Category Archives: Entertainment Marketing

Richard Matheson, RIP

Richard Matheson, science fiction legend, is dead at the age of 87.

Richard Matheson, science fiction legend, is dead at the age of 87.

One of the greats of the science fiction world passed away on Sunday at the age of 87.

Richard Matheson’s work is remarkable because he was one of the first writers to truly master the emerging mass media of science fiction and horror, and combined science fiction-horror. He wrote 16 episode of The Twilight Zone, including some of the most inventive and frightening episodes. Personally, I loved the silent terror of The Invaders most, but the shocking Terror at 20,000 Fathoms is widely recognized as one of the best, if not the best, Twilight Zone episode.

I also find his episode of Star Trek, The Enemy Within, to be one of the very best. In that episode, a technology accident rips Captain Kirk into two separate beings, one strong and evil, one weak and good. It is a morality play of the very highest order, as are almost all of Matheson’s works.

He entertained and inspired many. Fans of horror and science fiction are mourning the news today. The man will be missed. His work, and his legend, live on.

 

 

 

Is Star Trek Better Than Star Wars? Is J. J. Abrams The Saviour?

Yoda shows disrespect to Star Trek

Yoda shows disrespect to Star Trek

In this month’s GQ magazine (May 2013 issue, p. 68 in my print copy) John Ritter has an article about J. J. Abrams, the Lost creator-director whose speciality has becoming reviving old franchises like Mission Impossible and Star Trek. About Star Trek, he opines–with an opiate reference–in relation to J.J. taking on the challenges of building the new Star Wars Disney franchise:

  • “The idea that the same man can mainline both Gene Roddenberry and the Force is mildly alarming. Think of what opposite Star Trek and Star Wars are. We’ve been defined since childhood by which we prefer: rationality vs. mysticism, robust and morally complex characters vs. good-and-evil archetypes. A guy who can reunite the two halves of the Great Sci-Fi Schism shouldn’t be making movies, folks–he should be our envoy to the Middle East.”

This is an incredibly rich paragraph. A veritable treasure trove.

Let me first offer my opinion on whether Star Trek and Star Wars are actually opposites or, more accurately, oppositional poles. Although I know many fans will choose one franchise over another, or that fans often say that they are “Star Trek people” or “Star Wars people” like they say they are cat people or dog people, I also know that there are many people who, like me, have worshiped at the altars dedicated to both Spock and Yoda since they were children (and yes, I am also both a cat person and a dog person—jeez, I wonder if there is a correlation).

But I think the dichotomy that Ritter sets up in this paragraph is incorrect, particularly on the Star Trek side. Star Trek is “rationality” devoid of “mysticism”. Um, not so fast. Have you seen what’s inside Mr. Spock? Like, telepathy and mind control. How many times has a false god been mistaken for the real thing: Apollo, Vaal, Q, Trelane, the Metrons, and on and on?

As numerous authors have written (for three strong examples, see Porter, Jennifer E. and Darcee L. McLaren (1999), ed., Star Trek and Sacred Ground: Explorations of Star Trek, Religion, and American Culture, Albany, NY: SUNY Press; Wagner, Jon and Jan Lundeen (1998), Deep Space and Sacred Time: Star Trek in the American Mythos, Westport, CN: Praeger; Jindra, Michael (1994), “Star Trek fandom as a religious phenomenon,” Sociology of Religion, 55 (Spring), 27-51), Star Trek in all of its vainglorious iterations is chock-full of mysticism and spirituality. Many, many episodes in the original series could, for example, be seen as symbolizing humanity’s ongoing quest for God, or gods, and an overturning or ambivalence towards this seemingly inescapable yearning in modern times. And as Wagner and Lundeen’s book demonstrates, Star Trek has plenty to do with mythology and archetype. As has any great story.

Which franchise do you think Ritter favors? My bet is that he sees himself more as a rational type than a mystic, and prefers “morally complex” characters to “archetypes” (or is that fictional stereotypes?).

But comparing fan debates in the fictional space to long-standing territorial and religious conflicts in the Middle East is particularly revealing. The fact that a writer can devise and a publication can publish such comparisons can only point to some deep resonance of belief, belonging and identity that comes from fan identity, particularly this, one of the core fan identities of our time.

