Welcome to Flow, Volume 25
Special Issue: FLOW Conference 2018 Recap

Selena Dickey and Kate Cronin / The University of Texas at Austin

You are in the good place.

For those of you who are new to Flow, we are an online journal of media studies organized and edited by graduate students in the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin. In its 14-year history, Flow has published over 1,500 columns written by more than 700 authors from across the U.S. and around the world. Our mission is to provide a space where researchers, teachers, students, and the public can read about and discuss the changing landscape of contemporary media. Last year, managing editors Cameron Lindsey and Lesley Willard curated a timely and generative relaunch of Flow to encompass both “scholarship that explores the histories and complexities of ‘television’ as an evolving media format,” while also taking advantage of the journal’s multimedia format and acknowledging “its broadening focus to more actively seek media, approaches, foci, and conversations that don’t easily lend themselves to categorization.” [ ((“Lindsey, Cameron and Lesley Willard. “Welcome to Flow: A Critical Forum on Media and Culture .” 2017. https://www.flowjournal.org/2017/10/welcome/”))]

Following up on this valuable expansion of what Flow looks at, in this year’s volume, we aim to expand who we reach. To this end, we are particularly concerned with how media is preserved and accessed, how we teach media, and how we do media (praxis). Furthermore, we are concerned with the increasing ephemerality of media formats and the precarious labor of those who produce, distribute, exhibit, and teach media.

If this sounds familiar, it is! These are the same themes that guided this year’s FLOW Conference on media preservation, praxis, and precarity. The biennial FLOW Conference is hosted by UT’s RTF graduate students and faculty and aims to promote conversation amongst scholars, members of the media industries, media activists, fans, and policymakers over crucial issues related to television and new/digital media.

FLOW 2018 logo
Click image for conference schedule

We decided to make this inaugural issue of Flow Journal, Volume 25, a special issue focused on the conference to spotlight the themes that pervaded the three days of rich conversation and to continue and provide wider access to some of the liveliest roundtable conversations that occurred. This issue’s coverage of FLOW 2018: Preservation, Praxis, and Precarity features:

A video recording of our plenary roundtable, Praxis in Practice. Drs. AJ Christian, Lori Morimoto, Randolph Lewis, and Christine Becker shared their insights and experience incorporating praxis into their research, scholarship, teaching, and activism.

“Field Notes” written by RTF grad student correspondents. These abbreviated pieces synthesize key takeaways and offer insights on themes running throughout various panels. Live tweeting of specific panels can be found by searching twitter for #flow2018 and the roundtable’s specific session number and letter, all of which can be found in the conference program if you click the above image.

Significant Findings and Further Questions. To push the questions and responses offered during this conference into practicable solutions and answers and to model the conference’s call for more practical applications within the field of media studies, we are publishing several critical reflections from participating scholars. We asked them to reflect on the answers, next steps, and/or further questions that emerged during their FLOW roundtable.

Tailored Twitter Coverage. Besides a brand new Twitter widget (check it out on the right!), we’ve embedded the live tweet coverage for each of the above corresponding panels when available.

Many thanks to the FLOW Conference Coordinating Committee, FLOW conference participants, and especially to field note contributors and roundtable conveners who shared their time, insight, and labor to help us make FLOW 2018: Preservation, Praxis, and Precarity more accessible to those who were not able to attend. We encourage you to help us keep these conversations going with any comments or questions on twitter using this volume’s hashtag #flowjournal25. And we look forward to how these conversations and themes are carried forward in multifaceted ways in our upcoming issues! Happy reading!

Image Credits
1. You are in the good place.

Praxis in Practice Roundtable

Our featured roundtable, “Praxis in Practice,” focused on the myriad actions and skills that media scholars and professionals employ in order to address questions of precarity and preservation within the field. We asked each of our four panelists, Dr. Randolph Lewis of UT Austin, Dr. AJ Christian from Northwestern University, Dr. Christine Becker from Notre Dame, and Dr. Lori Morimoto, an independent scholar, to prepare a brief statement about 1) how they conceptualize praxis, and 2) how they incorporate praxis into their scholarship, teaching, activism, etc. The statements were followed by an informal conversation moderated by Dr. Suzanne Scott and Jacqueline Johnson and a broader Q&A session with the attendees. The questions we sent each panelist to prompt their approach to the panel are listed below:

Rountable Questions

  1. What does praxis mean to you? How have you worked to incorporate praxis into your scholarship, teaching, activism, etc.. What are some of the challenges you have encountered? What have been some of your successes?
  2. Though many people in the field of media studies do want to create more accessible work for the public be that op-eds, podcasts, or blogs, many find it difficult to devote time to these activities, especially when the metrics employed within the tenure process continue to devalue them. What are some strategies that you all have implemented to confront these challenges?
  3. What potentials and limitations do you see for incorporating social media use and engagement within the classroom and for communicating our own research to the broader public?
  4. Can you discuss your philosophy on approaching citational practices? How have you worked to incorporate more marginalized voices into your reference lists and class syllabi? How do you grapple with or adapt scholarly citation practices to multimodal or public-facing work?

Field Notes from FLOW 2018: Preservation, Praxis, and Precarity

FLOW 2018 logo
After celebrating our 10th anniversary in 2016, we took a moment to look back and take stock of the changes in television and new media over the course of the conference’s run. This year, we turned our attention to three key areas that can easily be overlooked in our field of study: precarity, preservation, and praxis. We hope that this year’s conference provided a space for our intellectual community to take account of the obstacles we face as media scholars, educators, archivists, and activists, and to strategize collectively and productively about how we will work through these challenges in the years to come. What follows is a collection of field notes solicited from conference organizers. These abbreviated pieces synthesize key takeaways and offer insights on themes running throughout various panels.

