Fans as brand and content promoters: why letting people use your stuff is awesome

Posted in fandom, media on August 21st, 2009 by Xiaochang Li – Be the first to comment

This was originally going to be a globalization/delight post, but then I realized that the thing I was going to write about was in fact a great example of a key point from my recent post on Youtube Vloggers as brand ambassadors about how fans are your best intermediaries and translators.

Take, for instance, this amazing post doing side-by-side screencap comparisons of the Japanese drama Hana Yori Dango and the popular US show Gossip Girl:

Title image from Mojo Kingdoms Hana Yori Dango/Gossip Girl post

Title image from Mojo Kingdom's Hana Yori Dango/Gossip Girl post

The entire post consists of dozen of these comparisons (by my rough estimate, totaling some 200+ meticulously captured stills), paired with incisive, witty commentary explaining just how these shows are similar.

What is striking is that the basic plotting, structures, themes, and characterizations in the two shows are not really that similar at all, once you get past the fact that both are about a troupe of obscenely wealthy, good-looking young people doing a lot of improbable things and sometimes attending — but not so much actually learning anything at — their elite private schools. But a fan of both shows is able to pick out the minute (and totally absurd) specifics — like the mean girls’ headband proclivities, shoe-related food drama, the fact that both shows have a psycho girl who likes to roofie people  — to the deeper discourses that resonate between both shows that wouldn’t been picked up by casual viewing. Not only that, this particular fan engaged in an incredibly time-consuming and labor-intensive feat in order to share of of this in an effort to recruit more fans.

There’s a good chance that Gossip Girl producers would never have known about Hana Yori Dango fans, let alone anticipated them as potential fans for their own show. The same goes for the producers of Hana Yori Dango. But a quick glance at the comments show a number fans of one show vowing to start watching the other. In other words, because this particular fan understood both the shows and their audiences and the nature of how they engaged as fans, she was able to scaffold interest across the two groups by appropriating and reframing content from the shows.

The lesson learned here is a fairly simple one: give you fans the tools — access to content to remix and reuse — and they will help grow and spread your property into communities and audiences that you had never anticipated.

Media In Transition 6: Global Media panel recap

Posted in C3 blog, fandom on April 24th, 2009 by Xiaochang Li – 1 Comment

[Originally written for the Convergence Culture Consortium blog]

This weekend, as some of you might know, is the 6th Media in Transition conference here at MIT. The theme this year is “Stone and Papyrus, Storage and Transmission” and centers on question around the preservation, circulation, and migration of media between places, formats, platforms, and text and the cultural implications these changes carry:

What are the implications of these trends for historians who seek to understand the place of media in our own culture? What challenges confront librarians and archivists who must supervise the migration of print culture to digital formats and who must also find ways to preserve and catalogue the vast and increasing range of words and images generated by new technologies? How are shifts in distribution and circulation affecting the stories we tell, the art we produce, the social structures and policies we construct? What are the implications of this tension between storage and transmission for education, for individual and national identities, for notions of what is public and what is private?

I will myself be speaking on transnational audiences and fan-driven circulation of East Asian television dramas on Saturday.

Though the bulk of activities begins today, the conference has its official launch last night, with a communications forum on Global Media featuring C3 consulting researchers Jonathan Gray and Aswin Punathambekar alongside University of Georgia professor Carolina Acosta-Alzuru and award-winning African filmmaker Abderrahamane Sissako, moderated by our own Henry Jenkins.

A few of the key points and provocations brought up during the panel:

Looking carefully at the flows of media circulation in addition to production and consumption, provides us with a new and important means to understanding media on a global scale.
Brought up by Aswin towards the beginning of the panel but echoed in different ways by all of the speakers, the importance of circulation as a site of media power was one of the central problematics discussed. The question of how media gets from one place to another, through what channels, at whose behest (or against whose wishes) reappeared in different forms throughout the talk. Aswin discussed the varied, criss-crossing flows of Bollywood content. Carolina’s discussed different national forms of the telenovela throughout Latin America and which ones travels with the help of or despite national governments. Jonathan described the almost entirely pirate-led circulation of VCD and DVD films in Malawi and how media circulation into spaces neglected by corporations due to their unprofitability forces us to rethink the temporality, as well as the spatiality of global media. And Abderrahamane linked the power of distribution, of being able to show and export your media, to representation. He suggested that the unevenness in the transmission of media perpetuated the cultural domination upon Africa because as a place that often receives media from the outside but does not produce and distribute its own images, Africa is constructed as a place that has no culture to share.