J.J. Abrams is a master director who plays with mysticism and ambivalence to science. Like creator Chris Carter of The X-Files, his works often peer into the (small v and plural) existential voids, they look at the holes and gaps in technoscientific rationality and human society (even its sciencefictional reflection) and find there the ever-unfulfilled need for certainly and belief, and even spirituality and mysticism.

His works vividly portray this ambivalence and fear and hope and desire, which burns at the very heart of our society. And that is exactly why he is such a good choice to continue to tell these precious modern myths which so many of us hold so dear.

Journal of Marketing Appointment Announcement

jm_cover.jpgThis blog is getting some “red hot” editorial news about the State of Marketing Scholarship these days. My last post broke the news about the new editorial team at the Journal of Consumer Research (“JCR”).

And here is a very fresh one about the #1 Journal in the Marketing field.

As many of you are aware Gary Frazier is the editor elect of the Journal of Marketing (or “JM”) and will be taking over in July of 2011 from Ajay Kohli. For a while, Ajay, Gary, and Bob Leone have acted as co-editors of the journal. As with JCR, the manuscripts flows in the main journals in our field have been increasing dramatically, necessitating some editorial action to share the workload.

Gary has decided to change the structure of the Journal of Marketing to one that includes Associate Editors (or “AEs”). I think this is a very smart move. AEs at JM will have considerable latitude to make recommendations, but the final decision will always lie with the Editor-in-Chief, that is, Gary. Gary has appointed 16 AEs, some truly excellent people, and I believe he is looking for a couple more.

marketing_journals_411×211.jpgGary has asked me to be an Associate Editor of JM for his term and I have happily accepted. Thank you for the vote of confidence, Gary.

What this means, I believe, is that the Journal of Marketing is institutionalizing a role and a place for Consumer Culture Theory, cultural, or “qualitative” approaches to practical marketing issues in the field. This is big news. It is something that many of us in the CCT field have been working towards for many years. More top tier options for our publications is important to continuing the institutionalization of CCT work as an important and necessary (albeit minority) component of all Marketing Scholarship, Marketing Education, and Marketing Departments.

At the #1 journal in the Marketing field, we now have, perhaps more than ever before, the promise of a real presence and solidified representation at the top of the field.

I think that a look at the past 7 years of cultural work in JM will show that CCT work is getting more and more applied, and offering increasingly powerful pragmatic insights to the marketing industry.

The move is also presenting  a natural place for all types of social media and social media marketing research. One of my personal goals is to raise the quality and profile of research on social media and social media marketing research.

Officially, these will be the areas of the Journal of Marketing that I will have Associate Editor authority over:

Primary (substantive) content area

Internet and social media marketing

Secondary content areas

  1. Word-of-mouth marketing;
  2. entertainment marketing;
  3. brand and product management;
  4. retailing

Methods: 

  • Qualitative/ethnographic (e.g., discourse analysis, semiotics, phenomenological interviews, metaphor analysis),
  • Other methodological orientations as necessary (I am trained and versed in a variety of different methods)

If you do social media research using qualitative methods, you can pretty much guess who is going to be shepherding your work though JM.

So starting in July I will be looking forward to seeing all your best managerially-oriented work sent to us at the Journal of Marketing. I will do my very best to make sure it gets treated fairly or even better, and to publish the best work to keep our field of Marketing moving steadily forward.

Avatar Thoughts: Dances with Avatars in the Mist

avatar_neytiri.jpgWith the Academy Awards just around the corner, and Avatar up for nine Oscars, I wanted to share some reflections on that motion picture.

I thought that the movie provided a feast of metaphorical food for thought. First, please consider this light spoiler alert. I’m not intentionally revealing secret plot elements, but if you want to see it with completely fresh eyes, you should probably save reading this blog until after you’ve seen the movie.

All right, then…

A lot of people have written about the fairly obvious, low-hanging and perhaps heavy-handed ecological messages in the film (“And so the aliens [that's us] went back to their dying world…”). The story from the film has created a ton of discussion and conflict on the Internet, with accusations that it is racist (the dump blue-skinned savages), it is naïve (um, this is Hollywood), and it is colonialist (see two points above).

My take on it is a little different. I’ve decided to really emphasize the ethnography part of the move. And to analyze a bit of the ethnographic alliance-shifting that is a central part of its plot.

The movie concerns a future military-industrial enterprise’s use of a biological remote-control system to undertake human participant-observation of the Pandora planet’s intelligent tribal inhabitants.