Field Notes

  1. Investigating Programming Structures & Content through Nostalgia or Cycles
  2. Sports Media
  3. Bodies, Gender, and Queer Media
  4. Media Preservation
  5. Representation and Identity

Investigating Programming Structures & Content through Nostalgia or Cycles
by Margaret Steinhauer

Many industrially-focused panels at this year’s conference discussed television’s nostalgic (or cyclical) turns in content and programming structures. Perhaps the nostalgia that permeated much of the conference should also be examined in terms of its cyclical nature, as television routinely revisits successful strategies. Is nostalgia the root cause of the cycle, or a guise to attract audiences to similar content with less risk for networks and content creators? For instance, several speakers at “Remakes & Reboots: The Value of Mining Television’s Past” remarked on the ideological audience re-framing employed by television reboots like Fuller House, Gilmore Girls, and Murphy Brown. While phenomena like the post-network era and the second Golden Age percolate in scholarly discourses, how much of this “new” television is comprised of recycled structures?

This provocation returned in the following days at both “But What About Flow?” roundtables. In the first, we saw the extension of flow-like sequences applied to non-traditional television contexts like social media, online streaming platforms, and web series. Increasingly, these content sequences are not limited to the confines of their respective platforms, but connect to users’ daily activities through convergence and transmedia. Digital flow sequences are simultaneously always on and ephemeral, adding to the difficulties in analyzing their development and effects. In part two, focused on analog forms, the speakers and audience discussed the industrial motivations for flow-based structures, again returning to the notion of affective reflections or industrial strategy, and how the two are interwoven in television history. Additionally, what does such an understanding reveal about the ideological underpinnings of television production and its contextual histories? Through this return to television’s past, scholars are better equipped to ask how television will continue to develop in the face of changing distribution outlets, and assess why many of television’s competitors seek to recreate its norms. [page up]

Sports Media at FLOW 21018
by Brett Siegel

One need look no further than President Trump’s late-night Twitter barbs with professional athletes to see that we are clearly in the midst of a compelling moment for sports media, as well as a particularly generative context for those who study it. This year’s Flow Conference featured a pair of enlightening panels on the subject, investigating the complicated relationships between sports leagues, teams, and players all linked by varying degrees to media conglomerates, networks, and personalities. These intersections provide a productive outlet for examining the industrial formations of the contemporary sports-media complex, as well as the contested cultural meanings produced through its everyday procedures and practices. For instance, the panel on the Precarity, Preservation, and Praxis of Sports Media Labor raised questions about the impact of unequal opportunities and resources in determining the flow of athletes across national borders and competitive organizations. Similarly, the panel on the Sports Television Personality considered the circumscribed agency of an inherently raced and gendered journalist such as Jemele Hill in negotiating the professional expectations of an overarching corporation with the intensified imperatives of social justice. Both panels sought to rupture the false binary between sports and politics, illuminating the subtle operations of power that value certain sports, performances, and discourses above others and reconstitute these hierarchies through sports media programming and partnerships. Whether approaching these issues from the vantage point of a profit-oriented institution, a set of media texts, or an individual sports celebrity, the evolution of modern mediated sport and its ideological opportunities and consequences represent an exciting space for future research. The sports media panels at this year’s Flow Conference indicate that this endeavor is well under way. [page up]

Bodies, Gender, and Queer Media at FLOW 2018
by Kathy Cacace

A constellation of panels throughout the Flow conference helped make visible the connection between the precarity of certain forms of human (and nonhuman) life and the difficulties of preserving evidence of embodied cultural forms in traditional archives. “Preserving Pornographic Media,” convened by Desirae Embree, helped to highlight the continuing difficulty of preserving pornographic media, driven both by institutional and cultural taboos around embodied sexuality and the ephemerality of the media itself. “Flowing Forms, Pt. 1: Real Bodies” and “Flowing Forms, Pt 2: Virtual Bodies,” convened by Jennifer Lynn Jones, asked “how media and bodies affect each other,” and panelists wrenched open definitions bodies and life to consider provocative commonalities between the human and nonhuman, the virtual and the flesh, the mechanical and the biological, cyborg and bacterial, and human bodies of color, of size, and of different nationalities, probing the ethics owed to matter in its many forms. The “Queer Forms” panel convened by Curran Nault helped to unearth the queer bodies routinely excluded from or hidden within media archives, considering both repressive transnational contexts, historical media forms, and animated media. The theme of bodily precarity resonated with the conference concerns, prompting media scholars to consider the transience of life itself and the deeply moving potential for media to circulate and preserve embodied forms of difference—if preserved. [page up]

Media Preservation at FLOW 2018
by Eric Forthum

As one of the core themes of the 2018 Flow Conference, media preservation was a widely discussed topic over our three days of panels. The most prominent conversation surrounded the benefits and drawbacks of physical and digital media artifacts, platforms, and services. Especially as academic scholars grapple with the precarious job market, media scholars also face difficulties in acquiring and exhibiting media that has become increasingly scarce in its availability and affordability. Media conglomerates are strongly valuing their intellectual property and protecting against unlawful or widespread distribution of valuable media, so preservation has become an activist, highly individualized, and expensive task. While there are local organizations such as the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) or the Northeast Historic Film archive which attempt to preserve older home videos and films, there are limited resources available for those that want to preserve digital media housed on websites and other closed platforms. The conversations at various Flow panels ranged from how media platforms frequently cycle out old content in favor of the new, without much consideration for how obscured or difficult-to-find some media might become as a result; how we might find or further preserve daytime or other marginalized programming from the pre-digital era; how pornographic media is highly digitized and often misogynistic in what is privileged for preservation; and how sports media’s precarious existence and the oft-feminized labor surrounding it are important ideological issues. Preservation also remains an institutional issue for entities such as the Library of Congress, as conversions to DVDs or digital copies become a contested issue with regards to long-term viability. As we look ahead to a media landscape that increasingly aims to provide access to products rather than ownership of individual artifacts, media preservation will likely become more difficult and uncertain in a predominantly digital era. [page up]

Representation and Identity at FLOW 2018
by Nathan Rossi

Across three days of roundtables at FLOW 2018, current contentions in U.S. and global politics and culture had a clear influence on numerous panelists’ thoughts and provocations concerning representation and identity in media. Panelists on the “Media(ted) Archives” roundtable discussed the gendering of bad objects, such as video games, soap operas, and gossip and how the masculinization or feminization of these media texts informs their worth in archival practices. Given social movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, Lamiyah Bahrainwala’s intervention that gossip needed to be taken more seriously as a form of archive-building was particularly compelling.

