Posted by: jessica | October 10, 2011

How Can We Use This Knowledge of Media Convergence and Fan Culture in Our Workplaces?

In Chapters 4 and 5, having established an understanding of media convergence, crossover branding, and transmedia storytelling, Jenkins explores the effects that these concepts have on fan culture.  “Fans are the most active segment of the media audience, one that refuses to simply accept what they are given, but rather insists on the right to become full participants.  None of this is new.  What has shifted is the visibility of fan culture.”  The visibility of fan culture is the core of these two chapters.  Because of the Internet, this heightened enthusiasm for a product, story, movie, etc. is more available for everyone to see, critique, and either praise or condemn.  For Jenkins the “everyone” can be referred to as any one of the many groups affiliated with a certain cause or belief, social communities, the producers of the original product, the fans themselves, the news media, or courts of law.   A common thread that weaves throughout both chapters and I might argue the entire book, is that this is all uncharted territory for which there are few if any precedents.  The industry and the consumer seem to be fumbling their way through this in baby steps, making mistakes along the way as they make various attempts to adapt to this ever-changing environment. 

In Chapter 4, Jenkins uses Star Wars as an example of where the fan base is inspired by the creative genius, George Lucas, to create their own movies based on the narrative of Star Wars.  With the Internet and the new digital media options available, fans were able to contribute their creative works to the Internet in new ways, prompting the producers of Star Wars to establish new ways in which they could protect the integrity of their product and adhere to copyright laws while not alienating their consumer’s interest.   One way in which they did this was by developing a website, where under certain guidelines, fans could post their homemade videos for monthly contests and prizes.  While there were some constraints on creative freedom, it offered a place in which both the fans and the industry could interact while protecting each of their own rights.  It wasn’t perfect but was no doubt a somewhat successful way of satisfying the interests of both parties. 

Chapter 5 uses Harry Potter to expand this idea in new ways.  There were multiple examples given where the industry and the fans where forced to think outside of the box and develop new ways to handle the growing participation of the fan-base and the rights of the producer.   For example, when Warner Bros. bought the film rights, they began to assert their power over the fan-base, shutting down websites they deemed as copy-right infringement and sending cease and desist letters to young internet writers.  This outraged the fan-base and Warner Bros. was forced to re-think their approach in dealing with copyright infringement.  They issued apologies and ultimately calmed the situation by realizing their mistake and re-evaluating their approach. 

These two examples point to Jenkins’ final conclusion that this is a situation for which there are no precedents.  He suggests that the best legal solution may be to “rewrite fair-use protections to legitimate grassroots, not-for-profit circulation of critical essays and stories that comment on the content of mass media.”  He goes on to say that in the meantime it may be more effective for studios to begin shifting the ways that they think about fan communities, coming up with a more collaborative approach versus a power struggle between the two sides. 

To conclude, while the movie and entertainment industry may not be our particular areas of interests, it is important to note these examples as ways in which media is changing the conversation between producer and consumer.  I believe it is important for us to apply that concept to our own work environments where we may be on the side of persuading an audience to buy into our concept or product.  As students in this program we must ask ourselves how our own industries are affected by media convergence.  How can we anticipate situations for which there are no precedents?  What can we do to be more progressive thinkers in our industry, coming up with solutions to problems that don’t already exist?  The least we can do is to anticipate where our industry is headed and the situations that might arise, better preparing ourselves to be ahead of the momentum that is obviously building and setting ourselves apart from our competition in new and innovative ways.

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