While reading this week’s book, Spreadable Media, I encountered the interesting topic of Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry explosion. Claiming to be the world’s second-largest film producer (over two thousand annually), its straight-to-video films are distributed all over the continent only a few weeks after being shot. The cultural syncretism found in their film combines themes found in American soap operas, gangster and suspense films with “indigenous folk traditions” of Nigerian culture. Its success is such that other African countries fear that “it is undermining their own local and media practices”.
I recently read an article called Nollywood and Homosexuality. In one of the films being discussed, “Men in Love”, viewers are exposed to men holding hands and being romantic in public places, something that is negatively seen in Nigerian culture (homosexuality is equated to pedophilia). In other films, homosexual characters are portrayed as deranged, and generally pose a threat to the heteronormative life that society is accustomed to. The subject of love is not a matter between homosexuals, only for hetero couples.
In a country that will penalize a person for having intimal relations with a person of their same sex, how do these images affect the population? Are these unprecedented portrayals of the LGBT a result of American influence, regardless of how that portrayal may be? How will this influence future generations, policy, and neighboring countries that voraciously consume these films?
I’ve produced more than 200 videos for the City of Portland. YouTube analytics shows that the ones I had highest hopes for weren’t always the highest viewed. Creating my “Citizen Kane” doesn’t matter if the video doesn’t find an audience. I was thought view count was the only way to measure success online but it turns out it was relevance all along.
Views usually happen within a day. After that views crawl to a halt like opening weekend for a film. If the video is time sensitive or about a passed event, it loses relevance and not a good use of my time. On page 196 of Spreadable Media, we’re introduced to “The Uncertainty Principle”. Incorporating critical elements like availability, mobility, frequency, variety, and relevance can boost spreadability.
I learned this lesson the hard way. Now I focused on evergreen stories, about people not buildings. I added local music, dramatically increasing spreadability. I make videos shorter and so they look good on an iPhone. Our total view count is over 200K now, good compared to relatively sized cities. Its still important to hit your target audience despite the view count. If its still only 300, is it the right 300?
So, Kate Beaton has a marvelous online comic called “Hark! A Vagrant”. Beaton’s comics largely manipulate and parody historical events and figures (note the colorful depiction of Queen Elizabeth below, which will also link you to Beaton’s site), literature, etc. The content on her site is free, and yet she keeps producing content, consistently quality content. Her works are funded by book sales (a combination of new works and reprints from her website), calendars, other merchandise (t-shirts, mugs, bags, etc) bearing her prints, and donations from fans.
This brings to mind animator Nina Paley’s argument that the more shared something is, the large the demand becomes. Beaton’s works became widely shared which made her, in turn, a profitable entity. This demand prompted the publication of two books (“Hark! A Vagrant” and “Never Learn Anything From History”), as well as allowed her to expand as an artist. Recently, according to her website, she had been commissioned to illustrate a children’s book and likely has more work on the back burner. I think this is one of many excellent cases in support of the potential profitability of free distribution and content sharing.
Before reading chapter 7 of ‘Spreadable Media,’ I hadn’t put much thought into the practice of media piracy in developing nations. I attended college in Beijing in the mid-90s, when pirated media could be purchased on any street corner. I believed the only effect of that was to make money for the vendor.
I had no concept that what it was doing was fostering a demand for American media, a demand that has now focused Hollywood’s attention on the Middle Kingdom.
China’s economy has grown into an economic powerhouse. Those consumers who bought a pirated DVD in the late 90s are now purchasing movie tickets to Transformers 4.
To encourage this, Hollywood production companies are now including China-centric content into films. For example, Transformers 4 is full of set pieces set in China, has some famous Chinese actors and even Chinese product placement. The result of this was Transformers 4 obliterating box office records in China.
Before that, Iron Man 3 was co-produced by a Chinese entertainment company DMG, and elements and scenes were added to the film to appeal to Chinese audiences.
Critics argued that the scenes added to the Chinese version were pointless to the plot, and that the appearance of ‘pandering’ to Chinese audiences was insulting. Others believed that the film’s artistic integrity was compromised by changes to satisfy government censors.
Despite the criticism, It’s easy to see that piracy in a transnational world can ironically lead to greater profit for those very companies that sought to squash it.
Chapter 7 of Spreadable Media focused on the ways “spreadability may enhance diversity.” (Jenkins et al., 261) The authors provide examples throughout the chapter to explain how different cultures perceive transnational media, like the Makmende/Chuck Norris comparison (262), or anime fans seeking out goods for their “Japaneseness” (275).
While I do agree that “spreadability” has promoted cultural diversity and awareness, I can’t dismiss this opportunity to bring up a “heated [discussion] about the impact of globalization and mass media” (285) that hits close to home—Asian girls are trying to look “white.”
