I kicked off this week with a big, messy post about, basically, fan fiction. Now that I’ve talked it through a bit with my incredible fellow seminarians, I think my questions boil down to: What are the aspects of a creative text that are most conducive to fostering fan fiction? and How do those attributes translate to nonfictional domains?
Here are the boundaries I’ll draw around my curiosity:
- I’m more interested in creative responses to discrete creative works (e.g. this in response to this) than I am in creative stuff made with creative tools (e.g. this built with this). That is to say, I’m less interested in the general phenomenon of people building things with games or tools that are about building things (e.g. what makes Legos so conducive to worldbuilding?).
- I’m more interested in the wealth (in all dimensions) of responses a work produces than in the inherent creativity of the work itself — the world built on top of or in response to a thing, rather than the world of the thing.
- I’m (ultimately) most interested in how these attributes of creative works apply outside the most familiar domains of fan fiction such as fantasy fiction, Star Wars, etc. I’m curious, for example, how one makes nonfiction that produces fan-nonfiction.
Some of the more unfamiliar examples that strike me as possibly alike enough to cluster with these things are:
- An interplay of visual artworks, like the Picasso and American Art exhibit, and particularly the range of artistic extensions of / responses to “The Studio.” (Including Picasso’s own extensions of that artwork.)
- Op-eds and punditry in major national newspapers and the sort of mirror-world that pundits fashion in concert with one another. (Thanks, Robin!)
- Parody Twitter accounts, like @MayorEmanuel.
Lastly, here are some of the nascent hypotheses I’m forming about aspects of a work that can help bring about world-extending:
- Expansiveness and/or continuity: The world should feel big and open enough that folks feel there’s room to play with it.
- Strong, recognizable systems: The rules and boundaries of the world should feel solid enough to provide a common structure to any world-extensions.
- Focus and blurriness: It seems important that there are areas of the world drawn in fairly vivid detail, but also aspects of the world presented only suggestively. Things to grab onto, and things to fill in.
- Fandom: This kinda goes without saying, but the work needs to have enough attractions that a critical mass of folks will fall in love with it.
There are a few other dimensions I haven’t reached the hypothesis stage for:
- What’s the effect of otherworldliness? Are works of fantasy more conducive to world-extending than works based more solidly in reality?
- How much of world-extension is related to things such as age and gender? We all seem particularly interested in extending worlds when we’re young; does the desire dissipate as we get older and busier?
- What about the degree of user/reader/watcher/listener investment in the text? To inspire fan-fiction, is there possibly a sort of attentional summit that, once ascended, begins to tunnel the person deeper and deeper into the world of the text?
Today and tomorrow, I’ll be crashing the #worldbuilding tag on Twitter to explore some of these questions. Do join me!
Update: Discovered I needed to wait an extra week to book the hotel rooms because of how far out it is. We should be able to confirm signups this week. — MT
Snarkmarket is nine years old today. At this point, I think of Snarkmarket as less of a blog and more of a collective of incredible people with similar (and often wonderfully divergent) fascinations who’ve happened upon each other at the right time. Years after the height of this blog’s activity, I still meet folks who introduce themselves with the question, “Hey, aren’t you Matt from Snarkmarket?”
In 2013, we want to try something that ties together many of the fascinations of this collective. We’ll be seeking about 30 fellow travelers to join us in a year-long, self-assembling digital seminar on media. Everyone will be a lecturer and everyone will be a participant in a series of weekly discussions focusing on a particular text or set of texts. It’ll culminate in a weekend of creation and collaboration in St. Petersburg, Fla., where Snarkmarket began.
First, we have to figure out who’s in. The price of admission will be a hotel room reservation at a hotel in St. Petersburg (official venue TBD) the weekend of November 2nd and 3rd, 2013. We’ll take care of actually booking the rooms. Next week, we’ll post more information on claiming a spot in the seminar. If you want to be in the loop when we do, shoot me a quick email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Second, we have to create the syllabus. Starting Sunday, January 6th, we’ll have a weekly discussion led by a different seminar participant, focusing on a different set of texts. During the month of December, each participant will volunteer the text (or texts!) they want to discuss during their week at the virtual podium. It can be anything, of any vintage — a video, a book, an essay, a story, a game, an artwork — just as long as it says something fascinating to you about media today. Once we’ve identified the full set of texts, we’ll arrange a lecture calendar (with a few breaks for holidays and whatnot).
