Monday, February 26, 2018

2017: The Year of Fame... and its Consequences - PART 2

Communication, information and knowledge have an interesting and coloured relationship and history. And in the Year of Fame - or perhaps the year that fame overwhelmed other formations and hierarchies of value - this relationship among communication, information and knowledge became in the oddest paradox visibly obscured. In this 2nd Part of my excursus on "2017: The Year of Fame and its Consequences" (and if you have jumped to this Part 2 and want to quickly read Part 1 first, just click here to go back to it) that explores the ramifications of contemporary fame through the lens of my own thoughts and resultant writing and presentations.

How does the relationship between communication, information and knowledge become visibly obscured?  In Part One, I referred to the odd political culture embodied by Trump and others.  In understanding our increasingly online-oriented patterns of communication, what has arisen is a new truism - fake news or to use Oxford Dictionary's 2016 word of the year "post-truth".  To call fake news a truism is an interesting word-choice as competing cultural interests have allowed a pervasive  culture of opinion and posturing. Even the 2017 word of the year from Oxford implies a further blending of emotion, personal-to-collective appeal, and transformative generational disruption: "youthquake".  

My efforts at making sense of this transformed and turbulent world with its billions socially connected through social media, with a surplus of information and communication through these same elaborated networks has led me to think of new terms to describe our individual and collective identity and the manners in which communicatively they are connected.  My new concepts and terms may not be listed Oxford's Word(s) of the Year, but I hope they come close to making some sort of sense of the contemporary moment and the transcultural and transnational instability.

At the core of my thinking is the implications of fame - the will-to-fame that circulates around and through our social media forms of communication. The inner-core, the concept that has helped me work through this fame complex is persona.  In my 2016 book, I associated pandemic with persona as I explored the pedagogical relations of how the public self of celebrity informed the public self of online culture. In 2017, I went further into the historical dimensions of fame and the way the contemporary forms of the mediatization of the self produced a way to read a transformed presentational regime.

Much of this work is building from my work with Dr Kim Barbour from Adelaide University and  Dr Chris Moore from the University of Wollongong. We have collaborated on many projects, not the least of which is the journal Persona Studies.; but we have been working on our future book entitled (not surprisingly) Persona Studies: Celebrity, Identity and the Transformation of the Public Self for Wiley (which should appear at the end of 2018, all going well) and one of our major presentations of 2017 at least tried to capture its value. At the Toronto/Ryerson University Social Media and Society Conference at the end of July 2017. I led the presentation of our ideas, while Kim and Chris presented virtually.  All of this occurred during my 2017 sabbatical when I was a visiting professor at the incredible Centre for Digital Media in Vancouver ( a collaborative Master's program across four universities - SFU, UBC, ECAD and BCITU - at type of collaboration almost unheard of in the rest of the world) and the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS) at Western University in London Canada.  In between my work at these two institutions, I had the good fortune of presenting "Why Persona Studies? The Value of the Persona Studies' Approach for Research into Online Identity and the Transformation of the Public Self" (a mouthful of a title, but I hope it explains things!!).  It worked through our three approaches through explaining key concepts such as VARP, Intercommunication, the way we define persona, its application for analysis and the online visualization/graphics research that we have also developed to map persona construction. The beauty of this presentation is both its graphics and the enduring videos of my co-presenters. You can wade your way through the value of persona studies and its exemplifications of its important through the analyses of the online self here

For a week in August, I explored my thinking further around online culture and persona as a visiting scholar at Microsoft Research - New England.  I also had the opportunity to present my work in a beautiful seminar with Summer Doctoral fellows and the key researchers in my area and part of the Social Media Collective: Nancy Baym (thank you for the invitation!) and Tarleton Gillespie and others. Not only was the presentation enriching for me, but I also had a chance to play with my ideas on their infamous "whiteboards" at  the Microsoft research office.  I very much enjoyed the quiet, the view and the intellectual exchanges.  At least in my short-term stay, it seemed an intellectual nirvana with its continuous possibilities of exchanges across a range of disciplines engaged in online culture. Although I feel comfortable posting this image of my whiteboard, I should confess that this will be the only whiteboard you will see from Microsoft Research - enjoy. All my ideas are contained on this whiteboard image...

