Author Archives: simonhan

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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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?

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.

The NEW fans of Star Trek… will you be one of them?

The day is almost here. Tomorrow, Star Trek the movie comes out, and you can bet the Trekkies are going to be there. I’m talking about the people who have seen the 1966 series, when it first came out and almost got cancelled due to low viewership. I’m talking about the people who staged fan conventions, bought merchandise, even watched the animated series. I’m talking about the people who made Star Trek truly “live long and prosper.” They will be there, but most likely, you’re not one of them. You’ll go watch it because the name “Star Trek” is popular, and it’s almost summer, and the trailer looked sweet with the space battles and everything, and Sylar from Heroes is on it. You are exactly the type of person that J.J. Abrams, the creator of the movie, is intending the target. You are the new fan. 

Ted Anthony from the Associated Press wrote an interesting article about the new fans versus the “hardcore” fans. This new movie is causing quite a stir among the Trekkies, especially among those who feel the movie may be destroying some of the history and events of all the other Star Trek movies and TV episodes.

“We’re all hardcore. No one is more hardcore than anyone else, really. And we all love it. But I guess it’s almost political,” says Anthony Pascale, who oversees Trekmovie.com. “Some people have a very strict view of what `Star Trek’ is: `It’s this, this and this.’ They’ve got a checklist.”

At the same time, the people working on this new movie aren’t idiots. They realized that if they were to completely obliterate the basics of Star Trek, then they would lose also the heart of Star Trek, the fans, the people that made it what it is. While there are “hardcore” Trekkies, there are still many others that are more lenient.

Still, most “Trek” fans, no matter how “canonista” they are, typically agree that the mythos must involve a sense of hope about the future, a feeling of deep friendship among the characters and a zest for exploration. As global as “Star Trek” is, those are fundamental characteristics of the American experience

It seems that the new Star Trek movie is going to embrace all of these overarching themes. I sure hope it does. Trekkies are a passionate group, and why wouldn’t they be? If you were that invested and involved in a series’ success, even as a fan, you would feel a bit protective of it. J.J. Abrams took a risk in making this new Star Trek, but if all the positive press is right, then he succeeded– he got the new fans AND (most) of the old fans. 

So, new fan. Check out these links. It’ll help you prepare for the movie. (And possibly hold your own against those Trekkies).

http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/features/the-movie-watchers-guide-to-star-trek.php

http://www.startrek.com/startrek/view/features/intro/index.html