Archive by Author

American Animation

6 Dec

A particularly interesting part about American animation is how much it has to strive for mass appeal or at least for multiple levels of enjoyment. I’m sure that it’s a common experience to watch a cartoon that you remember from childhood only to discover a whole other context that you didn’t get as a kid (see ‘90s Disney films). Whether it be through subtle in-jokes or pop culture references, children’s programming tends to find a way to appeal to multiple demographics. Ideally, while the content is aimed at children, the parents (and possibly a large portion of the internet) may find themselves hooked on cartoons.

A show like Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time with Finn and Jake has found a viewing public both with children and with young adults. The animation has been frequently described as “trippy” and part of the appeal is the style in which the story is told. In many ways, the style of a cartoon contributes to its appeal. The comedic timing or the art often draw in viewers outside the child demographic.

There are also animated programs that are held up as examples of skillful story-telling. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has built up a large fandom of adult males (bronies) who praise the show for its character development. Similarly, Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender has garnered critical praise as well as commercial success for its epic scale and the long-form narrative it presented.

Something that I would have liked to explore is where animation fits into American television. I feel like it would have been interesting to go into what children watch and how unexpected communities form around it.

Abstract: Game of Thrones and Internet Piracy

5 Dec

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In my final paper, I want to explore the effects of internet piracy and web-streaming services on subscription programming, especially considering their reputation for exclusive content. By using HBO’s Game of Thrones as a case study, I want to examine how programs found on cable that attain a certain cultural significance have been consumed, particularly since it is costly to pay for a cable subscription and these programs are generally unavailable for easy streaming. I’m focusing on Game of Thrones in particular because of the attention it has gotten in popular news sources for its status as one of the most pirated shows of 2012.

The internet has affected the way many people view television, and I want to see what the economic effects are for companies such as HBO. Within the scholarly field, there are talks of HBO’s (and other cable shows) position in culture. They are typically viewed as more artistic pursuits than network shows. However, programs like HBO’s Game of Thrones or Showtime’s Dexter are among the most pirated shows of all time. How this fact relates to the cable subscription’s economic model is worth investigation. Piracy is particularly relevant to various media outlets, and the debates over payment models may prove valuable in the coming years. The research I imagine myself doing is very investigative. Again, I want to see, through the example of Game of Thrones, how cable is affected by internet piracy. To do that, I would look at how HBO has built its reputation as a provider of higher quality programming, and how that has benefited the company economically. Then I want to research what the effect of piracy has been on HBO subscriptions, and whether it has been detrimental by focusing on the production costs of a season of Game of Thrones, its reception, rates or pirating, and the DVD/Blu-Ray sales. I also want to investigate the sorts of payment options that are available and whether they would add or detract from HBO’s image, or whether or not HBO even needs to change their model.

The significance of this issue is that television and its availability over the internet have caused many reporters, advertisers, etc. to question the effect of piracy on television production. A program like Game of Thrones which has a high production cost and a large amount of cultural relevance, is also highly pirated. However, HBO appears to be largely unconcerned, especially because they make up a large part of the costs through DVD/Blu-Ray sales. I want to explore more about piracy as a perceived threat to television production. 

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.

“Who Watches the Watchmen?”

11 Nov

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                Part of what is striking on The Wire is the amount of surveillance that goes on. This does not just refer to the surveillance of the cops on the members of the drug trade, but also to all other incidental forms. There are multiple shots of the cops that begin on a surveillance screen. Not only does this draw parallels between the police and the criminals, but it also leads to the question of who is watching the police. Moreover, it also brings to mind the question of why the police are being watched. The amount of cameras trained on the police brings up the point that they too are being watched by some institution. This institution is part of the reason why the conditions of the police department continue to be reproduced. Cops like McNulty are constantly watched and controlled, and investigations are often impeded by departmental politics. The inefficiency of the structure of the police department is constantly being reinforced, despite the efforts of the cops involved. Like the members of the drug trade, the cops are also subject to institutional pressures. The surveillance of the police furthers the point that they are under as much scrutiny, as well as attempts of control, as the people on the streets. By demonstrating that the police are under similar pressures, the creators demonstrate how the conditions within the police department are produced through a similar process of structural violence.

The Thrilling Adventure Hour

4 Nov

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Considering how much of the form of television has been influenced by old radio programs; I thought it might be useful to look into what carried over between radio and television. I want to briefly look into how stories were told through radio shows without a visual component, and how the consumption patterns influenced form.

