Sunday, April 13, 2014

Participatory Culture

Participatory culture has been around longer than the Internet. The emergence of the Amateur Press Association in the middle of the 19th century is an example of historical participatory culture; at that time, young people were hand typing and printing their own publications. These publications were mailed throughout a network of people and resemble what are now called social networks. The evolution from zines, radio shows, group projects, and gossips to blogs, podcasts, wikis, and social networks has impacted society greatly. With web services such as eBay, Blogger, Wikipedia, Photobucket, Facebook, and YouTube, it is no wonder that culture has become more participatory. The implications of the gradual shift from production to produsage are profound, and will affect the very core of culture, economy, society, and democracy.

Participatory culture is a term that refers to a culture of people that do not act as consumers only, but also as contributors or producers. Henry Jenkins added that the key elements of participatory culture include low barriers to participation, strong support for sharing, informal mentorship, members who feel that their contributions matter, and who care about others' participation. Participatory cultures reward participation. Not everyone must participate, but everyone must believe that if they participate it will be valued.

Produsage is best described through the examples that the web has produced over the years. A good example would be the rap artist “Souja Boy” or, in my opinion, Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager.  Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager is a comedic web series created by Aaron Yonda and Matt Sloan which parodies Star Wars. The show's central character is Chad Vader, the day-shift manager at the fictional supermarket Empire Market, who doesn’t fit in well with the staff. Initially produced to be a show for a local station in New York, the project was canceled after only two episodes were released. However, the creators decided to continue the story and upload it to YouTube. The show has received several awards, including an Official Star Wars Fan Film Award, which is a high honor for a Star Wars fan.

Matt and Aaron have been Keynote Speakers at a number of events including Comic Con, The Writer's Guild, Dragon Con, Fan Expo Toronto, and more. I personally have sat in on one of their panels at Dragon Con, where I have learned several points of how they got started. Additionally, I learned how this series opened several doors for the creators due to its success. One of the most notable doors to open is the position offered to Aaron Yonda by LucasArts. With an upcoming video game being produced, LucasArts needed a voice for the famed Darth Vader. Generally, most fans would have thought that LucasArts would have chosen the original but expensive voice actor, James Earl Jones. However, they decided to go with Aaron Yonda because of how strikingly similar his voice was to the character. Furthermore, Aaron has now played this character for LucasFilm on several different projects, and is probably every fans dream come true.

Another example to participatory culture is today’s memes. If you have been on the internet in the past few minutes, you more than likely have seen one for yourself. This can be from the picture memes you have seen or the videos that have gone viral, such as Red vs. Blue or Chad Vader. In the Henry Jenkins’ book, “Spreadable Media,” Burgess suggests that “certain videos act as a hub for further creative activity by a wide range of participants.” This might sound familiar when you think of all the different harlem shake and Gangnam style videos that I am sure you watched a million times.

The internet use to be just emails and banner ads. It quickly evolved to be something much bigger. We use to come home and watch TV but now we watch TV on the internet. We search on the internet, read blogs, upload pictures, and we update our statuses. We have come to share our lives on the internet. We’re not on the internet as passive observers. We’re on the internet to have a shared experience. This idea is what Henry Jenkins and the authors are trying to convey to their readers. By writing this blog, I myself, am a perfect example to all the forms of participatory culture.

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