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Brilliance of Cute: ‘Babies,’ Documentary and Digital Culture March 27, 2010

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Next month, the world will fall prey to the most brilliant idea in cinema since the extremely popular March of the Penguins and the most popular movie in history Avatar:

Babies (Bébés, dir. Thomas Balmes).

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Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone:’ Product Placement and Corporate Anxiety March 15, 2010

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Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” is an attempt to bring back the music video, or, to make music videos “big” again, after years of seclusion from TV but tremendous popularity on YouTube. It’s not genius idea, of course. Talk to any production company in Los Angeles making music videos, and you’ll hear numerous filmmakers lamenting their hard work languishing with 50,000 hits, lagging behind kittens, babies, dancing amateurs, etc.

Still, “Telephone,” like everything else from Gaga, is big (click here for Madison Moore‘s “best of ‘Telephone'” list). But, as other blogs have pointed out, big costs money!

Lady Gaga raised music video product placement to a grotesque degree, solidifying her role as our camp consumerist icon in the same way MJ and Madonna served as postmodern icons in their early years. Gaga gets the money and icon-status; brands get, well, I’m not sure.

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Graduating from YouTube Hard Without Big Media Support February 3, 2010

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Increasingly as the supply of content online rises, getting your work and/or yourself noticed is a major challenge.

Graduating from a site like YouTube, even after gaining a high profile, is even more difficult. Suddenly producers find they can’t push their products/themselves alone. They need the big media.

The big media wasn’t there for out YouTube star William Sledd.

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Lost About “Lost,” YouTube Tries to Help January 30, 2010

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Fine Brothers - Lost Video
Original at Ronebreak

I don’t follow Lost. I don’t mean I can’t follow it, as in I watch it but don’t understand. I mean I’ve completely given up trying to watch the show. Around season three I tried once again to get into it. No go. Too complex. Too many peculiar things happening. What is up with this show?!

Let’s say you’re better than I and you’ve managed to keep up. Maybe you played the Lost ARG years ago (the Lost Experience) and stopped watching for a bit. Or perhaps you’ve watched passively and largely forgotten about the plot over the show’s hiatus.

Good news! (more…)

YouTube’s Black Stars: A Look Back (and Ahead) January 25, 2010

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Over a year ago I conducted a little more than a dozen interviews with black vloggers on YouTube. While I never submitted the paper (draft version here) to an academic publication, I did use some of the interviews for an article on The Root. That article focused on the more popular vloggers, but recently I’ve been wondering what happened to the rest of the people I interviewed. Have they grown their audiences? Are they making money?

YouTube remains a mixed bag for minority vloggers, though I tend to air on the side of optimism. Several personalities have achieved stable and even growing audiences, as you’ll see below!

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Lo-Fi Survives the Age of High-Tech and Big Budgets December 4, 2009

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Original at Splice Today. Comment there!

It’s the visual equivalent of wearing flannel or drinking black coffee. Retro ebbs and flows, classic comes and goes, but Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox pushes me to believe we are in a lo-fi moment.

You cannot write for a living and avoid silly trend stories; it’s inevitable. We naturally look for patterns, and we have blank pages to fill. Still, I think this may be legit.

First, take the reviews for The Fantastic Mr. Fox. (more…)

Kanye West and the Power of Curating Web Video December 2, 2009

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Kanye West just made a film career. Let me explain. (more…)

Fine Brothers: Making and Marketing Hit Videos, Today and Tomorrow December 1, 2009

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I’ve already posted some comments from the Fine Brothers before, but I thought I’d post the whole interview, which we did via email a couple months ago (Sorry folks! Scholars are slow). The Fine Brothers — Benny and Rafi Fine — are two standout comedians in an online world awash in aspirants. They’ve created numerous viral videos and web shows, not to mention collabing with some of YouTube‘s heavy hitters to create very successful parodies and comedic shorts.