Below: PDM  (aka me) presenting CUNY
 - Graduate School of Journalism - KeyNote address
Photo by (and thanks goes to): Andrew Mendelson, Ph.D.
Associate Dean and Professor
The research and work I integrated into my presentations helped further make sense of how fame was tranforming a diverse range of elements in  the  contemporary.  For instance, in a Key Note presentation at a conference at the Graduate School of Journalism in CUNY in New York City on the 1st of September, I integrated my past research into the uses made of "public intellectuals" across our news and media sphere.  The talk worked through how individualized presentations of the self became the pattern through which mediatization manifests itself in the era of social media.  Indeed, the presentation of the expert is a feature of podcasts, YouTube channels, and university-linked sites for the expression of both opinions and disciplinary expertise.  My talk entitled Pandemic Mediatized Identity: Professional Personas as Public Intellectuals for the CMCS  conference- "Bridging Gaps - where is the Critic in TV Journalism?" tried to capture the pandemic quality of mediatization and its historical migration in and through as well as now around journalism. Central to this presentation was the exigencies of what I call the "presentational media and cultural regime" now rising through our online culture and its transformation of the "representational media and cultural regime" very much connected to what we now call legacy media. I managed to present a variation of this presentation at the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University on September 26th. I called it - naturally - Pandemic Mediatized Identity -2.

But, where I pushed my research into pandemic fame further was through a series of presentations I gave at Western, McGill, the Centre for Digital Media (CDM) in Vancouver and the University of British Columbia.  At Western FIMS, I put together the  Pandemic Fame and its Consequences presentation. It was here that I developed the term the "inattention economy"  (and it is in the subtitle of my talk) to capture the intermittent flows of contemporary communication via online sources and sharing. It is also where I began utilizing further the historical notions of fame into the contemporary.  Integrated into this thinking was an effort that I had developed earlier in a book I helped edit and write a few chapters called Contemporary Publics (2016): to understand the contemporary spaces of social media and our normalization and naturalization of its blending of private and public, we need to think of these spaces as "privlics". I understand this is an ugly neologism, but strangely useful.  Explore it further through looking through this presentation here

I attempted to test the historical dimensions of my research into the interrelation of Fame and Persona through presenting my work - via the generous invitation of the scholar Brian Cowan - at the Classics and History Department at McGill University on the 20th of September, first through a workshop entitled Persona Studies Workshop: Persona’s value for Understanding Celebrity Culture and then with greater intention through my public lecture Fame’s Histories: The (contested) value of fame’s historical translation, comparison, and application for understanding the particular turbulence of contemporary culture.

In Vancouver at the Centre for Digital Media (CDM),  I laboured to encapsulate the idea that we had moved to a generation of Word of Mouth culture. This shift would seem paradoxical: after all, the Internet and the Web has produced a surplus of information unseen in human history. And yet it appears that through competing interests, competing desires for forms of persona- visibility and an array of intercommunication industries which move this information for a variety of power/economic purposes, we have generated something that resembles the way in which rumour - fama - moved through ancient/classical cultures such as Rome.  The full title and link to the presentation is here - and once again my presentation title is long and lugubrious as its vies to capture the instability of information in the contemporary moment: The New Word of Mouth Culture: PandemicFame/Persona/Rumour/Reputation and the production of contemporary instability

Taking this a step further, I wrote and presented a talk for a fourth year University British Columbia Digital Media Class on the 30th of October that in its subtitle traverses the way in which persona studies has helped uncover the will-to-visibility in online culture and social media:  From Celebrity to Persona Studies: Making Sense of the Era of Digital Fame. Apart from trying to capture the movement through time with the Prezi's cover image of a pub/bar in the New York Times Square precinct which in its essence was blend of  Victorian famed imagery with contemporary styles of libation style and presentation.

The complexity of the intersection of these ideas around fame, communication, information, knowledge, rumour, reputation, visibility, the inattention economy, the new word "privlic",  and the new economic structure of the intercommunication industries has been both fascinating and overwhelming for me during 2017.  I think this research genuinely helps makes sense of our contemporary moment - its Brexit, Trump, Xi Jin Ping, Kim Jong-un, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and the era of pandemic persona that elevates a certain form of public individuality that is shifting our notion of collective selves and belonging.  It needs researchers connected to politics to help explore the now visible traces of the breakdown of our systems of (political and cultural) representation.  I will be working to collaborate on the analysis of this culture instability drawing on my work on online persona and trying to further comprehend the individualized, mediatized fame pandemic which is producing a different system of connection.

