Henry Jenkins Confronts Obama Girl

Friday morning schedule was mixed around a bit, meaning that we had our session with MIT’s Henry Jenkins, a truly world-renowed academic in the media studies field and eagerly awaiting by quite a few participants. The provocative title, “Obama Girl Confronts The Future: New Media Literacies, Civic Engagement, and Participatory Culture”, indicates the focus of the talk. In advance, we read “Photoshop for Democracy”, a chapter from Jenkins’ Convergence Culture: Where Old And New Media Collide; during the lecture we watched videos including Obama Girl v Giuliani Girl and reviewed images/campaigns/works such as Republicans for Voldemort, Votefortheworst.com and V is for Vendetta. We previewed the upcoming CNN debate (where questions are being submitted by YouTube users – on video, of course). Art historian Carrie Lambert-Beattywas a co-presenter and made some really interesting interjections on production and visual culture.

A number of us (myself included) were sceptical about the Obama Girl videos; arguing that it was too apolitical, that it had all the visual and gender cues of straightforward TV satire (that was me), that it portrayed politics as a brawl, that it was politics-as-consumption etc. In response, it was pointed out that whatever about the theoretical objections, the video was eye-catching and a way to get a message across.

Jenkins spoke highly of Stephen Duncombe’s Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, in the context of a discussion of the disconnection between liberal activists/politicians and political culture. I want to read this. He talked at some length about patterns of adoption – i.e. talk radio being a strong point of the right and comedy news being of the left. And of course, he gave us an overview of the key points in Convergence Culture, including shifts in the notion of consumer, how digital and old media work together, and of course that the ‘convergence’ is more than merely technical, and talked about his other work on fan and participatory culture.

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