They also happen to be pretty shrewd about how they market themselves and conduct their business, so I thought this interview — unedited, below — could help out people starting to make their own videos or interested in learning more about the space. Their response to my last question was particularly interesting: “At the end of the day online video is not a place to go to ‘make it,’ and we feel many come into the space feeling they will.” But they go on to say that the web still shows promise, if certain things happen. Very interesting, and perhaps true given current conditions.

Below Benny and Rafi talk to me about how they got started, how they make and market their videos and why success online may not be their ultimate goal: (more…)

Fine Brothers, Shane Dawson Collab To Viral Vid Success December 1, 2009

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Originally published on the Wall Street Journal culture blog, Speakeasy.

Cult fandom and teen taste can be potent combination. (Two words: “New Moon.”)

Taking a cue from the trend, Internet personalities the  Fine Brothers and Shane Dawson posted an 11-minute parody of the Canadian teen drama “Degrassi: The Next Generation” — filmed in just one day — on YouTube Nov. 21. In less than a week, the video has amassed over two million views.

The  parody, titled “Hot Teens Gone Wild on Degrassi!,” spoofs the long-running show, which is infamous for its grown-up storylines, ranging from date rape, oral sex, school violence and just about anything else taboo. The video plays up the show’s litany of parental nightmares, using camp to highlight the scandalous reasons young people love the show. (more…)

The Rules and Meanings of Vlogging November 5, 2009

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Zipster081

My first academic article has been published! The article, published in First Monday, titled, “Real Vlogs: The Rules and Meanings of Online Personal Videos,” looks at how users on YouTube talk about what vlogs are “real” or authentic, and “fake” or inauthentic. Here’s the abstract:

This paper explores what the “rules” of vlogging (video blogging) are: the various visual and social practices viewers and creators understand and debate as either authentic or inauthentic on YouTube. It analyzes a small, random set of vlogs on YouTube and highlight several controversies around key celebrities on the site. This essay concludes by challenging whether conversations around authenticity will persist in dialogues about online video.

The paper looks several different kinds of vlogs to see to examine what visual strategies count as a real vlog and which ones do not.

In general, however, what is interesting is that even though, for some users, certain vlogs are definitely more authentic than others, a number of YouTubers either don’t care or expressly advocate for doing whatever you need to do to your video to get views. This pits the “authentic” with the “commercial.” But it’s not always an either/or presumption. The essay concludes by stating that the distinctions between what is real and fake may be collapsing, and users instead defer to whatever moves them emotionally — through hilarity, seriousness, etc.

I think the most valuable contribution of the piece might be the section on Lonelygirl15, which has been written about, but I really speak a long time combing through blog posts and new reports to figure out who said what about Bree, who thought she was fake and why, and what all of those conversations meant for the meaning of online video. I also narrate an interesting incident about LisaNova — when she first started LonesomeRhodes — that is a small incident within the scale of YouTube, but nonetheless a significant one, I would argue.

I’d also like to throw in, which I only allude to in the article, that many of the debates I highlight are really remnants of YouTube’s early days of popularity (2006/2007). By now, most people on the site have seen it all, and few things shock. These debates still happen though, as with the young girl who cried about her legal problems with sexual abuse, and the Raz-B incident, two incidents I write about elsewhere.

Chris Crocker, Somewhere Between Boy and Girl, Proves Me Right October 22, 2009

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Click for Chris Crocker's Boy-Girl Video

Click for Chris Crocker's Latest Video

Nobody is particularly interested in Chris Crocker anymore; maybe he’s been replaced by B. Scott. But I still think he’s fascinating, and kind of a smart performance artist. (I’m using “he” right now because it’s my understanding that’s the pronoun Chris still uses).

In this video, Crocker, whose hair has been growing longer and whose application of makeup becoming more intricate, answers the question on everybody’s mind: are you a boy or a girl? Well, it wasn’t on my mind; I’d always assumed that Crocker was basically somewhere in between. Behold, he proved me right!

“I don’t feel like just boy or just girl…I do not believe that my genitalia defines my gender…My souls defines my gender, and actually I don’t even know that souls have genders. I just know how I feel inside.”

