Taste and Technology in the Blockbuster Economy


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Acland, Charles R.

Taste and Technology in the Blockbuster Economy”

- Paper number/Numéro de communication : 5518

- Track/Section: Media History

- Panel: At the Intersection of Technology and Cultural History /À l'intersection de - la technologie et de l'histoire culturelle
- Date and time/Date et heure:
Mai 31, 1:15 – 2:45

- Location/Lieu: HH 1102

Blockbusters films are as connected to the summer months as school vacations and mosquito bites. Though we hear the heavy-footed march of their approach, expect people to recognize the titles, and may feel compelled to see one and avoid others, blockbusters do not make up a genre, per se. The films share characteristics and often have strong generic links to action, science fiction, disaster, fantasy, and family animation movies. But, it would be misleading to suggest that blockbusters are a strictly bound set of texts.

A blockbuster is a film that “busts” conventional demographic “blocks,” becoming a desirable entertainment for men and women, young and old, and for ethnically and nationally diverse audiences. Blockbusters are productions into which major studios pour the most resources, and through which they might expect to launch or continue a film franchise. As such, they are more than films; they embody a set of ideas about the economy of culture, including multiple industries, multiple geographies, multiple commodities, and multiple product life cycles.

Since the term was first applied to motion pictures post-WWII, a “blockbuster” designated two things: a hit or an expensive production. Given this definitional variance, one can find low-budget blockbuster hits, and high-budget blockbusters that are box office poison. The two definitions are linked, though; substantial financial investment in a single film is undertaken in the expectation that it will result in box office success. It describes a distributor’s wish as much as it describes the revenue-generating record of a specific film. Though the logic here has time and again proven to be faulty and unreliable, we must still understand that the blockbuster is both an industrial strategy and a way to talk about the outcomes of industrial strategy.

This research explores the historical origins of the idea of a “blockbuster economy” of film. Originally, blockbusters were the large bombs dropped on enemy cities during World War II. Indiscriminate targeting, not to mention spectacular and deadly fire power, echo in Hollywood’s use of the term. Steve Neale and Sheldon Hall (2010) pinpoint a late-1951 review of Quo Vadis (1951) as the first use of “blockbuster” to describe a film, signaling its simultaneous connotation of a major financial success and an ambitiously lavish production. But even before this date, in the 1940s, we can see that the term was used to connote both “success” and the garish. What develops in the 1950s, as the term “blockbuster” began to appear in movie ads, is a special relationship with new cinematic technology. This genealogy of our now dominant Hollywood industrial model documents the earlier traces of the logic of the blockbuster economy, challenging the continued presumption among some historians of popular cinema that the blockbuster era began with the success of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975).

Aguayo, Michelle
Latinas and Meaning-Making: Identity, Belonging and Popular Culture
- Paper number/Numéro de communication : 5562

- Track/Section: Race & Media

- Panel: "Inclusion/Exclusion of the Other:" Representations of Gender, Race, and Religion in Popular Culture, News, and Literature/"Inclusion/exclusion de l'Autre:" Représentations du sexe, de l'ethnicité et de la religion dans la culture populaire, les nouvelles et la littérature

- Date and time/Date et heure: Mai 30, 10:45-12:15

- Location/Lieu: AL 208

Latino/a Communication Studies in the U.S. have been successful in developing a broad corpus of research given close border relations and proximity to Central and Latin America. Scholars in the field have provided insightful analyses on the growing visibility of Latino/s throughout popular culture (Guzmán, 2005; Valdivia, 2007). However, while shows like Ugly Betty and singers like Jennifer Lopez flourish in a post 9/11 context-there is a significant immigration backlash. Increased surveillance of Latino communities accompanied by legislation in Canada and the U.S. concerning immigration and its link to crime, act to position Latino/as as a threat to the body politic. These issues inscribe the Latino/a body, both symbolically and materially, as the quintessential “Other”- to be simultaneously fetishized and disavowed and potentially expulsed. So how do we begin to make sense of these complex issues? This presentation examines the diaspora of Latinas in Canada. Although Latin Americans are a recent addition to Canadian migratory history, the 2006 Census noted that they are a fast growing visible minority. Using audience research methods this presentation examines how Latinas in Canada interpret popular media images and to what affect these representations have on their sense of self. It examines if the media can encourage a sense of belonging and/or inclusion and how does this impact individual’s in a minoritized ethnic/racial community? Overall, this research illustrates the complex discourses of how Latinas engage with popular culture particularly through critique of media texts. Strategies of negotiation and subversion are but two ways which these women challenge normative media representations.

