Henry Jenkins is arguably the most popular and well-known media and popular culture theorist in the nation. Jenkins has a BA from Georgia State University, Political Science/Journalism, an MA in Communication Studies from the University of Iowa and a PhD in Communications from University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Communications, Ph.D. 1989. His doctoral thesis was “What Made Pistachio Nuts?: Anarchistic Comedy and the Vaudeville Aesthetic”, with advisors David Bordwell and John Fiske.
Most notably, Jenkins was the founder and director of MIT's Comparative Media Studies Program. He has proven a prolific author, issuing several canonical texts on fandom, technology and popular culture, including Textual Poachers, From Barbie to Mortal Kombat, and Convergence Culture. Jenkins is a sure-fire media populist, largely abstaining from the heavy post-structuralist theoretical and philosophical bent of much media and critical theory, and instead emphasizing the role of public policy and media literacy. He cooperates on projects and conferences with academics, media producers, policy makers and media distributors. Jenkins has operated a long-time blog at www.henryjenkins.org, and has testified at the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing into Marketing Violence for Youth, following the Columbine shooting.
Jenkins is sometimes identified with "what's wrong" with cultural studies, as the American incarnation of the discipline has become increasingly collapsed with pop culture-philia. Indeed, Jenkins work on fandom has given a stable platform to bevies of close readings of popular culture phenomenon, some of which tragically misconstrues it relevance to the intellectual field. Jenkins' assertions that we should study what we love and study what matters to us sometimes overlaps with an enthusiasm to "study whatever we want", it's academic merit supported by the sole fact that one has taken an interest.
Regardless of these complaints, Jenkins remains a prominent and potent figure in the constellation of contemporary American popular culture and media studies. He is currently the Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts, a joint professorship at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide Edit
Jenkins is a dedicated media populist, and this text is no exception. He has modest goals--to map convergence culture practices in popular culture, for the benefit of helping both scholars, media developers and policy makers understand how "convergence" happens, often in unpredictable ways.
Jenkins writes that his book is about "the relationship between three concepts--media convergence, participatory culture, and collective intelligence" (2). Convergence, for Jenkins, is "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" (2). Additionally, it is sourced "within the brains of individual consumers and through their social interactions with others" (3). It is Jenkins' contention that the circulation of media across media systems and economies relies largely on the active participation of consumers. This trends along with Jenkins previous work (such as Textual Poachers), in which he frequently argues the consumption of media is no longer passive, and that fans create non-capitalist economies from their expenditure of fan labor. This, essentially, is participatory culture, which consists of "participants who interact with each other according to a new set of rules that none of us fully understands" (3). Consumption, in this environment, becomes the collective process of "collective intelligence", an alternate source of media power, in which the collective combines skills and pools resources (Jenkins borrows this notion from French cybertheorist Pierre Levy) (4).
The History of ConvergenceEdit
Jenkins notes that some of the confusion around convergence stems from the presumption and rhetoric of the 1990s, which prophesied a new world order of personalized media content in which new media pushed out the old, broadcasting died at the hands of the Internet and monolithic media empires crumbled. This assumption burst when the dot-com bubble burst, and now "convergence has reemerged as an important reference point as old and new media companies try to imagine the future of the entertainment industry" (6). Currently, we reside in an unpredictable media environment, and Jenkins is met with crucial questions: "how we maintain the potential of participatory culture in the wake of growing media concentration, about whether the changes brought about by convergence open new opportunities for expression or expand the power of big media" (11). Convergence Culture, then, is a way of addressing this concern. Jenkins aims to describe some of the ways convergence thinking is "reshaping American popular culture and, in particular, the ways it is impacting the relationship between media audiences, producers and content [...] my goal is to help ordinary people grasp how convergence is impacting the media they consume and, at the same time, to help industry leaders and policymakers understand consumer perspectives on these changes" (12).
The Black Box FallacyEdit
One of Jenkins goals is to unseat the black box fallacy, which suggests that one day all media content will function through a single device, a uni-media black box that can do everything. In contrast, Jenkin's argues the convergence leads to box proliferation--our homes becomes filled with more devices: "Part of what makes the black box concept a fallacy is that it reduces media change to technological change and strips aside the cultural levels we are considering here" (15). Jenkins borrows a definition of media from Lisa Gitelman's (as of then) manuscript of Always Already New: "first,a medium is a technology that enables communication; on the second, a medium is a set of 'protocols' or social and cultural practices that have grown up around technology. Delivery systems are simply and only technologies; media are also cultural systems" (13-4). The notion of the protocol layer of media comes up in Galloway's Protocol, in discussing the interface or social protocols of a telephone call. Similarly for Gitelman, protocols "express a huge variety of social, economic and material relationships" (14). Convergence, then, refers to a cultural process, not a technological endpoint (16).
The Cultural Logic of Media ConvergenceEdit
American media, for Jenkins, seems to pivot on contradictory goals: "on the one hand, new media technologies have lowers production and distribution costs, expanded the range of available delivery channels, and enables consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways. At the same time, there has been an alarming concentration of the ownership of mainstream commercial media, with a small handful of multinational media conglomerates dominating all sectors of the entertainment industry" (18). Truth, for Jenkins, lies vaguely "somewhere in between". Through his book, Jenkins desires to show how "entrenched institutions are taking their models from grassroots fan communities, and reinventing themselves for an era of media convergence and collective intelligence (22). Popular culture is the core of his present convergence analysis because, "we are making that shift first through our relations with popular culture, but that the skills we acquire through play may have implications for how we learns, work, participate in the political process, and connect with other people around the world" (23).