But that’s not what the headline to this post is about. Crocker’s reluctance to deinfe himself as one gender puts him in league with a number of other camp performers I interviewed a year ago for a paper titled, “Camp 2.0: A Queer Performance of the Personal,” now in review at Communication, Culture and Critique (abstract here). My basic thesis was that, because of generational and sociological trends, and the space of YouTube itself, camp performers (“queer” or gay performers working in the decades-old aesethetic tradition of irony and theatricality) were infusing more potent ideas of individuality and “personality” into what was is traditionally a community practice and style. Part of this individuality, this “personal” discourse, is reflected in the rejection of labels like “gay” and even gender terms like male and female.

Britney Houston, a popular music video remixer, told me she identifies as gender queer and appreciates the “is she or isn’t she?” debates that occur in the comment section of her videos. Michael Lucid, an independent filmmaker, rejects the label of drag queen and says he actually sees himself, when he’s on camera, as a husky voiced woman.

What replaces the labels? Performers told me some version of expressing their “soul,” or personality, mediated by presumably real emotions and investments in their own videos and representations. Chris Crocker is perhaps the best example. In his infamous “Leave Britney Alone!” video, Crocker sobs histrionically in front of the camera, in a way so extreme, it seems certainly put on. But Crocker has insisted to this day that his emotions were real. Why? Because Crocker wants us to think of himself as an individual whose soul overrides the categories in which we inscribe him (also because, hey, he really is a rabid Britney fan).

Now, Crocker says that his heart and mind are female, and that’s he’s only grown accustomed to being male. He also says that, while he’s not ready to transition now, he may in the future, and has noticed himself growing — phenotypically — increasingly female. It’s actually an interesting video to watch in its totality, an intimate look at a young person working through his identity in very nuanced ways.

Thanks for the video, Chris! Good luck on your journey, wherever it may lead.

What is a Web Series? A Guide and Introduction October 9, 2009

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Michael Buckley and his popular YouTube show, "What the Buck"

Michael Buckley's show, "What the Buck," is a snappy daily overview of celebrity current events.

Crackle's new zombie/comedy series, Woke Up Dead

"Woke Up Dead" is a comedy horror series premiering on Crackle in the fall 2009.

"Valemont," MTV's hyper-interactive series from TV to Web

"Valemont" is a web series that premiered on MTV, is sponsored by Verizon and has multiple extensions in mobile and online.

easy-to-assemble

Ikea's web series "Easy to Assemble" is a comic romp set inside its own stores.

What is a web series? To anyone in the industry right now, this post will be elementary. Apologies in advance. But I think for academics and maybe aspiring producers, this might be useful. I’ve had a bunch of hits on my old primer, but it’s rough at best. I’m also posting this so if you’re doing something with web series I don’t mention you can let me know — I want to have the most complete picture possible of this medium.

When I talk about researching web series to friends and colleagues, I often hear: “what do you mean by that?” There are hundreds (thousands, likely) of web series. Here’s my attempt to give people some basic information, based on ongoing interviews with producers, marketers, distributors and others.

Please, if I’m missing something or made an error, comment or contact! I’ll update with new information; I want this to be a resource.

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ONLINE VIDEO: Where and How to Publish Your Videos, Web Series September 29, 2009

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finebrothers

UPDATE: For the full interview, click here.

I had an email interview with Benny and Rafi Fine recently, the pair that makes up the Fine Brothers, the duo of producers making some of the most popular viral videos on the net, along with a couple of web series. They’re razor-smart, and I hope to quote extensively from our interview in future articles, but I wanted to pull out an interesting statement from Rafi that I think is useful for producers starting out in the space. It’s about where to publish your videos and knowing which websites are good for specific kinds of videos. The Fine brothers publish everywhere: YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Atom, iTunes, FunnyorDie, Break. This is in part because they do all kinds of videos; so take the advice with a grain of salt: they’re more versatile than your average producer, so they publish more places.

Rafi: YouTube is of course the bread and butter of everything online. No other site gives any ad money to independent producers on that scale, and no other site gets us steady views like YouTube (thanks to their subscriber system which over time has stood out as the best). That said, the other sites have their specific merits… whether it’s the million views you can get in a day or 2 if Break puts you on the homepage, to the more traditional media cred Funny Or Die gives you.

