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Jenkins illuminates clash of media Davids and Goliaths

Henry Jenkins
Henry Jenkins
Photo / Donna Coveney

The exploding complexity of the media in today's society has set up a clash between traditional media -- print, broadcast television, the recording industry and the corporate giants that own and sponsor them -- and the constantly mutating world of new media -- the Internet, "game worlds" and ever more powerful mobile devices and software.

As MIT's Henry Jenkins explains in his new book, "Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide" (New York University Press), consumers are no longer content to be spoon-fed music, TV, movies and literature. They want to play with it, interact with it, parody it and analyze it -- with or without the by-your-leave of the primary producers.

The battle for turf between the Goliaths of Time Warner and Fox and the masses of little Davids writing, playing and programming in their bedrooms is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, Jenkins says.

"Convergence represents a cultural shift as consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make connections among dispersed media content. ('Convergence Culture') is about the work -- and play -- spectators perform in the new media system."

The book explores a number of case studies in media convergence, which Jenkins, the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities, and founder and director of the Comparative Media Studies (CMS) Program at MIT, defines as "the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want."

He explores the world of "Survivor" spoilers, devotees of the smash TV series who ferret out and share clues about the show's closely guarded secrets; and "American Idol's" attempt to reach new heights (or depths) of product placement, walking a thin line between reaching and angering its viewers.

He also writes about the "Star Wars" fans who create their own films and stories using the characters from the blockbuster film series; and the Harry Potter fans who find each other across the globe and use J.K. Rowling's books as the springboard for fantasy and creativity. In these cases, a dispersed, diverse and technically sophisticated fan base finds itself in direct conflict with the increasingly outmoded "single author" world of copyright lawyers and commodification.

Jenkins, who lives in the residence hall Senior House and has taught at MIT for 16 years, is by his own admission, "prolific as hell." A second new book, "Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture," is due out from New York University Press this September. Past books have included "Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture" (2003), with Tara McPherson and Jane Shattuc; "Textual Poachers: Studies in Culture and Communication" (1992); and "From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games" (2000), which he edited with Justine Cassell.

As he commented in a recent e-mail, "('Convergence Culture') was shaped by my sum total of experiences and connections establishing the CMS program, teaching its students, and living in Senior House. There's no question that MIT students are some of the most culturally and technologically connected students in the world. Every day, they bring into my classroom observations and discoveries about how this new convergence culture operates. Every night, I encounter some new form of participatory culture just walking down the hall of Senior House. And pretty much every day, my status as an MIT professor not only opens up doors but brings leading thinkers from industry, the arts, education and politics walking through my door."

This summer, partly out of frustration with the long publishing cycle of academic books (four or five years from conception to shipping), Jenkins launched a blog of his own. Read his views on everything from the Oreo jingle contest to the "Snakes on a Plane" hype and counter-hype at

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