Media as Cream Cheese (or, a Spread of Culture)

I never thought that the last blog post for my senior seminar would begin with a discussion of Susan Boyle, but here we are. Henry Jenkins, one of the leading thinkers in our field, has done it again with Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. Jenkins states early on that “[Susan] Boyle’s international success was not driven by broadcast distribution. Fans found Susan Boyle before media outlets did,” (Jenkins, 10).

This struck me. I was not surprised by it, necessarily, but it made me realize how much distribution has changed in my lifetime. In Susan Boyle’s case, which the introduction of the book describes in detail, she went from television to viral internet sensation back to exposure on television, which then boosted her online views even more. This seems to go on until seemingly everyone has seen it, or when the subject in question starts to lose it. The relationship between the public spreading content online and the media picking up the story of said spreading is mutually beneficial, but it is the kind of ‘fluff’ that people often do not like to see on the news. It is probably why The Today Show is 4 hours long. Speaking of which, here’s an online sensation getting interviewed on Australia’s Today Show. Watch it.

Near the end of Chapter 1, Jenkins mentions that

The flaws in Web 2.0, at their core, can be reduced to a simple formulation: the concept transforms the social “goods” generated through interpersonal exchanges into “user-generated content” which can be monetized and commodified. In actuality, though, audiences often use the commodified and monetized content of commercial producers as raw material for their social interactions with each other, (Jenkins, 83).

I understand what he’s saying in a basic sense, but I’m trying to flesh out the implications of the issue. He’s saying that we share commercially-monetized content with each other with Web 2.0. I’m trying to see why this is problematic. I encourage anyone who has a better grasp of this to help me out here.

We are knives. Butter is media. Toast is Web. I am hungry. Image found here.

We are knives. Butter is media. Toast is Web. I am hungry. found here.

Chapter 6 discusses animator Nina Paley’s experience of avoiding the “constricting copyright regimes” by providing her work free of charge online, free of any restrictive DRMs. What she found was that her audience was incredibly receptive of this approach, and she ended up making plenty of money through DVD and merchandise sales that was augmented through the internet’s affordance of spreading her content far and wide:

‘My personal experience confirms audiences are generous and want to support artists. Surely there’s a way for this to happen without centrally controlling every transaction. […] The audience, you and the rest of the world is actually the distributor of the film. So I’m not maintaining a server or host or anything like that. Everyone else is. We put it on, a fabulous website, and encourage people to BitTorrent it and share it. (2009) [Jenkins, 231

This reminds me of Louis C.K.’s recent ‘experiment’ to release his comedy special online for $5, free of DRMs. The comedy special, Live at the Beacon Theater, made $1 million in 12 days. Following this success, comedians like Aziz Ansari and Jim Gaffigan used the same approach. Louis C.K.’s response to the experiment can be read here. Radiohead did something similar when they released their 2007 album In Rainbows online, and asked customers to pay what they deemed appropriate, to much success. Ideas in a similar vein have not been successful outside of the Web. For example, Panera had a few locations where one could pay what they could instead of the menu items having a fixed price. At first, people were paying above what was recommended, but that did not last very long. But why the difference? Here’s why: with a comedy special, you are paying $5 once. That is it. I will bet that after going to one of these Paneras once or twice and paying a fair amount to placate their consciences, customers started to throw a buck or two less at the cashier because, hey, they have already done their part. I never thought that the last blog post for my senior seminar would end with a discussion of Panera, but here we are.


Jenkins, Henry, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green. Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: New York UP, 2013. PDF.


  1. […] response to Charlie’s confusion, What I believe Jenkins is getting at is that there exists a reciprocal nature between the social […]

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