Transmedia Generation in Prague
On June 18, 2012, our Institute of Communication Studies and Journalism invited my former MIT professor Henry Jenkins to take part in a symposium on participatory cultures. It was the first time Henry gave a talk in the Czech Republic, and of course, a great opportunity for discussion, presentations & various musings by local and foreign media researchers. My impressions and videos after the divide!
As soon as I heard Henry was going on tour od Europe, I got in touch with Sangita Shrestova, Henry’s colleague from USC and a Czech-Nepali dancer turned academic, and started thinking about organizing an event at my alma mater, Charles University’s Faculty of Social Sciences. My dear colleague and professor Irena Carpentier Reifová and I then took up the organization duties, eventually coming up with the symposium format with five speakers and a panel discussion.My friend Luis Blackaller from L.A. (formerly MIT) made an amazing superhero-comics-style poster with Henry in front of the Prague’s Žižkov broadcasting tower.
We were a little worried about the fact the event would take place during the exam period, when most students are either studying hard or temporarily MIA. In the end, over 200 participants registered and the auditorium in Opletalova Street was full to the brim – mostly with students who had read Henry’s work and wanted to see him live.
Henry’s talk focused on the novel ways in which activism converges with fan practices and online participation. His recent work in this area is a natural continuation of his research of fan communities and convergence culture. The inspiring and uplifting thing about his talks is the fact the he is usually very optimistic and energetic, but he never falls into the utopian trap. And, of course, he is a great speaker who can connect topical references with media theory and popular culture. The talk started by a discussion of Kony 2012, a campaign that the audience was familiar with, unlike the audiences in some other European countries, as Henry mentioned. (Well, me and my students did discuss this at the New Media & Society seminars and many of them were present). Henry went on to analyze the reasons behind the success of the campaign and whether it was a success, bridging his way into an explanation of his concept of spreadable media. Sharing content is a social phenomenon – and that’s the foundation of his cultural studies-inspired take on our contemporary culture. Using examples of such amazing activist groups like Dream Activists, the talk showed how the notions of social meaning-making and semiotic democracy resound on today’s Internet. Plus, the talk was funny and captivating; see for yourselves.
Four more speakers took floor after Henry. First, Jakub Macek presented the premilinary results of the many research projects on why people participate online. Sangita Shrestova showed a brilliant example of cross-cultural transmedia exchange in her talk on the migration of Bollywood dance. I presented my fan translation research, providing another example of fan activity.
And then, Nico Carpentier talked about the dark sides of online participation. In his talk, he question the very notion of participation and its used in relation to the concepts of democracy. Coming from a critical studies background, Nico provided a nice balance to Henry’s optimistic views. I was curious how Henry would react to Nico’s talk. Although each of them comes from a different point of view, they immediately started a discussion that carried over into the panel and the dinner.
I took part in the panel, too, but looking at the video, I’ve relized I didn’t really say much besides an aphorism about future. Frankly, I was both tired after a long day of organizing and running around in 30 centigrade heat, and rather immersed in listening to Henry, Nico, Jakub, Sangita and Irena, who moderated the panel.
The next day, me, Sangita, Henry and his wife Cynthia walked around Prague. I hadn’t been to some of the places we visited since I was a kid. The mirror maze at Petřín was awesome, as was Marold’s Panorama at Výstaviště. Unsurprisingly, the tour of Prague included visits to a DVD store and a comics store. Later that night, Henry was interviewed by the Czech TV. You can watch it here.
I would like to thank everybody who’s helped make the event possible. Irena, Nico, Sangita, Jakub, Luis, Tomáš Trampota and Markéta Štechová from the Institute of Communication Studies and Journalism, Karol Hošek and her girls, and the guys at the Radio and TV lab.