Monday, April 4, 2016

Core Post 3 - Worshipping at the Altar of Convergence: Integrated Paratexts Within established Texts

In thinking of the ways in which academics make themselves "quotable" which Tara brought up in class last week, we have another listicle from USC's own Henry Jenkins in his article "The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence." In it, it is indeed quite quotable, and works by posing a series of predictions and questions through its list for scholars to engage with for years to come to understand the ways in which the televisual landscape is changing because of the interactions of fans and audiences with the media texts themselves, and because of the ways in which the Internet and other new emerging technologies have shifted viewing and engagement practices. While reading Jenkins' article on the moment of media convergence that we find ourselves in, I began to think not only of Jonathan Gray's work on Paratexts (a scholar that Jenkins has worked with closely) but about the convergence of media within itself, the meta-commentary that Jenkins gets into with his discussion of the 9 different types of media convergence that he sees emerging and predicts the continuation of on through the future of industry based media. What I hope to discuss whether here on the blog or in class, are not only the ways in which media is expanding to have viewers/participants/the audience be actively involved in their consumption of media across platforms, across paratexts, but of particular moments where the industry's tries to appeal to fans themselves from multiple shows through integration of convergence through the diegetic worlds themselves to entice viewers and fans of shows to engage with and potentially become fans of other works.

Top: Archer (S4E1), exterior intro shot
Bottom: Bob's Burgers (S1E3), exterior shot
Specifically thinking about two texts that only touch in one small way, that the lead voice actor H. Jon Benjamin plays both leads of the separate shows, the convergence of Archer and Bob's Burgers in the Archer season 4 episode 1 entitled "Fugue and Riffs" is particularly interesting to note when thinking of the ways in which these texts are trying to engage their fans while also potentially trying to entice new fans to watch their show. When looking at Jenkins' listicle, he points out in his section entitled "Rethinking Media Aesthetics" that "the interplay can create an unprecedented degree of complexity and generate a depth of engagement that will satisfy the most committed viewer." [1] By having this nod to Bob's Burgers puts the two shows fans in potential conversation with the text itself, having a greater understanding of what the integration of one show into another brings to the text itself, as well as a funny nod of the integration of the ways in which the industry is understanding the level of engagement that their audiences have with their texts. This instance of media convergence allows for the expansion of the idea that fans are multidimensional, of their ability to slip between texts, of the existence of cross-fan fictions that exist because of the connection of the lead actor (beyond the difference in styles, the main characters are both white men, with dark hair and could be iterations of the same person as the voice actor does not change his voice at all between the two characters).

The attention to detail within the episode of Archer to the world of Bob's Burgers would not escape the attention of viewers of both shows. While yes, the aesthetic of Archer necessitated a grittier, darker version of the same restaurant (the content of which could be considered potentially another iteration of media convergence- the basic cable channel that combines the formation of traditional network broadcasting practices - limited commercial funding and not solely subscriber based and funded while also being transmitted across cable broadcast systems, which leaves these channels and shows in a nebulous inbetween space)

While it would be possible for Archer fans to watch this season opener with no understanding of the show it draws from and plays with, it is the argument that Jenkins' brings to the table, that the media industry is beginning to understand that they can draw in more viewers, and that they can and should reward the fans/audience that can find pleasure and enjoyment from "being in the know." Perhaps this has to do with the rise of the idea of "quality television" that cable promised, and that bleeds through into basic cable channels that is the best example of Jenkins' idea of media convergence. Traditional Broadcast Network shows are also playing with these forms, even just looking to Bob's Burgers itself there are constant easter eggs towards other moments of visual media from a nod to My Neighbor Totoro in the episode entitled "An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal" (S3E5), to their homage to Jaws in "The Deepening" (S3E6), to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in "O.T. the Outside Toilet" (S3E15), amongst many others that would take too long to outline here. In outlining these moments, I want to highlight that it is not only the cable/basic cable channels that are making this shift. The Internet, and media convergence, has forced the general Television Industry to reconsider the televisual viewer as one who craves, desires, and wants to be in the know. There is pleasure to be found, and ways to retain your audience, that doesn't detract from the overall story lines that make the televisual viewer feel connected to their media.

Jenkins' signaled this shift back in 2004, towards understanding that the masses were not merely just sheep consuming their media passively, and that networks and televisual programming was and needed to shift to keep up with their audiences in order to not only keep them but to keep them coming back. Television has definitely taken up this prediction in the last 12 years, but I look forward to continuing the conversation regarding the ways in which Jenkins' work continues to be relevant as media continues to smash together to keep their audiences coming back, and to affirm that the television viewer is intelligent and not merely a passive, private receiver.

[1] pg 40


  1. Interesting analysis of the connection between Bob’s Burgers and Archer, Amalia. I wonder how much their convergence is related to the technique of “stunting” which Caldwell mentioned in this week’s “Convergence Television: Aggregating Form and Repurposing Content in the Culture of Conglomeration.” Caldwell argues that cross-genre stunt episodes, or episodes where different programs and genres converge, are a part of a series of industrial practices which generate different televisual forms. It would seem that this instance of convergence between Bob’s Burgers and Archer would fall into that category. In that case, citing Caldwell, I would argue that this convergence is not so much an indication of a shift in industrial recognition of viewing patterns, but rather an instance of established industrial practices being authenticated by those shifting viewing patterns.

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  3. Hi Katie, thanks for bringing up Caldwell! I can definitely see where your thought process of what I was talking about with the moments that I identified as industry reactions to television fans/viewers utilizing Archer/Bob's Burgers and instead reading them through Caldwell would make sense. I'm willing to concede that the episodes of Bob's that specifically reference particular films could fall into the cross-genre stunt episodes section of Caldwell's argument. However, what we seem to have between Jenkins and Caldwell is the proverbial "chicken and egg" situation. As there have been television fans that have participated in these types of close readings and pleasures for as long as entertainment has existed (Jenkins and another scholar Francesca Coppola do a nice job of outlining the emergence of fan works - Coppola in her intro to fan studies chapter that we haven't read for the class, Jenkins in his Textual Poachers book from 1992) it is perhaps hard to say whether these moments, as a part of television, have been industrial practices before the industry began to (formally) recognized the shifts in viewing practices. Texts are often referential to other previous works whether consciously or unconsciously, but with these specific easter eggs that shows insert for their fans, to me, appears to be a reaction to the idea that television viewers aren't inherently less intelligent than their film counterparts.

    I don't know if I am doing a good job of explaining what I'm trying to get at. Mainly, because I see the Internet, and the explosion of fan works onto a space that is supposedly "accessible" (remembering that the Internet is a classist, privileged space and not actually accessible to all whether due to particular governmental regulation, censorship, or the mere fact that it is a paid service which does not allow for all to have the means to connect). I wanted to bring up that Caldwell also seems to be in this chicken/egg situation when they state: "Televisiual form is very much lived. It results, in part, from industrial performances and social relations that precede and follow the televised screen event proper" (61). In saying this, while yes, Industrial practices have in the past utilized cross-genre stunts, I don't think that I see this as being something that was truly simply born of the industry. As I outlined (perhaps reductively or not as clearly as I should) previously, fan interactions with the industry and their works have always existed, even before the Internet. So is it truly that these were established practices or that the Industry has always been reacting to fans?

    I don't really know if I agree with the last part of your statement, and I look forward to a further conversation about the ways in which the Industry tries to engage or disengage with the audience.