The Veronicas Mars Phenomenon Meets On-Demand Culture

The Veronica Mars fandom, named marshmallows, has a lot to be happy about right now.  Last year, the Kickstarter was launched asking fans to donate money to a campaign entitled, The Veronica Mars Movie Project.   For those who don’t know, Kickstarter is a crowd-funding website where fans can donate money to projects they want to support.  Once the project meets their goal, credit cards will be charged for the amount backers wanted to donate.  If the project fails to meet their goal, fans never get charged for their donation.  The Veronica Mars Movie Project met their goal in eleven hours.  By the end of the 30-day campaign, the project raised $5,702, 153 and had 91,585 backers. Those who donated money got exclusive access and backer emails all through out the casting process, production, and post-production.  Even now, Rob Thomas, the creator of the show, is still sending out those emails.  The fan-made and fan-serving movie was released to select theaters across the country on March 14, 2014.  Unfortunately, a lot of backers did not have a theater close to them that was playing Veronica Mars.   Therefore, as promised, those who donated a certain amount of money to the campaign were sent the codes to download the movie on the day it was released in theatres.   Not only could backers see the movie the day it was released from the convenience of their own homes, but the entire public could, too; it was released on iTunes and Amazon the same day.  Though, dedicated marshmallows still made the trek to theaters to see the movie on the big screen even though they had access to it from their own homes.

Rob Thomas then released the first ever Veronica Mars book on March 25th.  This was written with Lauren Graham and titled, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line.  What’s even better is that Kristen Bell, the actress who plays Veronica, narrates the audio book.  Not only did he release one book, he announced that there would be another one released this year.  This fandom is clamoring for EVEN MORE.  They want a second movie. They want a rebooted TV series on Netflix.  They want it now.  And it this age of media, anything is possible.

I am a proud Marshmallow and backer of the Kickstarter campaign.  I was one of those dedicated fans who went to see the movie in theaters and even brought a friend who had never seen the show before who then became a marshmallow, too even though I had the code to the digital download.   I fell in love with Neptune, CA and the cast of characters when I was 15 years old.  I found Veronica at a time in my life when I needed someone to show me what a strong female character was.  At the time, Gilmore Girls was in its last season and Veronica Mars had the time slot right after it.  I was so sad to see Rory and Lorelei go, they were a huge part of my growing up, as well.  Looking back, I think they started my addiction to coffee. One night after an episode of Gilmore Girls had ended, I decided to leave the TV on the WB.  To my surprise, I was introduced to a spunky blonde with a feisty attitude who solved crimes.  I had no idea what was going on nor how many episodes of the show I had missed but I was hooked.  From that day on, I thought Veronica and I would be good friends.   I would wait until they would rerun an episode and I would try to piece together what I had missed.  For Christmas that year, I got the first two seasons of Veronica Mars on DVD.  My mom and I binge watched them because we wanted to catch up before the new episodes premiered in January.  And so began my addiction to binge watching shows; I did it before it was cool.

How can you spot a binge watcher?  While binge-watchers are much like the coach potato, they are much more determined; binge-watchers have a goal.  They will most likely be curled up with a laptop or sitting in front of the tv with a blanket and other provisions nearby.  If they’re watching Netflix, they let the show they’re watching roll right into the next episode or if they found their shows by other means, they most likely have made sure the next few episodes have been buffered so as to not waste time between episodes. Trust me, I know.  Victor Luckerson wrote an article titled “Netflix Says You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Binge-Watching” on Time.com, which stated, “According to the survey of 3,000 adults, 61 percent of those who stream TV binge-watch regularly.  Seventy-three percent of those surveyed say they have positive feelings about the practice.”   By showcasing binge watching as normal, it becomes a mainstream activity.  But what are the implications?

