That’s Me All Over: Catching Up With Myself Over the Holidays

I’ve always loved that moment in The Wizard of Oz where the flying monkeys have knocked (not to mentioned pulled) the stuffing out of the Scarecrow. His body lies like an empty sack. His head’s been thrown someplace else. And the straw lies scattered on the ground. And he looks out and says, “well, that’s me all over.” There are many days when I know how he feels and also appreciate his self-deflating sense of humor.

All of this is by way of saying that I flew too much, spoke too much, and otherwise stretched myself way too thin in 2008 and I hope that the steps I’ve taken at the end of the year will put me in a position to slow down a little in the coming year.

That said, today’s post is intended to share with you some of the digital traces which survive from some memorable speaking gigs that I did last year. Each of these represents content I had planned to post at some point last year and never got around to sharing. I figured I’d start the new year by clearing out my inbox.

For example, the day before the election, I spoke at the University of Oregon in Eugene, sharing some of my thoughts about the role of new media and popular culture in the 2008 presidential campaign. While I was there, they got me into the studio to tape a segment of the University of Oregon Today, which recently went up on the web. I was in a particularly reflective frame of mind, talking about some core themes of my work — especially about the shifting relations between fandom and academia, about the goals and ideals of the Comparative Media Studies Program, about convergence culture, and about politics as a transmedia practice. I will especially value this interview as recording many of the core talking points about the Comparative Media Studies Program just a few weeks before I announced my decision to leave the program. It should give you some sense of why it was so hard for me to walk away from what we had built at MIT.

Earlier in the year, I participated in a lively and spirited exchange at the Consumer Research Conference here in Boston. Joshua Green, Sam Ford, and I had been invited to represent the Convergence Culture Consortium in a mock debate with some of the key thinkers in the field of Consumer Research. We begin the debate slinging zingers at each other, but as the conversation went along, we all became so engrossed in the points of contact between the two fields of research. Consumer Research shares many core assumptions with the Cultural Studies tradition which informs my own research but it has by and large taken shape in a business school context. To be honest, few of my cultural studies colleagues have ever walked across campus to talk with their counterparts in the business school and we know very little about the research being done there, even when it explores some of the same themes or developments shaping our own research. I’m very lucky to have made contact many years ago with Robert Kozinets who has been a key thinker on the topic of “brand communities” and who has been my bridge into the Consumer Research space.Such interdisciplinary conversations should occur more often. I know that I have many readers who come from industry or Business School backgrounds and so I’m grateful that you’ve been open, on your part, to such dialog.

My former student, Vanessa Bertozzi, now works as a community organizer inside Etsy, an online arts and crafts community. The community had been struggling with issues of copyright and fair use as they were more and more attracting fan artists. Bertozzi, with whom I did research on Young Artists for an essay that ended up in the recent book, Engaging Art: The Next Great Transformation of America’s Cultural Life (edited by Steven J. Tepper and Bill Ivey), asked me to join her online for a real time but virtual conversation about the nature of fan art, about appropriation as a transformative and expressive practice, and about the legal and ethical implications of a world where many of us create in response to existing media texts. In many ways, this exchange brought me back to ideas I first explored in Textual Poachers almost twenty years ago.

While I was speaking at the International Communications Association in Montreal last spring, I was asked to do an interview about mobile communications, new media literacies, user-generated content, and privacy for a multimedia web project being developed by Steven James May, an MA candidate at Ryerson University. I had no idea how creative May was going to get in terms of the context for the interview. He talked to me out on one of the main streets of one of Canada’s busiest cities, standing inside a phone booth, and holding an outsized early mobile telephone. People were stopping on the street to stare at the strange configuration of media and at one point, an academic associate stopped, yanked out his cellphone camera, adding one more layer of mediation and telecommunication to the mix. May’s project is now up on the web and my somewhat befuddled interview now lives alongside interviews with Greg Elmer, danah boyd, Toby Miller, Jonathon Zittrain, and David Weinberger, among others.