Weekly discussions get underway the week of January 6th. We’ll try to find a regular day and time that’s agreeable to as many members of the group as possible. The day after each discussion, the next participant at the virtual podium will introduce us to their text with a post telling us why they find it fascinating. Our weekly homework assignment is to participate in the comment thread about this post (you’re not getting graded on responses, so they can be short; “I’m not sure I saw the same resonances you did in this video” is a perfectly legitimate reaction).
In September, we’ll break to work on our final “papers.” These can obvs take any form you wish. They’ll be due by Sunday, October 20th. No more weekly discussions during this time.
Last, we gather in St. Pete. What will happen there, no one can know. We promise only wizardry and delight.
The last time we embarked on a grand adventure together, we wrote a book that’s still being talked about today. I’m beyond excited at the prospect of spending a year in study with this community, learning and sharing alongside one another. I hope you’ll join us.
Happy birthday, Snarkmarket. And happy birthday, Tim!
I was at a conference called NewsFoo this past weekend. In sessions and in conversations throughout the event, folks shared a number of impressive or memorable cultural artifacts they’d encountered; I wrote down as many as I could. I often stupidly neglected to note who pointed out what. Where I’ve remembered the source, I’ve included her. Thanks to everyone who shared!
I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M DOING THIS
I’m going to jump in the middle of Robin and Gavin’s exchange on the DC Comics reboot, even though I explicitly told both of them that I didn’t want to read about it and had nothing to say about any of it, because some things Robin just wrote sparked some ideas that I want to follow here.
Today, you don’t go work at Marvel and DC because of what they are; you go because of what they have. It’s almost like a natural resource. Superman and Batman are potent substances. They have this incredible innate energy, this incredible mythic density, built up over decades. They really are like petroleum—a bright eon of individual organic contributions all compressed into this powerful stuff that we can now burn for light, for entertainment, for money…
How do you weigh the opportunity to work on an old titan like Superman against the opportunity to create something wholly new, and to potentially profit from that creation? Is it only sentimental or emotional value that draws an artist to the former—or is there more?…
Maybe what we’re talking about here is the difference between being an entrepreneur and being a custodian. We tend to think of artists as entrepreneurs, right?—inventors, trailblazers, risk-takers. To make meaningful art is often simply to try something new.
Now before I start, I want to stipulate a few things. First, I want to take seriously Robin’s two primary arguments in his post:
- “I want to talk not about Superman’s universe, but our own—because I think this strategy says something interesting about creative economics today.” Let’s call this the explicit argument.
- Comic books themselves, as content, not just the strategies of their publishers and artists, have something to say about this. Let’s call this the implicit argument.
And I want to add a third point, that I’ll call the unconscious argument. It’s something I don’t think Robin necessarily intended, but which is entailed in the way he formulates the problem:
Everywhere in Robin’s post where he writes “artists,” you can substitute “journalists”—and probably many other nodes in creative economies, broadly construed.
Eli Pariser’s op-ed in the New York Times, “When the Internet Thinks It Knows You”:
Democracy depends on the citizen’s ability to engage with multiple viewpoints; the Internet limits such engagement when it offers up only information that reflects your already established point of view. While it’s sometimes convenient to see only what you want to see, it’s critical at other times that you see things that you don’t.
The Times had run an earlier story on Pariser’s The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You. It takes the easiest possible reading of this idea, applying it to media choices and political disagreement:
If you want to test your own views on personalization, you could try a party trick Mr. Pariser demonstrated earlier this year during a talk at the TED conference: ask some friends to simultaneously search Google for a controversial term like gun control or abortion. Then compare results…
With television, people can limit their exposure to dissenting opinions simply by flipping the channel, to, say, Fox from MSNBC. And, of course, viewers are aware they’re actively choosing shows. The concern with personalization algorithms is that many consumers don’t understand, or may not even be aware of, the filtering methodology.
Reading Pariser’s op-ed, though, I got the sense that he’s not nearly as concerned about narrowing of opinions on the web as he is about the narrowing of interests.
