For Your (SCMS And Flow) Consideration: Developing Critical Approaches to Media Industry Awards

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 12.30.23 AMThis week marks the yearly Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference, being held this year in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s a fantastic opportunity for media scholars like myself to come together and share ongoing research as a field, and it’s one of my favorite times of year.

I have the good fortune to be presenting twice at this year’s conference. The first—G13 on Thursday morning from 11-12:45, if you’re putting together a schedule—is as part of a Workshop focused on studying media industries digitally, where I’ll be discussing the importance of researching Twitter as a platform within media industry contexts as well as how one can use Twitter as a tool to study the industry. I’m looking forward to hearing how others are engaging with digital research in our convergent era, and would encourage anyone with an interest or experience to come and share their thoughts in what will hopefully be a productive session.

However, I wanted to reflect a bit more on my second presentation, which will be held in the same room immediately following (H13)—this is both because of its connection to my past here on the blog and, most pressingly, some plans for the future.

I turned on Facebook’s “On This Day” feature in the middle of last year, and as 2016 arrived it has unearthed the days when I was sending all of my blog posts to Facebook. It was a time before Twitter, where Facebook was my only method for “broadcasting” what I was writing here on the blog. No one was really reading the blog yet, spare a handful of people who stumbled across it, but the Facebook posts made it feel like I was writing for an audience.

When this blog began, it was mostly for an audience of one—me—and so the topics tended to be whatever I was interested in. And these flashbacks have reminded me that from the very beginning, the blog became my outlet for analyzing something that I was more or less obsessed with: media industry award shows.

This was not a new development for me personally, although it was one the internet gave greater meaning—sites like Television Without Pity and Gold Derby fueled my interest by connecting me with like-minded people who cared as much about tape submissions as I did (and taught me what tape submissions were), enabling my circle of people to discuss this with to expand beyond my brother. The blog, then, created a reason to be paying even closer attention: breaking down Emmys procedure, writing extensive “FYC” posts for no reason in particular, and even treating the Screen Actors Guild awards like an event of cultural significance became part of the rhythms of blogging.

And so when I began graduate work focused on media and cultural studies, these interests naturally grafted onto my scholarly work, where I made an odd discovery: there has been shockingly little research done on media industry awards. While there is applicable work regarding media rituals that can be grafted onto studies of awards, the field of media studies has failed to launch a fuller investigation into how they fit into industry structures and the cultural dynamics they create among both industry laborers and audiences alike.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 1.06.46 AMAlong with my colleague Alyx Vesey, we helped organized and populate an “Award-Winning” series on the now sunsetted Antenna: Responses to Media and Culture, where scholars came together to reflect on award shows as they happened. It reaffirmed our shared interest in this topic, and so this year we decided to do something about it. Together with fellow scholars Karen Petruska and Cory Barker, we organized “For Your Consideration: Critical Approaches to Media Industry Awards,” a panel that will take place from 1:00pm to 2:45pm on Thursday (H13).

For Your Consideration:

Critical Approaches to Media Industry Awards

In recent years, the award show has reaffirmed its place as a major media event. As social media has grown more ubiquitous, the possibility of “viral” moments (e.g. Ellen’s Twitter-breaking Oscar selfie) has given award shows greater cultural relevance, and increased value to networks/channels turning to live broadcasts that work against audience time-shifting in the DVR age.

However, while media studies has explored media events more broadly, focused studies of award shows have been largely absent. While Anand and Watson’s description of the Grammy Awards as a “tournament ritual” (2004) offers a generalized understanding of how awards function within a given field, such rituals are incredibly diverse across and within different media. These media rituals (Couldry 2003) must be tied to both historical and contemporary discourses within media industries, particularly relative to more focused studies of industry production culture (Caldwell 2008) and increased interest in questions of media legitimation (Newman and Levine 2011).

This panel explores this multi-dimensional understanding of awards in the study of media industries. It first considers the historical dimensions of the contemporary award show, and how industry awards were transformed from local to broadcast rituals. Following this, the panel analyzes the complexities of discourse surrounding award shows, and how campaigns for award recognition complicate traditional (and simplified) understandings of how prestige is exchanged. Then, the panel shifts toward an exploration of struggle within award shows, considering how workers excluded from major industry awards work to gain access to these rituals. Finally, the panel considers the physical space of the ceremony itself, and how awards still serve as local professional rituals that connect with the day-to-day experience of specific groups of media industry workers.

In addition to offering case studies with relevance to the study of specific media industries (film, TV, music), these papers capture the diverse range of perspectives necessary to reveal the multi-dimensionality of media industry awards. Whether televised or non-televised, and regardless of the media being honored, awards offer a crucial glimpse into how questions of value, identity, production culture, and visibility—among other issues—manifest in the media industries, and this panel hopes to start a more substantial conversation regarding these increasingly ubiquitous—and complex—rituals.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 12.30.14 AMThe panel—where I’ll be talking about my experience at the first annual Location Managers Guild of America Awards in 2014—represents what we all hope is the start of a larger conversation about how we study media industry awards, which is a conversation that I’m hopeful those in attendance will be eager to participate in both this week in Atlanta and in the future.

And that future has a date as well, because the next step in this process will be happening later this year at the University of Texas at Austin’s Flow Conference in September, where I’ve submitted a prompt focused on the convergent award show.

Considering the Convergent Award Show

In an era where live viewership is shrinking across both broadcast and cable, the award show has emerged as an increasingly lucrative form of programming, balancing its historical event appeal to mass audiences with newfound value tied to livetweeting and other forms of social engagement. In this roundtable, we invite scholars to consider the texts and contexts of the twenty-first century award show and its accompanying social content. How are legacy award shows—the Emmys, Grammys, Oscars, etc.—adjusting their broadcasting approaches for a contemporary media environment? How has this new economy helped foster a wider range of award shows determined by different organizations (The Game Awards, the iHeart Radio Awards, etc.)? How have traditional spaces like red carpets been transformed by affordances of social interaction? How, generally speaking, do we understand the relevance of contemporary, convergent award shows relative to both their respective industries and the evolution of television and new media in general?

Flow is a fantastic conference, where short presentations allow for the type of open conversation that can hopefully generate further scholarly attention to this area. Submissions—in the form of proposed responses to the prompts—are due by May 20, and I would highly encourage anyone who is interested in exploring contemporary award shows in greater detail to apply.

The conversation won’t be stopping there—Alyx and I have bigger plans for generating scholarship around this topic, and later this year I hope to be returning here with more formal details on how what that will look like and how interested parties can be involved. But in the meantime, I’m excited to start the discussion this week in Atlanta, and help continue the journey that started here on this blog nine years ago.


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