Archive for September, 2012

Make any Room Your TV Room

My article, “Make any Room Your TV Room: Digital Delivery and Media Mobility,” has been published by Screen and is now available online. The article addresses the ways in which digital movie delivery tools–whole house DVRs, movie apps, etc–have been promoted. The project began as I became fascinated by a series of advertisements, including Direct TV’s “Robots” and “Love Match” ads, as well as several others that seemed to be promoting the idea of individualized media consumption, even in situations where families are gathered together in the same space (Verizon’s “Shining Star” Christmas ad is a good example of this, but I can’t find it right now). As a result, these ads seem to serve a pedagogical or teaching function, demonstrating for us as viewers how we might integrate these new technologies into our homes and our lives. The research builds upon Lynn Spigel’s fantastic work on 1950s television, which explored how advertisements for TV sets helped to model how families could integrate TV into the home.

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Blogging is Dead (Again)

Chris Cagle has a new blog post that addresses what seems to be a decline in blogging in the field of film studies. Chris grounds this observation in the context of his own essay in Jason Sperb and Scott Balcerzak’s edited collection, Cinephilia in the Age of Digital Reproduction, Vol. 2, in which Chris offers a polemical argument endorsing the potential benefits of academic blogging for film scholars. Like Chris, I find that the initial energy behind academic film blogging seems to have waned–even as my own output has declined dramatically–and I think it’s worth asking about why that is happening. I have a couple of answers in mind and would be curious to know if others have similar experiences:

First, blogging has lost its novelty factor. Blogging appealed for early adapters and now we’ve moved on to other forms of networked communication–Twitter, Facebook, mashups, image macros–that make the practices of blogging feel less vital and immediate. There are so many competing communication formats, blogs are just one place where we can devote our limited energy.

On a related note, film scholars may be deciding that the energy needed to maintain a blog isn’t worth the payoff. I’d imagine that most tenure committees still don’t give significant credit to a well-maintained academic blog. I barely mention mine in my tenure file, even if it (indirectly at least) had a profound effect on how I was able to build a scholarly network. But on an anecdotal level, blogging feels like the one thing I can sacrifice while trying to publish, teach, grade, do service, and maintain a healthy family life. Short and fast–again, think Twitter and Facebook–is easier, even if it is more difficult to archive.

Similarly, TV lends itself to water-cooler discussion. Even if large numbers of TV fans can use DVRs and other tools for catch-up viewing, there is a premium on watching live and sharing in the reactions to narratives as they unfold. While film premieres have a similar value–there is obviously some pleasure in being the first to see and review a movie–the fragmentation of the theatrical distribution schedule has made it harder to sustain the conversations that many independent films inspire. Even if VOD allows for somewhat more simultaneous distribution schedules, most of us aren’t watching movies that way.

Finally, I wonder if it’s the movies themselves that are the problem (or, more precisely, if it’s our perception of the movie industry). Chris is perhaps the best example out there of a scholar who uses his blog to explore film history, but blogs seem best suited to looking at the contemporary, the immediate, and as a number of non-academic film critics have asserted, there may be reasons to be pessimistic about the current state of the film industry. Richard Brody of The New Yorker is more subtle here than David Denby or David Thompson, who both seem to have concluded that cinema is declining or dead. But there seems to be an on-going and inescapable sentiment that movies have lost their cultural relevance.

There are probably other factors here. Some of this could be purely a personal perception. I’d also be curious to see if academic TV bloggers feel as if the initial energy associated with blogging has faded. Like Chris, I don’t think that these forms of networked scholarly communication are dying so much as they are transforming. And I still see more dialogue between entertainment journalists and media scholars, but like Chris, I’m curious to see what forms this dialogue will take.

Update: I think the cinetrix has probably the best possible response to the current round of hand-wringing about the decline of film blogging. I’ll be the first to admit that some of what I was describing is probably personal, and some of it may be specific to academic writers (although even there, I realize that a number of media scholars continue to blog frequently and continue to offer a wide array of approaches to blogging).

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“I Can Haz Film Fest”

I don’t have much to add to the existing discussion of the Internet Cat Film Festival, other than to say that I think it’s a brilliant illustration of the ways in which online activity can be used to facilitate collective online experiences. As the New York Times article on the festival points out, cat videos are one of the most popular attractions on YouTube, at least among content generated by amateurs. And many of the cats in the videos have, in fact, developed their own degree of celebrity.

Like many other similar genres, cat videos invite repeat viewings, and in many cases, the videos have acquired such a clear meaning that they can be used to comment on other aspects of popular or political culture (as the enduring power of the LOL Cats meme illustrates). Thus, even though many of these videos may be several years old and may have been seen millions of times, they still have the power to entertain, especially when they are watched collectively. The cat video that won the best of the fest award was Henri, Paw de deux, which has been around for several years, but which still manages to elicit laughs with its projection of existential angst onto its feline protagonist.

But I think it also illustrates one of the less emphasized aspects of internet video culture: the role of niche audiences in shaping reception. The event illustrates the degree to which many of the participants felt a sense of connectedness with other cat lovers (and cat video lovers). As one participant told the Times, “The more videos you’ve seen, the more ‘queen of the cat ladies’ you feel, so it’s nice to see that people are with you.”

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