As defined by Goldsmith, to binge is to rapidly consume a large amount of substance in a short amount of time.  While this definition is mostly heard in relation to food and alcohol, binge-watching TV also has some of the same symptoms.   A professor at Siena College, Raj Devasagayam wrote “Media Bingeing: A Qualitative Study of Psychological Influences”.  He mentioned that an overexposure to these visual stimuli creates an emotional dependency on viewing a certain or multiple television shows.  He states,  “Viewers feel dependent on the stimuli to feel whole throughout their daily lives. As is evident with constant cravings to view a following episode, people become fully addicted to the happenings of a show” (Devasagayam 1).  Because of feeling emotional connected, fan culture has gotten a little out of hand.  By fans binge watching shows, it makes it easier to feel like the characters are a part of their lives.   This makes fans overly attached and emotional to fictional characters.   This psychological impact makes fans a little more disconnected from reality and other people.  It also impacts the ways fans would treat Kickstarter projects since this is way that would make them feel more connected to the characters.  I wanted to support the Kickstarter because I believed that Veronica deserved more to her story.  Part of me missed her, too.  Though I could rewatch the old seasons, it’s so great to have the new material of the movie and the book to talk about and analyze.

The original binge consuming, in terms of media, started with books.  I know this from experience.  When I get into a good book, I can’t put it down.  I haven’t been able to read for fun all semester but as soon as thesis was over, I picked up my newest paperback, admittedly, The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, and read over 100 pages in less than two hours.  I was hooked.  Readers are always comparing how long, or short rather, it took to read something.  I remember in junior high, it was a type of contest among my friends to brag to each other how short of a time it took to read the last Harry Potter book.  Now, instead of comparing books, it’s all about how fast you can get through a show that you just got hooked on.   If you’re not caught up to real-time of the show, spoilers can be so easy to find everyone online, mostly by accident.  This creates an urgency to catch up because now it becomes a necessity to find out what happens before someone unknowingly spoils it for you.   Films and television provide an escape.  While books do the same, sometimes it’s easier to turn off your brain every once in a while.  By binge watching TV shows, people become immersed in a different world.   Being able to binge-watch a television show creates a more cohesive experience.  Waiting to watch an episode week by week isn’t too bad but the problem lies when the show doesn’t air every week because of a short hiatus’s or other events that are scheduled during that show’s normal time frame.

Many people have predicted that streaming video is going to take over the way we watch movies and television.  Specifically, Hilderbrand states, “According to Bocco, streaming rather than actual DVD releases is probably the future for home video” ( 28).   He’s not the only one to say so, however.   When I started using Netflix, they only had the service of mailing out DVDs. While that was great, I remember sometimes feeling like I had to watch the movie that came in the mail even though I may not have been in the mood for that genre at the time.  My mom didn’t want to waste the movie rental but wanted to watch it just so we could mail it back and get the next one.   We subscribed to the service for three DVDs at a time, but even that was somewhat of a power struggle of which movies we’ve rent.    As Hilderbrand reiterates, “Netflix has been the leader in redefining the role of streaming in home video… This shift has paid off, with Netflix’s revenues nearly doubling since it started streaming videos in 2007.  In part, again, this is about lowered cost for delivering content.  Netflix spends ninety cents for each disc it mails but only five cents for each video it streams” (Hilderbrand 28).   The other reason that showcases the power of streaming is stated by Chuck Tryon.  He explains in his article, “Redbox vs. Red Envelope” that,  “Due to the cheap rentals offered by Redbox and the inexpensive access to streaming video promoted by Netflix, the expected cost of watching a movie has begun to shift, especially for movies that may be viewed only once or twice and for viewers who may not be drawn to consume DVD special features or collecting physical DVDs” (39).  This shift in the way we watch movies, has created a shift in the way distribution will be handled.

Distribution for indie films has been increasingly difficult for the past few years because major distributors have shutdown or merged with other companies.  According to Lucas Hilderbrand, it’s becoming easier to distribute indie films, especially, using Video On Demand and other video streaming services.  In his article, The Art of Distribution, he states that VOD (Video on Demand) “has also altered the hierarchies and timelines for theatrical and home video release.  For the major studios, VOD windows are now typically synched with DVD releases” (28).

