Henry Jenkins at DIY media seminar: "From YouTube to Youniversity"


Adrienne Russell, Mizuko Ito, Henry Jenkins, Howard Rheingold, at USC Annenberg Center — photo by Justin Hall.

Henry Jenkins was the guest lecturer for the DIY Media seminar at the Annenberg Center for Communication on January 17. Jenkins is Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT and the author and/or editor of nine books on various aspects of media and popular culture, including a central focus on DIY media as part of the larger flow he calls participatory culture. His newest books include Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide and Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture.

The title of Jenkins’ presentation and the theme of the ensuing conversation at ACC was “From YouTube to Youniversity: Learning and Playing in an age of Participative Culture”

Jenkins, whose online autobiography has a comment thread, walks the convergence culture talk he talks; he started his ACC presentation by alluding to the cover stories of Business Week on “The Power of Us,” Newsweek on “Putting the We in the Web,” and Time on “YOU are the person of the year.”

Jenkins then cited the Web 2.0 phenomena as an enabler of participatory media, “a resurgence of new companies and a period of economic churn associated with user-created content,” then mashes up the pop culture references with Yochai Benkler’s remarks on non-market and non-proprietary production: “we do well to complicate our models” of how and why humans organize cultural production. All this led up to his fundamental assertion, that “YouTube is the fullest embodiment of convergence culture.” Jenkins offered the explosion of vernacular digital video online as an example of the strong connection between popular culture media and pedagogical practices he has written about for years.

Two points in particular are evidenced by Youtube’s success: “Amateur content is getting global visibility. And fan communities are not just distribution channels, ” but the seedbeds of cultural creation, Jenkins stated, in a kind of “ecological relationship with blogs and grassroots communities that create cultural material and social networks that distribute it.” Examples: The deaf community using video of american sign language; people invade Walmart, use the equipment on the shelves to create video of Walmart and put it on YouTube; fan communities driving snippets of mass media moments to viral distribution through the online community (Stephen Colbert at the National Press Club dinner, for example); the famous OK Go treadmill video and the world of peer to peer grassroots music videos it represents (reminding Jenkins of vaudeville); lonelygirl15 (which reminds Jenkins of PT Barnum); the blurring of lines between real life and fiction in reality television; the emergence of YouTube as a political space with the tasering of a student at UCLA , George Allen’s racial gaffe, and the Saddam Hussein hanging going viral and effecting public opinion and election outcomes; the grassroots surveillance and sometimes vigilante action that mobile media afford.

(to be continued…)

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