Monthly Archives: May 2009

Obamarama!

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President Barack Obama is, simply put, one of the most popular leaders we’ve had in a long time. With his charming attitude and well-spoken nature, it’s hard not like the guy sometimes, even if you don’t necessarily agree with his policies. But where does this all come from? This super-positive, often even idealized, image of President Obama? The media of course!

Henry Jenkins, who we all should know from (hopefully) studying for a recent exam, discussed on his blog how the Obama campaign effectively took advantage of multiple media platforms to create a strong fan following. Remember the concept of “participatory culture?” Well, in today’s mediated culture, it’s become increasingly important to give the fans a sense of power and participation. The same goes with political campaigns. What did Obama do right and McCain do wrong? Well, according to Jenkins…

The Obama campaign broke so much new ground (in the use of user-generated content, social networks, mobile technologies, and game-based advertising, in particular) and set new records (in the use of the web to raise money or track supporters). Digital media were absolutely central to his much praised “get out the vote” efforts and critical to his ability to court younger voters. By contrast, the McCain candidacy failed across all platforms — not exploiting fully the potentials of new media and often, getting hurt by its mismanagement of traditional media (Think about Sarah Palin and Katie Couric). 

Media is changing, and the Obama campaign took advantage of it. As a result, we’ve seen a following for Obama unlike any president in the past (except maybe Kennedy). He’s not just a political figure– he’s become a celebrity in every way, a person that has more to offer than just his platform. Obama plays a pick-up basketball game and The New York Times is all over it, going so far as to even analyze how basketball has affected his life. Obama gives his daughters $1 allowance a week, and People magazine is dishing the details behind it. Even Obama’s love life can be a model for Americans, as MSNBC states. Fact is, through the use of multiple platforms of media, Obama has connected with the fans on a personal level, and that is a big reason why he is so loved.

Another interesting thing noted by Jenkins: Obama is a fan himself— just another reason why we can look at him and think, “Well, he’s just one of us.” (If you ignore the whole President of the United States thing, of course).

Is Obama now America’s most powerful fan boy? Early returns suggest that it may just be the case: there are so many stories now about the Obama family voting on American Idol and reading the Harry Potter books together. The President-Elect is rumored to know how to give a Vulcan salute (to Leonard Nimoy no less), to drop casual references to Star Trek and other science fiction and comics texts into conversation. He’s even alleged to have attended San Diego Comic Con one year. Of course, some of his street cred as a fan was damaged by a story in Newsweek during which he was qouted as comparing Michelle’s belt buckle to “Lithium Crystals.” Any Star Trek fan worth their salt monster knows that should be “Dilithium Crystals.” We can only hope that the reporter misunderstood what he said but if so, he should demand an apology for the slander it poses to his fannish reputation. Let the fun begin!

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Keeping Face

As a population, we care very much about what we look like to other people.  Because of this, we become fans of a particular type of clothing–we choose a style and go with it.  

Erving Goffman, former president of the American Sociological Association, extensively wrote on this subject.  His most famous paper, ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,’ focused on how the majority of people are obsessed with being accepted, and that we would change things about ourselves to be accepted (a counter-example would be hipsters, etc).  He coined the term “expressive idiom,” saying that media tells us how to dress to be normalized, and then we tell the media what we do and do not like.  It’s a never-ending cycle.  He states,

” the social actor has the ability to choose his stage and props, as well as the costume he would put on in front of a specific audience. The actor’s main goal is to keep his coherence, and adjust to the different settings offered him. This is done mainly through interaction with other actors. To a certain extent, this imagery bridges structure and agency, enabling each, while saying that structure and agency can limit each other.”

As actors, we dress in a way that will gain acceptance and approval from the “audience,” which are our peers.  He goes on to explain that because of the different situations we find ourselves in, we dress differently for each situation.  Because of this, we have different sets, props, and most important, costumes.  This is where the different types of fashion sprout–evening wear, day wear, business casual, resort wear, safari–the list goes on and on.  The way we are dressed, in turn, influences how we act.  One of the most famous quotes fashion designer Coco Chanel states, “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”

Michael Kors

The Big “O”

Oprah is everything my mother aspires to be. Or so it seems.

The Books, the magazine, the cookbooks, or really any product Oprah has ever advertised or claimed to have liked- my mom has purchased.