The “Latinx Representation in Hollywood” panel on Friday afternoon raised several important questions about why visible progress for Latinxs in mainstream media industries remains behind other marginalized groups. Collectively the panelists contended that the industry’s construction of Latinx audiences needs to be problematized. Diana Leon-Boys examination of Elena of Avalor (2016-) pointed to how Disney has often used representation in their animated programming as a “testing ground” for the rest of their conglomerate empire. Response to animated representation has often instructed future representation in their live action media, which demonstrated just one example of the multiple stages of Latinx audience construction.

Finally, two Saturday panels worth noting for their contribution to discussions regarding representation and identity were “Aesthetics and Anxieties: Contemporary Dystopian Television” and “Considering Contemporary Television’s Ideological Power.” The former emphasized how recent dystopian television has represented the fears of white liberalism, which are more often than not, fears that marginalized people are already facing. Panelist Mychal Shanks’ presentation of a whiteness spectrum of dystopian shows where The Walking Dead (AMC, 2010-) and The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu, 2017-) landed at the “most white” end and Netflix’s 3% (2016-) appeared towards the “least white” end elicited a particularly strong response from the audience. The latter panel’s considerations of the intersection between post-racial television ideology, hipster racism, and the recent genre of what Taylor Nygaard and Jorie Lagerwey (2017) have called Horrible White People shows was particularly illuminating because it reinforced the pitfalls of colorblind casting. [page up]

Special Issue CFP – Sports Media: Tensions and Transitions

sports collage

FlowTV Special Issue
Sports Media: Tensions and Transitions
Submission Deadline Monday, October 5

Please distribute widely

As the NFL bans players from Tweeting on the sidelines and the NCAA bans fans’ unofficial Facebook recruitment pages, it is clear that players, fans, leagues, and media institutions are struggling to maintain control in changing mediated sports environments. Yet it is not just new media that is both enhancing and threatening the relationship between athletic institutions, media industries and fan communities. Major transitions have also occurred in traditional media like television and radio with the 30th anniversary of ESPN’s Sportscenter, and online audio and video available for seemingly every major sport worldwide. Although sports and mass media have a well-established symbiotic relationship, media studies has been slow to embrace sport as a legitimate or significant object of study; this is a negligence that Flow seeks to remedy. Questions to consider might include:

  • How have fan experiences been transformed by transitions from radio to television, network to cable, and television to the internet?
  • How have the games, players, fans, and leagues been transformed by these media developments?
  • What of other technological developments such as screens in arenas, ballparks and stadiums?
  • What is the social significance of fans’, players’, coaches’ and leagues’ use of social media technologies such as Twitter, Facebook, iPhones, and blogging?
  • How do all of these developments change the fan experience and notions of fandom? And how do these developments contribute to athletes’ ability to construct and promote their own celebrity image?
  • Should players be given a voice via personal blogs or Twitter and what does it mean when leagues regulate and silence these voices?
  • What happens to traditional gatekeeping roles when fans become the experts and journalists are bypassed by amateur coverage and footage?
  • How have discourses and representations of gender, race, class, sexuality, and ethnicity progressed (or not) over the decades?
  • How do advertisers, journalists, and leagues reinforce rigid constructs and representations of “the athlete” and “the fan”?

We encourage submissions that highlight and critically analyze contemporary or historical tensions between sports leagues, media industries, technological developments, fans, athletes, representations, and/or significant case studies. We welcome submissions which address any sport, American or International, professional and amateur from tennis and golf, to rugby and hockey, to college football and professional basketball. Flow has a longstanding policy of encouraging non-jargony, highly readable pieces and ample incorporation of images and video. Please send submissions (attached as a Word doc) of between 1000-1500 words to Co-Coordinating Editors Alex Cho and Jacqueline Vickery no later than Monday, October 5, 2009.

Image Credits:

Collage by Jacqueline Vickery

Images used: Twitter/athletes , EA Sports Hockey, soccer fans, Stuart Scott on Sportscenter, Sooners Sam Bradford and Jermain Gresham, Professional tennis player Serena Williams, Becky Hammon of the WNBA, Olympic soccer players Heather Mitts and Melissa Wiik, Boston Red Sox pitcher, Olympic runner Liu Xiang, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.

SXSW: Vote for FlowTV’s Panels
Flow Editorial Staff

description goes here

Flow has two panels up for consideration for the South by Southwest Interactive conference. Help us out by heading over there and voting for us at the South By panel picker site! Setting up an account is very quick and easy and public voting is an essential part of the selection process (learn more about the selection process). And of course please comment if you have any feedback or might like to be involved in either of the panels.

1) Privacy in Public: The Social Significance of Social Media : From citizen journalists, to celebrity Twitterers, social media is reconstructing the meanings of what is public and what is private. With the success of our recent special issue on social media , Flow TV wants to extend our discussion of new media communications technology to a wider audience. This panel will explore the meaning of social media to broader issues of identity, community, social change and more, with an emphasis on how public and private spheres are being constructed and reconstructed in social media sites.