Not just a question of legal versus illegal circulation
Another key issue was that role of piracy in global media, since illegal distribution channels are often the only means through which much of this media can move. Aswin was first quick to point out that illegal/extralegal versus legal was a false binary, that in actuality the systems are far more complex and overlapping. Jonathan added that, in a case such as Malawi, piracy takes multiple forms, the first being that piracy is the only way to bring outside media in because there is so little profit to be made in Malawi that media corporations never address the area. The second is that piracy stops production of local media because it makes it incredibly difficult for Malawian musicians to make money. In the case of telenovelas, piracy can also be an act of resistance, when national governments crack down on the export of media through official channels. And in Africa, the routes of media circulation are so complex and it is often difficult to trace where any given film comes from. Ultimately, the false binary between legal and illegal circulation makes us overlook the fact that cultures of distribution are simultaneously cultures of production

Down with “industry lore”
Finally, coming out of a discussion of which genres of media circulate, the panelists warned against the trap of “industry lore.” As Jonathan points out in the case of Malawi, that even as general patterns emerge as to what genres and forms are popular, there are constantly exceptions to every rule. Thus we must be careful not to make too broad of generalizations about what audiences want to see and why based on assumptions and speculations.

Globalization/Delight: surprise Korean boyband cameo in Mexican telenovela

Posted in fandom, globalization/delight on March 7th, 2009 by Xiaochang Li – Be the first to comment

I’ve realized recently that I really do need a special category dedicated to the intersection of globalization and awesome. For the complex routes of global media flow occassionally spawn some of the many unexpected and strange (and I have add, because I’m a killjoy, not unproblematic) combinations. This past week, in particular, has been full of such surprises.

First was the discovery of the hugely popular Brazilian telenovela set in India, Caminho das Índias (Paths to India), which apparently features a “Portuguese pop song about sadhus” on it soundtrack. Then came the report about use of “Rising Sun” — a song performed by Korean super boyband Dong Bang Shin Ki (DBSK) — on the upcoming installment of the Fast and Furious franchise (though admittedly, the surprise here has less to do with the “global” element than the combination of car-chase action movie and, well, boyband).

But by far the most awesome and most surprising cross-cultural media pastiche was found in episode 97 of the Mexican telenovela, Mañanas es para siempre. In one scene, a character shows another their class photo from art school in Florence, Italy. The photo is a clearly photoshopped composite of random individuals, including one terribly familiar face:

surprise!: Junsu

For those who don’t follow Korean Pop music, that’s not just any other random Asian dude, that’s actually “Xiah” Junsu, of Korean Boyband and Asian supergroup, DBSK (And, not to mention, the star of two of my absolute favorite mobile phone ad campaigns — Samsung Anyband and Samsung Haptic Scandal). Whether the product of a fortuitious google image search or a stealth fangirl on the production crew, this is one of the most unexpected global media cross-overs I’ve ever encountered.

View the clip of the scene here.

Globalization and delight

Posted in fandom on February 13th, 2009 by Xiaochang Li – Be the first to comment

Sometimes the cultural ripples of globalization don’t have to be complicated to enjoy:

Sometimes, it can just be about trying to eat a surprisingly large hamburger with a few of your closest stylishly groomed pop star friends on national television while Bruce Springsteen plays in the background and you take turns wearing the leather jacket to match with your food.

[And okay, sometimes it's also about instances of audience-driven, unauthorized circulation of content across national boundaries and markets via fan communities online and transformative audience participation in the form of "amateur" subtitling. But that is one big hamburger.]