Cultural Convergence, Media Mashups, and Fanculture Folkart

In his Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (2008), Henry Jenkins brings together a plethora of examples in which lines are being blurred. The lines are being blurred between consumer and seller, seller and producer, producer and owner, owner and user, etc. Per usual, I’ll give you the spoilers up front.

Spoilers actually figure into Jenkins’s narrative of the evolving mediascape. We’ve all seen “spoiler alert” after a favorite show has aired, but Jenkins describes for us an example of knowledge communities that form around mutual interests–in one case, knowledge communities that form around the goal of figuring out who gets voted off the island next in the CBS reality show Survivor. The importance of this concept for our purposes: How do we guide (if that’s what it takes) students to group off into affinity groups (if you will) that will bird-dog information about a historical topic until they can spoil it for the rest of their classmates. Because the quest for such knowledge can be simultaneously adversarial (competitive) and collaborative, consciously using this concept in class also leverages some of the concepts James Gee noted as being integral to good gaming (and learning).

The collection of information is closely related to the idea of transmedia storytelling, in which one must gather bits of the story from multiple sources–namely, different types of media. For our purposes, this might involve having student (groups) gather information from visual media, songs, traditional paper documents, and other “texts” in order to synthesize a fuller version of the story that is presented in, say, the textbook, or that is presented by the lecturer.

Another important factor being introduced here is one of ownership. Narrative and counternarrative are commonly used in social studies education, in particular, to describe the interaction among the official narrative of history and the multiple subjectivities and realities that students bring into the classroom from the stories they hear at home, see on TV, view in movies, glean from video games, or read in the materials they get their hands on outside of the official school experience. If fans can write fan fiction (a form of folk art, to my mind) that continues and expands and enriches the original storyline of Star Trek beyond anything Gene Roddenberry ever envisioned. These are not free-for-alls, as there are some “constraints” or “rules of the game” that fans/writers are expected to adhere to. In some cases, the fan story is so compelling that the publisher will even allow the fan/writer to kill off a major character. Star Wars and The Matrix are the examples provided by Jenkins, but the phenomenon is ubiquitous, and the underlying premise can be used in education to validate students’ counternarratives while giving the students opportunities to verify their home knowledge against other sources, and perhaps even to get deeper information from their sources of home knowledge.

Harry Potter fans rejoice! Kids and adults alike love, love, love Harry Potter–except for the (mostly) adults who believe that it is of THE DEH-VILL. Nonetheless, even young readers have taken it upon themselves not only to devour reams of Harry Potter novels but also to add onto the story with their own offshoots. Why? Affinity. Accomplishment. Even dissatisfaction with the way Warner Bros. adapted the books for the big screen.

Speaking of Warner Bros., the media giant (now known as TimeWarner) has done in the entertainment industry what Andrew Carnegie did with the steel industry: TimeWarner not only produces multiple forms of media but also has acquired the technological means for delivering those media. The distinction between “media” and “technology” is an important one. Music is a medium. LPs, MP3s, 8-tracks, live performances, etc., are merely technological means for delivering music. It is not media that die, but perhaps the technologies used to share them; and, like Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, it may be that there is a substantial period during which an old technology and its successor technology coexist. Regardless of the technology used to play the music, the song remains the same.

For our purposes, the concept of cultural convergence is one that can open up history to new questions. The key here is that the convergence does not occur in a “black box” or in a particular medium, but in people’s heads. Encouraging the collisions of old and new media’s messages in students’ heads encourages the formation of questions of personal interest. Allowing students to form groups on the basis of shared personal interests allows students to bird-dog information, form counternarratives, and gain an affinity for at least certain segments of the national story.

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One Response to Cultural Convergence, Media Mashups, and Fanculture Folkart

  1. Pingback: Designing History's Future | Engagement: Part IV. Building a History

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