It all depends on what ones goals are online really, and changes month to month on which websites can help you achieve those goals. That said, YouTube should be the base of operations since it has stood out as the only place other than iTunes that can generate a reliable fanbase that will always come back for more.

Not all producers have found success on YouTube, of course. I got an email the other from a web series creator whose YouTube videos have not taken off in the same way. The Fine Brothers probably do well on the ‘Tube because they’re really funny. Their videos go viral, because people like to share them. They’ve used the visibility from YouTube to build a fanbase and support their other activities — like their Atom project MyProfileStory, which, despite being of one the more creative web series ideas, did not go past the pilot, though Benny tells me it’s not over quite yet: “It was a huge success though and we have several companies interested in the series.” So there’s still hope!

Although they are still invested in the future of web video, the Fine brothers told me they are taking meetings with traditional TV companies; it’d be great to see the aesthetics of web humor make it onto the TV screen (aside from the activity already happening in web video, like YouTube on AppleTV and the Koldcast/TiVO deal, noteworthy developments on their own from the past few years).

If you haven’t seen them yet, here’s one of their latest viral vids, part of their “spoilers” series, which apparently they shoot in one take (looks like it to me)! I can’t imagine how hard it is to memorize all these lines, and then say them so fast — though I guess Michael Buckley knows something about that.

spoilers-fine-brothers

For more of the interview you’ll have to stay tuned and watch for them in other publications!

TV: “Community” Needs to Do Better in Class August 17, 2009

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Original at Splice Today, also see my thoughts on what Community‘s premiere on Facebook means for YouTube.

Facebook | Community

A good test of whether a show is great is if, at the end of the episode, you cannot help but replay every scene in your mind. I get this feeling after Mad Men, True Blood and a few other commercial and critical darlings.

If a show is good but not great, you might not think about after it’s over, but you’re excited to see the next episode; it’s how I feel about Royal Pains.

If a show borders on mind-numbing mediocrity, however, you forget about it almost immediately after it’s over. You can’t remember the jokes or the dramatic moments. The past is fuzzy. The future is empty.

I got that feeling when I watched Community, NBC’s anticipated comedy for this fall starring Chevy Chase and The Soup‘s Joel McHale, of whom I’m huge fan. In a creative but inevitable marketing move by a broadcast network, NBC premiered the pilot show for a limited time on Facebook, hoping to harness the force of social networking to build a cult base around the show. Facebook’s features allow viewers to easily recommend shows to friends, and personal recommendations are the best drivers of TV viewership. People want to watch what their friends are watching. It’s why I consistently feel compelled to watch The Office (no judgment!; it’s a good show).

I had high hopes for Community. It follows several characters as they embark on their journey to graduate from Glendale Community College.  The show is really about Joel McHale’s Jeff, a lawyer disbarred for falsifying his academic background by lying about his undergraduate degree. McHale is a fast talker and non-worker. He says the problem is if you’re smart you can get away without doing much work. He fits in at Glendale, but doesn’t want to be there. By the end of the pilot he has a love interest, an average-looking blonde with a quick tongue, and a throng of quirky, ethnic friends.

The reason I was optimistic about Community is that it concerns a relatively unexplored aspect of American life, even though millions attend community college every year. Think of all the shows and movies about life at universities and try to think of more than two about a community college. The experiences are different, the most obvious of which is that community college graduates are not really a community at all: many students have jobs, families or live at home and have their own friends. Community seems at least somewhat aware of the irony in its name, and when Jeff christens his fake Spanish study group a “community,” it sounds as ridiculous and sad as it should.

The problem with Community? Like many new television shows, it lacks the hardest things to manufacture: relatable characters and compelling storylines. I certainly don’t care about Jeff, or his paramour-to-be, Britta. His backstory hardly endears us to him, and we don’t really know hers. Even if Jeff is supposed to be an anti-hero, Joel McHale certainly doesn’t look like one. We love him on The Soup, so we’re left in a bit of a void. Some of the side characters have compelling stories: a working mother and a football player who missed out on a scholarship due to an injury are fine on paper but on screen only serve as punchlines for Jeff’s quips. Chevy Chase’s Pierce appears to be someone who once had money and has either lost it or has kept it and is bored. That’s kind of interesting.

