Tag Archives: Celebrity

Adapting Skam: The Impossibility of Inconspicuousness [Part Three]

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The Impossibility of Inconspicuousness

Part Three

[This is the third post in a five-part series about the pending U.S. adaptation of Norwegian teen drama Skam. You can find the other parts of the series here, as well as my other posts about Skam here.]

The “lore” of Skam is a huge part of its appeal. The story, as understood through the various “What is Skam?” articles floating around and the show’s Wikipedia page, is that there was no promotion done on the series, with none of the actors allowed to speak to the media. The show simply appeared, designed as something for kids to discover on their own rather than something sold to them by the media, or introduced to them in spaces their parents might inhabit.

I am fascinated to know how those on the ground in Norway experienced this particular rollout, and how word of mouth functioned within it, but this strategy is very much specific to that context. As public service broadcasting, it didn’t matter how many people watched the first episode of Skam: the entire season had been commissioned, and therefore it had time to find an audience, and a mission—of discussing key issues facing young people—that might be worthwhile even if a small audience was watching. The show wasn’t promoted because there was no reason for it to be promoted, and what little press the show has done has been a victory lap of sorts, an acknowledgment that the show had become too large for them to ignore the media frenzy around it entirely.

Once the show is removed from that context, though, could a U.S. version of Skam fly in under the radar in the same way? On a basic functional level, the show would be an adaptation of a successful overseas series, and therefore garner certain types of coverage from the trade press (building on the existing coverage). But so much of the way many of the channels or streaming sites I discussed in part two market shows is now built on hyper-saturation to stand out from the crowd, and could those rules be rewritten in a culture where celebrity matters considerably more?

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2 Channels of Discovery: YouTube, Stardom, and 5 Seconds of Summer

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Around two years ago, America was meeting One Direction.

Pop music moves quickly: since then, One Direction has released three albums and a feature documentary/concert film, and is preparing for a U.S. stadium tour later this year. Building on my initial consideration of the band’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, the band and its fanbase have been a point of interest for me during this period. There was the time their fans threatened The Who on Twitter, the time they fought back against restrictive definitions of fandom reinforced by Ubisoft in a YouTube ad, and the time when Larry Stylinson shippers were shamed by promotions for a documentary airing in the U.K. And that’s only scratching the surface of a band and fanbase that remain at the epicenter of contemporary notions of stardom both on the Internet and within the music industry (where the band continues to function in a marginalized yet lucrative corner different from the “success” of the boy bands of my own youth).

Within this context, my brother Ryan—who, if you’re unaware, writes about music as I write about television—reached out for my thoughts on One Direction’s opener on their upcoming stadium tour, 5 Seconds of Summer, who are currently embarking on a similar American tour. His interest was in thinking about the function of genre, as the Australian foursome functions as what he calls “the next logical evolution of One Direction” through their direct engagement with rock music. Whereas One Direction’s expansion into the rock space was part of a gradual evolution (and a clear claim at legitimation relative to the bubblegum pop of their “youth”), 5 Seconds of Summer is starting from a place of playing their own instruments, writing their own songs, and resisting the label of “boy band” despite being a group of four teenagers with carefully cultivated haircuts.

The band raises many interesting questions, and considering the relationship between the two bands—who are not coincidentally managed by the same company—offers lots of broader considerations of the way we can understand “boy bands” as a construct that can cross generic lines in our contemporary musical moment. Musically, “She Looks So Perfect” looks set to make a run as a potential summer anthem, and the EP of the same name sold 143,000 copies in its debut (which is not far off from the 176,000 copies One Direction sold of their first LP in 2012).

But what I’m interested in exploring is what I discovered when I was prompted to consider the band more carefully. Searching for the band on Spotify turned up She Looks So Perfect and its four carefully curated pop songs, designed to break the band into the American market after previous success in the U.K. and their native Australia. However, what I found on YouTube was something entirely different, an extensive back catalog of original material and video content. The discovery has me thinking about the narrative of “discovery” as a form of branding, and the ways the band’s launch shows an interest in maintaining that narrative as the primary lens through which the band is to be viewed.

