Johanna Blakley

Media | Entertainment | Fashion

Archive for online culture

Remixing Mad Men

One of the highlights of a recent trip to New York was attending a Mad Men Remix party hosted by Pop Culture Pirate Elisa Kreisinger. I’m a big fan of the show and so it was great fun to watch the season finale from last year with a group of knowledgable viewers, and then to see Kreisinger’s provocative remixes of the show.

Her Internet-ready Mad Men: Set Me Free is a clever remix of the women of Mad Men singing the Motown standard “You Keep Me Hanging On.” Devised to be spreadable on social media sites, I suspect this video – which was co-created with Mark Faletti – will quickly communicate to a broad audience the painful gender issues explored in the show.

And that kind of commentary is pretty desperately needed. I recently attended a screening of Missrepresentation, a thoroughly laudable documentary about problematic representations of women in film and TV. I was dismayed to see clips from Mad Men woven into its visual tapestry of media misogyny. I had believed that most viewers of the show recognized that it was quite critical of 60s sexism, depicting it as an appalling problem and creating sympathy for the women who suffered from it (including our own mothers and grandmothers). But just a few days later I found myself having exactly this conversation with a male friend who felt guilty about loving the show because it was so sexist. He said he felt terrible for the plight of women in the show, but it never occurred to him that his response might be the one the show was hoping to elicit.

All too often, I’m afraid, people equate the representation of something with its endorsement. I often used the TV show Married With Children in my pop culture classes to address exactly this issue: the selfish and reprehensible Al Bundy was not depicted as a role model for viewers – instead we laughed at him for being a bad father, and for bringing into stark relief what a “good” dad ought to do. In many ways, Married With Children was as effective at endorsing ideals about the nuclear family as The Cosby Show was.

Pop culture remixers like Kreisinger have a tricky task on their hands, remapping cultural memes in order to draw attention to things we might not have noticed in the slickly produced pop culture objects that make up our media landscape. It is their task to shake us by the shoulders and say “What if?” Such is the case (in spades) with Kreisinger’s QueerMen: Don Loves Roger remix. Whether you believe that the remix reveals a “subconscious” sub-plot of the show or not, it gives viewers the opportunity to imagine it. This has long been the strength of fan fiction, which has been taken to entirely new and enticing levels due to ever-expanding access to bandwidth and the rise of robust social media platforms.

One troubling side effect of remixes  is that the original can seem a bit less itself after viewing them: or, at least, that was my experience watching the much-anticipated season five premiere of Mad Men last night. Where were the subtle psychological insights we’ve come to expect? Maybe we have to wait for a remix to reveal them.

Catvertising & the Popular Culture of the Web

Kenzo Digital and I were teamed up by TED to nominate amazing ads for the Ads Worth Spreading challenge. Every nomination team had a category – here was the description of ours:

Cultural Compass

These are the campaigns that touch a cultural nerve; ads that capture or catalyze a cultural movement, moment or event. These campaigns may reflect the popular culture of the web, having gone viral, or celebrate specific regions or global diversity as part of their message. These are ads that are an active part of cultural dialogue in a connected world, crossing borders and cultures.

We put together a pretty long list of candidates – from silly video game ads to a touching long-form piece about the impact of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsusami on the creative community in Japan. Now that TED has announced the winners, I thought I’d celebrate some of the runners-up that we loved.

For those of you who didn’t have the good fortune of encountering “Catvertising” (top) I am delighted to share it with you here. I can’t tell you how many people forwarded this one to me – and with good reason. Kenzo and I were tasked with nominating ads that reflected the popular culture of the Web: no accurate accounting of that culture could ignore the ridiculously robust role that cat videos play.

How You Can Help Stop SOPA

Find out how you can participate in the strike against SOPA . . .

The Internet Knows What You Want

When Juliet Webster, a professor at the Open University of Catalunya, shared this cartoon with me, I couldn’t get over how well it captures the calculated, seductive power of the Internet. Like the most effective femme fatale, the Internet is increasingly optimized to give us what we want . . . even when we didn’t know we wanted it.

Oh what I’d give for an essay by Lacan on desire and recommendation engines . . .

Storytelling, Communication Technology & Augmented Reality: Interviews at Fractal’11

[Fractal'11] What’s Up Interviews / Entrevistas en What’s Up from Universo Fractal on Vimeo.

I was interviewed by a youth-skewing local TV show called What’s Up? during my stay in the magical city of Medellín, Colombia. This video includes my interview about the impact of communication technology and storytelling, as well as commentary from James Alliban, an augmented reality app developer. Enjoy!

Sheryl Sandberg & Social Media Matchmaking

Perhaps my favorite talk at TEDWomen was the one by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. I was prepared to give a talk on social media and when I found out she was in the line-up, and basically providing a keynote for the conference, I was worried that my presentation would feel like stale news by the time I hit the stage during the last session of the last day.

