Spreading the cult body

marzo 17, 2011

Research presented at Networking Images – Approches interdisciplinaires de la notion de réseaux, IRCAV – Paris 3 – Sourbonne Nouvelle – 17 – 18 mars 2011.



In the “convergence culture” new hybrid and participatory forms of audiovisual production are emerging. Cultural industries design “media brand” with the aim to engage consumers in “affective economies” (Jenkins, 2006) and stimulate the emergence of “grassroots marketing” (Ito, 2008). In the digital public spaces, information is persistent, searchable, replicable, and scalable (boyd, 2008). Therefore media brand can reach a huge visibility thanks to the works of consumers that, sharing branded products online, work as grassroots promoters and generate a viral process. However, different to the “viral” model, the “spreadable” model (CCC, 2009) assumes that fans doesn’t simply share contents, but they also adapt, transform and rework the professional produced material, creating derivative works (video remix, fanart, fansubs… ) to fulfil they expressive and social needs. It is thus important to investigate how fans add value to the original content and how they create now expressive forms.
How does producers design spreadable contents to engage consumers in grassroots promotional activities? Which hybrid audiovisual forms are emerging? With the aim to answer to those questions I’ve conducted a comparative analysis of YouTube videos that are derivative from two different mainstream cultural products: the US Tv series Glee and the Lady Gaga’ music video Telephone. I’ve chose those case studies because they have been international success during spring 2010, also thanks to the grassroots work of fans. In fact, the professional produced text have been appropriated and reworked by gLeeks (i.e., fans of Glee) and Little Monsters (i.e., fans of Lady Gaga) that shared derivative videos online. Furthermore they are both example of the convergence process that surround cultural industries: Glee is a teen-dramedy that integrate elements of the “self-reflexive musical” genre, instead Telephone is a music video that is part of a series of short films. Comparing Glee’ and Telephone’ amateur re-performances, I’ve identified four main categories of grassroots creativity: (i) parody (spoof), (ii) musical (fans and semi-professional musicians re-perform the original song during “re-singings”, cover, live medley, DJ remixes e choreography), (iii) fashion (make up artist and fans appropriate the image of the star to create “make up tutorial”) and (iv) fan cultures (vidding, street team, fansubbing, …). Glee and Telephone thus stimulate the users’ creativity in term of ironic criticism, music performance, fashion performances and fandom.
I argue that Glee and Telephone are both media brand that have been designed with the aim to engage consumers in an affective economy, exploiting the dynamics of cult text and stardom (Hills, 2002). A complex word full of intersexual reference and quotable elements have been created. Glee and Telephone gives to the fans “textual hooks” (Burgess, 2008) that can be appropriated and reworked. In particular, producers intentionally construct “cult bodies” that explicitly incorporate previous media icons such as pop music idols and cinematic references. Fans are thus stimulate to appropriate the second order of cult bodies, creating another level of performativity that are the tertiary text. YouTube users thus re-create with emulative or parodic intent the professional produced text, spreading the brand itself.


Naked Lunch: a Visual Analysis of the “pro-ana” Italian Online Network

febbraio 13, 2011

Here the first result of an explorative research on the pro-ana weblogs in Italy.

I’ve presented this research at  the EastBordNet Conference 2011 – Remaking Borders, Monastero dei Benedettini in Catania, Sicily, Italy 20-22 January 2011.

Social media such as web boards, blogs and social network sites allow young people to communicate with their friends and to construct interest-based communities that aggregate like-minded people (Ito et al., 2009). Thanks to social media they experiment new form of creativity, reflexivity and develop social relationships (Livingstone, 2008; Ellison et al. , 2007). However also risky behaviour could emerge online. Because of that institutions ask for deeper investigations on youth-generated problematic content such as fight videos, pro-self-harm sites or pro-ana communities (Biegler and boyd, 2010).
With the aim to investigate why people share their sufferance online, I’ve conducted an explorative research on the Italian pro-ana websites. Pro-ana websites have been described as communities that “promote” anorexia as a lifestyle choice (Bardone-cone and Cass, 2007; Overbeke, 2008). However ethnographic researches underline that online discussion forums reduce the social isolation for those with eating disorders (Gavin et al., 2008; Pescoe, 2008) and that users construct “interpretative models” alternative to the professional ones with the aim to give sense to their sufferance (Fox et al., 2005). In Italy the pro-ana subculture is less institutionalized. I’ve identified a network of pro-ana blogs where users share their fears and their anger against their disease. Furthermore they explicitly give and implicitly ask for emotional and informational support, but rarely “promote” anorexia. Pro-ana blogs are thus digital spaces where people with a social stigma construct an online “sorrowful” body with the aim to communicate with like-minded people and share their emotional pain in a “safe place”. In particular, the visual rapresentation of self doesn’t express the aspiration to thinness to reach a beauty ideal. At the opposite the body regimes (visualized with the controll over the food, over the weight and over their own bones) are an attempt to find an onthological security against the existential anxiety (visualized with introspective images that convey negative emotions such as loneliness, fear, death) that characterize the famale identity in the late modernity.

