People of the Year

So as you’ve no doubt heard,Time has decided that the Person of the Year is the users of Web 2 apps who are, uh, revolutionizing the world as we know it or something like that:

Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I’m not going to watch Lost tonight. I’m going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I’m going to mash up 50 Cent’s vocals with Queen’s instrumentals? I’m going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street? Who has that time and that energy and that passion?

The answer is, you do. And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME’s Person of the Year for 2006 is you.

Sure, why not, (though I kind of liked Muhammad Yunus)?

The LA Times, for their part, have offered Ten moments the web shook the world which, like the Time story, struck me because although it doesn’t make it explicit, it shows what a big chunk of this ‘revolution’ is fan-driven:
They start with Snakes on a Plane:

No, “Snakes on a Plane” did not go on to challenge “Titanic’s” box office record, but it did become the first studio release entirely championed, developed and, for a time it seemed, directed by film fans on the Internet. The moment when the movie’s cast and crew went back to the cameras for Internet-ordered, gore-boosting re-shoots will go down in history as the first time the Web grabbed the production reins away from movie producers.

Then they trash the promo site for the movie Running Scared:

the studio created a game that allowed visitors to take on the role of hero Joey Gazelle, played in the film by Paul Walker. Players could dive into the game to shoot it out with bad guys, drive fast cars … and perform oral sex on Gazelle’s wife, with an interactive guide showing to how to do so more effectively. After a few raised eyebrows in the mainstream media, New Line removed the game.

Lonely Girl shows up next (” The most riveting entertainment story of the year was neither the Mel Gibson nor Tom Cruise”), along with a number of other ordinary folks who became web stars through these new platforms. MySpace, which has transcended being a fan space, but still uses fandom as a major point of similarity-assessment, gets a paragraph.

They include a dose of politics (George Allen’s Macaca moment) which could be interpreted as a move by a Webb fan to discredit Allen (and which is very reminiscent of the Two Gallants arrest in Houston fan vids on YouTube).

All of which is to say that in the big picture of ‘ordinary people are becoming media producers’ narrative, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we’re seeing a new mainstreaming of fandom and a shift that makes it easier for ordinary folks to become objects of fandom. If you tell the “Web 2″ story and don’t talk about the centrality of fans, you’re missing a huge piece of the plot.

The News Blogger Who Rules

The New York Times ran an article this week about a phenomenon I’d entirely missed: the 21 year old blogger who has become the go-to source about the TV News industry. We don’t normally think of news junkies as fans, but how else to describe reminiscences such as this:

Growing up in Damascus, Md., Mr. Stelter watched the news addictively. He recalls watching Mr. Williams, who was then at MSNBC, reporting on the crash of T.W.A. Flight 800, the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the revelation that President Bill Clinton was entangled with Monica Lewinsky. Meanwhile, Mr. Stelter practiced his “newscaster voice” and harbored anchor-size ambitions of his own.

“I always thought I would be the person who sat in the chair for 12 hours,” Mr. Stelter said. “Then I realized there are only three people who do that job.”

He finally got to meet Mr. Williams last year when he came to New York to attend a memorial service for Mr. Jennings. Mr. Williams invited him to sit in on his broadcast’s 2:30 p.m. editorial meeting, and the two talked privately for a half-hour.

So in 2004 he started blogging about the industry, and now if he turns off his cell phone to go to class, he turns it back on to find messages from major news networks ticked off that he was unavailable:

The network publicists generally know his class schedule — afternoons on Tuesdays and Thursdays — and barrage him with material, which they often expect him to post within minutes. While recording a radio segment for one of his classes — Mass Communication 381 — he turned his cellphone off for 15 minutes, then turned it back on to find one nagging voice mail message from an ABC publicist and another from CNN.

Fascinating example of someone who never could have had any influence pre-internet able to become a major voice because his passion and the technology combined to make him heard. His blog is here.

I’m a comic strip character!

One of the things I’m loving most about blogging is that, like the internet more generally only even more so, it facilitates a lot of unexpected and rewarding connections. It’s like synchronicity on steroids. Here’s a great example:

Some weeks ago I wrote on here about the fabulous rock and roll cartoons of Joel Orff. A few weeks later, I wrote about how the internet led to my friendship with Thirdimension member Slivka and eventually to the redesign of this site.

Last week, Orff found both, and now I’m the narrator of one of his strips!

An industry into fanfic

Romance novels have got a reputation even worse than soaps, but people who step back and pay attention recognize that not only is this one of the most popular and enduring pop culture genres out there, it’s no more formulaic or stupid than most of what you can see on TV or in the movie theaters. It just gets stigmatized because, horror of horrors, it’s written by, for, and about women and it focuses on emotion (if you really want to hear me rant about this, read the first chapter of my book!). One of the first and most important audience analyses was Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance. While I don’t like it when she goes all psychoanalytic, it’s still a great and highly influential work amongst those of us who think that the best way to study how fans engage texts is to, you know, talk to fans.

And here’s another reason to appreciate the romance novel industry, they’re not only welcoming fanfic, they’re encouraging and mentoring its production via Avon press’s site Avon Fanlit. For the last 8 weeks they collaboratively created a new romance novella by having fans submit chapters, creating forums for fans and writers to discuss them with authors and editors, and voting on which was best. There were lots of prizes, some of real value to aspiring writers. They let the fans vote as well as compete (something I always advocate in these conferences). And they’ve published the result as an ebook you can start reading here. Notice they’ve put the fan/authors front and central instead of sucking them entirely into their own corporate persona.

Very cool.

Of course, they might not dig it quite as much if the fans were taking characters from existing copyrighted novels for their own.

Fans&Boxer for Charity

From the world of boxing comes news of a fan-organized charitable event that sounds like it was a huge success:

It would be hard to find better examples of the power of the Internet and fans interacting with their boxing hero. Australian based supporters of Kostya Tszyu held a sparring day on Saturday titled “Crewfighter” at the former undisputed champion’s gymnasium in Sydney. All of the details, including the matches, catering, prizes, merchandise, video filming, after fight dinner and designated charity for proceeds were all organised via the Internet and in the Forum at Organiser Mark “Seafarer” Fellows came up with the idea whilst speaking with a fellow Tszyu Crewer late one night.


Fellows took the concept to Tszyu, who loved the idea. The 37 year-old junior welterweight star has always had a close relationship with his fans and regularly holds live web-chats with them through his website as well as making advertised public appearances to meet fans, sign autographs and pose for photos.

I know even less about boxing than I do other sports, but I know I like it when I see someone willing to go out of his way to support his fans when they organize meaningful events in his name.

There are a lot of charity events in which celebrities participate, and this suggests what could be a fruitful way to channel fans’ creativity toward good causes while enhancing the bonds between artists and fans.