Is there sufficient props to Culture Industry Stakeholders?

In his book, Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries, Johnson advocates for a more in-depth analysis of the media franchise industry, claiming that a political economic study of the industry is insufficient in understanding its impact within culture industries. Johnson calls for additional “cultural studies” that would observe and report the subsequent effects of media franchises on not just corporate shareholders, but all cultural stakeholders. Johnson makes the distinction between the two types of analyses required, “If political economy asks how domination occurs within social relations, cultural studies frequently explore how those subject to that domination understand and make meaning of those circumstances” (Johnson, 10). In his intro, Johnson discusses what he perceives to be a collaborative effort required from all cultural stakeholders, from media professionals to average consumers, within the franchise industry that collaborate to make certain media franchises viable over several decades, if not generations. Johnson understands that to understand the complex dynamics at work in the study of media franchises, there must be instituted a hybrid model of analysis that acknowledges, without overemphasizing the roles of corporate structures as well as understanding the role of individual cultural agents, such as producers and consumers, without forgetting their subjectivity to commercial influence.

Johnson draws upon the works and beliefs of other experts, such as Robert Babe, to help advocate for this new hybrid system of analysis. Johnson writes “”Robert Babe, for example, has recently argued for the urgency of bringing together these two modes of cultural analysis, seeing potential to account for human volition and freedom without mistakenly ignoring elite control of political, economic, and cultural resources.” (11). For Johnson, as well as Babe and the myriad other experts Johnson draws upon to lend creedence to functionality of his hybrid system, they are primarily focused on the development of creative industries across all structures of power, “institutional and personal, economic and social, public and private” (13). For Johnson, “this means studying not just the production of culture, but also the cultures of production in which that work unfolds.” (12). This mode of analysis is quite self-reflexive, introspective, and definitely a deviation from other models of analysis that focus too much on either the public or private sectors and not enough on their overlap or interconnectedness.  Johnson goes into further discussion regarding the critical balance struck by this new method of analysis, and how it’s bipartisan approach can help delineate the degree of authorship and creative ownership various parties should exercise when collaborating on a work, such as a franchise.

For Johnson analyzing creative industries, specifically franchises, in a way that understands the influence both the private and public sectors exert towards creative production is tantamount towards understanding the processes of creative licensure and collaboration within culture industries now and in the near future. Essentially, what is being discussed here is the allocation of due credit, authorship, and ownership amongst franchise industries that operate upon the collaborative effort of myriad individuals, all of whom should analyze and contest their percentage of creative ownerships within the product as a whole. So basically, what is lacking here is a system of analysis within creative industries with the ability to demarcate exactly the amount of “props” i.e., ups, credit, each creative author deserves. Johnson elaborates: “that test [creative industries analysis model] should not seek to identify franchising as another site of celebrated creative freedom, but instead as a site where the autonomy and freedom of individuals laboring within media institutions might be imagined, organized, and contested” “…scholars should work to problematize creativity rather than endorse it.” (14).

Johnson’s discussion of the arbitrary state of creative licensure and collaboration credit reminds me various franchises such as DotA, League of Legends, and DayZ which owe part, if not the majority of their financial success to their public sector despite its commercial origins. To clarify, take for example DotA. Defense of the Ancients (DotA) is an online multiplayer PVP (player vs player) mod for Blizzard Entertainments Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. The mod was a wild success, garnering critical acclaim from both the Blizzard Entertainment fan base and Blizzard Entertainment itself. Since it’s inception, DotA has since been featured at various worldwide tournaments, and after reaching global recognition was finally legally purchased by Valve Corporation who went on to develop a direct sequel, DotA 2. Developer company Riot Games expanded on the combat and objective systems found within DotA and DotA2 and release their own strikingly similar, free to play online pvp game, League of Legends. Despite its free to play status, hundreds of thousands of players spend lots of real life currency bolstering their players talents and expanding their arsenal. DayZ  has a similar story as DotA, spending its original life as a user created mod for the PC game Arma II but has since been purchased and commercialized by game developers Bohemia Interactive.

The reason Johnson’s discussion of the arbitrary state of creative licensure and collaboration credit reminded me of these particular franchises is that it is a real life example of the liminal and ephemeral state of creative authorship in modern day creative industries. What I mean is that the original mods that subsequently gave life to all of these games were user-generated. Essentially, these mods were a creative product wrought from the cultural consumers, discovered and re-appropriated by a corporate media industry, i.e., video game developers, and then re-distributed in commercial form with little to no acknowledgement to the original creators. The discussion itself remains as complex as the various power structures or cultural avenues/process through which these creative products are created. One could always argue that without the original product, modders would have nothing to create a mod for, however, would the franchise have met an early and untimely demise without the creative input of the modders? aka the creative collaborators? Johnson’s book, Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries, makes clear that it does not have the perfect model or scope for fully understanding the intricacies behind creative authorship within such vast creative industries, but it does recognize the need for systematic reassessment of current methods of recognition for creative collaborators.

Sources Cited:

Johnson, Derek. Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

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