Author Archives: rwhnewton

The Fanboys Strike Back

The sections on fan culture really resonate with me on both a hobby and academic level.  The convergence phenomena greatly increase the ability for fans to reinterpret the mythologies they love.  But more importantly, convergence allows for fans to reinterpret the mythologies they hate.  This can come in the form of commentaries like Riff Trax, (a Mystery Science Theater type of film commentary) or in spoofs like How It Should’ve Ended (where plot conflict gets resolved via an alternate and more logical/likely set of choices).

But my favorite demonstration of convergence is when Star Wars fans refused to embrace The Phantom Menace.  Soon after the film was released on DVD and video, an alternate version of the film began to circulate. And professional cinema persons and fanboys largely deemed this phantom cut as superior to George Lucas’ imagining.  This example of convergence was not embraced by 20th Century Fox, even though the phantom director made no money off the film, having refused to sell it.  Property rights are property rights, I guess.

Convergence, in this instance, seems to bring together the author and reader in a way perhaps less noticeable in other eras.  I’m not entirely sure this is something that future professors are being trained for.

Professorial Access

One class period in my undergraduate years, a professor and I had the conversation.  Someone had joked about the teacher’s book profits.  A smile came on the professor’s face as he explained the politics of academic publishing.  He told us about how he hopes to break even and possibly buy a new toaster off his earnings.  We learned about how few people will ever read his books simply because of the sheer probability behind academic’s resource selection.  And we were told how the publisher’s markup ensured that only certain audiences and libraries would have access to the monograph.  It was as if the wizard’s curtain had been pulled open.

I love to write. I love to teach. I love to research. I love to learn.  And I cannot find any reason not to publish in an online, open source format except for ones steeped in fear.  The fears are certainly reasonable.  As Dr. Fitzpatrick has hinted, universities and presses aren’t completely open to the idea of digital media.  Tenure committees have a fetish for book-binding and dusk jackets. But I have seen more conversation in the introduction of Planned Obsolescence than takes place among the vast majority of printed monographs.

So I’m toying with an idea.  What if vowed to have all my work published first in open-source formats, and then in print?   As far as I can tell, I am either setting myself up for disaster, or am putting my money where my mouth is and becoming the type of scholar I’ve always wanted to be, an accessible one.  Maybe I won’t be able to get a job if I did the latter, but would I really be doing my job if I did the former.


I don’t know if you have checked out this short film.  It’s the MFA thesis of Jarrett Lee Conaway, a student at USC’s film school.  Ain’t It Cool News described it as a TRON meets Karate Kid.  Conaway presents a world where video gamers have pro-athlete status.  The images in this 20 minute feature are a spectacle for the consumer and deconstructionist alike.  Some might think it’s goofy.  I had a lot of fun.  Enjoy.


Digital Apocalypses

Haraway’s classic essay offers a great thought experiment about how the controls of our world could be subverted by cyborgs, entities empowered to stand unaffected by those things that determine and define human existence as we have known it.

But I can’t help but wonder what would bring the end to a cyborg world?  What would their vices be(come) after centuries of interaction?  If they wouldn’t have any, why not?

Anyway, it’s a fascinating premise, but as myths imply, it’s only a matter of time until they end and start over.   I guess I’m stuck on trying to prophesy their end.  This, of course, is the stuff that apocalyptic literature is made of.  I think that Haraway expects such questions, for she knows that apocalypse is but one form of freighted rhetoric, and upon its deconstruction we learn more about ourselves.

Humanity Online

The Pew Internet and American Life Project seeks to investigate the activities done on/with/in/by the Internet and its users.  Their research agenda gives critical attention to the social interaction that the World Wide Web “hosts.”  But as my scare quotes allude, the project’s work reveals how ‘we are the internet.’

For those interested in studying humanity –which necessarily includes those who do not classify themselves as humanities students—the project offers an invaluable first step for looking at the new media data set.  That being said, our research, at least informally, should think about the meaning of those social actions (a la Max Weber).

I read an article investigating whether mass internet use has made us into hermits or social butterflies.  Apparently, the latter is more likely, but what wasn’t discussed was what it means to be a hermit.  In the ancient world (and I would say in the modern world as well), hermitage is fraught with rhetoric about alternative social worlds.  That is to say, being reclusive is often used as a method or medium of critique against a larger society or even society at large.  If this wasn’t the case, we would likely not know about a hermits presence.

I’d be curious to hear the stories of those who reject and embrace the internet as a way of rejecting and embracing one community for another.