I started listening to the Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast (“Your favorite new time podcast in the style of old time radio shows!”) during the commute to work in the summer. During this time, I’ve gotten very accustomed to the forms of the programming and how the shows have to compensate for the lack of a visual element. The sound effects help ground the shows and they help the audience visualize what’s going on. We know when the characters open and close doors, when they use cars, and when they engage with objects generally. These moments help contextualize the actions of the characters. The music also helps tell the stories. Since we cannot see the actors and thus know their facial expressions, the mood of the music helps the audience understand what the people on stage are feeling without it needing to be directly referenced.

What is also striking is how much characterization has to be established through the voice work. Since the audience has no idea what these characters look like, the voices have to serve as the distinguishing characteristic. To some extent, they use familiar stereotypes to quickly convey information. One of their shows, “Beyond Belief”, uses the accents and intonations of their leads to establish their socio-economic status as well as their personalities. The use of distinguishing voices also helps the audience know who is speaking. Unless there is a reason to make characters indistinguishable, the use of varied accents and speech patterns keeps the characters separate and recognizable. Again, because the medium lacks visibility, the voices are what allow the audience to know which character is talking.

Radio also makes use of repetition. Much like the early television programs aimed at distracted housewives, radio is constantly repeating the names of characters and certain plot points. Even for regular characters, their name and a basic characterization is repeated for the listener. “Sparks Nevada”, the western style program, features a narrator that introduces the two lead characters. They are given the opportunity to speak, establishing their particular speech patterns, in addition to their relationship to one another through a quick interaction. In addition, some of the programs rely heavily on structured and repetitive narratives. “Captain Lazerbeam”, a superhero story, follows the exact same structure every time. Every story is told with the same 4 part structure. As a listener, one barely has to pay attention and they can still understand what’s going on (which is ideal if you’re working with the program on). It’s interesting to note how and why these methods exist, both in terms of the necessity of the medium and for how it is often used.

 The narrative styles throughout the podcast demonstrate the variety of methods available in radio. Several of the programs are serialized, where the characters carry over, but the stories told are all self-contained.  Others carry a narrative throughout several episodes. For the self-contained style stories, the quick introduction to characters and premise serves to both orient newcomers and returning listeners alike. The longer form narratives feature a quick recap of where the previous episode left off, reminding the listener of what happened last.

The methods used in the radio shows are at once similar and distinct from those used in television. Radio has some different uses because they have to compensate for the lack of visuals. Many of their methods are used to orient listeners and keep the story coherent. However, the episodic format and the assumption of distracted consumption, necessitates similar strategies or both radio and television programming. The use of repetition, structured narratives, and recaps keeps the audience engaged and up to speed on the occurrences of the shows. Various methods emerge to compensate for certain needs, and getting used to the structure of a radio show has really helped me understand that.

If you’re interested in the Thrilling Adventure Hour (and you should be because it’s great), you can find it on Itunes, or http://thrillingadventurehour.com/. It’s hilarious and well written. Also, Nathan Fillion tends to guest star every so often which is tons of fun, and John Di Maggio (Bender on Futurama) is a common voice actor for them.

The Rerun

11 Oct

In the Williams article there was a lot of discussion about production costs and the history of the rerun.  He gave attention to how and when reruns happened (both historically and through programming schedules).  Something that I find interesting about reruns is how they give shows life after their original run.  There are so many shows that owe part of their cultural status to reruns.  For example, Star Trek found much of it’s cultural relevance in it’s syndicated run.  The constant and consistent airing in combination with the added exposure brings the opportunity to start a new show without having to invest in DVD sets, internet televisions, subscriptions, or the effort to find episodes online.  For a show like How I Met Your Mother, reruns have contributed to it’s massive success, as new viewers have had the opportunity to discover the show, catch up, and start the newer seasons (http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment/television/10387596-421/how-i-met-your-mother-enjoying-best-year-ever.html).  

Reruns play a vital role for viewership.  Unlike movies which can be re-watched in theaters or purchased or rented, TV shows typically air once and that’s it until the rerun.  It makes it difficult to re-watch certain episodes.  In addition, since TV has multiple episodes making up a whole work, and since the total hours hours of air time will exceed the average movie length, it become difficult to manage if you miss a season because you have to play catch-up to some extent.  Reruns provide a venue for catching what you missed or re-watching specific parts.  They ease the process of discovery, and give shows another arena to garner viewers.