Wednesday, 25 June 2014

YouTube celebrities and their viewers.

This is an abstract I wrote for a recent CFP. It's something I've wanted to write about for a while so I'll write it up soon, even though I'm pretty sure I haven't been selected!

The wonderful collaborative community of YouTube is losing its shine after recent revelations have surfaced about several male Vloggers and their relationships with young female viewers. This has sparked much discussion with both high and low profile YouTubers sharing their thoughts of unease in the nature of their community. Vlogging has become a lucrative career for many young people, who have now amassed thousands or even millions of viewers. The ‘meet ups’ of days past have now been replaced with thousands strong conventions where barriers literally divide the (often screaming, young and female) viewers from the creators. The balance of power has clearly shifted in the YouTube world and this could be causing serious damage to the community bringing what Lawrence Lessig calls the “commercial” economy into their “sharing” economy.

What used to be a relationship between ‘creator and viewer’ has now become ‘celebrity and fan’. As YouTubers sign contracts with ‘social talent management’ companies and endorse products, they find themselves suddenly in positions of wealth, power and influence over their vast young audiences, who in turn can now no longer easily relate to their jet-setting lifestyles.

The nature of YouTube has allowed a very open discussion. The phrase “imagine complexly” has been used by both sides of this with viewers asking to been seen as more than a screaming mob and creators asking to be taken down from pedestals. This ‘us’ and ‘them’ relationship could be problematic. I will explore this growing tension drawing on Lessig’s theories as well as referring to Jenkins, Ford and Green’s work in Spreadable Media to understand how damage to the ‘moral economy’ can be repaired.  Examining whether the community has truly lost its ‘grassroots’ position I will also ask what lessons can be learned from recent scandals in keeping the community safe and regaining the balance of power in interactions between creators and their audiences.

ESSAY: The Successful Coming of Age for Child Star Daniel Radcliffe

This essay was written as part of my MLitt Film & Television Studies.

Consider the narrative surrounding the press and audience reception of Daniel Radcliffe’s adult performances in the light of his reputation as a child star.

The narrative surrounding child stars in Hollywood has been incredibly rich, beginning in the 1920s and 30s with young actors such as Shirley Temple and Jackie Coogan. Often accompanied by a fascination with failure, the child star’s story plays out in the press for audiences as the stars grow up in the limelight. This narrative continues to this century with audiences having eagerly anticipated the rise and fall of young actors such as Macaulay Culkin, Drew Barrymore, Dakota Fanning and so on. With press focussing on the ‘curse’ of the child star, clearly acting from a young age can bring about many issues leading to frequent falls from grace for the young stars. However, this can be seen as a ‘myth’ with many young actors transitioning into adult roles without being involved in financial lawsuits, substance abuse, criminal records and family estrangement. A Google search for “child stars” yields a list of “Where are they now?” pieces, feeding this apparent curiosity in the tumultuous aging process from child to adult.

In recent years the young cast of the Harry Potter film franchise have found themselves under a great deal of scrutiny as the series ended and they moved on to pursue adult careers. The film series began in 2001 with Emma Watson aged 11, Daniel Radcliffe aged 12 and Rupert Grint aged 13 ending 10 years later in 2011 in their early twenties having spent their whole adolescences on the big screen. With Harry Potter as such a major, worldwide phenomenon their characters in the series will inevitably follow them wherever they go. Radcliffe and Watson, having both maintained success in acting roles, are surrounded by the same language in the press for every new role they take. References to Harry Potter, Hermione, magic, wizards and growing up always feature in reviews, interviews and promotion for their adult roles.

Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson have experienced a similar level of success and respect in their career choices with Watson making links in the fashion world, modelling and designing collections, whilst attending Brown University in America and continuing to impress in her acting roles. As the title character for the Harry Potter series I will focus my investigation on Radcliffe, whose stage performances and quirky film roles have all garnered respect and attention, whilst still enduring the “Harry Potter grows up” narrative. This narrative is shaped by a plethora of reviews, interviews and opinion pieces across press both in the UK and abroad, and further enforced in the discussion from audiences and fans on fan message boards and social networking sites. By finding a range of pieces from the time of Radcliffe’s first post-Potter film role in The Woman in Black (2012) I will investigate how the narrative surrounding this child star’s transition into adult acting roles is formed by the press and continued in the opinions of fans in their “intertextual” viewing of his work. The sources have all been found online and vary from newspapers to magazines and for audience reception from forums and comments on social media sites. This does not provide a conclusive survey of all comment on Radcliffe and his adult roles but instead aims to highlight evidence of the former-child-star narrative in the discourse surrounding this period of his career.

