Fans, Translation, and Cultural Flow
My favorite band, Madrugada, has released a new record. It’s an emotionally-loaded time for them and their fans: their guitarist, whose contribution to their sound cannot be replaced, passed away last summer, just a month after most of this record had been recorded. The surviving members returned to the studio, finished the record, and have just released it to fawning reviews.
As a fan, I find myself tremendously moved by the music and eager to consume anything that will enhance its experience for me.
The challenge is that Madrugada are Norwegian, and the only media covering them are Norwegian. I don’t speak Norwegian.
But on their fan forum, fans are dutifully and rapidly translating article after article into English so their international fan base can be as informed as they are. While it may be fun for some of these people to get to practice their English skills (which, I might add, are humblingly good), their effort is extremely generous — the rest of us have nothing to offer in return but gratitude.
These translating fans are making critical contributions to extending Madrugada beyond Norwegian borders. On their MySpace page, part of a new entry reads:
And thanks to you Madrugada are charting on iTunes stores: 1 Norway and Greece, 20 Sweden, 23 Germany, 34 Switzerland, 44 Netherlands. Considering it is the fans who know as there has been no radio or press outside Norway.
Against this backdrop, I was interested to see Henry Jenkins’s report on a conversation he had with a journalist in Shangai:
She notes that some of the amateur media fan groups in China can translate as many as twenty television shows a week, suggesting how Prison Break fits within larger patterns of cultural practice. She noted that the technical languages used on contemporary procedurals such as CSI and the slang used on many American programs posed particular difficulties for Chinese translators, who had mastered textbook English but had less exposure to more specialized argots.
Add translation to the list of fascinating ways fans are reshaping global entertainment flows and global entertainment flows are reshaping fans.