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Session 3: Transmedia for Social Change
This panel will broaden the discussion of transmedia properties to areas beyond the commercial or promotional. What are the potentials for transmedia to be used to affect social change? What parallels can we draw between the activities fan communities and other sites of collective activity? How does participation in the collectives that emerge around transmedia properties equip young people with skills as citizens? What responsibilities should corporations bear, if any, as they try to court fan communities and deep engagement?
This panel will also consider the cross-over between the forms of collective activity that mark participation in transmedia narratives and other forms of collective activities that harness entertainment media for social good. With the ability to mobilize (often) large and passionate groups of people quickly in response to actions that threaten their values and practices, fan communities constitute collective bargaining units acting on the behalf of consumers. Increasingly, fan communities are also deploying their social networks to try and bring about political and cultural change, resulting in an emerging form of activism which may impact on public policy or social welfare concerns.
Moderator: Henry Jenkins – Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts, USC Panelists include: Stephen Duncombe – NYU, author of Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in the Age of Fantasy (The New Press); Andrew Slack – The Harry Potter Alliance; Noessa Higa – Visionaire Media; Lorraine Sammy – Co-creator Racebending; Jedidiah Jenkins-Director of Public & Media Relations, Invisible Children
- AS: Runs Harry Potter Alliance. HP starts a student activist group in one of the books. I saw a great opportunity to make connections with the real world. We try and wake the world up to things that are going on. We team up with NGOs and promote them in the HP fan community. We can get access to the media, as the media find it interesting that a HP group can get to do things. Eg marriage equality in Maine. We did concerts, phone voters to canvas etc Activism is about elevating the human spirit – sharing this creates a oneness feeling.
- LS: one of co-founders of racebending.com; Around a Cartoon, where there was a cartoon that got been turned into a liveaction,. About casting white actors for Asian parts. this created a movement online. both fans and then moves wider, It is a small grassroots site, it focuses on a fair casting process. We use multiple medias
- JJ: Work for Invisible Children. A media based NPO that bridges the gap between west and East Africa/Northern Uganda. We are trying to end the longest running war in Africa plus wake up western youth to a life of activism and social engagement. It started with a couple of guys telling the story and snowballed from there. It has not been a conscious action to invade multiple media but it is how we do things. We’re between 18-30 and we look for things that will spur action..it is about a lifestyle change. We tell the stories through documentaries and through touring, Through short films, you can capture the imagination, and lure them into for longer stuff.
- NH: work in a multiplatform company that promotes cross-culture dialog. Two projects, one On the road in America, a documentary reality show, showing Middle East people about the US. we are in the second series. We also created a blog so the cast and crew could document their experiences. this allows people to be part of it. It shows other perspectives. We are alos developing a online platform when the show airs. We are also working on iDiplomacy, looking at how media and entertainment are working in democracy.
- SD: looking at how culture can be used politically. Most is work is about contemporary social movements, how they borrow from culture. Looking at the past, 32-33, to 39. the New Deal. During the New Deal, transmedia telling a story for social change is not new, it was practised then. For radio, with FDR Fireside chats, plus theatres, posters etc. A story that only made sense through all the platforms. It was not co-created, but FDR had lots of letters about it, people wanting to talk about it. You got a multi-textured idea of the New Deal. They had to build a culture around the New Deal,. The comms apparatus can tell us a great deal.
- HJ: So Andrew, Cultural Acupuncture is a suggestive term?
- AS: if you go to acupuncturist,, it is about an intuitive body of energy with blocks that prevent the energy flow. So this is about getting ridding the blocks. So if culture is one body with an energy flow with specific blocks. So there are ways to unblock this. SO HP has a lot of psychological energy aimed at the book – so can you take that energy and move it around to make the world a better place. So see where the energy is now, find the energy can that be taken and used elsewhere. So that is what we do with HPAlliance
- HJ: Stephen you wrote this book..Manufacturing dissent.
- SD: fantasy and dreams are at the centre of social change, about managing things not as they are but as they could be. tey are dreams and fantasies. the healthcare reform has been sold with hard facts not with dreams, Obama has backed off the dreams but talking about dreams etc Fantasy and spectacle are the lingo of our times. If your are going to be a civic actor that cannot speak in language of fantasy and spectacle then you will render yourselves mute. Mass culture is a repository of desire, it is a matter of rechanneling
- HJ: is this consistent with some of the other panel?
- JJ: I love what is being said. With Invisible Children, young people who are stringer than ever and willing to forfeit the traditional american dream for more purpose in their jobs and lives. finding that undercurrent of desire is what we have tried to harp on and showing that through our media in an attractive way, rebranding it as an adventure and change of life. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive you can make what you want to do what you should do
- NH: the ability to be heard beyond my local community was not there, but now there are means of production for all – a cell phone with a character, With we you have free distribution and your voice can be heard We are looking to empower people to be heard.
- LS: When you present people with a bunch of ways they can make a different, it empowers them. With fandom, you have the energy, a built in base you can jump from.
- AS: watching JJ film, it’s like a blockbuster, but it’s authentic. We chose the adventure of what happens next (for social activism). In society, we are addicted to story, because it is how the human mind works….
- HJ: In framing activism through HP, with clearly defined evil, but how do it in real world, political cuases which is more grey
- SD: So Anonymous, which has taken on Scientology. 4Chan have taken on the perfect comic opposite for themselves. But can it extend outside of it? Power does not work always like this..it is diffuse, networked etc. Power is not always something you can defeat a single entity. But this is a stepping stone, a way to political activism. Some will go back to what they were doing, others are started on a different path.
