Sociologist William Sims Bainbridge gave his perspective on World of Warcraft yesterday on On Point. I would love to do research like this, but do not trust myself with these sorts of games. I'm not sure I would ever emerge to get anything done.
 
Here is another attempt at this entry, which crashed near the end this morning. Sigh, technology. I’m pretty sure this was better the first time. Not a fan of weebly blogger right now.

A documentary debuted at the SXSW music festival called The People vs George Lucas, about Lucas’ complicated relationship with his fans. This is often portrayed as fundamentally being about rabid fans who feel betrayed by how BAD the newer films were. However, it’s not necessarily that simple. One also has to take into account the sense of ownership these fans feel over this franchise. The creators of the film solicited fan creations for inclusion in this documentary and received over 700 submissions.

I just had my pop culture class read Henry Jenkins' (from MIT), “Quentin’s Tarantino’s Star Wars” from Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (2008) which better shows how complex these tensions are, and how they characterize the evolving relationship between active fandoms, media companies, and new media. Jenkins’ focus on this chapter is on the activity of Star Wars fans, whose love for this specific cultural creation leads them to create their own homages and parodies to engage with their beloved world. Thanks to accessible technology and the internet, fans are then able to collaborate and share their creations with one another. This leads to massive and powerful fan communities that weren’t so visible when the first Star Wars movies came out. It is changing the way audiences and their participation are understood in a world where much of popular culture is owned and distributed by huge media companies.

As Jenkins says, “popular culture is what happens as mass culture gets pulled back into folk culture” (136). He sees the homogeneity and control of mass culture (in which cultural products are mass produced by huge companies and consumers have little ability to give feedback beyond buying or not buying) as being complicated by new media, in which consumers are taking advantage of the possibilities to play with content (reminiscent of folk culture, in which people created their own culture). Yet those who actually legally own these creations often have to figure out how to relate to fans. They can be prohibitionist, says Jenkins, and shut down fan creativity so that they can tightly control their brand, or they can be collaborationist- engage fans’ enthusiasm, often within boundaries. This latter approach is less traditional for companies, but arguably much smarter for companies dealing with this new breed of fan.

The lines between amateur and professional content are also rather blurry, as excellent amateur efforts have the potential to enter the mainstream. After all, George Lucas himself was once a student filmmaker. We might not get the next George Lucas if young fans find the possibilities of playing with culture shut down to them.

I hope that the film will be out on DVD if I teach this article again- I think my students often don’t get how big fandoms can be, or how they can influence the mainstream if they’re not part of them themselves. Which BC students often aren't, or at least they don't want to admit to it, since there's definitely a perception of them as "freaks, geeks and dorks" even though the geeks may be taking over.

An interview with the creator of The People vs George Lucas at Salon here.

Also speaking of fan geeks reaching critical mass, PAXeast, a gamers’ convention, was in Boston this past weekend, which explains people dressed up as various characters around town.
 
So finding time to blog is harder than I thought. I don't know why I thought it would be easy. Here is a quick round-up.
This video is going around this week, and I like how it ties in with some of the themes I teach around consumer culture, namely the notion of "manufactured need" and how production (and post-production and post-consumption) processes are obscured by the brand image. The video ends on a bit of a pollyanna-ish note though. Even if people are seeing through their need for bottled water, there are plenty of consumer products (and new ones all the time) that still end up as false needs for many of us, and brand image is still very powerful, and capitalism still requires expansion and new products and new markets.

Earlier this week, I gave a little talk/had a conversation with about 10 freshmen from the Honors House here at BC. They're required to go to various events/talks throughout the year, and I was asked to provide a little perspective on the sociology of popular culture. The organizer and I decided to focus on gay and lesbian (and GLBTQ) representations in the media after I shared that I usually use the wonderful documentary The Celluloid Closet in my course. It was a fun little hour. I was also joined by a senior representative from the new Queer Peers program at BC, which is intended to provide support to the queer community at BC. We watched some clips from Modern Family, Will & Grace, Current TV, and a clip about the Adam Lambert controversy. There are just so many interesting things to talk about in this area, since there seems to be progress in these representations, in terms of the number of them, and their seeming acceptance on mainstream TV- yet this often masks many of the ways this community still struggles for mainstream social inclusion. Hopefully, I was able to share something with these students that was new to them.

I didn't get to use this clip, but I really liked the portrayal of Justin's coming out and his first kiss on Ugly Betty the other week. Not only is he a rare portrayal of a non-white gay male, but his story has been handled with a real delicacy. And his first kiss ended up being a really sweet moment, all the more notable for the way it was really SHOWN. The camera didn't pull away, it was treated as important as any teenage first kiss might be treated on a TV show.
OK, off to the ANT class I am auditing, which I also want to write about soon.
 
I am really and truly intending to blog somewhat sociologically now that I have this site. But I have been finding it so difficult to get started! Not that I don't have topics I want to explore, but because it is somewhat intimidating to put myself and my ideas out there in this context. And whenever I start to write informally, I always think it sounds much dumber than it did in my head.

I really admire people who can blog or otherwise informally write on the internet in a very complete, thoughtful, smart and quick way. It really is a talent. But for me, complete thoughts often come very slowly, which is why I like academia. The emphasis is on coming to well-thought out analysis through careful thought and consideration of the data. I like the relative safety. But sometimes this can be paralyzing. I often feel like I am slower than many in this process, so blogging seems like even more of risky practice. How do I balance writing fairly quickly and currently with the risk of being wrong or doing some faulty reasoning, especially when this is all attached to what I am trying to establish as my "professional sociologist" identity?

I do want this blog to more than a list of links- a twitter feed can accomplish that already. And I figure more practice writing is good for me. They say academics (or at least grad students) should write everyday.

So, I am aiming for at least once a week substantive posts. Setting goals is good.

I will be presenting some initial findings from my dissertation research at the Annual Meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society next Friday. So my weekend goal is to put that talk together. This one should be fun- I am talking about Michael Jackson!
 
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