Nor does Community, written by a veteran of The Sarah Silverman Show, incorporate the best of what makes hit comedies develop impassioned fan bases today. It wants to be wacky and quick like 30 Rock, but doesn’t make it, and awkward like The Office but comes up short. But the writing does sound conscientious and thoughtful, and that alone might fuel Community to a second season. Mostly, though, the show gives us a glimpse of potential, if not greatness. Maybe this is the next 30 Rock, or maybe it’ll be canceled. Judging from the pilot, I can’t tell either way.

YOUTUBE: The End of YouTube? August 10, 2009

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ronebreak

CLICK for article.

No website stays on top forever. So in the tradition of reckless speculation, in an article over at Ronebreak, I lay the case for YouTube’s demise, just for sport.

TV: “Adam On The Road” and Other Web Series July 10, 2009

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logo

You’re forgiven if you don’t watch any made-for-Internet television — also known as: web series, webisodes, web shows, or web originals; they’re still working on the name. Most people don’t. Ever since Lonelygirl15, the faux-vlog on YouTube turned ridiculously over-the-top web series, debuted three years ago, the web show has been consistently on the rise but never reaching a breaking point. Sure, there have been breakouts, most notably Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, the Neil Patrick Harris starrer recently honored with a few Streamys — a web series Webby — and now available on Hulu, and of course there is YouTube’s Fred, perhaps the most obviously popular (with 12 year-olds). But nothing has broken through the culture in a huge way. Not that celebrities aren’t trying.

More at Ronebreak

YOUTUBE: Music Video Remakes: The Video! June 20, 2009

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I’ve created a short YouTube in conjunction with my paper on music video remakes and their fair use. Check it out! For my written take on this, see my previous post.

YOUTUBE: Music Video Remakes: Fair Use (!) and History June 11, 2009

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So the following post is a truncated version of a paper I’ve written and plan to submit to conferences and publications soon. For an unrevised draft of the paper, click here. For a playful YouTube video I made on this topic, click here.

Katy Perry's I Kissed a Girl"

Katy Perry's I Kissed a Girl"

Venetian Princess' rendition of "I Kissed a Girl"

Venetian Princess' parody of "I Kissed a Girl"

For non-academics and makers of YouTube and other online video the headline for this post should read: Music Video Remakes = Fair Use! Though this isn’t the main point of my essay, it’s obviously the most relevant and practical. My basic fair use argument is this: using the most important part of Pierre Leval’s “four factors” and jettisoning the rest, music video remakes are almost always fair use because they necessarily “transform” the original work they mimic. Why? Because corporate music videos (the originals) are promotional tools for celebrities and music. Nearly all remakes either change, replace or remix the celebrity or the music in a video, thereby transforming fundamentally the original purpose of the music video and creating something new and interesting!

There are other ways to justify the fair use of the many other videos that appear on YouTube. The best of these remedies is Peter Jaszi and Pat Aufderheide’s “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video,” a clear and brilliant set of guidelines to assure users they are not criminals — it also provides a useful defense for users when they receive a takedown notice from YouTube or another portal. There are only six categories, so it’s worth a look-over. I was surprised how many YouTube users obey the takedown notice without protest; there is a knowledge gap between copyright holders (mostly corporations, but some small producers) and YouTube users. Many users are simply unaware of the fair use defense, and if they are, they are not skilled enough to make a convincing one.

The bulk of the paper examines the history of the music video and shows how, from it’s inception, the video was all about challenging coherent narratives, dominant representations and authorship itself, or at least that’s how scholars interpreted it. Music videos were inherently participatory, sites of fandom; people sang and acted out the videos in their homes. I use this framework to suggest the video remake follows in the music video tradition of challenging dominant narratives, encouraging fandom and viewer participation.

