This year’s Keynote Address will be given by Henry Jenkins, Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies program. At Beyond Broadcast, he will discuss what happens when traditional “top-down” media meets the explosive growth of “bottom-up” participatory media. His claim, and the hypothesis of the conference, is that skills that emerge in the course of engaging with pop culture can become powerful forces when translated into tools of citizen engagement.
According to Jenkins, “Right now, we are learning how to apply these new participatory skills through our relations to commercial entertainment—or more precisely, right now, some groups of early adapters are testing the waters and mapping out directions where many more of us are apt to follow. These skills are being applied to popular culture first for two reasons: on the one hand, because the stakes are so low and on the other, because playing with popular culture is a lot more fun than playing with more serious matters. Yet as we saw in looking at Campaign 2004, what we learn through spoiling Survivor (2000) or remaking Star Wars (1977) may quickly get applied to political activism or education or the workplace. ”
Jenkins’ fascination with pop culture started in childhood and has shaped his approach to understanding media since. “Early on, I discovered the joys of comic books and science fiction, spent time playing around with monster makeup, started writing scripts for my own Super 8 movies. . . and collecting television-themed toys,” says Jenkins. “When I got to graduate school, I was struck by how impoverished the academic framework for thinking about media spectatorship was — basically, though everyone framed it differently, consumers were assumed to be passive, brainless, inarticulate, and brainwashed. None of this jelled well with my own robust experience of being a fan of popular culture.”
At MIT, he leads a research group called New Media Literacies, which develops curriculum and documentary videos to help teach 21st century literacy skills to high school students and encourage them to become active members of participatory media culture (see also the white paper on these issues). He also recently launched the research group Convergence Culture Consortium which explores the ways the business landscape is changing in response to the growing integration of content and brands across media platforms and the increasingly prominent roles that consumers are playing in shaping the flow of media. Finally, he is one of the principal investigators for The Education Arcade, a consortium of educators and business leaders working to promote the educational use of computer and video games.
Jenkins has written and edited several books on various aspects of media and popular culture, including Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. His most recent books, all released in 2006, are Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture, and The Wow Climax: Tracing the Emotional Impact of Popular Culture.
Jenkins says, “The emergence of new media technologies supports a democratic urge to allow more people to create and circulate media. Sometimes the media is designed to respond to mass media content—positively or negatively—and sometimes grassroots creativity goes places no one in the media industry could have imagined.”