Welcome to Flow
by: Christopher Lucas and Avi Santo / University of Texas-Austin
Well, here it is. One long journey ends, at times frustrating, at times inspiring, and another journey begins. In some ways, Flow happened far more quickly than we anticipated, so that it is difficult to separate one beginning from another. Perhaps the rapidity with which Flow moved from concept to execution speaks to the need for this type of forum, which seeks to bridge gaps between academics and an informed public, between cultural creators and cultural critics, between scholarly and journalistic discourses about media, between the experiential and the critical media interaction, and to generate a new type of conversation; one which is interactive and immediate, rather than fractured and postponed by the schedules and publication dates of conferences and traditional print journals. Certainly these are the sentiments of many people we have spoken to over the last year. In this introductory column space we want to thank the people who have supported, encouraged, and created Flow, briefly trace Flow’s emergence, and what we believe are some of the ways this journal can impact media scholarship and the experience of media.
In some ways, Flow emerged out of frustration. Television and contemporary media are ephemeral experiences for most people, no less so for academics and cultural critics. Most of what we watch passes without notice. In an era of ever-increasing “choices” it becomes ever more difficult to crown a particular televisual king or queen as representative of our current moment (not that this was ever possible. Certainly, the history of television in the 1950s is very different depending on whether you look at it through the lens of Ozzie and Harriet or The Adventures of Superman, and we are not simply referring to the stories told on these series, but their modes of production, their intended audience, their engagement with collective memory and popular culture, and so on).
Yet, much critical writing about media has tended, even when addressing its complexity and diversity, to seize on particular programs, episodes, televisual moments and experiences. This necessity, despite the intentions of many, leads to canons, prescriptions, diagnoses that are antithetical to the ways most of us understand television.
Flow was envisioned as an experiment in aligning the academic perspective more closely with the televisual experience. How many essays have been published on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer after the series was cancelled? What about the continued critical preoccupation with HBO original programming, even as new series like Carnivale and Entourage fail to generate the same buzz as their predecessors? These writings are certainly making important contributions to our understanding of media and culture. With this project, though, we are acknowledging that in certain ways the processes of academic discourse are not in tune with the ceaseless ebb and flow of contemporary media and that much falls through the cracks or becomes galvanized only after its engagement with the public.
Thus, Flow is: television criticism at the pace of television; a space for analyzing and critiquing, discussing and debating the engagement with media, its institutional strategies in action, its ideological and dialogic capabilities as they operate; a site where people who make their living (or make their lives worth living) by critically contemplating media can share their day-to-day experiences and ideas as they emerge and as they are contradicted, complicated, cohered, confirmed, co-opted, and confused by competing and continuous televisual and cultural flows.
What is the benefit of all this? Will an on-line journal of television and media culture that hybridizes print journalism, blogging, and academic models make a difference in the ways we understand media? Who can say? Clearly, these questions are speculative and idealized, but we’re asking them. Flow proposes a new way of doing media studies, one that accounts for television’s ephemerality, one concerned with the fleeting observation, the immediate experience, the mess rather than the schematic, the inductive daily happenings and instances over the deductive eras and oeuvres.
But more than this, Flow provides a new way of doing media scholarship. Flow is intended as a site of speculation and conversation. Our columns, contributed by leading media researchers and cultural critics, are intended to provoke responses rather than provide definitive answers. They are intended to encourage anybody interested in questions of media and culture to enter the fray and add a layer of muck to the proverbial swamp.
The community building possibilities of this dialogue are important, as is the hope that a journalistic mode of address will expand the boundaries of said community beyond the ranks of the academy and include both media producers and engaged citizen/consumers. Beyond this, however, it is our hope that these conversations will have a significant impact on media scholarship, creating a record of the evolution of ideas that are rooted in the everyday engagement with texts, institutions, policies, communities, etc and providing important interventions that can help critics, producers, and enthusiasts work through arguments and ambiguities (in turn, creating new ones).
In other words, we hope Flow will provide a new space for collaboration, both contractual (influenced, perhaps, by on-line dating, we are convinced that there are like-minded people who will meet each other in Flow and decide to take the plunge and commit to co-authorship) and inspirational, as a new way of talking about media studies produces new ways of conceptualizing media and society.
None of this is to dismiss traditional academic writing about television. We all rely on academic work that is removed, both temporally and methodologically, from its object of study. There is, however, an equally important space to fill for work that struggles with and chronicles media’s ephemeral yet persistent impacts as they are occurring, and this is what Flow aims to do.
