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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Turning Documents into Monuments

    Jenkins seems to be just as seduced by the objects of convergence culture as those he intends to inform. He claims that his “goal here is to document conflicting perspectives on media change rather than to critique them.” (p. 13) He attempts to take’ a God’s eye view from nowhere’, speaking from a position as somehow above the fray of the structures he’s analyzing. While being reflexive and rigorous in research methods is key, Jenkins seems to fear reaching any semblance of a decisive conclusion. He merely points to the existence of a paradox, without providing a measurement of the way the scales are tipped. Granted the Survivor chapter and others points to the problem of an oversaturation of dogmatic interpretations about the dynamics of convergence, it seems there is an even greater risk in claiming to be apolitical.  

    Jenkins states that, “The new knowledge culture has arisen as our ties to older forms of social community are breaking down, our rooting in physical geography is diminished, our bonds to the extended and even the nuclear family are disintegrating, and our allegiances to nation-states are being redefined.”(p.27)It is unclear whether a single causal claim can be made as to whether the internet erodes these ties or if these ties determine  the way we engage the internet; the forces appear to be mutually reinforcing. People have been making statements like “knowledge becomes power in the age of media convergence” (p. 20) repeatedly since the Renaissance, what seems more important is to evaluate the trends of its dispersion or concentration. While Jenkins points to the paradoxes that emerge within the particularized cases of reality television or other pop culture examples, it seems that if one is able to pan out and investigate the overall effects of convergence culture Levy’s feet seem more firmly rooted in the ground than at first glance. Knowledge is now able to circulate with increased rapidity and scope than ever before, people are able to check the manipulation of events, and see beyond what immediately given to them. The difference in the available knowledge about the current wars and the First Gulf War that may or may not have ever occurred seem an especially poignant demonstrations of the ongoing transformation. While there certainly are limits, it seems misguided to present the case as just a paradox, without having a yardstick by which to judge it. Perhaps there are contradictory forces which problematize the way one ought to understand the dynamics of convergence, but one can also discern more universal forces emerging amidst all the noise.

    Jenkins uses the most commodified examples of convergence culture to point to the inevitability of consumer capitalism’s stranglehold on resistance. Why would we expect the forms of collaboration that develop out of a reality television show to hold emancipatory potential? If a group’s method of exerting control upon a media corporation is part of the “narrative pleasure” (p. 28 ) or the experience of its product then that only makes people more affectively invested in the process of consumption. Jenkins points are not to be overlooked, it is extremely important " to understand the emotional underpinnings of consumer decision-making as a driving force behind viewing and purchasing decisions." (p. 62) And to analyze the way "commodification is also a form of exploitation.” (p. 62) But Jenkins analysis is limited, almost threadbare, in scope in certain respects. Why even mention exploitation as an abstract concept unless one is willing to make it felt? It seems the importance in the cases of Survivor or American Idol is to show the way in which these original Frankensteined combinations birthed by convergence culture breed interpassivity among publics. They participate within a larger ideological frame that keeps people distracted from struggles beyond themselves by creating the illusion of activity. People go on voting on their cell phones or really sticking it to Mark Burnett, thinking companies are changing the way they relate to you as a consumer, when in reality nothing changes. 

    Jenkins thinks he is the spoiler of the spoilers. He criticizes Pierre Levy at the points where Levy is “most utopian” (p. 38) or “at his most optimistic” (p. 29) rather than at his most pragmatic level. What about the numerous examples in which convergence has led not to cynical disenchantment with politics but toward cultivating new modes of engagement? What about the use of social media in the Iranian elections? Cell phones documenting human rights abuses? Wikileaks? or whistle-blowing organizations? 

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At January 27, 2011 at 12:04 AM , Blogger Blake said...

I love the way you close this post. You bring up interesting questions. As technology continues to advance and we aim to reconcile journalism and online communities together, we should aim to view the internet as potential for a more highly democratized society rather than a medium that exists to oppress legitimate communication.

Thanks for your thoughts.

At January 27, 2011 at 5:33 AM , Blogger Jenna said...

I think your criticism of Jenkins is valid. Especially as he refers to himself as an "early converter" to new technologies and such.
He seems to dismiss Levy as too much of an idealist, but as you mentioned in your final paragraph, he'd be remiss not to see the potential of these communities of collective knowledge. For me, Twitter is a great example of one of these communities and one that makes people more socially and politically engaged. I can read about how the Wikileaks scandal or some human rights disaster is playing out while I'm on Twitter, and my sources can include CNN or some news organization, but it could also be simply people who are on the scene. On top of all that, I might be a source of news for someone else if I comment on a situation or "retweet" those from whom I've gotten information. On Twitter, (as a case study, not as the only option for this sort of behavior, to be sure) I can ask my friends what they think of a new movie one minute and tweet to and about the governor or a member of Congress the next minute.


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