A remake should not have to be a parody to be fair use; it shouldn’t even have to critique the original, which courts have seen as the clearest fair use defense. Many of the remakes are simply homages, and my framework allows for derivative works that don’t critique but instead extend or reinvent the original. Transformativeness should be interpreted as broadly as possible. Just because Weird Al Yankovic asks (and pays) for consent because he needs the industry’s approval to survive, doesn’t mean that model is appropriate for the user who simply wants to remix to demonstrate skill, or his/her love or disdain of the original!

This is a very clear extension of James Boyle (The Public Domain) and Lawrence Lessig’s (Free Culture) argument that culture belongs to everyone, that it is public, and that no one can make anything that is wholly original. As Henry Jenkins argued quite a long time ago, we all make culture from existing (often mainstream and corporate) culture.

So make remakes and prosper! If YouTube sends you a takedown notice, call me.

Britney Houston's "Lipgloss." Houston told me: “If I didn’t like a video I wouldn’t do it…I do it because I like the artist…I’m a big fan of all those people, and people know who they are.”

Britney Houston's "Lipgloss." Houston told me: “If I didn’t like a video I wouldn’t do it…I do it because I like the artist…I’m a big fan of all those people, and people know who they are.”

Lil' Mama's original "Lipgloss"

Lil' Mama's original "Lipgloss"

_________________________

THESIS (for those who care):

For a genre most recognizable by the antics of Weird Al Yankovic, who inaugurated the form over twenty-five years ago soon after MTV inaugurated the music video, the moderate popularity of music video remakes on YouTube marks a hallmark in the evolution of several historical trajectories, including that of music video itself, the increasingly public nature of fandom, the desire for fame among young people raised on the Internet (“millennials”), the power of digital technology to democratize cultural production, the growing cultural power of remixing, sampling and mash-ups, and the persistence, perhaps the evolution, of postmodern aesthetics. In all, these cultural artifacts on YouTube fundamentally question cultural ownership at a time when digital technology is forcing corporations and legal institutions to continually rethink copyright, fair use and how to ensure the progress of the sciences and the arts, a Constitutional imperative, while honoring rich cultural histories and modes of production of users. All of these currents run through the genre of music video remakes, marking them as a historically significant development in media history.

This paper proposes answers to the dilemma of cultural ownership in the digital age – copyright – through a theoretical and historical lens. First I will place the remakes in the context of music video history and then differentiate them from forms of production that have arisen since, including remixing, sampling and mash-ups. I will then discuss the cultural significance of music video remakes, i.e. what they say about this contemporary moment. Next I will discuss why individuals engage in such activities and offer a way to categorize their videos. In compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, YouTube takes down videos accused of violating copyright, so I will proceed by discussing some of the consequences of this policy on the remakes. Finally I will attempt a fair use argument using the examples of Britney Houston’s “Lipgloss” and a few others as a way incorporate the history and meanings of this form into actionable policy and practice; I argue that nearly all music video remakes inherently transform their source material by remaking and reimagining the corporate image, providing a legal justification for this form of media production predicated on pastiche, sharing and multiple interpretations.

Once again, full paper here.

Fame (1980), Fame (2009), and Fame! June 3, 2009

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The poster for the new Fame, a blatant rip off of Apple's iPod ads

The poster for the new Fame (2009), a shameless rip off of Apple's iPod ads

UPDATE (2/12): Click here for a post with comments from Barry Miller, who played Ralph Darcy in the original film. He very much dislikes the remake!

UPDATE (9/27): Opening weekend box office numbers are soft at around $10 million (estimated). The LATimes also reports Fame‘s CinemaScore numbers are low  (B-) signaling it won’t get good word of mouth. BoxOfficeMojo has the production budget at $18 million, so it seems possible it’ll break even, but who knows how much its extensive marketing campaign cost. Over at Ronebreak, I speculate the film’s PG-rating had something to do with its poor performance.

UPDATE (9/25): Reviews are in. They’re mediocre, which is to be expected.

