Archive | November, 2012

TV Tropes Will Ruin Your Life

30 Nov

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TV Tropes is a wiki that catalogs the various narrative devices used within various media. It’s an interesting way to unite a fandom. As we discussed in class on Thursday, there is an imagined community of viewers who are watching the same things that you do. TV Tropes takes it farther by creating a community of people who care deeply about their respective fandoms (and even sub-fandoms).

TV Tropes began as a thread in a fan site for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. From there, the concept of cataloging the tropes used by other television shows took off and subsequently crept into analyzing other media. The way a page for an entry is set up is that it begins with a short description of the work before going into the narrative devices used therein. For example, the page for the Lizzie Bennet Diaries (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheLizzieBennetDiaries) contains entries such as “Annoying Younger Sibling” in reference to Lydia and “Leaning on the Fourth Wall” in reference to all the times they do just that. The pages also automatically block anything that could be considered a spoiler so that even if you haven’t finished the work, you can still skim through the entry. Moreover, the main page strives towards objectivity, so while there are specific subsections for subjective thoughts, the goal is to keep the main page as a description of what appears in the show.

TV Tropes provides a venue for participatory viewing and establishing a community around a television show. When The Legend of Korra premiered, the series sequel to Nickelodeon’s popular Avatar: The Last Airbender, the page for the series was updated with the latest tropes as episodes aired. This included a list of funny, sad, heartwarming, and awesome moments of the show that contributors were able to add based off their subjective opinion. This helps create a space where your own opinions can be validated and shared with a community that is engaging with the same material. Moreover, it provides moments from the show (or whatever it is you’re watching) that are held up as particularly significant, such as when multiple people hold up the same scene or character as being especially important.

Aside from providing a community for a fandom, TV Tropes itself is also its own community of people who pay a lot of attention to things like television, film, etc. Regular contributors call themselves Tropers, and they use certain memetic phrases and speech styles to communicate through the wiki. This is further enforced by the steep learning curve for the site. A reader usually needs time at the start to familiarize themselves with the categories being used. Through understanding the ways Tropers speak, people can begin to enter the community and engage their various fandoms.

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Television as a Distributional Medium

30 Nov

In our discussion in class, Keegan, Brandon, and I approached the question of what television is a slightly different fashion. Though most potential definitions are based in either narrative (episodes, time lengths, etc.), commercial (produced by networks), or structural (the actual television set) distinctions, it’s possible to think of television as a medium that is primarily concerned with distribution. Consider that none of the narrative conventions we perceive in television as far as episodic structure, time constraints, or seriality are actually inherent to the medium – most of them are arbitrary manifestations of commercial concerns. That’s not something you really see in most media. There are some commercial influences on what makes up, say, a novel (printing, serial publication), but those are ultimately secondary to what a novel actually is and how it conveys information and narrative – in this case, a prose story of a certain length.

Television seems, from a pure content perspective, to be roughly identical to film – both are comprehensive, visual forms of storytelling. But in addition to what are ultimately arbitrary continuing narrative constraints, television’s uniqueness seems derived from the way it brings that content to the viewer. Films are produced and meant to be seen in theaters, in a single setting. People still go to the movies. Television, on the other hand, has always been primarily concerned with getting you entertainment right in your home, and making the process of that entertainment as comfortable as possible. That’s a unifying factor in the periods Lotz identifies as the distinct eras in the history of television: as it becomes easier to broadcast directly into the homes (and pockets) of viewers, television changes accordingly (literally from broadcast networks to the Internet).

So though it obviously wouldn’t be a be-all end-all definition of television, you could take as a starting definition “visual entertainment meant to be transmitted directly into the home,” with all other narrative conventions defining subgenres of television. That would, at the least, allow for some interesting conversation if direct transmission (and likely some other notion of comfort) became primary in the close readings of television shows we’ve done over the course of class. What does the fact that The Sopranos or Six Feet Under are meant to be viewed in-house (possibly on a family set) say about the show’s focus on different sorts of American families? Does the likelihood that viewers are either watching Homeland from the privacy of their own home or on a laptop containing a hybrid of their work and personal lives change or enhance the show’s thematic focus on privacy and public/private spaces in the post-9/11 (Internet) age?