Along with all the other engaging metaphors that it weaves together, I find Avatar to also be an extended meditation not only on colonialism but also on the anthropological practice of ethnography in a capitalist military-industrial culture.

As my friend, Diego Rinallo from Milan’s Bocconi University noted to me after the movie was over “Avatar is all about ethnography.” And so it is.

Among the many other things that it is, Avatar is a science fictional concretization of the anthropologist’s journey. There is an alien–in this case, a literally alien– culture that needs examination. There is a scientific observer, the accidental anthropologist and paraplegic Jake Sully, who must learn the language, rituals, and ways of a new culture. In this case, instead of Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski joining the Trobriand Islanders, it is Sully joining the blue-skinned, animist, and very Native American-seeming Na’vi.

The movie is about identity, interests, loyalties, and change. A major concern is the classic anthropological dilemma of “Going Native.”

This was the same theme, sort of, as Dance with Wolves, and Gorillas in the Mist. There it is, happening again, on the big screen. Amazingly, Sigourney Weaver plays the head ethnographers in both Gorillas and Avatar. She’s our anthropological role model!

The ethnographer is, himself or herself, an avatar of types. This is a theme I explore in a recent poem I submitted to the Journal of Business Research as an extended meditation on introspection and ethnography, a poem that explores this avatar topic of possessing multiple identities and feeling identity conflict.

So this movie inspired some thinking in me about what we do as anthropologists-for-hire.

Why are we doing what we do as corporate ethnographers? Would we work for Exxon? Would we work for a company that wanted to mine the Amazon rain forest? Would we work for banks in poor countries where people might not be able to afford the interest rates?

The film reveals the dark side of the scientific-academic enterprise, and the dark secret that, although knowledge is power, academics sell out their power to the military-industrial system. In this case, science is anthropology, and anthropology offer understanding in order to manipulate and destroy. The Company in this film wanted to learning the cultural ways of the Na’Vi people in order to manipulate them. Does this sound like cultural marketing and applied anthropology to anyone else?

avatar-tank.jpgOf course, in the movie, understanding wasn’t geared towards selling the natives things. Apparently the blue Na’Vi had no need of Coca Cola and blue jeans, they were an anti-consumerist culture. The movie was classic colonialism—get them off of their land, and take it and its resources. Drain it dry. Kill the land and kill a way of life.

One big realization that I had was when Jake Sulley came back from his time with the Na’vi and, at some point, he had to realize his subversion, he had to adjust the flow of information to the flow of interests.

That is, once he had decided to help the Na’vi, the natives, he had to now tell them about the weaknesses or weak points of the human encampment (or, in the movie, to take the literal and powerfully figurative action of smashing the remote viewing lens on the tractor destroyer). This sort of double-agent stuff is classic ethnographic conflict. But I wonder about its wider implication for our daily life.

So, if we are consumer ethnographers working in the public interest, where are our alliances? Do we need to rethink them?

What it could mean is that we need to look at our power-relationships-to the machine world or to a more naturally balanced world– and then think about how we can use the knowledge of one to begin to dismantle the other. This is an activist message that says that only by some sort of rigorous motion that first draws from inside the system, but then punishes that system and opens it up, can there be change. It is a revolutionary, not an evolutionary message. Not what Heath and Potter, or many other environmental activists would see. And climate change seems to offer one justification for that sort of revolutionary movement in a revolutionary Moment.

What does Jake Sulley do? In the story, he finally casts off his human form, as much as he possibly can. That means no more Coca Cola, no more beer, no more blue jeans or even old reruns of movies like Avatar. He’s back in the bush.

What happens to anthropologist Dian Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist? She’s the sacrifice (and, there it is again, Sigourney is the sacrificial mother/boss in Avatar…weird).

What about Kevin Costner’s character, Dunbar, in Dancing with Wolves? He disappears into the wild at the end, presumably sacrificing himself for his Sioux friends. We assume that he is fully realized and integrated into the natural order. He now identifies more closely with “nature” than with the corrupt and destructive American society.

Because the move ends with this eye-opening move, it can not be satisfying. There are too many loose ends. This is a start, a beginning, rather than an ending.

