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FAME: Kade Style (Anniversary Cut!) February 26, 2010

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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Posted at Gawker; Ronebreak; Philebrity; Arthur Kade (with commentary)

It’s been one year since Arthur Kade, ex-financier turned cult Philadelphia personality, embarked on his journey to fame! How’s he doing? Certainly, most of my friends still have no clue who he is, but Kade himself says he’s known on every continent on Earth, even — even! — the great continent of Alaska.

Sure, Kade has partied with the few celebs who ever come to Philadelphia, and he’s been on Gossip Girl for several seconds. Just this week, he debuted — spoke! — on Showtime’s La La Land. Of course we’ve all heard about his reality show in development with IMG and book deal with Trident Media. Although, when we contacted IMG, we found it difficult to find someone to confirm the Kade show; some didn’t know what we were talking about. And Trident Media never responded to our requests for comment. But who are we? Kade’s likely telling the truth, but maybe he isn’t top priority at either firm.

Now, our news! In honor of Kade’s anniversary, my Penn colleagues Heidi Khaled and Brett Bumgarner and I cut a short, ten-minute version of our documentary on Arthur Kade, Fame: Kade Style


Barry Miller, of “Fame” Fame, Decries Fame Today February 12, 2010

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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I don’t get too many celebrity commenters on this site — except if you count the president of the American Medical Association. So it’s no surprise that when Barry Miller, known for his star-turn as Ralph Garcy in the original Fame (1980), started commenting anonymously on my blog, I would fail to notice.

Miller had a huge beef with last year’s Fame (2009), a disgust he broached in a USA Today article about the original cast. But while Miller declined a formal interview to USA, he left his thoughts, under the name Johnny Lagoon, all over my blog.

And they are interesting!


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

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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1 comment so far

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

B. Scott Reimagines Celebrity Online November 23, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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You’d be hard-pressed to find a web personality more fascinating than the splendiferous, divine B. Scott. Ever since Madison Moore introduced me to the blogger and YouTuber a couple years ago, I’ve been ever more intrigued!

Since then, B. Scott’s star has risen. His website has seen its traffic balloon (Compete, Quantcast) and his YouTube channel has kept apace.

Last month when I heard B. Scott snagged an interview with Mariah Carey and launched his new B. Scott Show, I thought: this is it! B. Scott continues to revolutionize the production and consumption of celebrity on the web.

What has he done?


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

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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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

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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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.


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.


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!

Movie TrailersMovies Blog


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


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