And she’s not alone. After Oprah’s “Favorite Things” television specials, companies such as L’occitane en Provence and Le Mystere have reported limited stock in those items-or have to put Oprah’s favorite items on backorder.

What’s the mystique of Oprah, and why are so many women her fans? Her talkshow is at 4 p.m. est/3 p.m. cst. She donates thousands of dollars a year to charity and is politically involved. But what do you think it is that makes her so special?

Oprah Winfrey

Perez Hilton or The Obsession with the Celebrity

Not one of Perez's Favorites

Not one of Perez's Favorites

Poking Fun at Brooke

Poking Fun at Brooke

If you log onto perezhilton.com, you will be logging onto quite an informative website. The blogger, Perez  Hilton, posts news stories BUT more importantly the latest in Hollywood gossip.

You may think that this “fandom” is about following the celebrity, but after years of blogging, Perez Hilton is the topic of fandom. He has raised awareness for gay rights issues, the political election, all the while drawing penises on his least favorite celebrities.

Perez’s blog gets millions upon millions of clicks a day, many even getting his updates sent to their phones.

Reader Brittany Buhler, 19, said, “I can’t live without my Perez. I get it sent to my Blackberry, and I read it during class.” Buhler also admitted to “hating” celebrities Perez does not care for as well.

For example, Perez idolizes Madonna and Angelina Jolie, but he writes negatively of Jennifer Aniston or as he writes “Maniston.”

Buhler said, “I hate Jennifer Aniston. Or really anyone Perez hates. You really become one with him after becoming a devoted reader.”

Perez has the most viewership of any website for 18-25 year old women besides Facebook, a social networkign site.

“Perez Hilton really has become more than just a gossip blog about Britney Spears. I think a lot of girls read about Barack Obama when they might not have picked up a newspaper,” Natalie Polen, 18, said.

Discuss: Why Star Wars? Why Star Trek?

The great debate– Star Wars or Star Trek?

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Both science-fiction titles are immensely popular, with a large part of that due to their loyal, crazy, and of course, nerdy fan base. But make no mistake, there is a difference between a Star Wars fan and a Trekkie. 

Andrew Dansby of the Houston Chronicle got me thinking with this article. In it, he highlights some differences between the two groups of fans, like for example:

The two Star worlds represent different strata of nerdiness, with Trek the fundamentalist faith of the two. Grown Star Wars fans might offer self-deprecating humor based on their fandom, but it doesn’t inspire the stigmatized reverence that Trek does.

Dansby goes on to explain that this may be because Star Wars, at heart, is a “dramatic space opera,” while Star Trek revels more in “harder science fiction.” (Although with this new movie, I sense the lines are being a little blurred). Of course, like anything in the sci-fi genre, both of these movies/shows depict thing far from reality. But the point is, when it comes down to what is more real, or what could be more real, Star Trek seems to come out on top. 

Here’s my take. While Star Wars ultimately functions as entertainment (really, really good entertainment I should say), Star Trek strives to do more than that– it creates a world within the real world that we experience. This explains why Trekkies take their shit so seriously. In a way, it is real to them– it defines a part of their lives. Star Wars fans, on the other hand, seem to understand that their beloved movies really do take place in a galaxy far, far away. (Which doesn’t mean they can’t be crazy fans either; I’m just talking in terms of their general attitudes).

But who knows. I have to admit, I am neither a huge Star Wars nor a huge Star Trek fan. I simply like both. Which is why I’m asking you, if you are indeed a big fan of Star Wars— why? Have you ever watched Star Trek? What about it doesn’t work for you? And if you are a Trekkie, what about Star Trek grabbed your attention? What do you think about Star Wars?

I Fuckin’ Hate the Eagles

No, not another reference to The Big Lebowski.  I’m talking about the Philadeplhia Eagles whose fans are known as some of the biggest assholes in NFL history.  They throw snowballs and cuss out Santa Claus at Christmas, seriously.  But, to their credit, they love their team.  Some do to such a great extent that they would mortgage their house for playoff tickets.  At least that’s what superfan Kevin O’Donoghue explained to his infinitely patient wife in 2005 when the Eagles made their first Superbowl appearance in 24 years.

