Chapter 6 (The Convergence Culture of Campaigning)

redvsblue. (n.d.) Source: http://www.miller-mccune.com. Retrieved on July 17, 2008

redvsblue. (n.d.) Source: http://www.miller-mccune.com. Retrieved on July 17, 2008

Henry Jenkins is very hopeful that the convergence culture will make politics more accessible to all of us, thereby “democratizing” it so that it is part of our everyday lives. The new trend indicates that our politicians haven’t turned their noses up to the notion either. Jenkins rightfully points out Howard Dean’s success at mobilizing his supporters via the internet (specifically meetup.com). He also points out to specific examples of this “democratizing” taking place, citing Dan Rather’s erogenous report that Bush had used family privilege to avoid serving in Vietnam (which we all know he did, as all of the rich do, but anyway. . .). Unfortunately, the Dan (as he is referred to in Bernard Goldberg’s Bias which is a great read by the way) relied on forged documents to build his case, which was immediately exposed by the conservative blogosphere. Curiously, Jenkins never uses Dan Rather’s name, instead opting to blame “CBS” for the problem. Anyone who has indeed read Bias knows that Dan Rather basically ran CBS at that time, so I find the omission curious. Anyway . . .

The “Old Media” was forced to cooperate under the new set of rules introduced by the convergence culture. The new set of rules was basically this: If you lie, we will expose you. And we can assume that in return the old guard will feel obliged to do the same. Which begs the question: What if they both lie? Jenkins warns against assuming that the internet is the great truth detector in the sea of “Old Media” lies. He also warns against believing that everyone now has the ability to access all human knowledge right at their fingertips, the main problem being that human knowledge is just that. Human.

That is to say “not Divine”, which is to say, flawed. Humans operate with filters in their brains, sometimes willingly, sometimes not. If a human wrote it, I can assure you that there is a spin behind it. Yes that applies to all of my posts. I would claim to be un-human to say that I can write anything without a spin. No one can. This is why Jenkins can easily make the observation that the new media immediately takes the opportunity to spin things as soon as it gets posted. The refreshing thing is that most in this arena unabashedly admit it, but not everybody. I don’t really consume media that isn’t honest about it’s angle whether old or new. Let me know where you stand, and then I’ll listen to what you have to say.

Unfortunately, the new media is often times no better at discerning the truth than Dan Rather was. While the “conservative” new media heartily criticized the Dan for his obvious bias against Bush, they pushed different biases on the rest of us. I’m sure you witnessed all of the ruckus about how Sadaam was going to bomb all of us if we didn’t act immediatley. If you missed that, then check the home page of the Drudge Report when you get done reading this post. You can see all of it unfold again in textbook fashion with Iran.

Jenkins is right. When online, most only associate with and move in the circles of those who think just like themselves. It’s an incestuous relationship that is bad for all of us, no matter what our political ideologies are. I post on your blog and you post on mine because we agree with each other. They all tell the same lies because they want to believe them and so does everybody else they know. If they are so-called conservatives, they rabidly defend Bush because he claims to be against abortion, and supposedly loves God. I’ve never seen so much damage done to a nation by somebody who was both a conservative and God-lover. In reality we can say for certain that Bush was not conservative. I won’t dare to judge a man’s belief in God but I will this: Even Satan believes in God and I don’t think it is doing him much good. The real tragedy in all of this is that “conservative Christians” kept Bush in office for eight years. Solus Deus Judicabit

On the other side of the coin we have the left-leaning side of the new media who constantly kept their audience in a state of angst because Bush was . . . well, Bush. It didn’t seem to matter that he appointed pro affirmative action, pro-abortion, anti-gun attorney general. It didn’t matter that Bush approved a bill that allowed minors to have abortions without consent from parents. It didn’t matter that Bush gave the UN unfettered access to our military. They just hated Bush. Here is a president that literally vetoed five bills. Five. The man let Teddy Kennedy write the education bill. I could go on about this for pages. I mean, what more does the left want? It’s just mind-boggling.

The point is, the internet offers little promise in rectifying political ignorance, as Jenkins seems to hope it will. People are willingly ignorant. There’s nothing we can do to change it. On a more optimistic note, the internet is allowing those who truly want to find the truth the opportunity to seek it out, and the convergence culture can go a long way in helping us all determine what is indeed truth and what isn’t. We can pool our knowledge collectively and arrive at it.

Sources:

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press.

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Chapter 4 (Folk Culture’s Comeback?)