YOUTUBE!

30 Nov

Is YouTube television?

I would personally not categorize it as such because formally it does not fit a television show. The videos are too short for the usual length of shows, there are no commercial breaks (even Hulu presents advertisements), and most do not convey an episodic focus on a particular plot line. For example, an episode in the Lizzie Bennet Diaries is just too short and did not have enough content for it to pass as a TV episode.

However, I believe YouTube, although not Television, is definitely rising in status as somewhat of an extension. It did start out as a way for anyone to upload their amateur videos and share with the world, but I believe it has grown into so much more. On YouTube, instead of TV Shows, you can have a series of “shorts” that almost function as the same – except each “episode” is perhaps 10 minutes long. An example is WongFuProduction’s collaboration with AT&T – “Away We Happened”. Not only does it have an official sponsor (instead of commercials, the new cell phone is key communicator in the series), but it takes audience participation one step further – each episode ends with a decision a character must choose between, and the audience can comment and share what they want to happen before the next episode airs. They are directly affecting the direction of the series. The waiting between each episode (at a pre-announced timeframe set by WongFu) emulates the waiting period we all experience when we watch TV on the air. I still would not call these series of shorts “television”, but I do recognize that it shares many similarities and should be considered a category of its own.

Away We Happened: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-18osIewxg

Also – many people in class have mentioned how YouTube videos cannot pass as TV because the visual quality is not comparable. However, since YouTube has provided videos to be seen in 720p and 1080p quality, some of its content can rise in status, even be called “art”.  In July 2010, Guggenheim and YouTube collaborated and created a global video contest, YouTube Play: A Biennial of Creative Video. Winning videos would be showcased at the museum alongside what is labeled “prestigious works of art”. Thus, YouTube can create works of art.  In my many years of browsing, I am always surprised to see videos that even seem to share cinematic properties and editing that I would expect to only see in films.

An example of this is this short concept video – which I would highlight the amazing shots of a breakdancer in slow motion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRWxoR-FJV0

YouTube seems to take elements of film and television, yet is a completely different category in my opinion. 

History Repeats Itself

30 Nov

Both Lynn Spigel and Max Dawson’s “Television and Digital Media” and the introduction to Amanda Lotz’s The Television Will Be Revolutionized, draw attention to the crucial historical moment when television was primarily considered to be an appliance or piece of furniture. The implication is that with this type of change comes a shift in social and cultural functions of the medium. Lotz points to the movement between radio and television as one example of this: television merely adding pictures to the sounds of the existing medium of radio, while retaining its framework of network broadcast. While this was a major shift, it largely left the social aspects of viewership intact. However, with television’s ongoing transition into the “Post-Network Era” (mid-2000s to present) and its time-shifting technologies (DVR, VOD, portable devices, mobile phones, slingbox, digital cable), it is undergoing an extreme social change – one that should feel familiar to music enthusiasts.

It seems to me that television is following the same worn arc of the music industry in its increasing accessibility and consequent individualization. Before the rise of the mp3 player, or even before that of the Walkman, there existed the record player – a medium that you very decidedly cannot carry around and listen to with headphones. Like early radio and television, the record player was (and remains to be!) an appliance or piece of furniture. The result is a more social listening experience (read: listening parties) that also allows for songs to take on a new life in the minds of their listeners after the fact (when a song gets stuck in your head, taking on subtle changes through imperfect memory) without instantaneous access to content on portable devices – both qualities applicable to television and endangered in a similar fashion to music. 