Veronica Mars alum, Chris Lowell, started his own campaign on Kickstarter, too.  Interestingly enough, he had a different approach than Zach Braff, who created a Kickstarter for his film Wish I Was Here, and Melissa Joan Hart, who created one for her movie, Darci’s Walk of Shame, which ended up being cancelled.  Instead of asking for money to fund the movie so he would have to answer to his backers, he asked for money to distribute an already made movie titled, Beside Still Waters.  This finished movie had already been to festivals, too.  It had awards to make backing the project more enticing and a trailer to get you hooked.  Lowell doesn’t have to worry about making a movie that will please the people that gave him money and support.   This is the way I see the future of Kickstarter movies going.   Veronica Mars fans are by no means one of a kind.  There are other cancelled TV shows that I’m sure would have enough diehard fans to get a movie backed.  But this Veronica Mars movie was very much made for the fans.   There were jokes and illusions back to the original series and many wonderful cameos were made.

Not only are more celebrities going to go to Kickstarter to make movies, but the entirety of on demand culture is slowing changing.  Netflix is proving that true already, too.  Fans can barely wait a week for their shows to come back with new episodes.  Netflix has created a double-edged sword.   By releasing Netflix Original Shows in one day, they created more of a binge culture with fans.  Fans can now watch an entire brand-new season in one sitting.  The catch is that they have to wait a year to get another fix.  Netflix has three original shows that debuted in 2013: Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, and Hemlock Grove.   The first two became instant hits, though, all three did renewed for a second season.   Season 2 of House of Cards premiered on Feb 14, 2014, Orange is the New Black will be released on June 6th, and Hemlock Grove will be released on July 13th.  Arrested Development made a new season available exclusively on Netflix last year.  This gives hope to many cancelled TV shows. For April Fools Day, someone started a rumor that Firefly was coming back as a Netflix show.   Not only was this false, but because of the culture that Netflix has created, it gave the Browncoats hope!  These shows made available exclusively on Netflix have created a cult following.  The ability to see the entire season whenever it’s convenient creates that need in other shows.   While Netflix has made a huge amount of television shows and movies available to stream, most people get annoyed when something they want to see isn’t available.  As pointed out by Hilderbrand, he has to remind most of his friends that Netflix does send out DVDs with more titles available.   However, most people do not pay for their Netflix service to include DVDs or they’re so caught up in wanting to see it now, they don’t want to wait for them to arrive in the mail.

The Tribeca Film Festival releases certain movies for online viewing during the duration of the festival.  Not only that, but some films that are shown during the festival are available to rent or stream on Amazon or iTunes such as Bachelor Weekend and Beneath the Harvest Sky.  Joss Whedon went one step further.  He wrote the script to In Your Eyes.  On the same day it was released at the festival, he released it to rent on inyoureyesmovie.com and Vimeo On Demand for five dollars.  In this way, he was helping his fans that wouldn’t able get to New York to see it when it premiered.  More and more movies are being distributed this way besides Veronica Mars.   Some films, such as They Came Together, are being distributed in theaters and on demand on the same day, as well.  This film is being released on June 27, 2014 in both of those locations.   “The shift from expensive theatrical releases to multiplatform digital delivery opens up new and increasingly accessible ways for audiences to see art, documentary, and independent cinema.  Such viewing less and less often takes place on film in a cinema.  By changing the release patterns and delivery technologies, more films might find audiences, but the revenues for specific hits may be consistently lower” (Hilderbrand28).  By changing when and how we can watch films, we are creating easier access to entertainment.  In this way, we are adding the binge-watching phenomenon on needing to watch things now.