So that’s where the movie offers up only a good tale and an uplifting inspirational message. However, that message is delivered in the most technologically-intensive manner possible. With all of its 3D IMAX computer simulation technology, the movies is of course much closer to being produced by the earth-razing techno-society of the Earth’s future than the arrows-and-fires civilization of the tribal Na’Vi.

I thought that, if this meditation on ethnography-as-industrial-power was a science fiction book, it would have held up extremely well. Its religiously-inspired plot of The Chosen One had much in common with Dune, Hyperion, and even with The Fifth Element and the Matrix, two other brilliant messianic SF movies.

As a parting note, it is also quite worth remarking upon that James Cameron hired USC Prof Paul Frommer to create an entirely new language for the film-something that had not been done since the Klingon language was devised by linguist Marc Okrand in 1984 for the third Star Trek movie.

These two languages, then, are the most recent distinct languages deliberately created by members of our species, and they were crated for remarkably similar reasons. It remains to see if the Na’Vi language will gain a fan community-based life of its own the way that the Klingon language has. I could certainly see this happening if there are sequels, adaptations, conventions, gatherings, and other media fan community activity around the film-something I would personally enjoy see unfolding. As a matter of fact, it seems like this movie is indeed the first in a trilogy. (I had purchased an Empire magazine last year that featured a story about the upcoming blockbuster Avatar; in the story, Cameron was reported to say this was the first of a trilogy; apparently, like Lucas and Star Wars, it had been planned this way all along.)

In the same way that Klingon has become a type of intentional, if not ironic, “ethnicity” according to cultural studies scholar Peter Chvany, that people adopt to explore some of their primitive warrior characteristics, so too could Na’Vi be a way to seek to reclaim some of the productive elements of primitivism that seems vitally missing from our current contemporary culture.

Anyone want to be the first to start their own local Na’Vi fan club? I’ll join. Let’s get blue and wild and talk difficult made-up languages. C’mon. It’ll be fun.

It’s also evident of the continual rise of blue skinned people (often proudly bald) that began with the Blue Man group in Chicago and this year appears to be crescendo-ing with Doctor Manhattan (in the Watchmen movie) and the graceful blue-skinned Na’Vi.

Yep. If there’s no fan club set up by October, I know what I’ll be wearing for Halloween.

Why Utopia Got a Reboot: Reflecting on the New Star Trek Movie

startrek_movie_poster.jpg

There is a point towards the end of the successful new Star Trek movie where the Enterprise is stuck in a black hole’s gravity well and can’t escape, and Captain Kirk gives the order to jettison the ship’s warp core, its main source of fuel.

It is a climactic moment in a movie full of cliff-hanging intensities. And it’s also symbolic of what has been done with the Star Trek franchise.

By God, Jim, they jettisoned the Warp Core.

I’ve waited long enough to comment on J.J. Abram’s long-awaited adaptation of the Star Trek, intended to revive the flagging and much-loved franchise. I waited so that I can include all the spoilers I want. So if you don’t want me ruining the movie for you, and you haven’t see it, then Stop Reading Now.

I’m not going to offer a detailed review. I will say that I thought the move was very entertaining. The key thing I like about this reboot is that the script and the director really capture the essence of each of the main characters. I loved the casting, and really enjoyed the acting and the script. For the first time in a long time, a lot of fans feel like the franchise is in good hands.

But I’m writing here not so much to praise J.J. as to wonder about what was lost. And I don’t actually mean LOST. I mean lost.

Overall, I think the utopian future message of Star Trek, which many fans would claim to be at the heart of Trek’s appeal, appears in only very faded out fashion. Like a pair of faded old dungarees, tried on for size at the very end of the show, with Nimoy’s sonorous voicing over the retro old Star Trek soundtrack. For the old timers, who made it to the end.

I know, I’m old school, but I was disappointed. With so much going on in the world today, the film doesn’t really offer any sort of vision of a future where we can actually see a united Earth, with people actually united together. A guy with a Russian accent on the bridge doesn’t for Diversity make. And lots, and lots of white people everywhere. Turbans? Burkas? Nah. The occasional alien appears, just as the occasional non-white person appears. But the basic canvas, the mass, the average, is lily white.

And how about that 23rd century environment? Am I supposed to believe that we are still driving cars down dirt roads in the 23rd century? No public transportation?

The idea of a para-military force that unite the Earth? Nah, not really. Star Trek looks a lot like Starship Troopers. “Join Star Fleet, see the Stars.”