Ahluwalia-Lopez, Guppy
Citizenship, Interrupted: Framing Dialogue on Cross-Country Runs Across Canada in Daily Canadian Newspapers

- Paper number/Numéro de communication :

- Track/Section: Journalism & News

- Panel: Journalism Practices/ Pratiques journalistiques

- Date and time/Date et heure: June 1, 8:30-10:00

- Location/Lieu: AL 124
Critical sociologists and journalists who are part of the public journalism movement are actively seeking tangible ways to increase civic dialogue in our society beyond citizen journalism (Jackson, Nielsen, Hsu, 2011).Thus far, through framing analyses of print and television broadcast it has been revealed that while the poor underclass (Nielsen 2008) and undocumented immigrants (Nielsen 2009) are reported on, they are not addressed as the implied audience or readers, enabling gaps to exist within the media system preventing it from meeting its responsibilities as a democratically oriented system (Jackson et al, p.71). A paradox exists when the subject of a report is not part of the implied audience. It means that while their stories are illustrated with personalized quotes, photographs and representations of their points of view, the subjects themselves are not thought of as the ideal public to direct these stories to. Furthermore, it is clear that journalists are not “innocently” commenting on social problems but are actively framing their stories towards an implied audience (Jackson et al, 2011, p.252) and subsequently orienting the sense of citizenship through the framing of the address (p.60). This paper then poses the question: how can acts of journalism interrupt acts of citizenship?

By engaging in a comparative study of cross-Canada runs carried out by Terry Fox in 1980 (Marathon of Hope) and Kartar Singh Ahluwalia in 1989 (Cross Canada Run for the Children), I employ a dialogic frame analysis where by following the framing of the news coverage, I show the moment that an act of citizenship is interrupted. My goal is to contribute to ways to expand communication towards more readers (Jackson p. 5) especially in preparation for a journalism-to-come.

Theorizing the implied audience through a framing analysis requires reference to a unique combination of theorists (Bakhtin 1993; Brown 2010; Butler 2009) not yet combined together in studies using similar ontological and methodological frameworks (Nielsen 2008, 2009). Following Mikhail Bakhtin, Robert Entman and Greg Nielsen, a dialogic framing analysis examines the moral terms or emotional tones as they arise from relations between journalists, the implied audience and the runners who are the subjects of these reports and what type of rejoinder is anticipated (Nielsen, 2009). I begin with a brief discussion on the key concepts on journalistic acts of citizenship (Isin & Nielsen, 2008) dialogic framing and the implied audience below before explaining the context of the two runs across Canada, press selection and presenting analysis from reports that discuss polemics about runners. In the conclusion, I make suggestions for strategies to evoke civic dialogue within the journalism reform movement considering the acts of citizenship of running across Canada.

Aitken, Paul Alexander
Pirates vs. The Pirate Party: Direct Action and the Politics of Online Media Piracy
- Paper number/Numéro de communication : 5496

- Track/Section: Media & Culture

- Panel: New Media: Affiliations, Action and Activism/ Nouveaux médias: Affiliations, action et activisme

- Date and time/Date et heure: June 1, 1:15-2:45

- Location/Lieu: HH 1108

This paper presents preliminary research about the relationship between online media piracy and the Pirate Party International (PPI) (along with its national variants). Participation in mainstream representative politics under the banner of ‘Pirate’—complete with centralised party apparatus, candidates, and published platforms—appears to be at odds with the anarchic practice from which the party takes its name. Online media piracy can be understood as a form of direct action that, as with anarchist practice generally, is concerned with logics of process and direct influence over outcomes. Where Pirate Parties seek representation in debates about copyright and the future of information access, pirates directly intervene by forming autonomous networks for the free circulation of cultural production.