Fan culture is becoming more and more involved. Fans are starting to take control of the way television is being produced. “Early evidence suggest that the most valuable consumers are what the industry calls ‘loyals,’ or what we call fans.  Loyals are more apt to watch series faithfully, more apt to pay attention to advertising, and more apt to buy products” (Jenkins 63). Loyals are rewarded by participating in the culture around a television that lies predominately online because they get a chance to have a say in what happens on the show.  Recently, the TV show Hawaii Five-O, asked fans to vote on different scenarios that would be used to build an episode of the show.  From those elements, the show writers created an episode that the fans had decided on.  This kind of fan engagement puts the control even further into the fans hands.   The power dynamic is changing. Writers are now creating shows and movies that cater to what the fans want.   But what does this mean for the quality of television if fans have the power? Is narrative television going to become more like reality TV where fans get to cast their vote for who gets to stay on the show?  If writers are concerned about the fans more instead of the writing, does the quality fall short of expectations?  Will fans be frustrated by where the show is going even though they asked for it?  Jenkins says, “The promise of participation helps build fan investment, but it may also lead to misunderstandings and disappointments as viewers feel that their votes have not been counted” (Jenkins 64).  In the case of Kickstarter, if fans have invested their money into a project, and they don’t like it or aren’t satisfied, why would they risk their money on it again?  It is also a risk for the producers because if the fans are disappointed, there is no chance for a repeat of this kind of donation of funds for that particular project and maybe for other ones like it.  The risk isn’t as intense with television shows like Hawaii Five-O that aren’t being fan funded, however, they could decline in their ratings. But how far is too far with catering to fans?

This is where Chris Lowell had the right idea in his Kickstarter campaign. He knew he had a specific story to tell and he created it before he asked for money.  He is giving in to fan culture by the rewards he is providing but he isn’t held accountable to them to create a certain product.   This is an important distinction in the age of on demand and binge watching.  Lowell is setting the right example.  We need to be aware of the culture Netflix and other streaming sites have created.  Fans are getting what they want more easily now, especially with fan culture becoming more involved.  We have to be careful of where this intersects with the writing and integrity of a show or a movie.  No one is going to like everything, that’s just life.  If producers and writers are going to cater more towards fans than where they feel a story should go, is that good storytelling?  Sometimes we have to set boundaries. Not every TV episode is going to be written like a Goosebumps book.  Fans have to accept that.

 

5 More Sentences

Kiese Laymon wrote, “How to Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance“.  Five sentences that I noted for their use of language and rhetoric are as follows:

  • Around 20 seconds after we park, here comes the red, white and blue of the siren.”
  • After the President’s letter goes out, my life kinda hurts.”
  • I think and feel a lot but mostly I feel that I can’t do anything to make the boys feel like they’ve made us feel right there, so I go back to my dorm room to get something.”
  • “Really, we’re fighting because she raised me to never ever forget I was on parole, which means no black hoodies in wrong neighborhoods, no jogging at night, hands in plain sight at all times in public, no intimate relationships with white women, never driving over the speed limit or doing those rolling stops at stop signs, always speaking the king’s English in the presence of white folks, never being outperformed in school or in public by white students and most importantly, always remembering that no matter what, white folks will do anything to get you.”
  • I think I want to hurt myself more than I’m already hurting. I’m not the smartest boy in the world by a long shot, but even in my funk I know that easy remedies like eating your way out of sad, or fucking your way out of sad, or drinking your way out of sad, or smoking your way out of sad, or lying your way out of sad, or slanging your way out of sad, or robbing your way out of sad, or gambling your way out of sad, or shooting your way out of sad, are just slower, more acceptable ways for desperate folks, and especially paroled black boys in our country, to kill slowly ourselves and others close to us in America.”

