For over twenty years, Henry Jenkins has been interested in looking at the ways that audiences interact with the mass media ojbects they love. Previously at the MIT Comparative Media Studies Department, Jenkins even came up with a name for people like him in academia: aca/fans (academic fans).
He now serves as the Provost’s Professor of Comunication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts at the University of Sourthern California and for several years, he’s managed a blog called Confessions of an Aca-Fan, wherein he muses about contemporary media, interviews others in media studies, and posts reports from his appearances and classes.
This year, his first foray into fan culture, “Textual Poachers,” a look at the interaction between fans and producers of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and other media products, will be rereleased in a twentieth anniversary edition with a new introduction.
He’s also at work on his new book, co-written with Sam Ford and Joshua Green, “Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture,” which will be released in January 2013, and another book, a conversation about youth and participatory politics with Mimi Ito and danah boyd.
Talking with Indiewire, Jenkins explained why understanding spreadable media was key to succeeding as an independent media producer. “Spreadable media is about how circulation shifts the relationships between media makers and their public. If you’re lucky today, your independent film will get picked up by one of the bigger distributors, but increasingly, digital distribution is shaped on a grassroots level rather than a top-down model.
“Jason Russell of Invisible Children and the ‘KONY 2012’ video thought after producing more than ten documentaries in his career, that he’d have a half million views in 2 months. Instead, that video reached 77 million people in four days and 100 million in ten days. The youth groups and church groups they courted spread that media.”
In explaining spreadable media, Jenkins also explained how the means to produce media has also spread. He discussed the crowdsourcing work of the Finnish science-fiction film “Iron Skies,” which asked help from the public to complete special effects and scout locations. He also discussed how crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter are a game changer, but only for certain types of independent films. “There’s a lot of support for horror, sci-fi and other genre films, films with a clear ideological perspective, and films for or by women, LGBT people, and members of ethnic or linguistic minorities. It works less with idiosyncratic and personal work. The state subsidies are drying up for that kind of work, but they still have to go through the same channels to get that kind of work funded.”
Jenkins’ best known work is his book “Convergence Culture,” in which he produced the first major study that noted the flows between producers and consumers were increasing and the effects on popular media of a lowered barrier to entry in producing media. Though that book was concerned with fan production of alternative spaces inspired by “Harry Potter”‘s Hogwarts and parodies of “Star Wars,” he has recently expanded his examination of convergence culture to look into the ways that these new modes of cultural production affect civic engagement by studying things like Invisible Children, the DREAM activists, young Muslim activists across the world and the Occupy movement.
“Though the costs of campaigning have gone up, there’s still more grassroots action.”
Favorite Films: “5000 Fingers of Doctor T.” It’s scripted by Dr. Seuss, it became a live action musical. I used to show when I was at MIT, we’d screen it every year.
Filmgoing Passions: “Right now, I’m falling passionately in love with cinema through silent film. Here in Los Angeles, there are so many great opportunities to see silent films. I’m going to CineCon, four days of rare and obscure films from the silent and early sound period. Part of the joy with public, big screens, movie palace. I also went to the silent festival in Bologna and got to participate there in some of the festivities.”
Favorite TV Shows (Current): “Political Animals,” “The Copper” — it takes the world of “Gangs of New York,” a pretty interesting period, and I’m definitely interested in what it’s trying to do, “Game of Thrones,” “Walking Dead.”
Editors’ Note: An earlier version of this article said that Jenkins was at the MIT Media Lab. He was the head of the Comparative Media Studies Department. The article has been changed to reflect this.