2) Hacking the Ivory Tower:
Who decides what to teach? Colleges and universities have long relied on print journals as annals of knowledge, but scholars are increasingly turning to web publishing as an alternative forum. Using the online journal FlowTV and digital scholarly network Media Commons as case studies, this panel explores how new media is changing the nature of institutionalized thought.

Special Issue: Social Media

media logos

Social Media Logos

In keeping with Flow’s dedication to publish timely articles we are excited to welcome you to our most recent Special Issue on Social Media. We use the term social media in the loosest way possible in order to account for all the various technologies which have created new ways for individuals to communicate, network, and share information with one another. Social media can include blogs, Twitter, social networking sites, wikis, Second Life, digg, Last.fm, FlickR, etc. and the technologies are being used by scholars, celebrities, journalists, and more. The editors of FlowTV sent out a call for submissions in which we asked the Flow community to address the ways social media are influencing politics, celebrity culture, journalism, public/private boundaries, distinctions between users and producers, and the ways in which social media are being gendered, racialized, classed, and policed.

We received an impressively high number of quality submissions and are excited to present this Special Issue. Based on the reoccurring themes found within the submissions, Twitter emerged as a hot topic at the moment – both within academia and mainstream media – and this issue offers several different perspectives concerning the uses of Twitter. Additionally, in this issue you will find articles about scholars and blogs, journalism and YouTube, cell phones and the classroom, race and FlickR, and much more.

As always, Flow aims to facilitate dialog among our readers and it is our hope that these articles provide jumping off points for further conversation and debate. Our intent is to present critical examinations which encourage our readers to continue to think critically about our current media landscapes.

Image Credits:
1. Social Media Logos

Top 10 TV Shows

As one might suspect when surveying myriad media scholars on their top television shows, we received submissions for all sizes, shapes, and genres: from Puppy Bowl IV to Charlie Rose, from The Young and the Restless to Chuck. Some striking trends: most scholars submitted a few well-known programs (whether in popular in scholarly discourse) and a few wild cards: Mad Men next to Househunters International, etc. We also noted the complete absence of several “hot” shows (True Blood, Californication, In Treatment) as well as the negligence of formerly-championed favorites (Grey’s Anatomy, Heroes, Desperate Housewives). Ultimately, the list illuminates the trend in recent television and media studies toward shows that demonstrate “narrative complexity” and engage the discourse of “quality TV.” The Daily Show and The Rachel Maddow Show are obvious exceptions — or are they? Commentaries on individual shows are extracted from initial responses and/or provided by Flow staff and alumni.

  1. (Tie for first) Mad Men and 30 Rock

    Mad Men
    It’s all about patience. Mad Men takes its sweet time building character arcs and turning points, spreading plot lines over multiple episodes in a tele-visual exercise in calm restraint and quiet revelation. And yet, for a show rooted in the oft-rehearsed ’50s and ’60s, Mad Men ‘s second season has proven anything but predictable. No less than a two dozen remarkable performances anchor the show; the female characters challenge, conform to, and defy expectations as they negotiate the crescendo towards Second Wave Feminism. Peggy’s season finale refusal, Joan pinned to the office floor, Betty still in her party dress, collapsing into herself on the bed in the fading light, the list of searing moments could fill the entire column. After Mad Men swept the Emmy’s, “heads rolled” at HBO, which had failed to option the pitch by show runner (and former Soprano‘s writer) Matthew Weiner. Here’s hoping they’ve learned their lesson.

    Mad Men and 30 Rock

    30 Rock
    It should come as no surprise that 30 Rock appears at the top of this list. After all, it’s a veritable treasure trove for media scholars. We write about it because Tina Fey and her character, Liz Lemon, have become intertwined to form a complex feminist icon. We investigate the series’ tendency to bite the hand that feeds through its flaunting and evisceration of GE/NBC/Universal/Sheinhardt Wig Company product integortion (integortion? No, that’s not right.) and synergy. And of course, we love 30 Rock because it is exhiliratingly and devastatingly hilarious. Sure, while it was gratifying to witness Tina Fey shoot to superstardom due to her Sarah Palin impression, it was simultaneously distressing to see 30 Rock resort to awkward guest spots in a bid for ratings. Still, a million somnambulistic appearances by a million bored Steve Martins wouldn’t be enough to suppress the boundless comic invention, screwball genius, and caustic wit of Fey and company (Evan Elkins).

  2. The Wire

    The critical refrain on Season 5 is simple: it was too outlandish, too vitriolic, and took the tremendous satirical turn of McNulty’s serial killer too far. It failed to live up to the full-court poignancy press that defined Season 4; it became too much of a mouthpiece for David Simon’s indictment of conglomerate journalism and city government. And while these complaints are well-heeded, Season 5 continued to offer the sort of complex storytelling and difficult characterization that have defined the series from its beginning. Several key story lines went out with a whimper instead of a narrative bang, further emphasizing Simon and Co.’s commitment to social realism and their defiance of the conventions of serial plotting. There are few more beautiful moments in the series than Snoop’s ultimate look in the mirror or a full-suited Marlo proclaiming his presence into the frigid night air. With its telegraphing of fates and neatly-placed doubles, some might consider the final episode too trim a conclusion for a series typified by open-ended ambivalence. But I left the series with a distinct sense of place, possibility, despair and doubt — in large part due to the suggestiveness of the finale. At this fall’s Flow Conference, we debated a consideration of The Wire as melodrama in the Peter Brooks’ conception of the term: a narrative that bestows characters with greater societal meanings in an attempt to render our world, in some fleeting way, morally legible. While The Wire doesn’t offer moral legibility as much as moral and social ambiguity, it does enact equally important tasks of classic melodrama: it portrays a harsh, unforgiving world, tackles social institutions, and sides with the disenfranchised. Ultimately, The Wire is melodrama for a post-urban America: in its extended look to the streets, docks, schools, and social chasms of one of America’s oldest and most troubled cities, it, at the very least, brought an formerly illegible world to light (Annie Petersen).

