Sunday, March 27, 2016

Core Post 4

At the outset of Henry Jenkins’ article, “The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence,” the stated goal is “to identify some of the ways that cultural studies might contribute to [debates about major sites of tension and transition shaping the media environment] and why it is important for us to become more focused on creative industries” (34). There are actually two goals embedded in that sentence; the first is clear enough, but the second – “why it’s important for us to become more focused on creative industries” – obfuscates his actual goal, at least as it's fleshed out in the remainder of the article. For when Jenkins calls for more “focus” on creative industries, he means specifically that cultural scholars should “imagine new possible relations with corporate and governmental interests” and should “engage in active dialogue with media industries” (42). If convergence, to Jenkins, represents “a reconfiguration of media power and a reshaping of media aesthetics and economics,” and if “our media future could depend on the kind of uneasy truce that gets brokered between commercial media and collective intelligence,” then he is calling for cultural scholars to become increasingly visible, widely accessible, and willing to forego the state of privileged seclusion or separation from corporate/governmental interests (35). Jenkins’ call for more scholarly involvement in the culture industry reflects his belief that not all participation in the consumer economy constitutes cooptation. As he states, audience researchers “need to abandon their romance with audience resistance in order to understand how consumers may exert their emerging power through new collaborations with media producers” (36).

This type of rhetoric – that consumers (and consumer-scholars) can shape the content of cultural commodities according to their desires by engaging actively/creatively with media producers – has its critics. One of these critics, Christian Fuchs, writes in “Social Media as Participatory Culture” that this celebration of participatory culture as a structure that allows consumers to participate in the production and distribution of cultural goods “does not much engage with or analyze the downsides of [the media industry]” (58). Jenkins may hope for “victories in the struggle for political freedom and cultural diversity” (42), but Fuchs claims that he “tends to idealize the political potentials of fan communities” and that fans’ engagement in dialogue with media producers does not necessarily lead to “protesting against racism, neoliberalism, wage cuts, the privatization of education or welfare, lay-offs in the companies, etc.” (58). Essentially, while Jenkins envisions a mutually-accessible feedback loop wherein producers and consumers are continually inspired by the preceding practices, themes, and materials of media culture, Fuchs questions who is benefiting from, excluded from, or being harmed by such a feedback loop. At one point in Jenkins’ article he expresses dismay that Truman Burbank from The Truman Show (dir. Peter Weir, 1998) walks away from the media instead of using it to generate his own content, deliver his own message, and exploit the media for his own purposes (37). Jenkins would like to see Truman learn to use these media technologies rather than walk away from them; Fuchs might interpret such an act as neglecting “structural constraints of human behavior and the dialectic of structure and agency” (66). Ultimately, I suppose the question is whether liking or mastering a media activity makes it less exploitative.

Fuchs, Christopher. “Social Media as Participatory Culture.” Social Media: A Critical Introduction. (Sage, 2014): 53-67.

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