‘Competitive Fandom’

ScienceDaily recently published an interesting article about the work of a pair of UW-Madison researchers on fantasy sports leagues:

Fantasy baseball is the ultimate model for a game type Erica Halverson, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and part of the GLS program, calls “competitive fandom,” a rapidly growing area of interactive participation for people who are passionate experts in a given subject or field. “You name it and there’s a fantasy version of it,” she says.

There’s already Fantasy Congress, where players earn points for how many bills their team of legislators introduce and pass; Fantasy Survivor, a companion to the hit TV reality show; and Hollywood Stock Exchange, where fans trade “securities” to predict how well a movie will do at the box office or how an individual actor’s career will fare.

But sports reign supreme in this genre and fantasy baseball does it best, Erica Halverson says. And the game – where players have access to huge amounts of data and the ability to manipulate those numbers with relative ease – shows some parallels with other fields, such as the stock market.

[...]

It’s an area ripe for study. Sixteen million adults played fantasy sports in 2006, spending an average of just under $500 a year and generating an economic impact of more than $1 billion a year, according to the Fantasy Sports Industry Trade Association. The majority of those first began playing the game offline and spend about three hours per week managing their teams, according to the trade group.

“Not only is it something we love, but this is a huge market of gaming that’s going on where people are spending thousands and thousands of hours playing,” Erica Halverson says. “As a research group, we’re fundamentally interested in what people learn from gaming and what gaming has to offer education. This is sort of a subset of gaming that’s a new avenue to explore.”

For more on the topic, see this article in the LA Times (which conveniently quotes me).

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Usher Takes Well-Deserved Heat

One of the parts of online fandom that’s sometimes hard for stars to deal with is that sometimes your fans don’t love all your decisions. That’s apparently been the case with Usher fans who, as I understand it, aren’t thrilled with his choice of fiancée. Ok. Whatever. But here’s where it gets interesting.

There’s a fansite called UsherForever. Just stop and think about that title for a second. UsherForever. Could be a group for people who had been ushers at some theatre sometime? “Usher” is not just a name, it’s a word. But anyway. So this fan site’s been going strong for a while, its clearly a slick labor of love by an Usher fan. But when she dared criticize, Usher and the lawyers moved in:

Imagine if someone was happy to work, without reward, building a massive shrine to you and your work. You might be happy to think of all this promotion going on, not costing you a cent.But what if that person then disagreed with you – perhaps pointing out that you were making a bit of a fool of yourself?

It would probably be wise to take advice like that as well-meaning, even if you chose to ignore it.

Not so Usher: After fansite Usherforever.com called his open letter to bloggers “petty”, Usher then got pettier, sending a legal demand that the site’s URL be transfered over to his record label.

Even guilty-pleasure site TMZ.com took a break from Lindsey, Britney, and Paris to write a post headlined “Usher F**ks With The Wrong Fan” :

Erika Jackson, webmaster of usherforever.com, tells TMZ that she’s been hit with a full-scale legal blitz from a tag-team of both Usher’s personal lawyer and his label’s lawyers, and claims that the trouble started earlier this year when she refused to turn her site — the self-proclaimed “biggest Usher site” on the Internet — into a sanitized official site. (The legal threats were first reported by the New York Daily News.)

The comments on TMZ are well worth a quick browse and it’s not pretty for Usher. Some excerpts:

Usher is going to lose his fan base if he doesn’t stop this foolishness. So what if people don’t like your fiance!!! The sun’s not going to stop rising and shining because people don’t like Tameka; your world isn’t going to come to an end!!! Geez!!!

He’s going to lose many of his fans over this. What he is doing is career suicide.

…ha ha! usher’s an idiot! nice going, mr. invincible! way to bite the hand that’s feeding you!. know what? there are already too many fish in the pond, too many ushers waiting in line to take your job. bye bye!…

Now there are a few who say that Jackson is using his name to make money (she has ads on the site) and he’s got the legal right to the domain, but I’m looking forward to seeing this play out in court, if it ever really gets there. She is providing something he’s not — a place for his fans to congregate. His music may be copyrighted, but I don’t think that being his fan is something he can copyright. (I’m curious if any lawyers reading think there’s a shred of legal turf for him to stand on, my guess is NO).

In either case, if you want a sanitized site, make your own. Fans get to say what fans want to say. Ha ha.

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The Irrelevance of the Internet in the Rise and Fall of Voxtrot

Sometimes I’m a little slow to pick up on American pop culture these days, what with my obsession with Swedish pop and all, so I managed to completely miss the Voxtrot blog buzz in 2005-2006. Voxtrot have been called “the perfect web 2.0 band” or something like that, with their blog and (former) status as darlings of the mp3 blogosphere. But they’ve got a highly ambivalent relationship with the net, as manifested most directly in singer Ramesh’s blog rant against the internet last March:

The internet is fickle. Everything is disposable. Everything is fleeting. The internet is a very dark place to be. Everybody’s a fucking authority and everybody knows better than everybody else. [...] Sorry if I sound a bit critical, but I guess that, at this point, I’m not talking so much about Voxtrot specifically as I am about the relationship that every band is forced to maintain with the internet.