One can still make the act of listening to music or watching TV into a social experience relatively easily in a world saturated with private, portable, or time-shifted means of consumption, however, given the impact of portable mp3 players, the prevalence of this mode of social viewership looks unlikely to continue. Social viewing seems to be trending towards the fringe of consumption. I think it can be interesting and useful to consider this shift in television in light of the earlier transition in music – particularly given our class conversation concerned with the idea that distinct media could be moving towards convergence in the contemporary world.   

Children and the Future of TV

29 Nov

The Lotz introduction mentioned a trend of media scholars to cite their childrens’ conception of television as an indicator of where the medium might be moving in the future. For example, Lotz cites Jason Mittell’s anecdote about his daughter’s notion of the DVR in their home, ” [he] notes that when she came to ask, ‘what is on television?’ the question referred to what shows might be stored on the hard drive, as she had no sense of the limited access to scheduled programming assumed by most others” (Lotz, 18). This made me think of my three-year-old nephew, who, when asked if he wants to watch something on TV, will always assume that we mean pulling up one of his favorite shows on Netflix (which he usually watches on a television screen). If this is a recurring trend with today’s children–that they equate “television” with the instant gratification that comes with what is stored on their DVR or in their Netflix queue–how much will that affect the future of scheduled programming on network TV? Children’s programming certainly still exists on TV, but I’d be curious to see the recent trend in viewership over the years and whether it has been majorly impacted by the popularity of Netflix and similar formats that make it easier for kids to occupy themselves, whenever they (or their parents) want, with a low-maintenance activity.

On a similar note, what are we to make of the proliferation of the use of new tech gadgets among kids? I feel like there is a tendency among our peer group to scoff when we see a toddler “using” an iPad, but how much of that reaction is founded in jealousy, and how much in an actual disdain for the activity? Do the age-old critiques of the dangers of kids watching too much TV change when the format of the technology changes?

I would imagine that the increased portability of these new gadgets (laptops, phones, tablets) would cause many alarm when put into the hands of children. Previously, you could at least monitor what your kids were watching assuming they were just parked in front of the set in your living room. The sooner kids get their own tech toys, the harder it is to control what they’re exposed to.  At the same time, the spread of TV into multiple technological formats might hold a certain appeal to parents who now have the power to keep their kids visually entertained wherever they are, so long as they have one of these devices on them. It might be the kind of thing where we’ll have to wait and see what studies reveal concerning the long-term effects of these new formats of television viewing among children, but does anyone else have any thoughts in the meantime?

The Public Interest

28 Nov

Spigel-Dawson’s article (Television and Digital Media) mentions the rise of niche shows and networks based on various demographic profiles: “Lifetime is the ‘woman’s network’; Bravo is the ‘gay network’; BET is the ‘black network” while other networks […] adhere to lifestyle formations and specialised [britsic] tastes” (278). At this point, the hypercompartmentalization has broken into individual programs, so much so that individual networks specialize in niche programming (or do they???* *more on that later). Here are some examples, for fun:

From TLC (The Learning Channel) 

From TruTV

This all reminded me of the most absurd example I’ve come across: a Spike TV show called MANswers. It’s a pun on “answers” you see, answering hypothetical questions that men might ask each other (e.g. What animal can give you an erection for hours? Who’s the richest bitch in America? What’s the biggest handgun you can buy? How would big boobs bounce on the Moon? Can you freeze your farts and smell them later? Where is the drunkest place in the Universe? What’s more nutritious: cat or dog? How do you survive a killer bee attack? What’s the deadliest weapon a prisoner can hide up his ass? Which method of smoking weed can get a dude the highest? Do midget hookers charge half-price? How can you tell if she’s really a he? Where have dudes make some secret sex tapes without breaking the law? How can you exercise without exercising? What’s in your ball sack?). In Spike TV we see men, who have already dominated television’s programming for all of Television Time, being treated as a niche audience. This of course is no more representative of American men as Lifetime or Oxygen is to women, BET to African Americans, Bravo and Logo to the GLBT community, MTV and Fuse to teenagers, or Disney to children. But, as Spigel-Dawson points out, it doesn’t really matter. “Rather than attempting to provide programmes that are in ‘the public interest’, these devices instead tell the public what they are ‘interested in’, and then market that knowledge as a consumer service” (282). When the model for watching television is picking from a collection of recorded material on a hard drive, there is less at stake when scheduling programming, especially when a network isn’t confident about new material. What emerges is a slew of series put virtually into immediate syndication through the cataloging of DVR, VOD, and other acronyms. And though the nature of most shows falling to rapid cancellation isn’t new (I have no means of comparing, though, perhaps there’s a natural increase even when accounting for the explosion in networks), this phenomenon opens up exploratory and ironic habits of viewership.