“[I]f algorithms are taking over the editing function and determining what we see,” he writes, “we need to make sure they weigh variables beyond a narrow ‘relevance.’ They need to show us Afghanistan and Libya as well as Apple and Kanye.”
If you spend much time on the Internet, you know that there’s clearly no shortage of disagreement. But it’s more likely that you spend most of your time and energy disagreeing with people who care deeply about the same things about which you already care deeply.
You’ll argue about whether LeBron James or Derrick Rose should have won the MVP, whether or not Mitt Romney has a shot in the Iowa caucuses, or why Apple decided to pre-release information about the WWDC keynote.
We dive deeply into a range of pre-defined topics, tied to our professions, hobbies, needs, and histories, and sharpen our swords with opponents who do the same.
And on the margins, maybe that’s okay. Mass culture throws a whole lot of stuff at its audience that I, like you, have no intrinsic interest in. The time, energy, and cognitive surplus we once devoted to those things we used to consume only because “they were on” are all much better put to use tackling subjects we actually care about.
But it does mean that we’re often unaware of what’s happening in the next room, where there is frequently plenty of useful stuff that we could port into our own special areas of interest. We need to make sure we’re taking advantage of the web’s built-in ability to move laterally.
More to the point: those of us who produce and share content that other people read — and at this point, that’s almost all of us — need to trust that our readers are lateral movers too, and encourage them to do so.
I’m reminded of this blog post from last year, predicting the death of the niche blog and the rise of the lens blog. The lens blog can tackle any subject, but always from the point of view of a subset of enthusiasms or perspectives that find clever ways to find the same in the different, and vice versa.
Hyper-specialization, like information overload, is an old, old problem. But exactly for that reason, we shouldn’t be surprised to see it pop up as a potential problem with our new tools and new media, too.
In short, if you’re really worried about search engines or social media overfiltering what you see, worry less about your reading being one-sided and more about it being one-dimensional.
Update: Dropped in the wrong embed code. I wondered why it was so quiet! Fixed.
Must not sleep. Must liveblog Ze Frank.
Another Storify experiment, this time about my so-far 71%-successful effort to lobby for followers on Twitter.
Publishers trying to sell ad space inside their books is like the producers of a TV show selling the commercials that air during the show, or the director of a film picking the previews that appear before the movie starts.
I mean, maybe there are some interesting, creative things you could do with that on a case-by-case basis, that would really add something to the total experience. And product placement (in books, TV, or movies) is something else altogether, because it needs to be incorporated into the narrative flow. But there’s a reason why we have TV networks, movie studios, and theater programmers. They’re really good at these things. In fact, some of them, like Nick Jr, are really good at marketing and incorporating ads in books and DVDs, too. So are Apple and Amazon. People on the creative side aren’t. (And yes, I’m including book publishers in the “creative” camp.)
If anything, even as traditional broadcast television might be beginning a slow decline, we’re seeing the metastasis of the television network model. Netflix, particularly since Watch Instantly, is more like HBO than it’s like Blockbuster. People talk about it the same way; “ooh, did you see that they’re showing all three Die Hards on Netflix?” Someone pointed out recently that Netflix has started producing their own original content. Zach Galifinakis had a comedy special released on DVD exclusively to Netflix. You could say the same thing about Hulu, which is trying to figure out whether it should be Showtime or Fox.
Amazon and Apple are like TV networks too, and not just for video. They’re the channels you tune to to get what you want. The difference is that in the digital age, content frequently appears in more than one place. But 1) that’s usually NOT true for what Apple sells, and Amazon’s been pushing for more exclusive deals too.
Twitter, too, isn’t microblogging or an archive of content — it’s a broadcast channel that carries its own water-cooler. And in blogs, Gawker (which already actually is a media network, including Gawker TV) is redesigning itself for bigger screens. highlighting “must-see” content to catch casual drop-in readers, a synthesis of blogs, magazines, and television
So that’s the new world: no more dot-coms, no more blogs, no more revolutionary retailers.* Instead, it’s all channels. We TiVo a handful of favorites and let ourselves flick through the rest.
* Obviously, all of these things will continue to exist and thrive. It’s just these are no longer the only metaphors/terms of art we have to talk about these emerging powers.
