universities should be creating multimedia essays. Very rarely so students ever solely access print resources for their knowledge requirements. Why not translate this change into assessments aswell, and give students the knowledge to remain functional in a rapidly changing mediascape? I finally understand what Miller was talking about and I agree that Universities are stuck in literature as they don’t know how to contend with the current technological world. Higher education needs to learn to adapt to this new world, and generate graduates who can effectively function in the professional world.

 

References

Miller, R 2010, ‘The Coming Apocalypse’, Pedagogy Winter, vol.10, no.1, pp: 143-151

Fancy a cuddle?

Locative media has always been a topic I have felt uneasy about. Whilst I can certainly understand the appeal of highlighting that you are away on a fanciful European sabbatical, the most common – and mundane- of these posts seem to pose an incredible security risk. Dean Chan’s research into Japanese gaming, which utilises locative media to identify other players, indicates that many of the users were indeed highly aware of this potential security risk and actively sought to protect their privacy. However, it seems that this proactive approach to online security has not transferred to the greater social networking communities, such as Foursquare, Instagram or Facebook Places, which is the platform I choose to explore further in this blog. My anxiety with Facebook Places began one night as I was looking at my Facebook newsfeed and saw that a friend had checked herself in at ‘My Bed’ and telling her friends that she was ‘lonely’. Apart from being information I was not essentially interested in, I realised that Facebook Places actually provided a map – through Google Maps – which told me exactly what number her house was and what street it was in. At the time I was also in bed by myself and pondered if I would really want all of my associations to know where exactly I was, and how alone I essentially was when I was in a vulnerable state of sleep.

Image courtesy of pleaserobme.com

Not only do my issues lay in allowing people to know so specifically my whereabouts, but it occurred to me that by telling people exactly where I am, I am also telling them exactly where I am not. So like I stated before, it might be satisfying to brag to your friends about your hard earned romp around the world but by doing so you are essentially putting up a big sign on the internet that says, “I am not home. Come and take all my belongings”. This is an issue that has been picked up by online crusaders PleaseRobMe.com. Highlighting to everyday users of social media the perils of this inexplicably addictive form of communication, they aim to help users find out if they too are giving away too much information. Currently their services only reach to Twitter and Foursquare users, one can only hope that they can expand their services to educate Facebook users.

But what is the solution to this excessive and potentially dangerous overshare of information? Some suggest education but then issues of responsibility arise. The platforms themselves do not want to restrict this free-flow of information which makes their social networking sites so popular and profitable too. The government’s involvement could lead to arguments of government censorship. However I cannot help but wonder why the user is not forced to take some responsibility. One of the first things I was told when I first started using the internet was to never give out my home address, last name or phone number. Somehow Facebook Places has managed to wipe out these ideas and convince users that it’s beneficial to broadcast this information to the greater population. Facebook Places may be a fun tool to make your friends jealous but the next time someone tries to check in at my house, they should expect to ejected quite promptly afterwards.

References

Chan, D 2008, ‘Convergence, Connectivity, and the Case of Japanese Mobile Gaming,’ Games and Culture, vol.3, no.1, pp 13-25.

Please Rob Me 2010, accessed 25/3/2012, http://www.pleaserobme.com