What it Means to be a Braindead Megaphone

The Braindead Megaphone is written by George Saunders. In this essay, he describes what it means to follow the masses, or internalize a very loud voice.  Both of which are incredibly destructive when the person leading isn’t very smart or articulate. Even if the person you follow is compelling and intelligent, where does that leave your own thoughts? The stakes in this essay are clear.  What happens when you let someone into your mind?  When you let someone tell you what to think or how to feel? How can someone dictate your life just because you’re consuming their message? Where does your own thinking go?  Saunders mentions an example of a village buying veggies that ends up turning skin red.  His point ends up being, “A culture’s ability to understand the world and itself is critical to its survival. But today we are led into the area of public debate by seers whose main gift is their ability to compel people to continue to watch them” (14).  When we get our news from places that require viewership/readership RATINGS to survive, are we really getting the most informative news?  He also mentions how the people that work for these companies don’t want to do it, but it’s a matter of survival, they want to make the most out of their lives/education. They don’t want to go back to flipping burgers.

Trying to figure out how to write an essay before the actual writing of the essay begins is rough.  Though I’ve done minimal research, coming up with stakes before fully comprehending how my topic will be formed and what I’m going to say is not easy.  My topic is about the changing media distribution industry.  The idea for my essay came about because of my love of Veronica Mars and the subsequent events that took place after the Kickstarter. What are the stakes here? From what I can begin to tell, the stakes seem to go along the lines of the issues with the “I Want It Now” culture.  What happens to TV when the fans get control of the money source? What happens to original storytelling when the fans are so ingrained/invested in certain storylines? Do you risk offending the fans to tell the story you feel needs to be told?  What happens when you’re Rob Thomas and you release a movie in theaters and the same day, you release it on digital download? Are fans becoming too obsessed?   How is this changing the way we consume media? Is active participation a good thing in this case?

 

 

Reexamining History

Sarah Vowell is very compelling to read.  She is a history writer but also a humorist which makes for a very interesting read. In her book, The Wordy Shipmates, which I had to read a section of, she describes the acts of the puritans and relates it to today’s society. She also talks about Native Americans more in depth than any history book I had to read for class growing up.  Her style is interesting because it’s not like reading a history text book. She makes the stories compelling.  This is seen as rule-breaking for most kinds of history books.  It’s the best rule-breaking ever.  Instead of giving facts, she tells a story that happens to be non-fiction.  She has a voice in her essay instead of just spouting out things that happen. This completely changes the relationship reading history has with the reader. 

By intertwining history with personal experiences, she makes it more relatable.  Making history fun to read it something that I was certainly not expecting.  She gives good facts and statements. I feel like I learned more reading her text than I ever did in history class. While I had to memorize history in high school for tests, I can assure you, I have forgotten most of it.  There are very few things that stuck in my mind and it’s because of the way that they were taught.  It’s truly a talent to make history not dry and compelling. 

She points out how little Americans really know about history by citing the failings in sitcoms. Everyone can relate to learning things from sitcoms instead of classrooms, just like Vowell says she did.  In this way, she creates a bond with the reader because people can relate to what she’s saying.  They follow along and are able to follow her transitions into the heart of her essay better than if she didn’t create that connection. 

She also uses a jumping off point from something she heard in every day life to connect it back to history. It makes a great introduction to what she’ll be explaining in the following paragraphs.  She explains how people that are using the phrase Puritan makes her disappointed because she associates so much more to the word. She says, “I’m always disappointed when I see the word Puritan tossed around as shorthand for a bunch of generic, boring, stupid, judgmental killjoys.  Because to me, they are very specific, fascinating, sometimes brilliant, judgmental killjoys who rarely agreed on anything except that Catholics are going to hell” (22).  If those two sentences were in my history text book in high school, you can bet I wouldn’t be caught dead sleeping in class for fear of missing other gems like that.  Fortunately, I can read her work now and be a better American who actually might be able to remember some history. 

Best Of

Longform.com has a compilation of “Best Of” Lists  throughout the years of essays/articles written and found on various websites online. The essay I chose to read was Gabriella Moss’s Teen Mean Fighting Machine: Why Does the Media Love Mean Girls?