I realized today that the entire Andrew Breitbart/Shirley Sherrod/Obama administration scandal, and arguably the entire Tea Party/conservative/media pundit civil-liberties and “reverse racism grievance industry” can be explained in this sketch about the heavy metal band Wicked Sceptor from the Mr Show with Bob and David episode “Show Me Your Weenis!”:
“Guys, you gotta see this tape. It’s a black official being TOTALLY racist in front of the NAACP!” A guy gets a tape from some random college student the Underground Young Republican Tape Railroad, dubbed so often it’s practically worthless, that doesn’t really show what it’s supposed to. But the guy — and I don’t know if this recipient is Andrew Breitbart, or if Breitbart’s the guy from the Underground Tape Railroad and cable news is the recipient — says “No shit?”, watches it anyway, and decides to cynically pass it off as what it’s claimed to be.
After all — you’ve already paid for the tape, what are you going to do, not show it to your friends? Even if it isn’t what it says it is, you can get some entertainment out of debating whether or not the tape really shows what it says it does. The elephants [get it?] aren’t really fucking, but who cares? You can have a “conversation on race,” one that’s exactly as serious and informed as the conversation college kids have sitting on a couch watching a viral video together.
Meanwhile, the guys in charge watch a little bit of the tape and freak out. Every blogger in the country is downloading this! Tour’s cancelled, career’s over.
Okay, now the metaphor shifts. Now the band, Wicked Sceptor, are actually the Bush-era conservatives who have suddenly turned around to see racism, erosion of civil liberties, economic disaster, failing wars, a man-made ecological disaster on the gulf coast, a bottomless budget deficit, and the spectre (scepter) of a totalitarian regime everywhere they look.
They’re watching two videotapes, one of the years when conservatives were in power, and all of those things were happening, and another of the lunatic, demagogue fringe that’s gradually defining the institutional and ideological center of the Republican party, engaging in all manner of incompetence, parodic levels of racism, making jokes about eating ribs and witch doctors and anchor babies and the NAACP and Obama secretly wanting black people to stay poor and stupid and they’re saying, what’s the big deal? It’s just a party tape.
|The Colbert Report||Mon — Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
Then we say to the conservatives, “guys, I’m gonna take your tape out, and I want you to do me a favor and watch this OTHER tape of the Democrats being racists and fascists and acting hateful.” Meanwhile, we’re actually taking the same tape, putting it behind our backs, and putting it in the VCR.
And when they see it, they’re horrified. Outraged. Disgusted. They can’t believe what they’re seeing.
And we scream, “That’s you!!” And they laugh and dance around and sing, “alll-rii-iight!”
Then someone tries to be reasonable. Tries to break it down and explain the complexities and the nuances of the situation, and how we’re all, all of us, implicated in the horrible history of our country, its racism and wars and intolerance and political dysfunction and neglect of the sick and the poor and its energy addictions and terrible media culture and general short-sighted willingness, even eagerness, to murder the future to pay the interest on the present.
And they say, “Racist!”
Meanwhile, Shirley Sherrod says, fuck it. I’ll go to Fire Island.
Ta-Nehisi sums it up:
It’s always a marvel to me to watch this guy [Colbert] go in on somebody. As much as I love Stewart, Colbert is act is for the ages. He is channeling all of our simmering left-wing anger and refracting it through the mask. From a black perspective, it is very familiar–but I need to re-read Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray to tell you specifically why.
A few years back, he sliced up D’Nesh Dsouza so bad, that I don’t think he knew he was bleeding until a week later. And now, here he is according Laura Ingraham all the respect that she so richly deserves. That this woman can satirize Michelle Obama for eating ribs all day, and when wonder why anyone would think she was racist is vexing. I actually regret that–the anger, I mean. Frustration with these people, so often, feels useless. And then you see it turned into something like this, and you understand that rage has its purposes.
We had a few years, post-9/11. where it seemed like this sort of language disappeared–at least as it related to black people. Now we’re back to situation where the most publicized political movement of our time believes, that charges of racism have destroyed “whole cities,” that the NAACP is as bad as the Klan and is perpetrating “racial terror,” that white people should have the right to say nigger, that the amendment that granted African-Americans citizenship should be repealed, and that “white America” needs to “see black people condemning the NAACP.”
It’s worth remembering that this is the Tea Party’s reply to charges of racist elements in their ranks. It feels like something out of 1986.
And then you have to read the final thought.