‘It’s a good thing Will Smith turned down the role of Neo!’ and other Virtual Skin tales

If you don’t buy Bailey’s thesis about cyberspace being a racialized domain, insert your choice of racist epitaphs into a Twitter search and see what comes up, or check out the discussions on virtual racial enclaves like “Black Planet” or “Asian Avenue.”  Mediums bring out the good, the bad, and the ugly, so there  should be no wonder that not racially identifying oneself (implicitly or explicitly) is the saferun protocol.  Ad hoc lambasts are the lingua franca of comment boards, so using a colored avatar or turning an ethnic phrase opens oneself up to prejudice and racial derision.  Of course, doing so can conceivably build bridges over the racial divide, but I think the former is more likely.  The problem that Bailey underlies is that the current state of critical race discourse  is not at a level where self-identification is a non-issue.  Instances of going racially incognito are perhaps more prevalent in the virtual world than in real life, but we should ask why this is the case if the virtual world is supposed to be a net utopia?

All this to say, had Will Smith played Neo, our internet matrix would be a very different place.

Why so serious?

Because a rape in cyberspace is a rape outside of it. The medical and counseling professions have made great strides in exploring the multivalent affects of verbal and physical abuse. But this study has grown more complicated in the digital age, or has it? If we have come to recognize that abusers can make use of all sorts of expressions to hurt others, what makes the old/new media a significant barrier in designating whether a speech-act is in fact abuse?
What keeps a pop-up of a nude person from being called “flashing?” And why can Chatroulette function as the Net’s red-light district when even RL-California’s most unincorporated places couldn’t host such sexual exchange?
In one way, I’m not sure if Dibbell’s “A Rape in Cyberspace” posits more about the work to be done on the Internet or the work that needs to be done in the RL.

The Hyrule Co-op for Social Reconciliation among the Differently-abled

CNN has a feature on a blind gamer who beat Zelda (Ocarina of Time, I believe.) with the help of a skype-mediated community.

The Long Tail and the niche it creates

Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail” proposes three lessons to be learned from the success of high volume, on-demand, online retailers. These rules for success revolve around a central observation: selling a higher volume of niche items can yield as great a gain as selling a lower volume of popular items. (5)  The clearest example of this is that Amazon makes more money off of the books that Barnes and Noble doesn’t sell than what Barnes and Noble does sell. Taking into account the overlap in merchandise offered by both retailers and the Long Tail sales, Anderson suggests that new media has ushered in a shift in the way consumers want and purchase.  If a retailer can offer a high volume of products at a low cost and with easy access, the consumer will make that retailer their primary source for the product.

Anderson makes a compelling argument, one that might even cause some to prophesy a demise to “the store” as we have known it.  However, I believe that Netflix, Amazon, and other such Long Tail retailers operate under a system that makes space for “the store” as a niche market.  Netflix, Amazon, and Itunes heavily rely on lawyer-types to negotiate their distribution prices en masse. (6)  What makes these companies viable is their ability to acquire and distribute 10s, 100s, and 1000s of copies of a product.  A niche store owner, uninterested in high overhead and legal fees, can offer the same boutique-like service (albeit on a smaller scale) and sell the experience of live conversation, dedicated space, and pleasant company and still turn a profit.

An example of one such business is an independent film store in Dallas that offers new releases (though in less quantity than your Blockbuster Video) but specializes in indie, documentary, art house, and foreign films.  For them, successfully adopting the Long Tail strategy means owning one copy of these films and an atmosphere to match.  The staff are versed in their inventory and know the genres, so while they cannot rely on algorithms to predict your film taste, they can ‘geek out” with you over the latest Audrey Tatou flick and lead you to their personal “must see” films.   Likewise, when you want to see a European import film (e.g. Pirate Radio) that is currently playing in the United States but would breach Netflix’ distribution contract, this video store can rent you a copy along with a Region 2 DVD player (at no additional charge).  And if there’s a film that you want but they don’t have, ask them and they will get a copy to keep in their store (probably from Amazon).  In terms of cost per rental, the store can not match your local Redbox or a Netflix subscription.  In fact, verbally making such comparisons will lead to expulsion from the store.  But every time this happens, the staff will say “we don’t want or need your business, and you’re free to shop there anytime.”  The irony of the Long Tail, in this situation, is that the same market forces that cause many businesses to fail has breathed new life into this old family business.

The success and confidence of this store prompts further inquiry, but it makes me wonder about the dynamics related to the deletion,  perpetuation, innovation, and qualification of old media markets given the presentation of new media markets.

PBS Documentary: “Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier”

If you’ve got 90 minutes to watch a documentary on Digital Media Theory, check this out.

From the show description:

“Within a single generation, digital media and the World Wide Web have transformed virtually every aspect of modern culture, from the way we learn and work to the ways in which we socialize and even conduct war. But is the technology moving faster than we can adapt to it? And is our 24/7 wired world causing us to lose as much as we’ve gained?

In Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier, FRONTLINE presents an in-depth exploration of what it means to be human in a 21st-century digital world…. “In the early days of the Internet, it was easy for me to reassure people about what it would mean to bring digital technology into their lives,” says Rushkoff, who has authored 10 books on media, technology and culture. “Now I want to know whether or not we are tinkering with something more essential than we realize.”

Apparently you can view it online here too.

Thanks Boing Boing