Informed by historical and contemporary theories of anarchism and direct action (Bakunin, Proudhon, Graeber, de Cleyre) and radical democracy (Žižek, Badiou, Rancière) I analyse organisational tactics within online media piracy in order to trace the various disconnects between PPI policy and the phenomenon it claims to represent. I ask: can (or should) the challenges that piracy mounts to incumbent media industries and the logic of private property be domesticated within a political system intimately tied to capital? Can piracy's experimental logic of self-governance and autonomy translate into a politics rooted in representation and state rule? Is the PPI a form of political co-optation that, along with punitive juridical, ideological, and technological strategies, ultimately eviscerates the potential for piratical practices to suggest new and innovative means for social, economic, and political organisation?

Akiyama, Mitchell
Prison Blues: Alan Lomax Travels to the Penitentiary in Search of the Authentic Expression of Negro Folk Culture
- Paper number/Numéro de communication : 5282

- Track/Section: Race & Media

- Panel: Cultures of Sound: From the Carcel Margins of North America to Kenya's Conflict Zones/ Cultures de son : du milieu carcéral nord-américain aux zones de conflit du Kenya

- Date and time/Date et heure: Mai 30, 3:30-5:00

- Location/Lieu: HH 1102

In 1933 Alan Lomax set out to record in, what according to them, were the remaining bastions of authentic African American folk music: the prison farms of the South. Alan complained that the popular music flooding in from the cities of the North threatened to dilute the rich folk culture rooted in the unique horrors of slavery. For Lomax, sound recording was a means of preserving this cultural heritage and of giving a voice to Americans living at the margins. But, far from calling for the participation of rural Americans in the dominant, urban spheres of culture, Lomax urged, “We have to defend them, to interpret them, to interpret to them what is going on in the world which they do not make…”

I argue that Lomax’s self-given imperative to “speak for,” to use Linda Alcoff’s phrase, black convicts, as well as other disenfranchised Americans, further ratified the urban elite’s apparent natural right to media and the means of representation. Lomax’s depiction of his subjects as the noble and natural antidote to the malaise and alienation of urban modernity was based on a deeply nostalgic vision of American history, a view that, rather than promote “cultural equity,” as he called it, helped to reinforce stereotypical binaries: rural/urban, black/white, folk/elite. Arguably the most important outcome of Lomax’s romance with rural, isolated black America was the ignition of the folk revival of the 1950s and 60s. This movement consisted largely of white, urban, educated, upper-middle class youth who appropriated the aesthetics and cultural heritage of rural Southerners, a tightly curated and romantic version of a Southern folk authenticity neatly packaged by Lomax.

Alexandrova, G. Lynne
May We Walk in Beauty! Ecological Imaginaries across Time and Space
- Paper number/Numéro de communication : 5351

- Track/Section: Theory & Ethics

- Panel: Relatedness and Relationality/ Parenté et relationnalité

- Date and time/Date et heure: Mai 30, 10:45-12:15
- Location/Lieu: AL 124

This paper explores conceptualizations throughout human history which pre-sage today’s notions associated with what has been theorized as “holism,” (Shiva 2010) “systems view of the world” (Laszlo 1996), “ecological thinking” (Code 2006). The “ecological view” adopted as the umbrella term, is treated as involving human relatedness to self, other, all existence. The thesis is advanced that said view has consistently marked didactic, cultural, philosophical and religious thought, exemplifying valuable knowledge (guiding human thinking-being-acting) which has yet to find its proper implementation.