    The Wire

  3. Lost

    As flawed as it may be, the show should be praised for not having one single formula that it follows for each episode (a practice that is endemic on network TV, with the proliferation of procedurals that are basically weekly riffs on a central conceit). As each season expands the show’s diegetic world in both time and space, it is increasingly difficult to remember that the show started relatively simply with a bunch of people crash-landed on an island having flashbacks. Last season’s expansion practically requires that the creators constantly assure us that they have a master plan that will tie every bizarre tangent and conspiracy together, though one can’t help suspect that the show itself is one big socio-narrative experiment with Lindelof as the lead scientist and us as the subjects. I don’t think it would be too aggrandizing to refer to Lost as the best Experimental Television on television. (Elliot Panek)

  4. Pushing Daisies

    Unlike almost anything else out there, the show is festooned with quirk and whimsy, offering a storybook tale of magical realism and romance. It looks more stylish than anything else I’ve seen recently, and the cast is utterly charming, with extra praise for Anna Friel, who completely owns the screen whenever she’s on. It started strong in the ratings, dwindling a bit throughout the fall but still maintaining a healthy viewership. And then the writer’s strike hit, grounding the series in the midst of a cliff-hanger. ABC mismanaged the show post-strike, putting it on hiatus until the fall, then underpromoting it. With arguably the best production design in the history of television, it seems Pushing Daisies was too expensive – and too beautiful – to live (Jason Mittell).

  5. Pushing Daisies

  6. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

    Rather than search for “The Truth” behind media spin, Jon Stewart (and talented cast) continually call attention the fact that “The News” is not reality, but rather a representation of reality — a series of narratives spun from symbolic and material phenomena. The Daily Show‘s biting yet goofy critiques of the world of mediated politics asks us not to choose between “reality” and narrative, instead asking us which narratives we’d prefer: those that are humane, inclusive, and hopeful, or those that are xenophobic, exclusive, and hateful (David Uskovich).

  7. Battlestar Galactica

    Battlestar fans have taken an exciting, emotional ride over the last several years and, as the series wraps up its final season, creator Ronald D. Moore has given fans a reason to get excited again. While BSG seemed to be crawling towards a series finale involving the discovery of Earth, Moore apparently has other plans. Smack-dab in the middle of the season, Earth is found and not quite what it was cracked up to be. Fleet-wide morale is at an all time low and political dissention is in the works. Recent episodes have harkened back to an urgency and exhilaration found in early episodes such as “33” and “The Hand of God”. Other reasons why season 4 has rocked: Starbuck’s back bitches, Adama and Tigh are BFFs again, and Rosalind’s getting back into the ring to take down Zarek (Allen Lindig).

  8. Dexter

    Though in many ways a standard procedural drama, Dexter creates thrilling suspense via viewer identification with its morally contingent hero. Smartly written and often funny, this “quality” Showtime drama combines serious and sometimes graphic violence with a quick wit and the humor of everyday life. As we follow Dexter on his journey of self-discovery, our hopes that he might discover the endearing friend, brother, and lover within him conflict with the seriously disturbing idea of seeing glimpses of ourselves in a serial killer and the desire for the series to go on (Laura Jacquelyn Simmons).

  9. Dexter

  10. Friday Night Lights

    A small Texas town, a football team, a bunch of high school kids, a marriage. Sounds by turns quotidian and dreadfully cliche. Wrong. While many complained of Season Two’s melodramatic flourishes and flips, Friday Night Lights continues to offer poignant, nuanced, and understated portraits of life in working-class America. Nevermind that it’s filmed in Flow‘s beloved home of Austin, Texas – FNL gets at the heart of human existence. Sure, that’s a cliche in and of itself. But it’s the best way to describe this “Little Show That Could” — destined, it seems, to become another victim of NBC’s inability to appropriately market or program the quiet televisual gem

  11. The Rachel Maddow Show

    The Daily Show and The Colbert Report might be funnier. Countdown with Keith Olbermann might be more polemical. Yet Maddow, whose show debuted this year just in time to deliver intellectual, insightful, and inspired commentary on the Presidential election, manages to combine elements of all of them and still maintain a sense that this is the news, without resorting to outright parody or bombast. Furthermore, Maddow is an out lesbian and holds a doctorate, making her presence on the nightly news a genuine change from the old, straight, white men who have so long delivered America’s “essential” information (Peter Alilunas).

    Rachel Maddow

    Honorable Mentions:

  • Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!

    Whatever is said about Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! misses the point. Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have created an alternative “sketch”-“comedy” program, one so weird it will never be good even if it is the best, and most creative, show on television. It features the twisted half-ideas of un-charismatic anti-stars, men too ugly and too smart to be on TV. Its comedy is so uncomfortable that it would make Andy Kauffman nervous. The show’s best feature, however, is the haphazard mode of production; in mimicking the aesthetic of public access television, Heidecker and Wareheim have inserted a truly unique look into the cable-tv formula. Each episode lasts a mere eleven minutes, allowing the two friends to be concise and prolific; but be warned, watching more than one episode at a time may be dangerous to your health (Daniel Metz).

  • NCAA Football: University of Texas Longhorns vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders

    Televised sports garners huge ratings, has enormous fanbases, and is the very definition of unscripted entertainment—yet it receives virtually no critical praise for its frequent electrifying drama. This game, which featured the #1 ranked Longhorns versus the #5 ranked Red Raiders, was decided in literally the last second as the Red Raiders scored a touchdown on an improbable pass, catch, and run into the end zone. It was the most thrilling moment in all of televised sports this year—and yes, that includes anything by Michael Phelps (Peter Alilunas).