I was relieved when it became clear that Sandberg wasn’t going to talk social media at all: instead, she took the harder road – explaining to a group of successful, driven women why women were still underachieving in global politics and business. The video of her talk has caught on like wildfire and now the venerable New Yorker has published a thoughtful profile of her by Ken Auletta that provides some great food for thought about Sandberg and the future of social media. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Me Infotain You

Click on the image to see an animated version of this art by Sykotik Scarecrow.

In April of this year, I attended Fractal’11, a truly unique conference in Medellin, Colombia, that explored the convergence of fiction, art, science and technology. The event was the perfect forum for me to talk about my winding career path, which began in an English PhD program, meandered through a Web start-up and an international multimedia company and deposited me, quite happily at the Norman Lear Center

One of the many fascinating themes of the conference (I explored several others here) was the appeal of infotainment, material that serves two seemingly unrelated purposes: to occupy attention agreeably (as the Oxford English Dictionary defines “entertainment”) and to transmit practical information that may just contribute to your survival. 

My talk about Entertainment as Virtual Reality focused on the ways in which entertainment – catchy pop songs, video games, movies, opera, toys, etc. – could be understood as simulations, little virtual reality machines that allow us to test our ideas about the world in safe, artificial spaces. Regardless of how distracting a cultural object may be, it is also a powerful transmitter of information about our world, and it can have a surprisingly profound impact on our lives well outside the movie theater, concert hall or American Girls store. Read the rest of this entry »

Fractal: A Science Fiction Conference That Might Just Blow Your Mind

I was a little surprised by the invitation I received from Hernan Ortiz and Viviana Trujillo to speak at their annual Fractal conference . I couldn’t figure out how they knew that I was interested in all the things their conference was about: science fiction, technoculture, music and the porous boundary between fiction and real lived life. I knew that my current work at the Norman Lear Center was informed by these interests – which I’d cultivated while I was earning my English PhD in a theory-heavy program – but it was hardly obvious in any official bio you might find online.

The conference was in Medellin, Colombia, and so I immediately contacted my friend, who has lots of family in Colombia, and asked her whether it was safe for an American gal to travel alone there. She assured me that things had improved tremendously: Medellin was now safer than it had been in decades, and it just happened to be one of the most beautiful places in the entire country.

Boy, she wasn’t kidding.

Hernan and Viviana were clever enough to include in their original invitation links to two glowing reports about the two previous conferences in 2009 and 2010. Science fiction writers John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly wrote this about the first Fractal:

The festival blithely crossed boundaries in the arts, exploring the literature of the fantastic, music, art, science, technology, and fashion. It was Colombia’s first national science fiction conference. Dedicated to presenting different ways of imagining and creating the future, the conference took its mission from a quote by J.G. Ballard. “I believe in the power of imagination to rebuild the world.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Women, Fashion & Social Media

There were several reasons I was happy to be invited to speak at the Fashion140 event last week: first, it was in the brand spanking new Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center (wow!), and second, it gave me an opportunity to talk about two things that I think quite a lot about these days: fashion and social media.

I’ve given a TED talk on each of these topics – one was about the lack of copyright protection in the fashion industry and the reasons that that might be very good for business and for the artistic craft. (The response I received to this argument from working designers at Fashion140 was exclusively positive.) My more recent TED talk, which I gave in December, was about social media and the transformative impact that I believe it will have on traditional media industries and global popular culture, including the representations we see in magazines, TV, film, games, toys … you name it.

At the Norman Lear Center, which is based at the University of Southern California, I’ve been doing a great deal of research on social media and its impact on the television industry, in particular. As I was combing through data, I kept stumbling across articles about women’s dominance of various social media platforms, including Flickr and Facebook, and Twitter, where 57 % of users are women according to the most recent data from Ignite. I wondered if I could find some global stats and lo and behold comScore put together a very nice report in June of last year called Women on the Web: How Women are Shaping the Internet. In it, they demonstrated that women outnumber men on social media in every region around the world, and they spend a LOT more time on these sites than men do: women spend 5.5 hours per month on social media sites compared to 3.9 hours for men.

It didn’t surprise me that women were flocking to social media sites – there’s quite a lot of academic research that explores why it is that women tend to be more social than men. But I must say I was shocked that this trend wasn’t just appearing in rich, first world nations, but in every region around the world, where, I had thought, women’s access to the Internet, and the hardware and software that they need to participate in social media, might be pretty limited.

  Read the rest of this entry »

A Sweet Little Short About Creativity & Collaboration

Me and my colleagues at the Norman Lear Center worked with cartoonist Lloyd Dangle to create this sweet little short film about creativity and collaboration in the ivory tower. Part of an ongoing project at the University of Southern California, this film sums up some of the obstacles that scholars and scholarly institutions face in an era of swift technological change.

Everybody says they want to use new technology to save the world, but contemporary scholarly practice is based on some very old ideas about the importance of original, individual authorship and the strict commitment to narrow disciplinary practices . . . . things that don’t mesh so well with the mind-boggling global knowledge networks that are emerging in both the private and public sectors right now. The Lear Center plans to play a key role in USC’s effort to encourage more interdisciplinary collaboration among scholars: we’ll be posting lots of resources on the topic over the next few months and you can follow our Twitter feed as well: USCCreativity.

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