SXSWi:Convergence Culture: A Conversation with Henry Jenkins

Convergence Culture: A Conversation with Henry Jenkins
Henry’s bio
Henry’s website and blog
His new book
11:30 CST
Moderated by dana boyd (bio, website)

Holy heck, Henry Jenkins and dana boyd just blew my mind. If you listen to one podcast from South by Southwest Interactive, make sure it is this one when it comes out.

Henry has written 3 books in the last year and posts a blog essay daily

dana boyd: What is fandom?

Jenkins: I have always been a fan. My cousin had comic books, etc. In college I was a fanboy of things geeky, techie. Married a fangirl. Star Trek fans.

People’s willingness to think non-stop about what they like leads to sites like Fanfiction.

Academics did not respect fans. I wanted to set the record straight about fans and the passion that drives them – 20 years ago. My book 16 years ago was written at a time were fans were totally marginal, hiding in their parents basement.

New book, convergence culture: fans are central to culture. What everyone calls web 2.0 is fandom without stigma. Creating communities, shared knowledge, remixing content. People were doing this in the basement 20 years ago and now major companies are making money on this. Fandom is not essential to the economy.

Church activities, political activities are now modeling themselves after fan culture.

Q: What role has the Internet played in fandom?

A: More people find their way into fandom. Mimeographs didn’t make things highly visible. The web makes things like the half-million Harry Potter stories possible.

A2: Speedup. Within 5 minutes of a TV show starting discussions have become.

Leads to a world of collective intelligence.

Twin Peaks: Newspapers were complaining that it had become too complicated to follow. Internet communities were complaining that it has become too simple. What was happening? Online communities sharing info, needed more complexity to follow. People watching along couldn’t follow along.

Steven Johnson: schools are dumbing down and TV is ramping up. Pokemon expects you to remember 250 characters and their traits while schools are struggling to get students to remember a handful of Greek gods.

Q: Remix culture: Many creators are not embracing this. Fans are being sued. Where is this going?

A: basic premise: media companies have already lost control. We can take your content and do whatever we want (remix, resample, etc) and there is pretty much nothing you can do. Media needs to deal with that and create new ways of engaging. Media companies need to know that fans don’t detract from value but actually increase.

Prohibitionist attitude (cease and desist letters to 14 year old girls who write Harry Potter stories) moving to a enfranchising attitude where fans increase value of what companies are doing

Control over intellectual property is a battleground which will determine if we become a more participatory culture – caught in a vice between government regulation and Hollywood attitudes – both squashing this participatory culture

Are you going to give up your house, your kids’ college funds or are you going to take your story offline? No one is able to defend the rights that the courts would likely protect. Bullying is the technique and lawyers are at these companies’ disposal.

Q: Young peoples’ participation. What does that environment look like with DOPA and others that affect youth?

A: 57% of American teenagers are media producers. 30-some% are sharing media they produced with people they don’t know. What does it mean to turn these kids loose on a world where they have far reach, but don’t have a lot of guidance and assistance. (from Pew study)

DOPA strips schools of social networking and blogging technologies. For a decade we were closing the digital divide through schools and libraries. Now that we are almost there (reservations, rural areas withheld) we have libraries with: 10 minute rules, no storage space, slow connections and now rules on what you can use. This does not allow people to be successful in a networked world and participatory culture.

Liberals and conservatives are both in this together. This would not pass without the support of liberal democrats. Mark Foley was an author so it solved. Ted Stevens is not pushing it further (the Internet as pipes guy). The community needs to mobilize against this.

Even if we thought MySpace was crawling with predators (it is not) we need to know if it is safer to lock out MySpace and don’t train students or better to train teachers and librarians to work with kids on how to participate in this culture. It probably leaves kids more at risk than they ever were before.

Kids being hit with cease and desist letters and driven out of social networks when adults are around.

Time magazine names “You” person of the year but “you” are under fire.

Boyd: Connecticut Attorney General trying to pass legislation that says any under 18 folks need proper adult supervision to use any communications tool – how would this work? Keeping kids out of queer sites could be terrible

Jenkins: politics of fear is working. All politicians agree that kids should be muzzled. Gender issue: we are afraid of our sons and for our daughters. Men will be Columbine and women will be attacked and violated.

Until we release the fear mongering we won’t be able to move forward with reason. We must challenge the fear and the methods that are being used. We must look to the researchers who are finding out how kids are engaging in civic spaces.

The right to preserver the infrastructure of democracy particularly as it applies to young people is essential.

boyd: Where do you see participatory democracy going?

Jenkins: the language of politics is not eternal, it shifts over time. Fireside chats are different than the Kennedy- Nixon debates. Participator culture potentially gives young people a new language, remix of politics. (see blog post from last week’s MIT conference Beyond Brodcasting). Democracy needs to be lifestyle the way we live with popular culture.

We feel more comfortable being consumer than we do citizens. Washington disempowers us. American Idol taught us about our role in music and we need to think about role in politics.

Photoshop for democracy – photoshop collages responding about political issues almost in real time. The peoples’ editorial cartoon. Challenge is that it does not fit into paradigm of news coverage.