- LS: we have to look at our position of privilege and how it extends. We make decision based on what we know. But we have to questions where it comes from and how we make these conclusions. We have to look at the evil within ourselves, e have to question ourselves and our motivations.
- NH: the awareness factor is key for what a lot of us do. Media is a powerful platform to educate people on what is happening. People can also share perspective.
- JJ: we saw the clear moral line of child soldiering, abduction. there is a dramatic and complicated back story, but the issue and villain of (Joseph??) is clear. There are grey areas, but this is a clear line. Our media does vilify Joseph Coni the rebel leader, but still allows gray areas. Ours followers still hold to a moral code (they are doing a bill to arrest him,)
- AS: On apersonal level I am very hypocritical, I have a pavlovian response to some people, I demonise very quickly, but as an organisation we are wrestling with this, ot is a big question. But in my opinion, HP is not just a straight forward good and evil battle. If you look Voldermort, there are things that scare him – Dumbledore calls him his name, it humanises him. It is about getting beyond this mindset. you see what seems like evil in situations, but there are bigger stories. We need more of the framework of myth, but we need to be careful on how to use it.
- HJ: so are fans uncritical consumers of franchisers, but LS you are being critical
- LS: when watching the cartoon, I watched it over the summer, then I checked what other people were saying. I was passive (as I got into it later). People underestimate the potential, see the groups. people don’t see fandom as worthy whenit comes to social change. For me, I never started out as a grass roots activist, but it is because of fandom that I was bolstered into doing this, trying to make a difference. Coming from Fandom, people think that they are just crazy fans, You have to step out of it, and make a valid case, explain it. We are focused on entertainment based cases, it has been a struggle, but in a good way, it brings some relevance to fandom in how they are perceived. It has influenced other advocacy groups and productions.
- HJ: love and community are great but who decides the political platform. Where are the ethics in manipulating a fan group?
- LS: this takes fandom beyond ‘I like’ it brings a humanity to the fans, it is more than just I like, I consumer, I have beliefs. There have been many skirmishes in the organisers. But these are things you always have to hash through whatever the activist model. you have a loosely based organisation and they come together. Communication can be limited but can also help when making a broad decision. But we work through them by talking and having a dialogue,
- As: it is a challenging question. We use the common room (on ning) an interactive blog, anyone can out something up and people do voice dissent. Especially with the LGBT. It is not just a liberal group,. Chapters may not be allowed to talk about it in schools or religion is against it. They don’t have to. It is also simple when the author talks about what she wants. The organisation has stances and we put this out. We can’t work on lots of things at once, we see what the focus is. We have 30 people working on this. Building on consensus is important but there is a balance to be struck. Full democracy is not always working..we have a way of doing. We are non-partisan, we take no political stance.
- NH: it is not just about people liking us. We asked the people on what they wanted to do and we based our journeys on some of the things. eg the Palestinians wanted to meet Native Americans due to an affinity plus visit the projects as he lives in a refugee camp. He was shocked the Native American family were not angry about the land – they had a different perspective as they say no one can own the land. He gets angry about the land.
- HJ: let’s look at the genre element
- NH: directly meeting people is better than documentary We use reality format to drive this effectively…more effective for the audience to take people and show them
- JJ: our case is almost the same. They are heavily based in the reality genre. We show people going to Uganda and their friendship with a ware affected child. Showing that story in schools resonates. It brings it into a tangible reality where you can compare it with someone else. It has been easier, to get a rich emotional truth..you can tell the emotional truth you want to tell..you just have to turn the camera on.
- SD: The NYT parody, we wanted it to look like the NYT. It was about the power of the real in this case, an artefact of the future in their hands. they had 80k handed out.
- AS: HP lives because his mother made a choice to die..and her love went into him to protect him. Lily is the original hero in the books; so there are Lily Potters of Darfur, connecting it back to real people. We honoured Dumbledore this summer, what would Dumbledore do campaign, about how he could change their lives. got people to think about what Dumbledore taught them. talking about what the character means, it went crazy.
- LS: for us it’s the cross over of reality and fantasy. IN the cartoon, you found children who could see a kinship, but it was taken away from them and people who look like them are not the heroes.
- AUDQ: Intrigued by concept of tapping into communities around something and activating towards causes but see how they could be nervous about causes that may not align with their values.
- AS: so someone like Warner brothers getting worried…there is a large history of fandom with WB. It was very tense to start it, but I came out on this after this tension. We did take precautions, with name. HPAlliance. OUr first campaign was Darfur,it was difficult to attack us on this. We are looking to talk more with them ig HP chocolate fairtrade. We re OK now, but there are going to be issues as it grows as a model for fans etc.
- AudQ: funding?
- VH: through a non profit, a public diplomacy initiative.
- JJ: not Nonprofit traditional. Most is $20 or less from cross country tours, the kids involved. Most comes from small donations, plus a few larger donors. We have never had grants until a week ago, the first government grant.
- AUDQ: is there a digital divide for activism?
- HJ: it is not just digital, you use the most relevant channels etc.
- JJ: it is important that you don’t have to be in all channels, but can be whatever you have access to. Whatever avenues you come at you leave with the foundation of what we are about and can still have resources and skills.
- SD: The new deal was multi-platform. you can’t think about privilege in 2-3 media, it is about what you can reach and what your audience are doing. It is just one tactic in many, it is part of an integrated campaign.
- NH: TV is most popular in Middle east, but we are doign web as well.
- AS: we also campaign to get broadband access…
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