In support of that thesis, the analysis reviews the rich array of epistemologies-spiritualities in the text-and-photography anthologies of T.C. McLuhan (1996, 1994), which open up a panoramic view from antiquity to the present. To those are added the anthropological studies of Bateson and Mead (1936, 1942), Peshkin (1997 & elsewhere), a.o. All of these point to modes of relatedness different than that of the mainstream “developed Western world,” which has only recently started to appreciate the vital importance of ecological relatedness.

The cross-cultural data are attuned to philosopher Vokey’s (2001) “moral discourse in a pluralistic world” thesis and psychologist Haidt’s (1999) “happiness hypothesis,” both of which in effect involve integration into multilayered ecologies. The provisional conclusion is that to actualize said integration, humanity would have to tap into “ecological” imaginaries, combining multicultural traditions and new knowledge. To the extent that the desired shift corresponds with conscious action, it would have to figure prominently on the agenda of multidisciplinary theory in order to help organize local/global practice. The paper concludes with implications for media and education.


* “May you walk in beauty!” is a standard Navajo greeting. It is also conjugated in prayers.

Amend, Elyse
Exploring models: An investigation into models of science communication in science journalism practice
- Paper number/Numéro de communication : 5298

- Track/Section: Journalism & News

- Panel: New Methods/ Nouvelles méthodes

- Date and time/Date et heure: Mai 31, 08:30-10:00

- Location/Lieu: AL 105

Science journalism faces recurring critique that claims it is inaccurate, sensational, lacking in methodological details, and fails to engage audiences in meaningful debate about scientific issues. While much of the literature repeatedly points to these same criticisms, research has yet to offer theoretically-supported solutions. The results of this research project seek to address this gap and inform the development of clear criteria against which the quality of science journalism can be tested.

Models of science communication may offer a foundation for analyzing science journalism’s vital signs, as well as practically addressing the common critiques; however such discussions have thus far been limited to theoretical examination. This research developed and tested criteria for the applied use of theoretical models of science communication, essentially asking how these models could be put to practice. Based on an investigation of the literature, story-writing criteria were developed and tied back to four theoretical models of science communication. Freelance science journalists were recruited to write “test stories” according to these guidelines, and then were interviewed on their interpretations and applications of the guidelines. The results indicate model-based story guidelines can be put into practice, however participating science journalists largely maintained their personal routines despite some guidelines calling for non-traditional story-writing methods. Further analysis of reader reception of the test stories also implies science journalists’ perceptions of their imagined audiences require increased clarification.

It is hoped the results of this research will provide future avenues for developing clear science journalism criteria and best practices in science reporting.

Aoki, Julia; McAllister, Kirsten Emiko; Yoshimizu, Ayaka (Panel )
On the Margins of Urban Space: Re-imagining Cities through Creative-critical Practices
- Paper number/Numéro de communication : 5383

- Track/Section: Race & Media

- Panel: On the Margins of Urban Space: Re-imagining Cities through Creative-Critical Practices / En marge de l'espace urbain: Ré-imaginer les villes par des pratiques critiques créatives

- Date and time/Date et heure: Mai 30, 9:00-10:30

- Location/Lieu: HH 1102

With particular attention to the channels of exclusion and forgetting that buttress the formation of urban territories, neighbourhoods, and zones, these papers engage the intersections between transnational flows and localized visual discourses, embodied practices and historical traces that actively (re)imagine place. Bypassing the polarizing ‘global city’ conceit, the panelists address unfolding and locally inscribed movements of unwanted racialized bodies—be they social housing residents, asylum seekers, or migrant sex workers—as they are articulated within the uneven geographical terrain of transnationally networked urban spaces in Vancouver, Glasgow and Yokohama. The contributors are especially interested in the moments in which discursive and symbolic construction of urban spaces (de Certeau 1988; Foucault 1990; Lefebvre 1991) are transgressed by embodied practices and creative renderings, which are not treated here as corollaries of a priori structures, but constitutive of urban material landscapes. These papers open up the discursive intersections between urban environments and ghostly traces, artistic visualizations and everyday affects through close, creative readings of absence in “lived spaces,” artistic interpretations of spaces of exclusion and collective claims to space rooted in everyday practices. Speaking from, and out of their particular experiences of conducting research inquiries in three different local contexts, the panelists contributes to broader scholarship in the fields of Cultural Studies and Visual Culture Studies on the topics of cities, affect and memory as well as Migration Studies.