The easiest example is Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, which I, like many, began watching ironically (and which also matched President Clinton’s DNC speech in ratings). Filled with all the sentiments most other Concerned Viewers voiced, I was hesitant to admit that though I could not commit to complete sincerity, part of me enjoyed the show in a completely earnest way. Fortunately, I had the option of watching the show and the DNC speech after the fact, so could avoid that decision. The show is not alone in its obscurity, as evidenced by the current programming of TLC and TruTV (clearly valuing absurdity over the niche representation), nor is it alone in its partial viewership of irony-mongers mixed with guilty-pleasurers. To what extent are studio executives and programmers aware of this irony? The editing and social media integration of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo suggests an impressive degree of self-awareness, at least on the producers’ part, but what about when the ironic viewership (cf. Liz and Dick and Twitter) constitutes a significant part of the audience? What does this attitude—already evident in advertising’s co-option of irony—say about the way Americans treat their own digestion of media?

Television Outside of the TV Screen

28 Nov

In her introduction to The Television Will be Revolutionized, Amanda D. Lotz discusses the idea of our generation existing in a “post-network era”, where television is not only displayed on a TV screen but in combination with the Internet, taking on many new innovative forms.  This idea is something we have discussed frequently in class, particularly with the emergence of Netflix and Hulu.  Still, much of what we see on Netflix and Hulu has already been broadcast on television networks before being aired on these websites (until the emergence of something like Arrested Development’s fourth season, which is to be aired exclusively on Netflix, with all the episodes arriving at once).  However, in part due to an increased interest in using different technologies to display television, and in part because viewers simply could not get enough of certain series, it is often that television series will arrive on the Web in ways that have not been seen on television, and so if you just watch the series, you may not know the whole story.

An example of a television series which has embraced multimedia formats is 24.  One such example was the 24 video game, whose plot timeline placed it in between the second and third seasons of the show, although it was released during the fifth season’s run.  The game was endorsed by FOX, published by 2K Games, and used the real characters’ voices and personas, and what makes it interesting in this discussion is that it paid particular attention to ensuring that it placed itself in such a time period that it would be accurate to the timeline of the series, thus becoming a part of the overall 24 story.  However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  There are webisodes made available online which take place in between seasons, comics which fill in some details that we don’t see on TV, 24 novels which take place in between seasons and before the series begins to explain some background on Jack Bauer (some of the information of which was published on FOX’s 24 website), and prequels to various seasons which are only made available on the 24 DVDs and cannot be seen on television, serving to give background on Jack’s story to those who are willing to dig a little deeper (or purchase the DVD set).  Of course, some of the details of the timeline are quite hazy, but 24.wikia.com attempts to compile all of them together in the order in which they occur, in case anyone wants to check it out: http://24.wikia.com/wiki/Timeline (beware of spoilers though).

24 is of course not the only television show to use different types of media to further its story, a notable recent example being Community, which had so many fans anticipating its third season that it threw us a bone by announcing that there would be three webisodes aired exclusively on Hulu two weeks before the series was set to restart.  In general, it is clear that Amanda Lotz was correct in declaring this a post-network era, and not just because a web series like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries can exist, but because television series displayed by networks can also display separate things all over the Internet and across many different media.