Ditto with the idea of “credits” and Star Trek’s veiled socialist utopia, where people only work by choice. The economics of the future escape me entirely. They’re just kind of irrelevant. This is entertainment, not philosophy. Yes, Star Trek’sgrand messages could sometime get a little annoying. But they also were inspiring. Especially, I think, to kids.
If there is any big message here that Gene Roddenberry would have put his stamp on, I don’t see it. In fact, I’d venture to say this isn’t the same Star Trek that Gene Roddenberry created. It is “loosely based upon” some of the ideas in Star Trek. It lacks the authentic Star Trek cred. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me. But I don’t see it. Casting Leonard Nimoy to deliver a few old lines about his friendship with Kirk doesn’t make this “real” Star Trek. Then again, maybe “real” Star Trek died along with Gene Roddenberry.

This is a gutted Star Trek movie, a Star Trek without ideology. It isn’t about technological utopianism. It isn’t about a united earth. It isn’t about an optimistic, hopeful, guiding vision of the future. This is all about relationships, special effects, suspense, entertainment, humor, and adventure. That’s what J.J. Abrams does well with Lost. That’s what he does well in this movie. But it’s not really all that Star Trek is about. This is Star Trek as space opera. Star Trek as Star Wars without the mysticism.

Compare that with my favorite Star Trek movie, the 4th one, called The Voyage Home. Aka, “the whales” Star Trek movie. Although its fashion and references are dated, the message in that movie is just as current as it was when Leonard Nimoy directed it. In our time of environmental crisis and culture clash, I was thinking that a new Star Trek movie had an opportunity to make a statement about a positive future. Maybe even insert some insight into the difficult relationship between the environment and technology–something that the original series avoided.

But, clearly, Gene, that’s what got jettisoned. The hope. The long speeches. The worn-on-the-sleeve optimism. The difficult, ever-imperfect struggle to work through a troubled past to an idealistic future.

And it’s interesting to wonder both how and why this happened.

How does one universe shift into the other? Well, through a weird kind of reboot. We are told that this movie is set in an alternate universe. So it’s not really the “real” Star Trek that we all know and love, but something new.

An alternative reality explanation basically gives the producers the latitude for lots of riffing: “Shut up, fanboy, it’s an alternative universe. We can do what we want here”

But that doesn’t really account for major disjunctures like personal cars and motorcycles in use.

What is amazing to me is how many little a-ha, nice, compact, meaningful, character-laden explanations for original series mysteries manage to get stuck into the film, even though it’s supposed to be an alternative universe. Kirk as a bar-brawler makes sense in light of the original series. It explains why there are so many fist fights in that series. Maybe it even explains why Kirk is always part of the landing party. Because he’s the best fighter on the ship, dammit.

Bones as a desperate, divorced alcoholic also makes sense. Actually, Kiwi actor Karl Urban’s portrayal of Dr. McCoy was among my favorites. It was a worthy tribute to DeForest Kelly. Spock’s schooling is also very right. I also really liked how young and bright they made Checkov, and how they made Sulu an expert sword-fighter–that explains his swordplay in series’ episodes. The new, hot, purring Uhura is also a great extension of the original character. Huge plusses for these characters. There’s a new authenticity to them, their accents, their demeanor, their backgrounds.

Kirk and Spock hating each other at first also makes great sense, and although fans seem to dislike it, I loved the confrontation scene where Kirk makes Spock break down. How many times has he done something like that in the original series. Jeez, what are friends for?

So there are these interesting intersections of this Star Trek 2 universe–which are fun and explanatory–and the old Star Trek that we all know. Why are they there? If Kirk’s dad dies, and changes the whole universe and the way that this story progresses in the process, then we don’t actually need those connections.

That leave the Why question. Why don’t we have Gene’s utopian vision in this movie?

  • Because talk is boring? Who needs another set of big long speeches, the kind that Star Trek became infamous for? Because action leaves no time for reflection? Because we don’t need Hope and Change anymore?
  • Because you can’t have everything in a sequel?
  • Because the producers and director decided to make a big, clean break from the fan base in order to wider the franchise’s appeal and aim for a young, hip, target that doesn’t worry about the future like those Boomer and Gen X kids of the past did?

Maybe Star Trek the Franchise was stuck in its own gravity well, its own black hole. That’s probably true.

