Johanna Blakley

Media | Entertainment | Fashion

Archive for TV

How Storytelling Civilizes Us

I knew I had to write something in response to A. O. Scott’s Sunday New York Times piece about all the movies out right now which give an insider’s perspective on industries that we find fascinating. Moneyball and Margin Call were two of the films that inspired him to write about our perennial interest in lifting the veil and seeing what’s really going on inside baseball and Wall Street.

I don’t think the irony was lost on Scott that we like to turn to pieces of fiction in order to get the real story. And some poststructuralist scholars might tell you it’s as good a place as any to look for the truth. But I don’t think that Scott went as far as he could in establishing the tremendous power that commercial storytelling has in influencing individual attitudes and, if it’s enough of a cultural juggernaut, public opinion. We may not care to admit the degree to which our knowledge of the Holocaust, for instance, is dependent on Hollywood’s depiction of it, but often these well-produced, tightly scripted fictional narratives can do more than entertain us for a couple hours, they can fill in the blanks in our knowledge. Just think about how much you learned about global pandemics in Contagion, cancer in 50/50, the founding of Facebook in Social Network and Jim Crow in The HelpRead the rest of this entry »

Primetime TV’s Take on the War on Drugs & Terror

Would it surprise you if I told you that Primetime TV is not depicting the racial and religious stereotypes that we generally associate with the War on Terror and the War on Drugs?

It sure surprised me.

My new report, The Primetime War on Drugs & Terror, co-authored with Sheena Nahm, offers a unique glimpse into how these wars are depicted in popular culture at a key historical moment: not only are we nearing the tenth anniversary of 9/11, this year also marks the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s declaration of the War on Drugs.

[Have a look at Joe Sabia’s amazing video about our findings on the War on Terror.  Just go watch!] Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Women, TV & Social Media . . . Down Under


On stage with David Speers, the chief political reporter for Sky News.

I had the great fortune to be invited to the ASTRA conference in Sydney, Australia, this week. ASTRA is the organization that represents the subscription TV industry there and it was fascinating  to not only discover Sydney (it’s absolutely gorgeous) but to get a fresh look at an industry I understand pretty well in another petrie dish over 7000 miles away. (You can find tweets about the conference using #astra2011.)

The subscription industry in Australia is quite young – it’s only been around for 16 years or so, and several people told me it is much more progressive and modern (and friendly to women) than the Free TV industry in Australia, which parallels our broadcast industry here in the states. 

I got a good long look at the changing demographic in the Australian TV industry when I climbed on stage to give a talk about social media and women at the popular Women in Television Breakfast. When I heard the title, it never occurred to me that there’d be a room filled with almost 600 women.

Read the rest of this entry »

Free Culture Forum

I was very excited to attend the Free Culture Forum in Barcelona last October: the event was quite unique in its effort to bring together a broad range of scholars and activists from all around the world to work together to develop guidelines for sustainable models for creativity in the digital age. There were some pretty noisy fights, let me tell you, but at long last, we’ve produced a great brief which, so far, has been endorsed by 69 organizations and key players in the field. Please take a look at the document and be sure to watch this fun video about the Forum and its annual entertainment showcase called the oXcars.

My MSNBC Interview about Social Media & Gender

I often get calls from cable news networks, but they usually want me to weigh in on the latest trashy celebrity non-news: When they have stories about Paris or Lindsay, they think of me.

Well, I always say no.

But this week, I finally had the chance to talk about some of my own research on MSNBC. I thought for sure they would want to grill me about the provocative thesis I presented at TEDWomen: Social Media & the End of Gender has raised quite a few hackles on the site, and the last time I checked, the talk had received more thumbs down than thumbs up on YouTube. So I prepared myself for attack.

Read the rest of this entry »

My TEDWomen Talk is on!

On stage at TEDWomen

I gave a talk in December 2010 on Social Media & the End of Gender at the first ever TEDWomen conference in Washington, DC. It was an unforgettable event, and I was pretty terrified to find out that I was scheduled to speak right after Madeleine Albright.

I had incredible conversations with people after the talk: I was really worried that people would be very skeptical about my thesis (how on earth would social media bring about the end of gender?) But the hyper-connected audience at TEDWomen didn’t bat an eyelash. “Of course!” they said. Let’s see if you agree . . .

The Atlantic Devotes a Piece to My TEDWomen Talk

On stage at TEDWomen

I gave a talk at TEDWomen last week called “Social Media & the End of Gender.” Before the event, I was having a really hard time giving people the cocktail party version of my argument — there were just too many steps between “social media” and the “end of gender” to fit in a 30-second summary. I began to worry that the talk wouldn’t work: that I needed more than the paltry nine minutes allotted me on the TED stage to lay out what I thought was a rather groundbreaking connect-the-dots idea.

Thankfully, I was wrong. That audience — mostly composed of women who are hyperactive in the social media sphere (so much so that the event was plagued by bandwidth issues) — understood exactly what I was talking about. Social media will help wipe out banal assumptions about gender? And transform our media environment? Of course! You bet. We all knew that!

Thankfully, The Atlantic’s Nicholas Jackson got it too. He mentions in his piece that my talk “was greeted with less skepticism than it seems she was anticipating.” (Got that right.) He proceeds to do an excellent job of providing all the examples that I didn’t have time to lay out and to flesh out portions of my argument that ended up on the cutting room floor.

So the video’s not up yet, but I encourage you to read his piece and let me know what you think!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,088 other followers