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A Box of Influence: Game of Thrones, Social Media, and the Uncertain Quest for Cultural Capital

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A Box of Influence: Game of Thrones and Cultural Capital

March 22nd, 2013

Two years ago, HBO shipped a collection of critics, celebrities, and cultural observers a box designed to introduce them to the world of Westeros. The box, which I wrote about in detail here, served as a sensory journey into what was at that point a new televisual universe, one HBO hoped would become a centerpiece of their brand identity. By sending the box out to “opinion leaders,” the hope was that they would share their experiences with the intricately crafted artifact with their readers or followers, setting the tone for a series sold in part on its lavish production design and attention to detail.

KendrickBoxThis month, HBO shipped a collection of celebrities a box designed to initiate them into the world of Westeros. However, the Westeros of 2013 is different than the Westeros of 2011. If the “Scent Box” of 2011 was designed as an artifact of the fictional Westeros, the various personalized “Influencer” boxes being sent to people like Mindy Kaling, Anna Kendrick, Bruno Mars, Jaime King, Patton Oswalt, Stephen Colbert, and Conan O’Brien are artifacts of the pop cultural Westeros. If the 2011 campaign was designed to establish the authenticity of Game of Thrones’ fictional world, the 2013 campaign seeks to reaffirm Game of Thrones’ status as a cultural phenomenon as its third season premiere beckons.

While the first campaign was largely heralded as a sign of HBO’s commitment to the series’ mythology and helped associate the show with quality discourses valuable to a premium cable channel, the latter campaign has been met with some criticism (although not by the celebrities themselves, most of whom have not been shy about performing their fannish [and NSFW] response to the delivery). To paraphrase sections of my Twitter feed in the past few weeks, HBO is effectively spending thousands of dollars to send rich celebrities personalized gifts to promote a show that is already wildly successful and likely to run for many seasons, all while smaller shows like Enlightened are canceled due to a lack of viewers (and, tied to this concern, a lack of promotional support). In addition, picking up on a discourse that was not uncommon during the initial campaign, some fans simply wonder why “celebrity” fandom is more valued than their own: one fan at WinterIsComing.net wrote “This is really unfair. Why do celebs get this sent to them? We’re the fans. The real fans.”

InfluencerInsideHowever, the “Influencer Box” reflects broader shifts in how television success is measured: even since 2011, the perceived value of Twitter and other forms of social media has dramatically increased, even if the industry as a whole remains uncertain as to how to monetize that value. HBO’s decision to turn Game of Thrones loose into the world of celebrity self-disclosure reflects their belief that the best strategy to draw new subscribers is not just to promote the show itself (which they continue to do), but rather the idea of the show as a social media event. While the Influencer Box features the first two seasons on Blu-Ray, ostensibly encouraging those who receive or read about the box to watch the series, it also includes “exclusive extras which the owner can use on their social media sites to show off their fandom,” which HBO is now extending out to the “real fans” through a collection of site-specific giveaways on sites like WinterIsComing.net or Slashfilm. While reminding viewers about the third season premiere is the stated goal of the box— as demonstrated by the “scroll” that accompanies the box urging celebrities to promote the March 31st return date—the larger goal is informing the world that Game of Thrones is bigger than just a television show.

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Jimmy Johnson vs. Survivor: Notoreity and Narrative in Nicaragua

“Young At Heart”

September 15th, 2010

The biggest challenge for a reality series like Survivor is finding a way to make things interesting in the beginning. The show so heavily relies on characters and their interaction with one another that those early moments are almost always less interesting simply because they are not yet characters: at best the castaways are caricatures, limited to their first impressions (which are encouraged and extrapolated by the producers within the opening “No one is allowed to talk” journey to the first locale).

However, with Survivor: Nicaragua there is no room for subtlety in terms of getting to know the contestants: the contestants are divided based on their ages, a key component in first impressions within the series, and two of the contestants are simply unable to remain anonymous for any length of time. What emerges, then, is a focus on the importance of honesty and perception within this game, key themes that emerge within every season of Survivor.

This time around, though, the producers decided to introduce them as early as possible, mostly in order to ensure that these two notable contestants can be successfully integrated into the series’ narrative in future weeks.

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