UPDATE (9/24): Weird Fame controversy. Apparently the actor playing Montgomery — Fame (1980)’s gay character — thinks his character isn’t gay. AfterElton called up director Tancharoen (who’s 25!) and asked, and Tancharoen said he’s gay, but that there’s nothing in the film to suggest that (no love interest, or sexual quip). He just is. Is Fame (2009) a regression from the original?

UPDATE (9/21): In a rather smart marketing move, Fame is now releasing commercials featuring individual characters (I saw mine on Gossip Girl, the perfect show to broadcast them). As I show below, this further emphasizes the role of “personality” in fame culture today. It also sets up the movie as more character- than plot-driven (same as the original).

UPDATE (9/13): The song “Fame” has indeed been remixed and remade for the Milennials. The new song shines a spotlight on two of the film’s leads, a Naturi Naughton (singer) and Collins Pennie (rapper).

UPDATE (8/10): The MGM publicity machine has started churning and the studio has released exclusive photos to AOL Black Voices.

________________

ORIGINAL POST: I’d rather not divulge the secrets of my stats, but I’m shocked at the random popularity of one of my posts! The post, where I review a few unrelated movies I saw in one week last year, has been viewed about four times as often as the next popular post on this blog, the one about 30 Rock. As much as I’d like to think people want to read my opinion on Jacques Tati’s Play Time and Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg, I know the real reason: Fame.

Not in recent memory has a movie remake seemed so canny and appropriate as the remake of Fame, set for release in theaters Friday September 25th. The original Fame (1980; dir. Alan Parker; written: Christopher Gore) is a vibrant, dark depiction of the post-Boomer generation, living amidst the remnants of de-industrialization and the heights of American media power. It’s about 1970s New York — drugs and pornography — dirty and glamorous. The students try to “make it” but are consistently faced with the realities of life and the industry, and many fall under the weight of their own pressure. It’s a gritty movie, but a successful one. Since then it has become a long-lasting television show and musical. The original actors, sadly, have not been so lucky: none have really become famous.

The older Fame is a much darker movie compared to most teen flicks today.

The older Fame (1980) is a much darker movie compared to most teen flicks today.

FAME 2.0

The new Fame (2009, dir. Kevin Tancharoen) comes out nearly thirty years later and skips Gen X to grapple with the children of the post-Boomer generation: the Milennials! In true Milennial fashion, the remake appears to be glitzy and optimistic, like other young-at-heart remakes released this year and like the Apple ads is blatantly rips off for its poster. Fame (2009) seems it will bypass most of the rough stuff and focus on the achieving success part. Unlike the previous Fame, in which really no one is successful in the end, I wouldn’t be surprised if in the remake at least one character gets a record deal/movie deal/dance contract. How do I know? Consider the writers of the new Fame are best known for frothy — and delicious — romantic comedies like Devil Wears Prada, Laws of Attraction and 27 Dresses (Aline Brosh McKenna) and Feast of Love (Allison Burnett). Dance movies today moreover — from Save the Last Dance (and 2), Center Stage to Step Up (and 2) and Stomp the Yard — are more about overcoming minor obstacles like self-confidence and hang-ups over class/socioeconomic status than about drugs and sexual abuse. So Fame 2009  I expect will be a fun movie, not a serious one, and already boasts some great comic actors: Kelsey Grammar, Bebe Neuwirth and Megan Mullally chief among them.

INFLUENCE OF REALITY TELEVISION

It’s no surprise the director of the new Fame made his name filming a short-lived reality show about dancers for MTV, of all networks, mother of the reality show and perennial home to fame-seekers. Why does the choice of director make sense? While the stars of reality television are the most desiring of fame, more to the point young people today experience and understand fame through reality television. MTV knew this when it inaugurated its new-ish reality show, Taking the Stage, about a performing arts high school (hello, Fame-much?). Months ago, it made perfect sense when Fame 2009 came out with a reality-TV-like featurette about the cast of the new film. Introducing the film as if it was a TV show, it makes it seem like you aren’t so much going to the movies as spending time on your couch watching a few interesting characters for just a few hours. It’s smart to take this approach to filmmaking and marketing. It’s cheap, as I like to see, and very much of-the-moment. The specter of reality television, from American Idol to The Apprentice, hovers over the new Fame, in which talent, one-upmanship and most of all personality become the key ingredients for fame and notoriety.