When I teach the different genres of music to my students, I always feel inadequate to explain folk music. It is hard for middle schoolers to conceive of music that there are few recordings of. Sure we have folk rock and bluegrass among others, but those are genres unto themselves. Almost by definition, folk music leaves behind few artifacts. It was rarely written down and the majority of it was created before recordings could be made. There are folk songs that have survived like Oh, Susanna or I’ve Been Working on the Railroad but the first was a fairly commercialized version of folk music, made to be printed and distributed, and purists would argue that if it is known who composed the song, it is disqualified from being folk music anyway. The second would more properly fit into the genre of Work Songs. I prefer to think of the term “folk music” as an umbrella covering various other types of genres. At any rate, it is much easier to decide what is NOT folk music or folk culture, and one example of that would be popular (pop) culture.

Jerkins briefly explains how the commercialization of the media and entertainment industries (which are one in the same [see Neil Postman]) killed folk culture in America. I don’t believe that its death was caused intentionally, but rather that it was an inevitable occurrence due to the professionalization of EVERYTHING. This event raised the bar so high as to what could be accomplished in art, music, and literature, that only those with considerable resources were able to compete. Eventually, the perfection of artistic production transformed our culture from a participatory one to a passive one, in which commercial interests decide for us what our culture will look like as we observe it unfold before us.

As a society, we have since taken “mass culture (a category of production)” (Jenkins, 2006) and appropriated it among ourselves, thereby creating “popular culture (a category of consumption).” (Jenkins, 2006) Think about places where you see elements of folk culture surviving. If you’re like me you think of local art fairs, “antique” shops, flea markets, Renaissance festivals, and the like. In my mind, even the folk culture represented in these places is typically crafty kitsch, usually relying on ever changing fads (cows last year, angels this year, and perhaps next year we can cash in on the home-made purse movement). Half of the time, you will find that what is being passed for folk art is more likely to be decades old “pop” art or, at the least, inspired by such. Picture a 1950’s era print of Santa drinking a Coke. or a collage of the Three Stooges. It seems very un-folk culture-like to attempt to cash in on consumer trends when creating your folk art. I’ve even seen blog posts where some have harsh words for those who copy THEIR style of folk art. Are you serious? By definition folk art belongs to all of us!

Got Milk, Hmmm? (n.d.). Source: www.allfunpix.com

Got Milk, Hmmm? (n.d.). Source: http://www.allfunpix.com

Feel the Force. (n.d.). Source: lifeonwards.com

Feel the Force. (n.d.). Source: lifeonwards.com

Jenkins believes that the triumphant return of folk culture is the new convergence culture. As consumers, we now have the same tools to craft our art, music, literature, and film as the professionals do. I heard one of the Garage Band loops that I have on my computer being used in a documentary on HBO. New technology has leveled the playing field quite a bit, and is enabling us to resurrect that which the mass media put to death almost a century ago, our folk culture. Now I can make movies, record songs, and edit photography using means that only large production companies had the ability to use before. The best part about it is that just as the mass media initially used folk art to exert its influence, the common man is now borrowing from the mass media. The new artists sometimes borrow mass media in a way that the powers that be approve of, and sometimes not, as is illustrated in the pictures above. Jenkins cites fan fiction and parodies, as well as open source video games and low budget movies as examples of this new trend.

But, the technology that enables the creation of our new cultural artifacts is only half of what is making this resurgence possible. The other half is technological advancement in the area of distribution. The internet has enabled emerging convergence artists to distribute their work to a world-wide audience, giving it instant attention and immediate feedback. The immediate feedback enables the creators to hone their skills until eventually, as can be seen now on flickr, YouTube, and other such sites, the work is just as polished as works that come from huge media conglomerations. The creation of such works has been going on for longer than most of us realize, but the new methods of distribution are bringing these works into our households. The battle now lies in both sides seeking to redefine copyright law in their favor, but regardless of who wins, the new culture has emerged and is here to stay. As Jenkins indicates, our media companies will either make their peace with it and flourish, or will attempt to squash it and perish. The “Napster Generation” has come of age, and will consume on its own terms, and nobody else’s.

Sources:

Feel the force. [Online Image]. (n.d.) retrieved July 14, 2009, from lifeonwards.com. http://lifeonwards.com/blog/?p=1807

Got Milk, Hmmm? [Online Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2009, from allfunpix.com. http://www.allfunpix.com/picspages/yoda_milk.html

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press.