  • Crabtree’s winning catch

  • Breaking Bad:

    I’ll admit this show was off my radar screen until Bryan Cranston walked away with a well-deserved 2008 Emmy Award for best actor in a drama series. Indeed, the series – about a terminally ill chemistry teacher (Cranston) who starts cooking crystal meth for the sake of his family’s financial future – is an acting powerhouse. But the show’s most powerful draw is its innovative mix of dark comedy, melodrama, and morality play. Few other shows are willing to put all three modes into action simultaneously. Watching our protagonist and his druggie sidekick react to what happens after they mix a little acid with a dead body in an upstairs bathtub, for example, is, in equal parts, hilarious, disgusting, and, ultimately, sad. Weeds may have done it first, but Breaking Bad does it better (Kevin Sanson).

Image Credits:
1. 30 Rock and Mad Men
2. The Wire
3. Pushing Daisies
4. Dexter
5. Rachel Maddow
6. Crabtree’s winning catch

Please feel free to comment.

Top 10 Failures

Along with the major successes of 2008, we also wanted to make note of those technologies, media management strategies, business models, and football teams that fell far short of their intended mark. The following top ten is a bit of a how-not-to guide when it comes to regulating intellectual copyright, introducing a new media platform, or planning a resurgence of the comedy variety hour. While we received a few responses that included beloved shows that were cancelled (Pushing Daisies) or movies that didn’t quite live up to their hype (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), you will find few of these types of responses on the list. We found it difficult to define these items as failures, since cancelling unprofitable but interesting programs and producing mediocre but popular blockbusters is arguably in a network or studio’s best interest. Consequently, as these examples show, the way in which one defines failure (and for whom) bears major implications for the shape of such lists. Along with your thoughts about the members of this top ten, we invite you to share your opinions on our parameters for failure below. Are we too inclusive or exclusive? Are we focused too much on the commercial/industrial aspects of the media? Who and what are we ignoring?

  1. Sarah Palin

    The handling of Sarah Palin’s media image has proved a rich subject for Flow contributors and so we’ll forgo a lengthy discussion here. Instead, see our Sarah Palin Special Feature and Top 10 under 10: Election Edition.

  2. HD DVD

    In an echo of the Betamax/VHS rivalry, Blu Ray vanquished HD DVD early last year. In a February 19th press release, Toshiba, the company responsible for HD DVD, declared to discontinue the failing format:

    We carefully assessed the long-term impact of continuing the so-called ‘next-generation format war’ and concluded that a swift decision will best help the market develop. While we are disappointed for the company and more importantly, for the consumer, the real mass market opportunity for high definition content remains untapped and Toshiba is both able and determined to use our talent, technology and intellectual property to make digital convergence a reality. Atsutoshi Nishida, President and CEO of Toshiba Corporation.

  3. The Broadcast Networks

    CW is less than the sum of its parts and fading fast. NBC has gone from must-see-TV to flailing Heroes, reruns of Friday Night Lights, and Ford’s Knight Rider Hour. Of all its new shows this season, only Kath & Kim is really still going and soon, Jay Leno in his new spot will be five nights a week. (Shawn Shimpach)

  4. The Writers’ Strike

    While not a total failure, the strike was far from a complete success. In return for payment on downloaded and streaming materials, the WGA took losses in areas of DVD residuals, animation, and reality television. (Plus, now all of our current TV DVD box sets look awkward due to a skinny season.) Variety revisits the strike six months after negotiations ended. Flow also dedicated a special issue to the topic back in May 2008.

  5. RIAA

    The Recording Industry Association of America’s late-December announcement of its decision to abandon its practice of issuing mass lawsuits to illegal downloaders wasn’t so much a new failure as it was an acknowledgment of a practice that had been failing for a number of years. As the Wall Street Journal noted in a recent article, the RIAA has sued upwards of 35,000 people for downloading music since 2003, resulting in few visible results apart from a “public-relations disaster for the industry, whose lawsuits targeted, among others, several single mothers, a dead person and a 13-year-old girl“. The RIAA’s newest plan is supposedly based on cooperation with local Internet service providers in which the ISP will notify costumers in the event of an RIAA complaint and eventually lessen or deny their internet service if the file-sharing persists. To be sure, this is not without its own practical and moral issues, and it has been suggested all along (with ample evidence) that this announcement may not entail much more than lip service. However, if the RIAA continues its ineffectuality vis-a-vis piracy and its alienation of the common consumer through the recession, we might see the entire American music industry at the top of this list of failures in a few years. (Evan Elkins)

  6. The New England Patriots

    The 16-0 team remained largely undefeated in the 2008 playoffs to become the first 18-0 team in NFL history. Unfortunately for the Patriots, the one game they lost all year was the Super Bowl. Down 4 points with close to a minute left on the clock in the fourth quarter, Giant’s quarterback Eli Manning threw a 32-yard pass caught by David Tyree between his hands and his helmet. The yardage gain set up the Giant’s for the game-winning touchdown, forcing the Patriots to play an all-too-proud Goliath to the ultimate underdog. This caught the mainstream sports media (and everyone else) off guard, as ESPN et. al. assumed an undefeated Patriots run to the championship was inevitable. One week you bring Mercury Morris onto Sportscenter to compare New England to the undefeated 1972 Dolphins, the next week you have to completely reevaluate prevailing opinions about Eli Manning. C’est la NFL.
    No less remarkable than the Patriot’s last-minute failure to make good on boasts of invincibility was the Lion’s season-long inability to succeed. The first team in history to go 0-16, the Lion’s lost their last game of the season on December 28th against the Packers. (At least they will get first draft pick come April 25th.)