“Personality” is a key ingredient. Both traditional celebrities and reality TV stars build their mass appeal on their personal characteristics. Young people today understand that revealing oneself, in a measured and classy way, is key to achieving fame. This is what The Hills and The City is all about: “be you” and you will be famous.

“PERSONALITY” AND FAME: MILENNIALS, NARCISSISM and THE AMERICAN DREAM

How else can you understand YouTube and MySpace? I heard it all the time when I interviewed performers on YouTube: people talk about “expressing their personality” as the truest way to attain and retain viewers. Far from being emblematic of a kind of generational narcissism, as sociologist Jean Twenge has argued consistently and convincingly, I think it’s much more complex than that.

The new Fame's website asks users to create profiles, a smart marketing ploy in more ways than one.

The new Fame's website asks users to create profiles, a smart marketing ploy in more ways than one.

Today parents do tell their children too often that they are special and they can be whatever they want to be — this is particularly true of middle class families. This encourages kids to seek their dreams even at the expense of talent and practicality (hence the American Idol auditions). This is narcissism, of course. But it’s simply an exaggerated form of what all Americans believe: they will achieve the American dream, a house on the hill and all that. We believe in ourselves because, for many people, the government gives us little support. Sure there are families and churches, but none of that is financial. This theory of neoliberalism has been well articulated by scholars like Anthony Giddens so I’m not going to try to do better.

So I agree with social networking scholar danah boyd on fame and narcissism as it relates to MySpace. MySpace, the obsession with reality television, self-branding and all the ways in which young people focus on self-production and self-improvement are symptomatic and larger American issues, in which the realities of class and inequality are obscured by the success of a few, special — and especially personable — individuals.

You can see what I mean when I say Fame 2009 is particularly canny. It manages to incorporate the aesthetics of reality television, celebrity and Internet culture into a bright, optimistic and particularly Milennialistic package. Don’t believe me? Consider that the film’s website — yes, it’s called Generation Fame — asked young people to submit social networking profiles for a chance to “join the wall of fame” and also win cool prizes. (Yes, you can bet your house it’s soliciting information for marketing). And it comes out in theaters in September, at the beginning of the school year when hopes are high and everyone truly believes they will make it.

Pat yourself on the back, Hollywood, this one looks very well-played!

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FAME (1980)

CAST (via IMDB.com)


Eddie Barth Angelo
Irene Cara Coco
Lee Curreri Bruno
Laura Dean Lisa
Antonia Franceschi Hilary
Boyd Gaines Michael
Albert Hague Shorofsky
Tresa Hughes Mrs. Finsecker
Steve Inwood François Lafete
Paul McCrane Montgomery
Anne Meara Mrs. Sherwood
Joanna Merlin Miss Berg
Barry Miller Ralph
Jim Moody Farrell
Gene Anthony Ray Leroy
Maureen Teefy Doris
Debbie Allen Lydia

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FAME (2009)

CAST (via IMDB.com):

Naturi Naughton Denise
Anna Maria Perez de Tagle Joy
Kelsey Grammer Joel Cranston
Kay Panabaker Jenny
Megan Mullally Fran Rowan
Bebe Neuwirth Lynn Kraft
Charles S. Dutton Alvin Dowd
Kherington Payne Alice
Debbie Allen Principal Simms
Walter Perez Victor Taveras
Paul McGill Kevin
Paul Iacono Neil Baczynsky
Asher Book Marco
Collins Pennie Malik

YOUTUBE: Video Effectively Integrated with Google News May 23, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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YouTube and Google News

So I’m a little late with this, but I hadn’t realized how seamlessly Google was integrating news video into Google News search results and on the homepage. If they could somehow convince major content providers to regularly and quickly post video to YouTube it could provide another way to monetize the site. The problem is most major news organizations have their own video portals, but perhaps smaller media organizations could use the publicity.

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