“Whiter skin is being aggressively marketed across Asia,” reads a New York Times article from 2006. Today, this is still true. On a recent trip to the Phillippines I couldn’t help but notice advertisements for skin bleaching products—on TV, billboards, flyers on the street. I even heard comments about “how much prettier I’d be with fair skin.” Huh?! Where did this obsession with “being white” begin?
An even more extreme level is blepharoplasty, an eyelid surgery some Asian women undergo to achieve a “double eyelid.”
While some cosmetic surgeons argue that the surgery “accentuates what [Asian women] already have,” Dr. Kim Byung-gun, head of the biggest plastic surgery clinic in Seoul, says, “The Chinese and Korean patients tell me they want to have faces like Americans.”
What could this say about mass media’s influence on culture?
From Chapter 7 of our book Spreadable Media by Jenkins, Ford, and Green, we learned about what they term “transnational spread of both mass and niche media content” (p. 259). One key aspect of this chapter was the way cultures all across the globe share, borrow, steal, adapt, and build upon one another’s media. For example, I love the television series “The Office.”
What I did not realize or take time to think about previously is that The Office was first produced in the United Kingdom in 2001. It was not until 2005 that the U.S. adopted and adapted the show for a U.S. audience. Germany, France, Chile, Israel, Sweden and others have made their own adaptations of The Office and aired it on their national television stations.
While the country that the show is aired in and the culture surrounding its nuances differ, some themes remain the same. For example, look at this clip from the Chilean “office” show. The boss is a crazy, egotistical man; gender issues are blatantly shown.
Although The Office may sometimes seem very lighthearted, it is a platform to discuss important issues, such as gender equality, ethnicity, sexual orientation – while also having some comedic relief from the stresses of office life as many of us know it.
For Donna, specifically, I’m including this snippet of The Office, where Dwight talks about his love of the online virtual world Second Life:
Producerly text allows for new text to be created from it (p.201). Material that fills in every blank limits audience interpretation, thus hurting its spreadability. To John Fiske, a producerly text leaves enough of an opening for people to add their own take or experience to the text. “Content spreads when it acts as fodder for conversations that audiences are already having (p.199).”
Corporations hurt the value of their content when they close it off from circulation. They can try to block access, but a creative audience will find a way to put their spin on a text anyway. The organization will be seen in a better light when it allows viewers to use its material freely. John Oliver just did this when his team created of dogs dressed in court robes representing supreme court justices. He invited his audience to use the footage to reenact supreme court cases and post them online.
Content is more likely to spread when it’s available on demand. The Netflix model of releasing a whole season at once is a savvy move in our right now culture. Audiences want to be able to show the latest Jimmy Fallon clip to their friend by handing them their iPhone. How do you decide what to post?
As I was reading Spreadable Media, I could not help but laugh as I read about marketing techniques and shared fantasy. I began to reminisce.
In 2003, I was 12 years old and the boys’ locker room was smelling funky as it naturally should. I would see other boys putting on deodorant after P.E. class and then going about their business. I, embarrassingly, was still using my father’s deodorant in the morning’s before school. I thought it was time for this boy to become a man and have his own smell. Axe deodorant came to mind.
The commercials were always the same: man puts on body spray and instantly becomes irresistible to women, another desire I had at that age. I went to the store by my house before school, bought a can, sprayed it on after P.E. and found the first girl in my line of sight and said “smell me.” She took a whiff followed by a befuddled look. I shared the same look, but for a different reason. I did not understand why she wasn’t immediately all over me. The verdict, Axe doesn’t work.
This story is not about how Axe should stop claiming it has a bewildering effect on females. It is about how their marketing team used my need and my fantasies for their profit. They stereotyped men, what they should want as men and us, the prepubescent boys in the locker room, fork over our money. Well played Axe, well played.
I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed today when I noticed something a little strange. A friend had declared that they knew exactly who did and didn’t vote amongst all their friends on Facebook. And they’d used a simple new app to find out.
The app, called “Did They Vote?”, is an excellent example of civic media. What better way to spur millennials to engage civically than to incite their worst fear… being judged and publicly shamed over Facebook!
Did They Vote? uses public voting records to access voter participation information to match up individuals on your friend list that haven’t yet submitted their ballots. It then prompts you with a “message” feature, where you can send a helpful reminder to your tardy/absent minded companions urging them to exercise their democratic right.
The website has all the hallmarks of a truly spreadable medium. There’s a page dedicated just to spreading, ingeniously titled “Promote This”, where you can find links to embed a video explaining the app, as well as images of the app’s brand logo to download and spread via email, social media, or elsewhere online.
There’s also a leaderboard displaying the most prolific app users and spreaders, a device undoubtedly added to motivate users to message as many friends as possible.
I’m curious about how this app will impact voter turnout. Millennials are notorious for opting out of elections, but I think that this crafty blend of social media verve and activism will help change those statistics.