Dancing in the stardom: recording industry and grassroots marketing

ottobre 11, 2010

Paper presented at the 3rd edition of the ESA Research Network Sociology of Culture mid-term Conference, Milan – Università Bocconi – 7th – 9th October 2010.

New media changed the relationship between the recording industry and fans. The Internet allow fans to share copyrighted music in p2p and Web 2.0 platforms. Recording industry reacted mainly with “prohibitionist” strategies, while cultural scholars argue that a “collaborationist” approach is needed with the aim to create an “affective economy”. In this paper, I describe the strategies of major labels to create a fanbase of grassroot promoters. During an ethnographic research, I’ve identified different forms of grassroots marketing (“street team”, “flash mob”, “mission”). I argue that labels try to harness “participative stardom”: a “music star” is created thanks to transmedia strategies (online presence and Tv appearances during media events and talent shows), then labels outsource promotional activities to fans rewarding them with branded products and the opportunity to meet artists.

Full Paper available in the SSRN eLibrary: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1693102.

Telephone mania: musical performances and derivative video on YouTube

ottobre 2, 2010

Presented at Workshop on Advanced Research Methods – Warm. Sep. 30th 2010 – Department of Communication Studies – University of Urbino “Carlo Bo”.

Visual(counter)cultures on Twitter: an explorative research

luglio 23, 2010

An explorative research on Twitter presented at International Visual Sociology Association Conference 2010. Thinking, Doing and Publishing Visual Research: The State of the Field?, Bologna, July 20-20. Panel User Generated Visual: SNS and online worlds. Visual research methods.

Social Network Sites (SNS) like Twitter are web based services that exemplify the hybrid and cross-cultural nature of today’s multilingual Internet. Data that are shared in SNS are searchable, replicable, persistent and scalable. Therefore, researchers have a great amount of multimedia data available that are produced in a nondirective way. Furthermore, a worldwide population has adopted SNS; therefore they have become an interesting research field for the investigation of crosscultural communications. Since the 1990s studies on Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) applied discourse analysis to described how individuals negotiate their identities with online social groups and the functionalities of mediated technologies. However, SNS are
multimedia environments that emerge form the negotiation between designers (who built the interfaces) and the everyday practices of users (who customize them). The concept of visual capital, a contextualisation of Bourdieu’s cultural capital in the realm of visual and digital media (Parks 2002, Nakamura 2008), can be adopted to outline social and cultural differences related to access and use of (strongly graphical) digital media. Therefore, CMC research has to merge with Visual Cultural Studies to investigate how visual capital is embodied in online profiles to express membership to a (sub)culture. In fact, the activity of profile customization, through images and graphics, implies different tastes, skills and practices. Which kinds of skills emerge from these practices? Do users integrate the professional aesthetic of the SNS designer? Do
counter(visual)cultures based on different geographical or linguistic affiliation emerge? Early studies on Twitter analyzed discursive and networking practices; with this paper instead, we propose to turn the focus on how users negotiate their visual identity within the broader “Twitterverse” (the culture constructed by the adoption of Twitter). We thus propose a methodology that combines the analysis of visual profiles and “visual elicitation” online interviews. Through the “trending topics” feature we collected 1,500 Twitter profiles of three different geographical affiliation: Worldwide, United States and Italy. We analyzed avatars and backgrounds with NVivo8 categorizing visual data based on subject, source, techniques and linguistic affiliation of the users to define a typology of visual cultures on Twitter. We also considered how these practices embody web-specific skills, such as reconfiguration and remediation (Lievrouw 2009), and what kind of literacies people develop through them (Livingstone 2004). In our future work we will conduct “visual elicitation” online interviews with Italian users; we will use chat services to ask the interviewer to comment upon visual profiles (his own and others). The aim will be to investigate the reflexive process of the visual identity construction and the identification/differentiation with different visual cultures in a multilingual platform.