I am very happy to hear what others think.  In my next post, I will convey some of the new directions I am pursuing in 2018 - all of them certainly derived from this year of Fame and its consequences. Also if you want to know about any of the background images of my presentations, I am also willing to share that they are generally my photos - of course like memes, photos are combination of what already exists and, in a material sense, made by someone else.... just another thought.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

2017: The Year of Fame and its Consequences Part One

2017 was a challenging year. It seemed millions fed into the Trump Persona by pushing analytical articles, opinion, memes and satire around this new American President. His presence - as I developed with Neil Henderson in late 2016 - has helped distill the new form of politics that is emerging through our emerging system of  what could be effectively called  our new information/knowledge complex (to echo Eisenhower's effort at identifying our 'complexes').

Instability, turbulence, fake news, challenges to authority, and affronts to what many had believed were permanent institutions checkered our equally unstable public - if public could ever have again a collectively agreed-upon sense of what it entails - consciousness.  Somewhere in this melange is a transformed public personality system, something transformed by the pandemic drive to public presentation of the self via social media in all its platforms that has shifted our flows of information and our sense of collective selves.

We need some way to describe all this. Along with colleagues, I have been developing Persona Studies and trying to understand the online strategic formation of our identities as we share and network. But what I discovered in my research and thinking this year that a term that I used in a subtitle to my first book actually has provided me with an intellectual breakthrough for understanding our contemporary moment.

The term is Fame and, in its new formations in our contemporary world, we are experiencing a different iteration and are living with its consequences. I am indebted to the scholarship of Gianni Guastella and his brilliant book Word of Mouth  and its exploration of (and its subtitle) Fama and its personifications in Art and Literature from Ancient Rome to the Middle Ages.

I also had the opportunity this year to experiment and test this research direction with and among colleagues at universities and centres of research in different parts of the world. For half the year I was on sabbatical - what my university calls Academic Study Program or ASP.  Along with my annual connection to Central China Normal University (Huazhong University or 华中师范大学) in May as their distinguished visiting scholar and my regular collaborative work at my home Deakin University, I worked to advance these ideas that relate to fame and how the historical conceptualization of fame explains our contemporary world.

My first efforts at making sense of pandemic fame were interesting forays at the Central China Normal University (CCNU) and at the University of Nottingham - Ningbo Campus' School of International Communication were I gave some public lectures of note.  Housed in their School of Journalism and Communication at CCNU, I circulated around some of my ideas.  In one presentation, I presented in my usual Prezi format something entitled  "Fame and its Consequences: Fake News in the Era of New Media" where I advanced the ideas of the clear links between "fama" and its instability in the production of information and facts in antiquity resembled our facade of information riches where something resembling a rumour and word-of-mouth culture was resurfacing through our online culture.  Feel free to take a look here at the presentation and certainly tell me what you think of these nascent ideas.

In some ways, my presentation at the School of International Communication at the University of Nottingham Ningbo Campus was a way to play in this same space but make the direct implication-to-explication of the political shift we are living through, observing and sometimes hectoring - incoherently on occasion - almost daily for over a year.  The presentation's covering image - as you can see, a collage of a challenging group of international leaders who in various ways are transforming our models of conventional politics - is designed to push our thoughts away from some notion of a new populism and recognize that our structures of contemporary communication with their algorithms, with their push to a generalized will-to-fame is restructuring our relation and connection of the collective to the individual in foundational ways.  It is complex; but in its complexity it is linked once again to the consequences of fame and the forms of contemporary affective connections being circulated, shared and reformed in our new blended politico-cultural milieu.  The presentation's title, The New Political Persona and its relationship to the Breakdown of Legacy Media pinpoints  the way that our legacy media was instrumental in supporting a representational media and cultural regime. Our new digital and social media - organized in my terminology through the intercommunication industries - is heralding a presentational media and cultural regime:  this shift identifies the new politics, but does not produce a parallel institutional framework for those politics as spatial and even temporary boundaries that have informed our national and cultural identities are much more fluid.  The mistake many are making in analysing the contemporary moment is perceiving a new nationalism: this visible putsch across Europe and North America and beyond is more a reaction to collective - and individual - instability and connection. Future political patterns because of this visible, vocal and online "chant" of holding boundaries are more difficult to discern; but in a conjectural way, I would claim they are less connected to our legacy/representational political legacy of the nation-state and perhaps its associated formations of democracy.  The presentation is here if you would like to wade your way through my thinking  around media and the new political persona.