We hope that this project can complement traditional academic work by providing a forum for works in progress and an archive of ideas and critical observations that are historically grounded in actual television- and media-inflected experiences, but we equally hope that Flow will emerge as an alternative to traditional forms of scholarship, creating different forms of engagement that both inspire dialogue across occupational, political, artistic, racial, gendered, sexual, and class-based sites of media experience and also challenge the culture industries more directly through such conversations.
There are many people who need to be thanked for inspiring this project as well as breathing life into it with their hard work. Flow is a graduate student initiative and would not be a reality today without the support of the RTF graduate student community. In particular, Bryan Sebok, Marnie Binfield, Allison Perlman, Russell Haight, and Hollis Griffin were integral to the creation of this project and specifying its scope and form all through 2004. Russell Haight and Arie Stavchansky deserve some kind of prize for translating our abstract conversations into a tangible aesthetic for the design and identity of the Flow website.
We must also thank Michael Kackman, our faculty supervisor on this project, whose enthusiasm and support has never wavered and who has provided the a model of balance between allowing graduate students the fantasy of creating a journal on our own and knowing when to get his hands dirty. We would also like to thank Sharon Strover, chair of the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas for her support, both motivational and monetary. Professors Thomas Schatz, Janet Staiger, and Mary Kearney have been sources of encouragement, advice, and insight in this process and we are very grateful for their willingness to be involved whenever we called upon them.
Sue Hausmann and Jim Burr at the University of Texas Press encouraged this project from its early days and UT Press is now a valued partner of Flow. The remarkable software that runs Flow was created by the Instructional Design Group at the University of Texas, programmed by Jordan Phillips under the guidance of Paul Williams. It’s their architecture that allows us to have over twenty graduate students shepherding and editing content as it flies in from twenty columnists and all points on the compass.
We also received advice and encouragement from friends and colleagues around the country: Tara McPherson, Sharon Ross, Derek Kompare, Mark Williams, and Jeremy Butler, among many others. Finally, perhaps it is best to end with Raymond Williams, whose conceptualization of television was the starting point for so much important work on media culture and the inspiration for the title of this journal.
We hope that you enjoy this site and return to it often to participate in the conversations it is intended to generate.
— Thank you.
We would really love to hear your response to this column. Please feel free to post one below. Christopher Lucas can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org & Avi Santo can be contacted at email@example.com
This site rocks!!!! Any chance of the Flow experience turning into a reality television series to complement and build the Flow package?
How surprising that in its six-year existence, Flow TV’s first-ever article elicited only one post! Well, this changes that.
An exceptional website releasing issues bi-weekly with lucid articles and responses from academics and intelligent non-academics alike, Flow TV warrants an investigation. “Welcome to Flow” and the “Overview” section (under the “About Flow” tab) indicates that Flow TV is a project realized and administered by graduate students at University of Texas-Austin’s Department of Radio, Television, and Film. (As a native San Antonian – now a graduate student at University of Southern California’s Cinematic Arts Critical Studies Program – I am proud to learn that Flow TV is a Texas creation.) Over the years, editing responsibilities fell into many hands. (After all, we are not graduate students forever.) With the listed names in the “Overview” section, pinpointing whom to direct my praise is challenging; I hope it reaches someone, if not founders Avi Santo and Chris Lucas, then current coordinating editors Alexander Cho and William J. Moner, or someone overseeing its maintenance.
And maintained it has. This community – like all websites and blogs – is best understood not by a general mission statement but through thumbing – clicking, actually – through past volumes. Except in appearance – look at “Flow: A Visual History” (also under the “About Flow” tab) – the program has not undergone radical change like, say, Facebook which began as a college social networking site for Ivy Leaguers but became a cross-generational, cross-cultural phenomenon and lost some of it original character with it. Indeed, Flow TV is still adherent to its mission.
I respect the website’s sidestepping of what Lucas and Santo describes as the “fractured” nature of printed journals – subjected to “schedules” and “publication dates of conferences.” In 2004, blogs only started gaining traction as a viable online tool, and, while obviously transcending the traditional blog format, Flow TV unfortunately remains abnormal in the realm of academic publishing.
There are other upsides. For one, no membership dues (although donations are requested), unlike, say, the Society of Cinema and Media Studies’ Cinema Journal – also, ironically, released by the University of Texas Press. (Cinema Journal is “online,” but demands money for downloading PDF article files.) Not only no fees, but Flow TV does not require a password or keychain to post or access articles. It’s “public” in the truest sense, but a refined “public.” Tied to a university, it has clout within media studies; therefore, the level of discourse is enormously high.
But thank you, Chris, Avi, and the staff at Flow TV, for allowing me to lower that level for a moment and extol your website’s virtues!