My rant:

So, this guy is like 23 and because he wrote some songs bloggers like, I guess that makes him an expert in the internet and its societal effects. But let’s smack a little realism in here. First, disposability and fleeting things predating the internet by a long time. Anyone remember the 1980s? How about that great 1970s pop hit “Wildfire” (I apologize if you lived through that and had successfully forgotten it). There have been disposable pop hits as long as there’s been pop hits. That’s part of the beauty of pop music — it’s ok if it’s disposable. If it makes you feel good for a little while, it’s done its job. You want great art no one criticizes, try classical music, and even there the Bachophiles go off on the trash that Beethoven dude wrote.

Second, “the internet is a very dark place to be.” Uh, not like, say, inner cities? Iraq? Darfur? Because you have to face the fact that some people aren’t into your music? Or the same things you are? Because on the internet criticism and the conversations that have happened offline every day as long as people have been having conversations about pop culture become visible? Well I don’t like reading negative reviews of my work on the net either, but … and this leads me to the third point… I recognize that it is the PERSON WHO WROTE THE REVIEW that has that opinion, not THE INTERNET, and that if I look elsewhere I will find rays of sunshine that are great ego boosters. The fact that your skin is thin does not mean the net is dark.

The band “is forced” to maintain a relationship with “the internet”? No, bands that want to be successful have the opportunity — an unprecedented one — to form and maintain relationships with THE PEOPLE WHO ARE INTO THEM. The internet doesn’t give a hoot about any of us. It’s a bunch of signals and wires. It’s a communication medium. The net gives bands a means of reaching their audience. They are also going to encounter people who think they stink or, worse yet, are boring. That’s because the internet mirrors everything else, not because it’s a dark force.

And don’t even get me started on his titling the post “get off the internet, I’ll meet you on the street” because, guess what, I’ve actually done research on this and read a whole lot more, and the internet is not a substitute for face-to-face interaction. It’s a supplement, and even an enhancer. Alienate your online fans and they won’t be joining you offline, they’ll be too busy with their friends.

But his reification of the internet gets suppport in this recent article about them in the Baltimore Sun titled Internet killed the radio star:

A funny thing happened to Voxtrot on the way to pop music stardom: The Internet moved on.

A year ago, the rock group from Austin, Texas, was the darling of music bloggers everywhere. One site described its music as verging “on the Platonic ideal of indie pop.” [...] But the experience of Voxtrot this year has proven that what the Internet gives, the Internet can take away. Internet love is fleeting and fickle. Fans must be nurtured and cared for. Or else they can turn on you with all the viciousness of a cliched pop song heartbreaker.

The same bloggers who fawned over Voxtrot last year are no longer so hot to, um, trot. The band’s new album, released in May, was met with yawns at best.

“The Internet moved on.” “Internet love is fleeting and fickle.” Hello bloggers, you are not people, you are The Internet. That wasn’t YOUR love, it was “internet love,” which is a whole different thing, I guess. So different that it bears no relationship to, oh, every band whose sophomore record ever got trashed by people who loved their first in the entire history of rock and roll. Which is like, just about all of them. Isn’t it maybe just a little bit possible that THEIR RECORD WASN’T AS GOOD AS THE EPs and it’s about people making astute judgments and sharing them with others rather than the medium moving on?

Man, I remember the heyday of England’s New Music Express (NME) and how unbelievably fickle they were. There was an internet back then, but none of us knew about it yet. It wasn’t called the internet yet. Yet we managed to like some stuff bands did and not like other stuff they did and talk about it with each other anyway. Amazing.

I will agree with the claim that “fans must be nurtured and cared for,” but don’t kid yourself that if you are good at creating relationships with your fans they will like anything you produce. Fans are individuals with judgement, and they will decide whether or not they like your music based on how it makes them feel. They may still like you, but if you put out a lame record, it won’t sound like the bells of heaven in their ears just because you update your blog and respond to friend requests on MySpace. And they might even dare to say so.

Now after all that ranting, I will confess that I love Voxtrot’s EPs, which I discovered AND BOUGHT through the internet, and I even like their album a lot, though I don’t think it’s as good as the EPs. But as an internet scholar, I get really freakin’ sick of people’s pop analyses of the medium. As though no one has actually done any real rigorous consideration of these issues and to quote Ramesh, “everybody’s a fucking authority.”

Here is a link to a Voxtrot song from one of the EPs Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives from their own website. If you like it, give them the credit. If you don’t, blame the internet. You know how It can be.

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The Eyes of Aspen Are Upon You

Aspen Eyes

Aspen is beautiful close-up too.

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A Pause While I Gush

I saw Chris Isaak last night for the third time in a mere 18 years.

The Divine Chris Isaak

What a singer, what a showman, what a band, what a great great show.

A guy like him should have better fan sites than the current (mostly outdated) crop that’s out there.

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