SXSW Day Three: Henry Jenkins, Danah Boyd

So if my blog posts from Beyond Broadcast didn’t make it clear, I’m a huge fan of Henry Jenkins’ work.

Monday’s panel “Convergence Culture: A Conversation with Henry Jenkins” was simply further evidence that I’m right to be Jenkins Fanboy.

(I ran into Erik after the session for lunch and told him “Henry Jenkins is what I want to be when I grow up.” Iwas only partially kidding.)

Jenkins was interviewed by Danah Boyd, who was smart enough to generally allow Jenkins to talk with minimal interruption (except at one point to chime in – “do you see why I think he’s god!?”).

Here’s a photo from the pre-session setup – really a crappy photo on my part, so I had to mess with the brightness/contrast to make it clearer:Henry Jenkins and Danah Boyd

(I was kind of far back in the room, too – but the audio was great).

My notes from the session are below – covered a lot of the same ground as the Beyond Broadcast keynote, but certainly threw in some additional insights.

My favorite: “What everyone’s now calling Web 2.0 is really just fandom minus the stigma”

Lots of links to issues discussed during the session can be found at Jenkins’ blog:  “If you attended our session at south by southwest . . .


Boyd’s known Jenkins since he was one of her profs at MIT where she studied computer science.

Jenkins recalled that becoming a fan preceded becoming an academic. Academia saw (and still does in many ways) fans as dupes of the culture
industry, as intellectually immature. I felt that academia was telling me to “get a life” – but instead of getting a life I wrote a book. (Textual Poachers).

“Whateveryone else is calling web2.0 is fandom without the stigma”

Industries are learning from fan culture. More people are finding fandom then every before – much more so than  20 years ago. In part this is a difference in distribution – tools which are available. Compare fanzine distribution with the internet. Much easier  to not only create and distribute but also locate and discover.

But there are challenges: Schools are dumbing down at exactly the same moment that popular mass culture is  expecting more – Pokemon expects children to be familiar with over 250 characters at the same moment that schools are reluctant to  teach the greek pantheon of mythology because it is overly complex.

Boyd: what about fans being sued – official creators who don’t like fandom’s version of what they are doing.

The reality is the producers never had control – the reality is I can  take your characters and content and make it something else. Lets recognize the unpaid and invisible labor of fans and how it is  contributing to and enriching the revenue of the products.

There’a variety – a spectrum of approaches between active engagement and hostility.

Too many of the folks who are fighting for electronic freedom are pushed too far into technology platforms rather than fans who are  creating transformative fiction – defending napster rather than going into pure free-speech type arrangements.

Bullying overassertion of intellectual property authority – the DCMA  takedown effect. It isn’t that the courts have supported the bullying
or even legitimized it, but that the money wins – it is too hard to  fight against the law firms retained by large creative firms.

Participation gap – we finally get good action on the digital divide  but now the very places where that access is most widely spread, and  now that is threatened by DOPA, filtering, censorship, etc. Passed by wide cultural concensus – security moms – appear moderate but support this.

Mark Foley was one of the original authors of it – now it is back as the protecting online children act by Stevens.

People are getting hit from both sides – cease and desist letters from studios  and filters installed at libraries at the same moment – we need to put  these pieces together and think about them systematically.

“You” is under fire right now – you may have been named person of the year but you are in danger of losing your basic rights.

Connecticut senator who wants to implement age-verification technology for any social networking software or any technology that would let them communicate with anyone else.

Its interesting that in a heavily partisan conflicted culture the one place both sides agree is that our kids should be muzzled. The politics of fear has a gendered dimension as well – we’re afraid of our sons and afraid for our daughters.

McArthur foundation work on digital literacy and how we can better create mechanisms for teaching about and empowering teens to use digital culture rather than hiding it from them.

Spontaneous applause breaks out in the audience on the “democracy isn’t a special event, its a lifestyle” meme.

Photoshopping for democracy – the people’s editorial cartoon. But the peoples language will be broader and cruder – we will see racist images of obama, sexist images of hilary, etc – the traditional editorial cartoon ethics and standards do not apply.

As spiderman tells us, with great power comes great responsibility.

Middlebury college history department has banned wikipedia? They’re missing the difference between history as product and history as process – fundamental problem. Knowledge is produced – why is academia still struggling with this fact?

[This is one of the major critical points we used to try to highlight when I was teaching writing-in-the-disciplines at the University of Washington back in the 1990s – “history” isn’t some endless set of objective fact but a highly interpretive and argumentative medium in which different versions of a story fight for acceptance – it would seem wikipedia could be an actual object lesson in that struggle.]

The other impressive thing about wikipedia is the way in which the ethics of the community are open, well described, and carefully articulated. Wikipedia is also in a very real sense the first global story of some of the wars between nations, of which national history books tend to reflect very specific versions.

[One Wikipedia entry that I think exposes this well is the one on “Naming the American Civil War” – how does the “War of Northern Agression” strike you?]

Boyd: One of the challenges to wikipedia and other UGC stories – UNC  video breakup on valentine’s day. (YouTube video). It’s a very
uncomfortable video – she stands up for herself, back and forth, etc.  It flew across the web on valentines day – the whole thing was a hoax.

My own 25 year old son does not use YouTube!.

PT Barnum and the 19th century concept of Humbug – Barnum would say “the status of this exhibit is up for dispute – come see for yourself.”

This is the same type at which the naturalists in new zealand were uncovering various elements – the duck-billed platypus. People really were unsure at the time what was really and what was not – it has always been difficult to determine veracity within entertainment.

The challenge is just that people are getting angry about being faked out – why is it that we keep getting angry about this?

The UNC breakup video is a well timed and highly sophisticated fake – how do we tell that this is fake when the tasering of the student in
the UCLA library is real? How will we tell the difference?

Clay Shirky and Beth Coleman argument about the value of second life – a la medieval carnival and the carnivalesque. (See the “On Second Life” section of this blog post).

The Boston tea party as an example of carnival – but were taught about it as kind of sit in – it was really potential much more explosive or  radical than that.

This is embodied theory – second life. Using second life to reflect on first life.

Steven Duncan’s book Dream – the learning from vegas book on politics.

The sistine chapel is a remix / mashup.

Nothing inevtably grows out the technologies – these early waves came  and went – but some of these traces still exist. Lol was used in the  19th century print culture.

Eirenreich on collective joy – depression arose when people stopped  celebrating in the streets.

Personalized / atomized / individualized is not what it is about – its  about community media, social media, the world of a networked society.

Second life isn’t narcissistic – it is about connections to other  people – these can bring us joy but they can also bring us pain.

We’re moving into a communal space in the electronic world but a  privatized space in the physical world.

It isn’t that technology is neutral – its that it can be used for very  positive things – it has an impact on the environment but it also helps to build the awareness of it.

There is a kind of a dependence on the high hollywood, expensive  special effects culture – we have certainly become dependent on “mass media” culture in the sense of large media companies.

It only makes sense that our current culture is heavily based on what  came before it – just as our current global mass culture was/is  heavily based on what came before it.

Current fan fiction writers who are writing fan fiction not from the point of view of being fans but because it gives them a common  language – if I write about my high school you may not read it, but if I write that same story about a common fictional high school you might.