Transnation uncoolness

novembre 9, 2009

Be cool is really difficult.
Because of that I’ve never been.
But I’ve start to recognize what is cool and what is not.
Then I moved to USA, and I started to get confused.

Check the list (ITA VS USA)

To smoke:  cool  VS   uncool.

Wearing jumpsuite at school :  what?   VS  normal.

Refill water bottle:  uncool   VS  you have to! (we have to save the planet).

Drink beer:  cool  VS  super cool.

Flip-flop: on summer VS whenever u want.


OK. Now that I’ve checked that I’m uncool in both the country, I feel myself again.

Writing fan cultures: a dialogical performance of [aca]fandom

agosto 25, 2009

The speech will be presented at the conference “Transforming Audiences 2”. 3 September 2009, University of Westminster. London, UK.

“The contemporary media landscape is a complex global environment that recently evolved to a many-to-many communication channels of interactive technologies. In fact, due to the digital convergence, old and new media collided in a cross-media platform where the audiovisual narratives are created not only from the media industries (primary and secondary texts) but also from the grassroots participatory cultures (tertiary texts) (Jenkins 2006). Those sociotechnical changes affect also the way people manage their presentation of selves and interact in their everyday lives. In fact media audiences are evolving into networked publics (boyd 2008) that participate in the construction of niche peer cultures. It is the case of fans, consumers with an intense engagement with a media content, genre or celebrity, that adopt digital social media with the aim to communicate with like minded people. Fan cultures and special interest groups thus emerge from the ongoing interaction of the fans in different social spaces, that could be both online (fan communities) and offline (fan conventions).

My study focuses on how fan cultures can be understood as a starring system: a network of multifaceted and multisited individual and collective performances of fan audiencehood where the boundaries between media figures (and academics) and viewers are blurred. In fact, during an explorative ethnography on Italian television fandom I‘ve observed the emergence of a networked collectivism of amateur experts (Baym 2007) that performs their competence and their passion publishing tertiary texts as fansite, fanart (video remix, avatar, wallpaper, …), fanfiction and fansubs.

In order to describe the starring system from the point of view of the audiences, I argue that the researcher should embark on an ethnographic experience to dialogue with fans and to give narrative visibility to her identity as an aca/fan thus performing her audiencehood. For this reason I propose to combine an analytical auto-ethnography (Anderson 2006) with a multisited participant-observation.”

From 6° of Desperation to 99° of Cheerfulness

luglio 5, 2009

I was desperate. More than an housewives. Because I had a job but no reason to do it. So I decided to change project and I needed a role model. Surfing the web I’ve foud the field that I wanna explore (fan cultures) and the researchers that I wanna to became (d.b., N.B., H.J.).
The only problem was that they were to far away. So I decided to apply the six degree of separation theory to the IR Community, and after five years I can demostrate (with only one case, that of course it isn’t enought xP) that the degree are just three:

Me was o_O.

Me meets L.P. (1° degree) that introduced Me to ethnographic research on Internet Cultures.

Me meets F.G. (2° degree) that welcomed Me to the italian research community on social media.

Me meets d.b. (3° degree: target reached) that:

1 – inspired Me to deeply explore the trasnational flux of internet contents. In fact I was focused on the relation between American and Italian fan cultures. But what about the eastern contries, for example Cina, where the fansubber are faster that everywhere else? How many level of cultural re-interpretation (misinterpretation, recreation, irony, personalization) emerge?

2 – suggested Me to adapt the methodology to the youth : let’s follow them wherever they are. Let’s catch them from different channel. Online, offline, with e-mail, with flyers.

And now me is *_*…
…and (almost) ready to go back to the field work.

Addicted to Passion

giugno 30, 2009

Presentation prepared for Modernity 2.0. Emerging Social Media Technologies and their impacts | Urbino, Italy 29 June/5 July 2009

Modernity 0.0

giugno 30, 2009

01010001010101010000101010001 –> The Internet

01010;-)0<a>0:(010100LOL01010 –> The Web

0101XOXO010:)))))0101xP0100♥… –> The Networked Digital Media