Mr. O’Donoghue, 36, took out a home-equity loan to raise the $4,000 that the trip and the tickets cost him. And he’s not the only one.  “Up and down Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, bankers spent the week fielding calls from Eagles diehards looking to refinance mortgages or dip into savings,” (Cosh, 2005).  The high eBay bid on one pair of upper-deck Super Bowl tickets that year was $4,250, and a front-row pair on the 40-yard line cost at least $8,975.

 

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Not many can, but I sympathize with O’Donoghue’s situation.  If the Cubs finally made it to the end of October you bet your ass I would be grinding for tickets no matter what the cost.  But if you asked me why I psychotically stalked vendors for tickets, I probably wouldn’t be able to muster up a logical response outside of the misplaced and drunken home-town pride you would expect from those Philly fans.  But Supertheorist Colby Cosh offers up a pretty good rationale:

I think there’s something else going on here besides ordinary fandom. Mass media have a tendency to bring distant events ever closer to us, in increasingly high-definition, convenient forms. The news has its own 24-hour channels, the whole NFL season is available on satellite for a pittance and you can watch the deliberations of the U.S. Congress live on your computer. We don’t even have to leave our chairs to enter the global village. But now that this moment has arrived, it looks like a huge counter intuitive premium has been placed on the act of leaving one’s chair. What’s special now, in an age where every visual spectacle is recorded and digitized, is the irreproducible in-person experience — the chance to say “I was there.”

In an age where you can watch every minute of every game from the best seats in the house (the one in your kitchen near the fridge), the status we confer on the game itself has increased!  I think the fact that millions of people can sit on their ass and watch the game makes the real-life experience so much more rewarding.

I remember last year I went to see the Bears play New Orleans at Soldier’s Field.  It was February.  And even though I couldn’t feel my feet and other unmentionable extremities, the enduring appeal of being there carried me through.

Once again, I’ll tip my hat to Cosh.  He explains this sentiment much better than I can:

As more and more people watch the Super Bowl, the charmed circle of actual spectators gets ever tighter psychologically. You can stay home and be comfortable, and be one amongst 800 million. Or you can take out a second mortgage, go to Alltel Stadium, and be one amongst just 78,000. The math seems vaguely silly, but in a mass age, the power of authentic presence seems destined to get even greater.

Nancy Baym and Music Fandom

Nancy Baym, associate professor of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas, covers media fandom. She has published various academic journals and studies regarding internet’s effects on how fans interact. She recently gave a talk (PDF version) regarding specifically music fandom

As she stated, her main point was this: “In many ways this is NOT about the artists, let alone the music business or the recording industry, it’s about the fans’ relationships to each other.” 

According to Baym, music fandom involves the following behaviors:

  1. An emotional connection
  2. A social identification
  3. Collective intelligence, such as set lists and fan reviews (ex. last.fm)
  4. Sharing interpretations, such as analyzing lyrics (ex. SongMeanings)
  5. Sharing personal creations, such as fan videos, remixes, and playlists

Example: 

What has the internet done to give fans more power? Baym thinks it:

  1. Eliminates physical distance barriers
  2. Elimates social distance barriers
  3. Provides group infrastructure
  4. Provides a means of archiving information

What I found most interesting is the application for artists now. Sure, the internet has helped music fans connect with one another, but it’s also paved way for another thing: illegal downloading. So what should artists do? How should they connect with fans? Do they even need to worry about illegal downloading?

Baym believes that there are mutually beneficial ways to connect with fans. By using and maintaining multiple platforms (cd, digital, concerts, videos, etc.), artists have a better chance of reaching their fans. The key here is personal connection. Artists need to provide social resources and encourage the fans’ creativity. Involve the fans in their creation. If they do this, they won’t have to worry about illegal downloading. This is the nature of engaged fandom: fans will eventually pay for music as a show of support (and to be morally correct).

It may seem like a far-reaching ideal, but we’ve seen it work. Just look at Radiohead’s latest album, In Rainbows. The band provided its entire album for download online at a price determined by the fans. Which meant, if you wanted to pay nothing for the album, you could. The result? Probably not what you would have thought. Most fans still chose to pay the normal retail price.

Another example would be Weezer’s music video for their single, “Pork and Beans.” Here, they involved various YouTube viral stars like the Daft Punk dancers, the Numa Numa guy, Chris Crocker, and more. At nearly 18 million views, this video has brought the fans closer than ever to the music they love.