  7. The Seinfeld/Gates Ads for Microsoft

    There’s a lot of shoe flexing and jokes about how Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld (who got paid $10 million per spot) are richer than you, but very little about the products they’re supposed to promote. The $300 million dollar ad campaign designed to combat Apple’s marketing juggernaut and plug Vista after sluggish sales left many people bored and confused. Microsoft’s decision to pull the ads after a short time in order to enter what it mysteriously termed “phase 2” of its advertising strategy only fueled the media frenzy ridiculing the ads and sparked off rumors about Microsoft’s relevancy to contemporary consumers.

  8. Circuit City

    While the major electronics company officially announced its bankruptcy on January 16th of this year, it floundered dramatically in the last months of 2008. November alone saw the closing of over 150 stores across the nation. Later in December, the retail giant was granted permission to begin spending a $1.1 billion loan that ultimately proved insufficient to save dropping sales numbers and mounting debt.

  9. The Rosie Variety Hour

    Yet another attempt at revamping the 70s variety hour format (Hello, Nick and Jessica Variety Hour), The Rosie Variety Show failed to profit either from 70s nostalgia or Rosie’s appeal to daytime television audiences. The show unsuccessfully presented watered down stand-up (it’s okay to talk about how cute kids are during a daytime talk show, but an evening special is a time to put the kids to bed early). Furthermore, the onslaught of NBC guest stars turned the show into a marathon network infomercial. If I only wanted to watch the stars of 30 Rock, I would watch the series. And I will leave on the same note that The Rosie Variety Show did: Gloria Estefan singing as Rachel Ray dances across the set with a giant turkey (enough said). (Tiff Henning)

  10. Satellite Radio merger between Sirius and XM

    As one of our contributors puts it, “Never mind monopoly, this was too little, too late, too expensive, and too restrictive–why not avoid the hassle and stream internet radio over your iPhone? Plus XMU went considerably lame as a result.” (Shawn Shimpach)

Image Credits:g>
1. Front Page Image

Top 10 Under 10: 2008 Election Edition

Flow‘s original plan was to just post the “Top 10 Under 10” as one category. As we were tallying the votes and trying to narrow down our list, we realized there were an overwhelming number of election-related videos on people’s lists and we thus decided to separate our “Top 10 Under 10” into two distinct categories – election and non-election videos. Here are some of the most memorable, humorous, emotional, and politically charged videos from the 2008 Election Cycle.

  1. Obama’s Victory Speech

  2. Sarah Palin/Tina Fey SNL skits


  3. Kristen Schaal on The Daily Show
  4. “Prop 8, the Musical”

  5. “Talk to Your Parents About McCain”

  6. Letterman and McCain

  7. Jon Stewart and Mike Huckabee
  8. Ellen Degeneres and John McCain on Gay Marriage

  9. Wassup 2008


  10. You Can Vote However You Like


Image Credits:
1. Front Page Image

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Top 10 Under 10

In recognition of the increasing blurriness between television, the Internet, and other new media, we asked the Flow community to send us their favorite under-ten-minute clips or viral videos of the past year. After all, how else might we accurately classify phenomena such as Tina Fey doing Sarah Palin, Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” or Vince hawking the Slap-Chop? Certainly each has a traditional home on TV, but we’d wager that we can’t simply think of these as TV-only texts. We purposefully kept this category open-ended;we received a huge variety of responses. Below are the most popular, weirdest, or just plain funniest. It is significant to note that many of your responses had to do with the 2008 election, demonstrating just how effective certain practices of remediation are in shaping popular discourse. We split these into their own list in order to make room for those that might otherwise go without comment.

  1. “I’m Fucking Matt Damon”

  2. Nike “Leave Nothing – Fate,” Directed by David Fincher

  3. “Take On Me,” Literal Version

  4. “Western Spaghetti”

  5. Slap-Chop

  6. “Toby y Sheila”

  7. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog


    Available at: http://drhorrible.com/index.html and on Hulu

  8. Bert & Ernie do “Ante Up”

  9. The Various Appearances of “Spaghetti Cat”

  10. Bill O’Reilly Freaks Out (and Dance Remix)

    Honorable Mentions:

  • Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade gets Rick Roll’d

  • Opening Credits for True Blood

Please feel free to comment.

Top 10 Video Games

In compiling a list of the top ten video games for 2008, we were pleased to notice the diversity of games mentioned by staffers and community members. While this list is as contestable as any, it includes a number of “casual games,” which are too frequently left out in greatest hits roundups. While Grand Theft Auto IV and several other well-known franchises populate this listing, we were struck by the inclusion of not only Rock Band 2, but Little Big World, Lexulous (formerly Scrabulous), and Spore — all games which have hit an audience outside the set of core consumers for video games. According to recent numbers from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 53% of all Americans age 18 or older play video games with some regularity, as do some 97% of American teenagers ((http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1048/video-games-adults-are-players-too)). Gaming is approaching ubiquity among the younger generations, and becoming commonplace even among the oldest generations. The mixed-genre nature of most of the video game lists submitted to Flow is reflective of the growing diversity of games, and, perhaps of the people who play them.

  1. Grand Theft Auto IV

    Rockstar North launched the fourth generation of their highly successful Grand Theft Auto series with Grand Theft Auto IV, the first console game in the GTA series to feature an online multiplayer mode. The game has become one of the most critically and commercially successful games in history, setting single day and sevens day sales records. And, while GTA remains a flashpoint for moral guardians, it’s usually at least as smart as it is violent.

    Grand Theft Auto IV

  2. Fallout 3

    Widely compared to 2007’s BioShock, the role-playing game Fallout 3 backons players into a monstrous world rendered in exquisite, horrifying detail. Billed as “America’s first choice in post nuclear simulation,” the game is set in 2277, two centuries after the nuclear war that devastated the planet, and 36 years after Fallout 2. The not-so-subtle nods to classic Cold War paranoia and culture create an aesthetic that’s somewhere between sinister and nostalgic.

    Fallout 3

  3. Rock Band 2

    The second game in the Rock Band series presents some key refinements over the first game, and continues to be so generally appealing as to make all those expensive peripherals seem worth it.