Gabriella Moss writes about a topic that, unfortunately, will always be relevant.  She writes about the mean girl phenomenon, and especially after the hit movie, Mean Girls, is something that everyone is talking about.  I believe relevance is extremely valuable but not only is she writing about something that’s popular, but she is a new and strong voice about the subject. She provides a prospective that all the books and theorists she cites did not.  Her viewpoint on the piece made it much stronger but she really gets to the heart of the issue.

By using the current media examples such as the film and other books written about the subject, Moss is able to show what they missed.  This is interesting because as a reader, you would think that someone would have already seen the folly in their thinking. Instead, a phenomenon caught fire and no one stopped to think about WHY it existed.

Personally, I liked it because she nails on the head exactly what feminists and women’s study students try to explain and shed some light on.  Bringing awareness to the public is an extremely important part of what this essay does.  Moss explains how separating teenage girls into two categories is detrimental to society.  Instead of getting to the root of the problem, everyone is just glossing over the reasons for why girls are aggressive. Instead of trying to understand them, they are looking for other places to put their “meanness” such as into sports.

Her essay makes people think. And question previous sources.  Her essay does what a good essay should.  It takes us through other literature and shows us its weak points.  Instead of stopping there, it further enhances our knowledge by explaining what was missing.

What is Smarm and Why Does it Matter?

On Smarm, is an article written by Tom Scocca that appeared on Gawker a few months ago. So what is smarm? Smarm is something we are all familiar with either by reading it or using it in ourselves, even if we don’t know it.  Smarm is condescending and self-important.  Instead of being negative, it’s telling people what not to do by brushing their ideas under the rug.

By defining Smarm and giving examples, the author brings to light other issues.  At first, it seems like it’s just another way to prove his point but instead he turns that example into an issue that needs to be discussed.  He shows how social media and personal blogs turned into a forum for smarm, which anyone can use.  Anyway can comment on a status or a blog, If anyone can use it, it becomes something that is culturally accepted.  If it’s culturally accepted, then it will seep in to every part of our lives: the political, the personal, the public, the private.  Smarm is harmful because instead of allowing conversation and discussion to happen, it shuts it down.  Tom Scocca says, “Talk about something else, smarm says. Talk about anything else”.

One quote I really liked was, ” A civilization that speaks in smarm is a civilization that has lost its ability to talk about purposes at all. It is a civilization that says “Don’t Be Evil,” rather than making sure it does not do evil.” He explains how smarm is not just a way of speaking, but how it can hurt society. It can hurt people. Scocca uses this tiny point of entry to explain how people are no longer communicating with one another.  As humans, we should be communicating with each other about various things. If there’s a problem, it should be addressed not compared to something worse in the past.  It’s a problem now and it has to be addressed and not swept under the rug like smarm wants.

Tom Scocca proves that a very little thing can start a huge conversation.

Five is Really Seven

Paul Graham’s “The Age of the Essay”

 http://www.paulgraham.com/essay.html

Five Interesting Sentences for Class

1)  I’d much rather read an essay that went off in an unexpected but interesting direction than one that plodded dutifully along a prescribed course.

2) It’s no wonder if this seems to the student a pointless exercise, because we’re now three steps removed from real work: the students are imitating English professors, who are imitating classical scholars, who are merely the inheritors of a tradition growing out of what was, 700 years ago, fascinating and urgently needed work.

3) An essay is something you write to try to figure something out.

4)  In a real essay you’re writing for yourself.

5)  Above all, make a habit of paying attention to things you’re not supposed to, either because they’re “inappropriate,” or not important, or not what you’re supposed to be working on.

Alternates: because I couldn’t pick just 5.

6) So if you want to write essays, you need two ingredients: a few topics you’ve thought about a lot, and some ability to ferret out the unexpected.

7) Don’t write the essay readers expect; one learns nothing from what one expects