News: already racist images of Obama, sexist images of Hillary. Use of images will play a huge role. We need to think about the ethics for using images – media literacy is essential in this.

“With great power becomes great responsibility” – Spiderman. The language of fan culture will be a lot of how the next election will be run. Using Second Life, YouTube etc. trying to appeal to young people. We can’t tear each other apart with stuff, but need to find out how to work together using these resources.

boyd: What lessons can we learn from Wikipedia?

Jenkins: Gave talk about why Middlebury College is wrong for banning Wikipedia (link to video here). It is a monument of participatory culture that it is as good as it is. I would be teaching people to look at the debates/struggles about how historical entries on Wikipedia are made. I had so much more respect for Encyclopedia Brittannica until I was asked to write an entry. I could not possibly write an entry! Speaking with Jimmy Wales about international evens like wars – English Wikipedia is one of the few places in human history where both sides had to come together and decide on “truth.”

You could aruge that all concerns about Wikipedia from history departments could be countered by this discourse about truth rather than one-sided reporting on History.

Center for Deliberative Democracy – no political leaders but putting together citizens to read and learn about issues and come up with policy – often better and different than all the major platorms

boyd: user-generated content is being critiqued.
UNC breakup video – 3,000 gather to watch a guy breakup with his girlfriend for cheating. Uncomfortable video as you are not sure you should be watching it. It was a hoax – was a test to see how far things can get out on the web. People were upset with it. They want things to be real. What is real? How do we work through these issues?

Jenkins: “Humbug” – stuff that was presented to the public without a certainty of status. PT Barnum – the status of this is under dispute, come see for yourself (a mermaid). Australian scientists find a beaver-like thing with a duck bill and a poison stinger, trying to convince people it was real – duck bill platypus

The World of Networks – Binkler – we are trying to figure out the status of what all this content is. Knowing what it is on YouTube is evolving – grass roots media literacy movement is beginning as a result. We need to stop being angry about being faked out.

Politics of shame covered by mainstream news outlets. How can we tell what is fake when the breakup is fake but the tasering of the student is real? Theoretically that could be fake. How do we get people to discern reality through the mixed media we received today. Through McCarthur we are focused on media literacy and how people can view this media with a critical eye.

boyd: what are the critical issues with things like second life and MMORPG?

Jenkins: I love Second Life. Global Kids group in New York made my avatar for me. Second Life is a new center of that participatory culture. Compared it to a medieval carnival where men dresses as women, women as men and other transformations. Women would beat mean that one day a year where the roles were reversed, a small check on culture. Boston Tea Party took image of Native Americans to do something out of character for political gain.

As we enter an environment that parallels are own but allows us to try out new and different ideas – sexual identity, economics, politics – try it out and see what happens and then carry out energy out into the real world.

Brigadoon Island in SL for autistic kids to learn about social signs with avatars and then move out into the new world.

Another idea about Macedonia and what it should look like. What about a virtual Palestine online? What about talking across national borders and see what that will give us? We need to think about it as a social experiment. It is not about escapism but about the experiment that allows us to see what might work in the real world.

That is why I like Global Kids in New York as they are trying out what could work in Second Life and learning from it.

There are now people lining up to ask questions. As with most questions in these types of panels almost every single person is a man.

Q: How do we combat politics of fear? Money?
A: I don’t know who is going to invest in fighting the politics of fear. Like small movies that make it big, how do we get low-budget politics to get big results? We have creation power that people will pass along if it is not granola, not bitch-slapping. Civic media needs to be viral to make change.

On mashup culture: The Sistine Chapel is a mashup of the Bible and Shakespeare did Fanfiction of characters that he read about.

LOL was used by teenagers in the 1850’s. There are connections between early print press to ham radio to the Internet – we can trace language across these times/modes. Participatory culture has lost ground at times and gained at times.

Q: Isn’t all the fandom stuff reliant on mass media? Is this a problem?
A: The 21st century drove out folk culture for mass media culture so fandom is heavy reliant on mass media. We will get back to folk culture. People write fan fiction because it is the best way to get people to read it. If I write about my high school you probably wont read it, but if I write about Hogwarts you might. It is simply a language that we share and so we use it.

We will be somewhat dependent on large companies to fulfill our shared fantasies, but companies are more reliant on us than ever before.

Q: What is driving DOPA for politicians? What are they afraid that kids will do, meet, say, see?
A: Fear of the unknown. As a parent I do things that I swore I wouldn’t when I was a kid. Parents don’t know how to get on second life, how to read a MySpace page, so all it takes is a small trigger event like a school shooting, abduction. Politicians then say how do I get parents to vote for me. Clinton: sees a shooting in Native American reservation with history of alcoholism, gangs, violence, zombie comics and video games. So she blames it on comics and video games – the good liberal.

Definitely the loudest round of applause I have heard at all the talks I’ve been to at SXSW. Went on for a few minutes. Ok, time to give my fingers a rest and get some lunch. Planning to have Henry on 21st Century Learning, perhaps to talk about how parents should be educated on these issues. Stay tuned.

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arvind s. grover

I am a progressive educator, a podcaster (, a blogger, and dean of faculty of JK-11 school (building a high school) in New York City.