    Rock Band 2

  4. Gears of War 2

    An action movie of a video game, Gears of War 2 offers one of the best examples of the first-person shooter genre, building on the success of the series’s first installment with a deeper plot, richer characters and additional modes of play.

    Gears of War 2

  5. Little Big Planet

    The charming graphic environment of a href=”http://www.littlebigplanet.com”>Little Big Planet, filled with nods to a culture of handicrafts, masks what is perhaps the most innovative game released last year. The game contains a powerful suite of content creation tools open to users, many of whom have created levels of surprising sophistication.

    Little Big Planet

  6. Dead Space

    Put simply, Dead Space puts players on a spaceship full of zombies. The game is steeped in sci-fi: The living dead on the ship are the result of an alien microbe that reanimates the dead, protagonist Isaac Clarke is named for Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, and throughout, the game draws heavily on thematic elements from Solaris. While much of the gameplay of Dead Space is standard, the story elements are a standout, probably owing at least in part to the involvement of Warren Ellis.

    Dead Space

  7. Lexulous

    A web-based version of classic word game Scrabble, Scrabulous allowed play via a number of outlets, including the social networking site Facebook. Originally launched in 2005, Scrabulous was nearly killed dead in 2008 by copyright infringement lawsuits. But, following a ruling that they retained the right to post the game online but not the right to use any Scrabble-derived names, creators Rajat Agarwalla and Jayant Agarwalla re-launched the popular game as Lexulous in September.


  8. Wii Sports

    While originally launched in 2005, Wii Sports became the best-selling game of all time in 2008, which is no surprise, considering that its become ubiquitous everywhere from college dorms to retirement communities. Intended to reach a potential audience of people who had not played video games before, the success of the game has been multifold, not only roping in a previously untapped consumer market, but also helping to make the Wii a must-have item.

    Wii Sports

  9. Fold ItFold.It

    Inviting visitors to “solve puzzles for science,” the Fold.It site harnesses players’ creative energies for the task of helping predict protein structures. Eventually, the games’ designers hope to use the game to work towards research into cures for HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, and various cancers. While the game is still in beta, and scientists may or may not ultimately decide that human players are better than computerized ones, the concept represents a fascinating approach to research and an interesting exploration of productive applications of “play.”

    Fold It

  10. Spore

    Truly massive in scope, Spore is a single-player online metaverse game that lets players build a species, which begins as a single-cell organism, then develops into intelligent life, and eventually becomes a complex civilization with a penchant for interplanetary travel. While the game demands a certain amount of creativity on the part of players, the most interesting aspect of the game is its mass scale – a casual game taken to seductive extremes.


  • Honorable Mention:

    Lego Batman

    The compulsively playable licensed game is full of clever graphics and engaging animated sequences that make it appealing for adults and children alike, while the mix of puzzles, platforming, and combat provides lots of opportunities for collaborative play. Or, as Flow columnist Jonathan Gray put it: “The Lego series are wonderful, some of the only games with cut sequences worth watching.”

    Lego Batman

Image Credits:
1. Grand Theft Auto IV
2. Fallout 3
3. Rock Band 3
4. Gears of War 2
5. Little Big Planet
6. Dead Space
7. Lexulous
8. Wii Sports
9. Fold It
10. Spore
11. Lego Batman

Please feel free to comment.

“Top 10” Lists

We asked. You voted.

With the Oscars just around the corner, Flow decided it was time to do some voting of our own. We emailed recent Flow columnists as well as participants from the 2008 Flow Conference and asked them to submit their “Top 10 of 2008” lists. Categorical suggestions included: TV (network or cable), international TV, video games, video clips under 10 minutes (on-air, off-air, whatever!), and failures (open category, but at least loosely related to media). While there was no exact science to our tallying, we attempted to weight votes according to responses and popularity. We also included brief commentary from some of our recent columnists, editorial staff, and conference participants about their respective “Top 10” picks.

The Lists:
Top 10 TV Shows
Top 10 Under 10
Top 10 Under 10: Election Edition
Top 10 Failures
Top 10 Video Games

What Got Left Out

A developing goal of the Flow editors is to promote FlowTV as a place for dialogue regarding international television texts and contexts. Initially, the Flow Staff had the intention of formulating a Top 10 list of international television programming. Unfortunately, our own lack of knowledge of international television, compounded by a less-than-overwhelming response from the Flow community, forced us to make the decision to forgo an International Television Top 10 List.

In light of this decision, many of the issues regarding the study of international television in the United States academy are brought to the fore. Aside from internationally-based scholars and international research projects, how can the study of international television be conducted from a domestic local? This brings up issues regarding not only accessibility, but also how we define international television. With satellite television offering a multitude of channels that offer programs produced outside the United States, how do we begin to draw the line between United States television and international television? Do we base it on where it is produced? Or on the location of those who are watching? We also need to consider the multitude of non-English channels offered through satellite. Language undeniably plays a large role in the ways we categorize U.S. and International television and how only-English speaking scholars can or cannot study certain texts. From the small response we did receive for this poll, UK broadcasters – mainly the BBC — were behind all of the programs nominated (which included Doctor Who, Skins, and The Apprentice as the only overlapping nominations).

These issues – particularly regarding language – bring up the underlying power dynamics in the study of international television in the U.S.. Lastly, in hindsight, our request presented a scope for a top ten list that was incredibly wide. For even if we were to receive a vast amount of nominations of programs produced and aired around the world, the ability for us to create a list from your votes would be challenging and would surely favor English-speaking programming (basing this assumption from the responses we did receive).

After posing these issues and questions, we want to open up these debates to the Flow Community. Please feel free to email us or comment below with your ideas regarding how to approach an internationally-focused Top 10 list in the future.

Image Credits:
1. Front Page Image

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