Blog 4: Participatory culture
The rise of social media has allowed individuals with very little following to create and circulate their own cultural materials to millions of people. Whilst Rebecca Black had her moment, albeit an incredibly annoying one, others have also risen to ‘internet fame’ with their own cultural materials. A recent example of this Japanese comedian Kazuhito Kosak, and his incredibly annoying, yet oddly fascinating ‘Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen’ (PAPP) video which circulated on social media in late August of this year. Below is the original video link. *WARNING* ridiculously catchy. It will likely be stuck in your head for hours.
This song was originally uploaded to Kazuhito’s YouTube channel, as one of his ‘characters’ DJ Pico Taro, and quickly became viral. To date it has been viewed over 91 million times. What’s interesting about this is the video was barely discussed on Japanese social media channels, yet he became an internet sensation overnight internationally. I admit that I thought this video was brilliant, based solely on his dance moves and ridiculous lyrics. This video has allowed for hundreds of other user-generated tributes to begin to circulate as fans begin to remix the original content and circulate it amongst fans.
Video games – Enter the Prosumer
Prosumerism has given consumers the opportunity to be involved n the design, manufacture or overall development of a product or service. Whilst this has given users the opportunity to share in their fandom of a game with other users, it has also lead to game developers being a little lax in the creativity department. An example of prosumerism in gaming can be found in Little Big Planet.
Little Big Planet (LBP) is a puzzle platform game series created by Media Molecule, in which players follow the adventures of Sackboy (see above image). Firstly this game allows players to interact socially by joining other players in each level, and being able to communicate with them directly to get assistance with completing levels. In this game, there is a large emphasis on user-generated content (the games tagline is Play, Create, Share). Players are able to customize their characters entirely, whilst also creating their own levels with a built-in level creator. Once levels are created, users have the ability to share these with the games community by uploading them to the Playstation Network (PSN). There are more than 8 million user-created levels available through the PS3 platform. The game further allows users to make non-gaming creations such as music and film (cut-scenes), and players are encouraged to share levels (their own and others that they have found) and review/comment on them, and share them through the LBP communities online and through social media. Author Sullivan mentions that all uses and gratifications based studies on video gaming point to the same conclusions. He states that “online game players are seeking to engage actively with the game, thereby transcending their role as passive consumers of media. Secondly, the ability to interact with other audiences and engage in social relationships is another strong draw to players”. This is aids in the understanding of the popularity of games like LBP, which allows for heavy interaction and engagement of social relationship through the LBP communities.
As Sullivan discusses, our ability to remix and rework popular culture to help us critically reflect on that exact culture has helped transform us from a read-only culture. This transformation into a read-write culture has allowed the public to produce, interact, change and influence our own culture. By remixing content, as shown in the above examples, consumers are now able to influence our own culture, instead of relying on groups of professionals to produce it for the masses.
The birth of the second screen
Television is no longer solitary experience. Some aspects of TV viewing have become an incredibly interactive experience thanks to the birth of a second screen helping us ‘engage’ with other people whilst we watch. Tim Highfield, Stephen Harrington & Axel Bruns discuss how Twitter is now being used to connect and support conversations between audience members for live entertainment. It has created a real-time space for relatively unmediated communal discussion regarding the shows users are watching.
Twitter has become to the medium of choice for this type of engagement, as its fast paced environment lends itself better to TV. Twitter acts as a conversational way for viewers to give instantaneous feedback and commentaries live, as the show airs. This is an especially great tool for producers and advertisers, who get feedback in real-time.
Pretty Little Liars, a show that airs on ABC became the most tweeted/Facebooked about TV series of all time (on a single day). When airing, the show is sure to show the # they want viewers to use at the bottom of the screen, to ensure that they participate online. By #PLL or #prettylittleliars, fans of the show are instantly joined by a community of like-minded fans that they can have a live discussion with during the shows airing. It also allows these fans a place to communicate outside of live-airings, creating a fandom space. They also have actors from the show appear in a pre-show, where fans can tweet them specific questions and statements that they are able to answer in real-time.
Live television has also created a place for fans to join a real-time conversation of what is happening. An example of this can be seen with the X Factor UK. This singing show, much like American Idol, airs a live show every Saturday (until the winner is chosen). During this time, the show encourages users to tweet along with performances, and use the # of the contestants they like/dislike. One particular contestant this year, self-proclaimed rap legend Honey G, has essentially divided a nation (see video below as to why).
This show has implemented second-screen viewing by creating an app where you can vote for your favorite acts during the live shows and encouraging users to live-tweet their reactions to performances. As Honey G has become one of the most talked about contestants in the history of the show, the producers have utilized twitter to get viewers to engage with their account by creating weekly hastags for her alone. Each week they ask ‘fans’ of Honey G to tweet pictures of themselves looking like the contestant (the hat and sunglasses) in the theme of the weekly hashtag. These have included: #mummyG, #miniG, #grannyG, #spookyG, in which the show asked users to tweet pictures using the hashtag, of their mum/nan/kids dressed up as Honey G. This gave fans a place to share their content with other fans, and also gave them the opportunity for it to possibly be shown on live television on the next show. These hashtags give other uses a way of tracking these discussions, which is something I find myself doing with Honey G and the above hashtags. As I am unable to watch this live, the use of hastags allows me to connect with the content produced by fans, and view them outside the context of the show as well.
The use of twitter to heighten the live TV experience can be seen as a tool broadcaster’s are utilizing to combat audience fragmentation. However it has also created a backchannel for fan communities to discuss outside of being prompted by the broadcasters themselves. Fans have even gone so far as to create fake Twitter profiles of their favorite characters, and tweeting as their persona. Whilst all these avenues have created a more heightened experience for audiences, we should take a step back and see ask if we’re really the ones doing all the work for broadcasters?