ESSAY:The Betrayed Fan Feeling Optimistic; Disney’s Buyout of Lucasfilm.

This essay was written as a piece of reception studies for my MLitt Film & Television Studies.

The Betrayed Fan Feeling Optimistic; Disney’s Buyout of Lucasfilm.

The Star Wars film franchise has a strong and committed fan base, who has followed the stories of the Jedi universe since the first film release in 1977. This has not been an easy relationship for George Lucas, its creator, and the vast fan base, who hold Star Wars very close to their hearts. Many grew up with the original trilogy, shaping their lives and holding an extremely important place in work, play and love. These fans feel a true ownership over the text and so the importance of George Lucas’ creative decisions has often come into question.

The fan reaction to the prospect of a prequel trilogy was met with much excitement, however on the release of The Phantom Menace (1999), much hyped for its use of digital special effects, filming and projection, there was a great sense of disappointment. The fan reaction to the subsequent prequel trilogy created a new discourse surrounding Star Wars, vilifying George Lucas for ‘ruining’ their beloved text, with the extreme phrase “George Lucas raped my childhood” becoming a common lament. Fan reaction shaped this discourse into popular opinion. It is now a common opinion to ‘hate’ the prequel trilogy, but to hold the original in high regard. 

At the end of 2012 it was announced that Lucasfilm had been bought by Disney, along with the rights to Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Disney announced a plan to release a sequel trilogy from 2015 and to release subsequent films every few year for the foreseeable future, with spin off origin stories for existing characters and further sequels, at a pace likened to the James Bond franchise.

This news was met with a mixed reception. There is a sense of excitement but a muted one. By looking at opinions from fans, I want to see how reaction to the news differs from the events surrounding the prequel, and if any lessons have been learned. As there is a large worldwide discourse around Star Wars my focus will be on opinion pieces from David Mitchell, a prominent comedian and writer, and Simon Brew of Star Wars is such a mass appreciated text that I felt finding opinion in general public spaces online, as opposed to specific Star Wars fansites, would show a broad and universal result. By looking at pieces written by prominent contributors to the Guardian and on general fan website Den of Geek, I would find a range of ‘official’ opinions as well as those in the comments, agreeing or disagreeing with sentiments shared. This worked as a good place to collect fan reception of the news, in reaction to a piece of writing. Simon Brew’s piece is obviously from the point of view of an online fan space, speaking to already engaged and interested fans or “geeks” visiting the Den of Geek site. David Mitchell’s piece written found on the Guardian online widened the audience to newspaper readership and further to Mitchell’s audience as a comedian and frequent TV panel show personality. These examples do not intend to cast the net over all available opinions, but give interesting case studies of some of the reception to the news.

ESSAY: Monetising Fan Labour

The following essay was written as part of my MLitt Film & Television Studies. I also gave a talk based on this essay at Glasgow School of Art for a symposium alongside Dr David Sweeney.

Should fan labour be paid and if so, how?

Fan creativity plays a central role in every fan community. Before they found their home online, fans would swap handmade fanzines at conventions and perform ‘filk’ songs together. Now these can be expressed in places like Tumblr and YouTube, where they are all the more accessible to those outside of the community. Within online fan culture remix plays a central role in fan creation. Fan fiction, gif sets, vlogs, art and songs all take the characters or subject of an original text and express them in new ways. As Lawrence Lessig says: “If the twentieth century made culture generally accessible, the twenty-first will make it universally accessible” (Lessig, 2008, 42).

In the age of Web 2.0 where collective intelligence plays a vital role in the spread of information, there has become an imbalance between grassroots production and mass media corporations. Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green describe this in Spreadable Media (2013) where they discuss the differing value systems each faction has. On one side we have the large mass media corporations who consider monetary value the driving force and on the other the grass roots collective intelligence who see the worth of creations in non-monetary terms (Jenkins, Ford, Green, 2013, 55). There becomes a problem here as in order for Web 2.0 to be a wonderful collaborative space these two factions need to be able to work together. How do media corporations approach controlling fan creations and how do they attempt to harness their success through monetisation and fan labour? Should they be attempting to make money from fans or is there another way to make this difficult relationship work?

This essay will focus on three key areas of mass media interaction with fan creation. The first being attempts to monetise existing fan content, through staking claims to copyrighted material in fan remixes and issuing ‘cease and desist’ letters. The second is taking steps to encourage fans to create through official avenues, by establishing sites that direct revenue straight back into the corporation pocket. And thirdly the most direct way, of actually employing individual skilled fans to become part of the creation process of the media object be it films, TV shows or games. The question needs to be asked, should fan labour be paid and how?