It is important to also understand this political transformation is not aligned to right or left politics. It is directly connected to the way that our forms of communication are producing different alliances, allegiances and relationships.  One of my presentations at CCNU  was trying to identify Obama's 2008 and 2012 election campaign's key developments in the organization of political communication that has served as a different form of legacy for our current culture.  Entitled, Obama and the New Politics: Social Media’s integration into Contemporary Political Campaigns and Advertising, my presentation worked through the way that the patterns of political promotion and user generated online  developments were key to the way that Obama built a political consensus that was successful. Take a further look here to see the presentation's particularities

Linked to this analysis of Obama was another public lecture I delivered at CCNU.  Over the last two decades there has been a great flurry of thought and publications concerning globalization. In a presentation entitled Globalization and Advertising: The Case History of Nike, I mapped the promotional relationships in producing the transnational production and distribution of Nike products over the last 40 years. The "shell" of Nike and its contemporary beauty is that it designs many material objects, but outsources their fabrication: Nike physically makes nothing. This has permitted a fascinating pathway for a product to attach to various monikers within various cultures through their emotive associations with sports and the individuals who embody them. Take a look at the Prezi presentation here.

I have to acknowledge that these last two presentations actually come from a longer arc of research, one that has been brewing, cultivating and leading to many drafts for more than 6 years.  Both are now chapters in what I hope will be a valuable book for others. With my co-author Joanne Morreale from Northeastern University, we just published (4 February 2018) Advertising and Promotional Culture: Case Histories with Palgrave-Macmillan. Through 11 case histories, we chart the last 170 years of advertising. Our goal: to use this closer analysis to identify the continuities of promotion in the contemporary world.  Our conclusion identifies a new tribalism emerging that is informing politics and beyond, a persistent element of promotional culture of always providing for a better imagined future and thereby fostering a perpetual culture of consumer instability, a new participatory frame for this relationship to products and services where consumers add value/images in the form of "prosumption", and  an elaborated attention economy that blurs the lines between entertainment and promotion with increasing sophistication.  All of these contemporary tropes have historical precedents in our studies of self-branding, department stores, cigarettes, the bizarre emergence of the breakfast cereal production and promotion industry, IKEA and its formation of modern self and design, Volkswagen and the campaigns that segmented the automobile market into "alternatives" and counter-cultural, Dove's efforts at consumer activism,  the YouTube sensation of Annoying Orange, and the long promotionally-driven history of patent-medicines and cigarettes.

Kellogg's first cross-promotional colouring book for Children connected to their breakfast cereals (1906)- what we call ambient advertising

Below: A picture of the Greek Goddess: Iris-the personification of fame
And right near the middle of the year, along with PCP, our research group at Deakin hosted an International Symposium that dealt directly with my historical turn and its capacity to inform the contemporary. It was a beautiful event that had Professor Leo Braudy, author of the incredible Frenzy of Renown: Fame and its History act as our respondent (admittedly by video-link from California, but there nonetheless), Dr Katja Lee from Perth, Dr Celia Lam from  UN Ningbo,  and, in written form, Associate Professor Brian Cowan from McGill in Montreal.  Actually delivering remarkable presentations in person were Professor Mary Luckhurst from Melbourne and Dr Victoria Duckett from  The Symposium was professionally organised by Dr Rebecca Hutton. The event was designed as a pathway to launch a six-volume series with the same title as the Symposium: The Cultural History of Fame. Just in January, I have signed the book-series contract with Bloomsbury Academic that will produce studies of fame where each volume will focus through parallel chapters on a particular era: Antiquity, Medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment, Revolution and Contemporary.  Along with the six volume editors, there will be 48 contributors to the series.  Our intention is to extend this to a similar series for the Cultural History of Fame in China with a parallel group of scholars. And of course, we are hoping an international symposium in the next two years will bring all these scholars together to chart even further directions for this work.  You can get a sense of this project and whether perhaps you might consider contributing a chapter through a look at this presentation here

There is more to explain related to this research direction and its intersections with understanding our contemporary moment.  My next post will provide some of  my further writing, thinking and related presentations that I had the fortune of presenting in the second half of 2017 primarily in Canada and the United States.  The implications of contemporary fame  and the formation of our online personas as a form of naturalized labour, naturalized distribution of emotional value,  and naturalized reputation, ranking and calibration continues to produce a fundamentally new configuration of culture beyond the nation and definitively beyond the nation-state..... Stay tuned...