But I keep wondering if the optimistic utopian vision of Gene Roddenberry was what really needed to be jettisoned for the series to get unstuck? It seems to me that, like the 60s, we are entering a time of crisis where we crave powerful myths and visions of the future.

Or maybe not. Maybe we’re just living in the moment. Enjoying the relationships. Willing to jettison whatever to get wherever. And to me, that’s a very scary thought.

MIT’s Futures of Entertainment 3 Conference coming up

Well, after that super-long and intense posting on poetry and hypotheco-deductivetheoretical transmutation, I thought I’d offer up a pretty short little announcement.

I’ve got lots to update you on as I’ve been traveling around to speak in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Austria, and England.

I’ve mentioned my affiliation to MIT’s Convergence Culture Consortium. They’ve put on a variety of fascinating events and this year’s looks to be one of the best. If you’re going to be in the Boston area, or if you are motivated to come, I can vouch that this is one of the best venues anywhere for practical networking between peiople in industry and academia.

Here’s the announcement.

NOV. 10, 2008   CAMBRIDGE, MA–The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Futures of Entertainment 3 conference will take place Friday, Nov. 21, and Saturday, Nov. 22, at the Wong Auditorium in the Tang Center on MIT’s campus.

Futures of Entertainment 3, an event sponsored by the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium ( http://www.convergenceculture.org/ ), is the third annual conference bringing together media industries professionals and media studies academics to discuss the current state and ongoing trends in media.  This year’s conference will include panels on how value is counted in the media industries, understanding audiences, social media, the comic book industry, franchising and transmedia, media distribution in a global marketplace, and the intersection of academia and the media industries.

Speakers at the conference include Kim Moses, executive producer of  The Ghost Whisperer ; Alex McDowell, production designer for  Watchmen;  Gregg Hale, producer of  The Blair Wtich Project  and  Seventh Moon ; Lance Weiler, director of  The Last Broadcast  and  Head Trauma ; and Tom Casiello, Daytime Emmy award-winning former writer for soap operas including  As the World Turns One Life to Live Days of Our Lives , and  The Young and the Restless ; Peter Kim, a founder of the Dachis Corporation; as well as representatives from HBO Online, World Wrestling Entertainment, and other innovative media companies and projects.

The conference will also feature academics such as Henry Jenkins (MIT, founder of the Convergence Culture Consortium and author of  Convergence Culture  and  Textual Poachers ), Yochai Benkler (Harvard Law School, author of  The Wealth of Networks ), John Caldwell (UCLA, author of  Production Culture ), Anita Elberse (Harvard Business School, author of “Should You Invest in the Long Tail?”), and Grant McCracken (author of  Transformations ).

More information on the conference, including the program and registration, is available at  http://www.convergenceculture.org/futuresofentertainment/

Rethinking Otaku-hood, Part 2

otaku_1alter.jpg

So following up on yesterday’s discussion of the otaku, and a rethinking of what it means to be otaku, let’s first consider what else, besides entertainment industry products, can one be deeply devoted to, as an otaku?

Why, technology of course.

  • pasokon otaku: a person deeply devoted to personal computers
  • g_mu otaku: a devoted fan of the video game world

Then there are

  • Wota: (pronounced ‘ota’, an abbreviation of otaku): devoted fans of pop media “idols”

Wota are media figure otaku, so called hardcore or “extreme fans” (there are those stigmatizing connotations again) of “idols,” who are heavily promoted singing girls.

Now we get to some marginal, obscure hobbies.

  • tetsud_ otaku (metrophiles/ fans of subways/undergrounds)
  • gunji otaku (military geeks).

The term otaku has been applied to music, martial arts, cooking, coin collecting, automobiles, and so on (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otaku). That raises the question, I suppose, of what it doesn’t apply to? Let’s ponder that in a different way.

I was especially glad to find the adjective term “otakki” to describe something that is okatu-like (note: Otaki is city in New Zealand; I’m talking about otakki here). I find otakki is a preferable adjective than the terms derived from the word fan, like fannish, or fanlike (or I’ve even seen “fanny). It just rolls off the tongue better. It sounds a little like “tacky” and not so much like “crazy.”