Aoki, Julia

For the Love of Little Mountain: Affective Mobilizations as Social Critique
- Paper number/Numéro de communication : 5385

- Track/Section: Race & Media

- Panel: On the Margins of Urban Space: Re-imagining Cities through Creative-Critical Practices / En marge de l'espace urbain: Ré-imaginer les villes par des pratiques critiques créatives

- Date and time/Date et heure: Mai 30, 9:00-10:30

- Location/Lieu: HH 1102

The urban landscape of the Greater Vancouver Regional District is a materially and symbolically shifting terrain due to rezoning, changes in social housing policy, and concentrations of speculative development. These transforming spaces are sometimes activated as sites of contestation and competing claims to space by often racialized and marginalized community groups with affective attachments grown out of every day uses. A recent example is the movement against the demolition and redevelopment of Little Mountain (LM) social housing complex in Vancouver’s Mountain Pleasant. My paper investigates this movement as an example of the affective (Ahmed, 2004; Shields, 1999) and often ephemeral and creative claims to space that open a critique of the neoliberal city. Neoliberal policies and discourses that seek to make city spaces safe for capital inflows have destabilized local communities through gentrification, reno-victions, and in the instance of LM, the relocation of an entire community that has to date lasted three years. In precarious spaces, expressions of affective place attachment can operate to combat the alienating effects of privatized “non-spaces” (Augé, 1995) the individualizing discourses of “property” (Blomley, 2003), and in spite of symbolically mediated barriers for residents to making collective claims of a “right to the city” (Mitchell, 2003). Starting from the examination of the everyday affects that were deployed by LM community groups whose domestic and social spaces were threatened by redevelopment, my paper builds toward a broader analysis of affect as a mode of critique, one that re-imagines city spaces and its occupants’ relationship to them.

Asquith, Kyle
- Paper number/Numéro de communication : 3980

- Track/Section: Media History

- Panel: Publics and Their Technologies/Les publics et leurs technologies

- Date and time/Date et heure: June 1, 3:00-4:30

- Location/Lieu: HH 2107

Over the last decade, a critical mass of public health and policy research has been undertaken to understand the relationship between food advertising and children's health. In the wake of a childhood obesity epidemic, critics of children's food advertising often call for outright bans. In response to criticisms and threats of regulatory intervention, food companies, ranging from McDonald's to Kraft, have altered products, revised marketing practices, and launched significant public relations campaigns.

However, a remarkably similar controversy erupted in the 1930s when food brands targeted children through network radio sponsorship, school materials, and comic strip advertisements. Mothers, teachers, consumer organizations, and medical officials collectively attacked food advertisers for unfair sales pitches, harming the health of children, and, in the long-term, socializing young people to trust only branded, packaged foods. Although some regulatory action was taken, these activists were largely unable to rein in food advertisers. This paper outlines the Depression era children's food marketing controversy and offers socio-historic reflections on current debates. Indeed, discussions over the effects and regulation of children's food advertising go deeper than 1970s sugared cereal commercials, 1980s Happy Meal toys, or more recent advergames.

This analysis incorporates primary research from a variety of archival sources, including: newspaper articles, consumer organization newsletters, consumer activist books like Palmer and Alpher's (1937) 40,000,000 Guinea Pig Children, and even early media literacy interventions for children like Brindze's (1938) Johnny Get Your Money’s Worth (And Jane Too!).

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