As director of the Comparative Media Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jenkins has played a leading role over the past two decades in studying manifestations of popular culture such as video games and fan communities. His conclusions have helped put them squarely into a historical context of artistic and creative activities.
Much of his latest work, including an upcoming book titled "Convergence Culture," deals with the shifting relationship between audiences and big content producers like Hollywood studios. Aided by new digital production technologies and the distribution power of the Web, fan communities are increasingly creating their own sophisticated works--fiction, films and games--based on the big content producers' original characters.
This is uncomfortable for some in the culture industries, which aren't accustomed to this two-way street. While the game business is adapting fast, Hollywood is still profoundly conflicted about how to deal with the creative fan armed with a digital video camera, a Web site and his or her own ideas for a new story, Jenkins says.
George Lucas and Lucasfilm, which is just weeks away from launching the latest installment in the "Star Wars" series, have naturally been at the center of the debate over fan productions. Fan films based on the "Star Wars" universe are now popping up online in advance of the release, some with Lucas' blessing and some without.
Lucas has had a complicated relationship with his fan base, one of the oldest and broadest communities in popular culture. He has allowed some fan creativity but also quashed it in some instances--sometimes in ways that had strong gender-biased implications, Jenkins argues.
News.com spoke to Jenkins about the evolving relationships between big media companies and their active online audiences, and focused particularly on the relationship between Lucas and his fans.Q. Fan productions seem to be growing in sophistication, both in the game business and in the movie business. Is there a benefit to the corporations from this activity?
Jenkins: Let's look at the game industry. Will Wright, who created "The Sims," has a prediction that about 60 percent of content in the game will be created by consumers. When there is amateur-generated content, companies can monitor for the top talents, who can be pushed to the next generation, who are the amateurs who can go pro. And for companies like BioWare, the amateur games extend the shelf life of the commercial games, because in order to play those games you have to buy the commercial game as well.
So the game industry has a fully developed pipeline where amateur production plays a very central role in driving innovation, in driving professional development, driving market outreach and driving new content at a lower cost.
But it's different in Hollywood.
Jenkins: When you go to Hollywood, none of that is in place yet. Hollywood has been deeply suspicious of amateur productions, has largely read it through the Napster lens of saying all this stuff is piracy. If we don't control this it's bad for us. There has been real resistance to the emergence of a public culture around movie content. Many of the studio executives have had a hard time distinguishing between downloading movies and making your own movies, for example.
Historically, Lucas and Lucasfilms have been really undecided as to how to respond to the emergence of fan communities. In my new book, "Convergence Culture," I spend a lot of time tracing the history of Lucasfilms' relationship to its fans, continually trying to incorporate them, but at the same time being nervous about them and ultimately regulating them to control what can and can't be said.
In the case of "Star Wars," they formed an official partnership with AtomFilms to be this core distributor of "Star Wars" independent films. AtomFilms does an official contest, gives prizes, and
23 commentsJoin the conversation! Add your comment