So consider now the expository remarks Gibson made in an April 2001 edition of The Observer, where he said:

“The otaku, the passionate obsessive, the information age’s embodiment of the connoisseur, more concerned with the accumulation of data than of objects, seems a natural crossover figure in today’s interface of British and Japanese cultures. . . Understanding otaku -hood, I think, is one of the keys to understanding the culture of the web. There is something profoundly post-national about it, extra-geographic. We are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not.“–William Gibson, 2001

There is no question that the term otaku has just as many unfortunate obsessive and negative connotations in Japanese as it does in American-English. It was associated first with a sort of nerdy culture (the term originally came from a form of verbal address that fans adopted, almost like the “live long and prosper” hand-sign of Star Trek fans). Then it became associated with a Japanese serial killer who had a thing for pornographic manga and anime, popularly known as hentai.

Although he starts out talking about otaku from a technically-accurate and stigmatizing distance, I think it is very noteworthy that William Gibson ends up talking about them as us, about all of us having these otaku drives. It’s not just the avid anime collectors and the Star Trek geeks. Citizens of information and consumption world, we are in our daily lives collectors, archivists, cleaning our desktops, marking our favorite pages, filing our favorite pictures. Many of us are otaku, or at least, at times, otakki.

We have these needs to latch on emotionally, to categorize, evaluate, collect, archive, and share. Of course, otaku are also active creators-both of symbolic meaning itself as well as of new things of substance like written fiction, serializations, movies, and so on.

In fact, I think this is directly on target. There is a very otaku-like (“otakki”) nature to contemporary existence, enabled by widespread digital information and communications technology, is what is creating radical shifts in consumption, and causing the shocks to the industrial system of intellectual “property” “rights.” It’s behind a lot of the fan conflicts I’ve written about (many others have too). For instance, consider the recent Rowling versus RDR Harry Potter case I wrote about in a past posting. This legal case is all about classic otaku behavior. And the jury is still, literally, out on this one.

I’d like to propose here and now a redefinition of the otakki.
I’d love to move otaku, otakki, and fan based definitions away from some of the nerdy, geeky, stalker-obsessive, creepy serial killer stereotypes that hinder our understanding of subcultures. I’d like to suggest that we have much to gain in terms of general understanding in recognizes the universality of the otakki way in our contemporary consumer culture. I’d also like to suggest that we continue to broaden and think about a science of the otaku, a science of the fan, that recognizes the universality and also the variety of manifestations of the forms of personal and cultural engagement that we have with commercial culture.

Here is the definition—academic style.

Otakki is herein defined as a way of being in contemporary human society characterized by a deep emotional and intellectual engagement with the products of commercial culture. The mode commonly manifests in intelligent interaction with consumption object “texts” of varying sorts, with the collection of various objects or forms of information, with critique and sensemaking efforts, and its commitments can also extend to include many types of creativity and communal interaction. The “texts” tend to be linked together into systems or related webs of consumption—such as “coffee consumption,” “connoisseur lifestyle,” or “media fan” and have complex linkages to other lifestyles, consumption activities, and ideologies.

This otakki engagement with commercial culture manifests in multifarious ways. It can range from sporadic activity to nearly constant questing and discourse. It can span products that are allegedly functional to those which are entirely ritual or symbolic. It can engage culture that is exclusively local or it can expand to encompass global culture.

The key to otakki culture is in its emotional engagement and the connoisseur discernment in interaction with the productions of contemporary corporations and their market offerings as against traditional religious or cultural offerings, although in contemporary capitalist economies these boundaries between art and culture, business and culture, and politics and business, often break down.

idoru book [Okay, I can't resist ending on an otakki note about William Gibson’s novel, Idoru. Idoru is a great novel that is far less known, appreciated and cited than Gibson's blockbuster Neuromancer; Idoru offers some profound insights on media and fandom and the way they are linked into consumer and information culture (which are themselves, in Idoru's perspicacious vision of our near-future, interlinked). One of the things I love about the trajectory of Gibson's work is the way his vision of the future has moved gradually from the cyber-punk near future to increasingly recent settings with their attendant social satirizing views. His latest book, 2007's intriguing Spook Country, was actually set in the timeless time of 1999, our future-as-already-past. I've already written about the consumption research revelations of Philip K. Dick's work. In the future, I'm hoping to expand this into some conjecture about the consumption worlds and insights revealed by other speculative fiction and science fiction authors such as William Gibson, Olaf Stapledon, Osamu Tezuka, Frederick Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth, Vernor Vinge, Neal Stephenson and Bruce Sterling's works.]