Media Circulation: Peanut Butter, Susan Boyle, and Web 2.0

This week’s reading by renowned media expert Henry Jenkins entitled, Spreadable Media, deals with how society’s cultural facilities, both private and public, are being affected by commercial interests and what that might mean for the future of both media and cultural production, which in an increasingly digital society are interrelated. In Jenkins own words, the book is about:

“how current industry discourse masks conflicts between the interests of the media companies/brands and their audiences, drawing on a variety of powerful academic critiques of Web 2.0 logics and practices to focus on issues surrounding audience surveillance, free labor, and  the inequalities of access and participation” (xii)

Jenkins maintains that audiences/consumers can and do influence the production of  cultural capital through their active consumption and interaction with media systems and products, he writes:

“The decisions that each of us makes about whether to pass along media texts–about whether to tweet the laxest gaffe from a presidential candidate, forward a Niamey Marcus cookie  recipe email, or share video of a shoplifting seagull — are reshaping the media landscape itself” (2).

In addition to

“Audiences are making their presence felt by actively shaping media flows, and producers, brand managers, customer service professionals, and corporate communicators are waking up to the commercial need to actively listen and respond to them” (2)

This arguments bears striking similarities to the notions shared by media expert Frank Kleemen, who believes that In this day and age consumers are also being given increasing degrees of responsibility for media content, taking it upon themselves to voluntarily provide substantial contributions to the design and distribution of the cultural media under the notion that they are, collectively, creating a more customized and superior culture. Consumers have ditched the passive roles and have become more like co-workers, who “oversee specific parts of a production process that ultimately remains under the control of a commercial enterprise” (Kleeman). This strategy of the participatory consumer is primarily an affordance of the connectivity capabilities that accompanied the emergence of “Web 2.0″. Web 2.0, Kleeman believes, “is about interactive and collaborative structures that enable users to create [and distribute] ‘user-generated content”

However, not everyone is a fan of Web 2.0. In chapter 4 of the book, entitled Where Web 2.0 Went Wrong, Jenkins discusses the shortcomings and:

“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).”

In response to Charlie’s confusion, What I believe Jenkins is getting at is that there exists a reciprocal nature between the social “goods”, i.e., creative content, their commodification, and the fact that their inspiration/inception (dun dun) is often founded by commodified content to begin with. Take the [[Breaking Bad Comics]], if AMC decided to sell shirts with them printed on it, they’d probably be well within their rights to do so seeing as comics which are “user-generated content” utilize the “commodified and monetized content of commercial producers as raw material…” (Jenkins, 83). This creates a litany of problems ranging from: intellectual property rights, copyrights, commercial/cultural values, etc.

So where to Susan Boyle and Peanut Butter come in? As it turns out they actually go hand in hand. Susan Boyle, became famous on American Idol but was made into an internet sensation when her videos were shared across myriad social network and video hosting sites. As Jenkins describes it, Susan Boyles contestant video, which was the catalyst for her internet stardom, was driven by a “stickiness” factor, or as Gladwell defines “the need to create content that attracts audience attention and engagement” (Gladwell, 4). This stickiness factor is often (over) utilized by corporate entities to glue eyeballs to televisions and fill seats with butts. Boyle’s Internet stardom is also a result of the viral video’s “spreadability”, or as Jenkins defines, “the potential — both technical and cultural– for audiences to share content for their own purposes…”(3).

This week’s reading, however interesting, wasn’t particularly enlightening as I’ve consider myself an active and mindful consumer over the last few years by declining surveys, refusing taste statements, and doing my best to withhold my own private information. I am guilty, however, of creating meme’s and having popular media site accounts.



From the Futurama episode where Fry uses Leela’s Susan Boil to garner 1,000,000 followers on his social network.

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