Prohibitionism? Intertextuality? Withering of the witherers? Newcomers to the world of converged communications can easily get bogged down in the jargon. Even those who have absorbed some of the complicated terminology of media theory have to untangle intellectual knots. In Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins attempts to break down some of this confusion. His approach, based on careful case studies, is essentially non-dogmatic; rather than laying down sweeping precepts, Jenkins attempts to identify patterns and key concepts that govern the growth and evolution of the new world of communications.
So what does convergence culture really mean? First, it’s more than simply convergence of physical devices into one. Convergence culture is reshaping a slew of relationships in both long-standing and brand-new themes – humanity and distance, humanity and time, humanity and the machine, and, perhaps most significantly, the way people interact with each other. Although Jenkins lays out the foundational ideas of the convergence culture, the rapid and unremitting pace of technological evolution makes pinning down every detail a Sisyphean task. In the convergence culture, sweeping definitions risk becoming outdated at the minute of writing.
In the old days of mass media, the picture was much clearer. Media productions (I Love Lucy, let’s say) had a producer (sender), a consumer (receiver), and a medium. The producer was a major network – in Lucy‘s case, CBS. The consumer – here, millions of consumers – were households across America. And the medium was a television channel, then one of only three major national networks in existence. Even though it ignored the financial side of the commercial production loop (in which the show is the medium to deliver a viewing audience, which in essence becomes a form of product, to see paying advertisers’ 30-second spots), the traditional SMCR (sender-message-channel-receiver) pathway was adequate to explain much mass media production.
Today, the demarcations separating producer and consumer are far more blurry. Jenkins spends much of his later chapters of the text discussing Star Wars, Harry Potter, and similar centrally created mass media productions. Now, though, the Internet abounds with communities of fans who have constructed their own virtual plots and identities based on these frameworks, sometimes pitting the collective vision of these content creators against the centralized grip of corporate producers. In turn, these media conglomerates sometimes react by trying to draw fans’ creations within the orbit of their own control. The Internet, with platforms such as YouTube, blogs, and social media, opens the doors of content creation to all.
Moreover, these boundaries can become skewed through changes in context. Consider the National Football League, a multibillion-dollar enterprise that regularly draws the highest television ratings in America. By conventional definitions, this is a classic example of a producer.However, the real-world results on NFL fields also have a counterpart in the cyber-world – fantasy football, in which participants gain or lose points based on the on-field statistical achievements of the players they select for a given week. Fantasy football has spawned countless fan blogs, resources, message boards, and related activities; Brian Goff of Forbes estimated in 2013 that the fantasy football industry produced some $11 billion to $15 billion in revenue, with additional intangible impacts of $40 billion or more. By some estimates, the collectively-created fantasy football industry, much of it organized by individual fans and small cooperative bodies, generates more financial impact than the annual direct revenue of the NFL itself. Thus, a change in status for a star NFL quarterback or running back (himself a multi-millionaire) has a domino effect far beyond the bounds of the league, extending into the parallel universe of the fantasy world to determine thousands of simulated winners and losers. That’s convergence culture at its most mind-boggling.