The Labor of Transformation: Spaces of Feminine Imperfection in YouTube Makeup Tutorials
Elizabeth Affuso / Pitzer College

An “average” makeup tutorial on YouTube

With the proliferation of “how to” videos on YouTube, the make-up tutorial has sprung up as one of the most popular—and profitable—video forms. These videos provide detailed real-time instruction about how to create make-up looks that invite viewers to learn new skills via imitation. The mode of recording utilized by makeup tutorials creates an intimacy of space that is fostered not only by the intimacy of YouTube, but also by entering the domestic spaces of vloggers and sharing in the private act of putting on make-up. This exposure of private space via the digital serves as a exposé of the imperfect spaces of the domestic—both bodily and spatial—that is in contrast to the cultivated spaces of public perfection trafficked in places like Pinterest or on blogs like GOOP. In the tutorials, the exposé of labor on display serves to produce an expectation of labor by making perfection accessible to all by teaching viewers how to mask failure through makeup.

One of the central elements of YouTube’s online culture is the video blog or vlog. Of vlogs, Jean Burgess and Joshua Green have stated, “Not only is the vlog technically easy to produce, generally requiring little more than a webcam and basic editing skills, it is a form whose persistent direct address to the viewer inherently invites feedback.” [ (( Jean Burgess and Joshua Green, “The Entrepreneurial Vlogger: Participatory Culture Beyond the Professional-Amateur Divide,” in The YouTube Reader, eds. Pelle Snickars and Patrick Vonderau (Stockholm: National Library of Sweden, 2009) 89-107, 94. ))] This webcam—or increasingly mobile phone or digital camera—based mode of recording is inherently well suited for makeup tutorials as the frame provides a reflection akin to that of the mirror, creating a sort of screen mirror that allows viewers at home to easily follow along by setting their laptops or phones on their own vanities to mirror in their own mirrors what they see onscreen. The makeup tutorials invite viewers to learn new skills via imitation and privilege the peer-to-peer sharing that is a hallmark of the new media moment, where expertise has shifted from professional experts to amateurs.

Sam Chapman’s real-time makeup routine on YouTube

Makeup tutorials are typically longer than the average YouTube video unfolding in about 10 minutes or the real time it takes to complete a look on the assumption that viewers will be working along with the vlogger; pausing when more time is needed or playing back when they don’t catch something the first time. The structure of the videos also teaches viewers the appropriate order to apply make-up (base, eyes, cheeks, lip) and this consistency of structure allows for easy moving about the video for viewers who only want one part of the look. These videos cover a multitude of topics from how to perfect a smoky eye to how to solve “problems” such as acne or dark circles. Tutorial topics are often motivated by community feedback with viewers requesting tutorials from vloggers using the feedback functions that are built into YouTube, creating the intimacy that Burgess and Green point to. In the case of these videos, the intimacy is not only fostered by the intimacy of YouTube, but also the intimacy of the actions in question: entering the private space of the vloggers and sharing in the private act of putting on make-up. As Sam Chapman of vlog duo PixiWoo has stated, viewers “see the imperfections disappear as you go through the video.” [ (( Ella Bukhan, “’We’re Not exactly Gisele’: YouTube stars Pixiwoo on why anyone can be beautiful,”, 3 Feb 2014, ))] This act of watching the imperfections disappear in seemingly real time is arguably one of the main pleasures of makeup tutorials. Rather then relishing in the shock and awe transformations of the before and after, as is characteristic of makeover television or stars without makeup features in tabloids and on gossip blogs, makeup tutorial videos use the act of transformation as their currency thus performing the hidden labor that produces aspirational beauty. In fact, with their long runtimes, they almost diminish the importance of the reveal, relishing instead the labor of transformation itself. It is this labor that becomes the spectacle.

Faith Hill
“Photoshop of Horrors” from featuring Faith Hill’s Redbook cover [ (( Moe, “Here’s Our Winner!, ‘Redbook’ Shatters Our ‘Faith’ in Well, Not Publishing, But Maybe God,”, 16 Jul 2007, ))]

Showcasing this hidden labor is not designed to be part of a feminist project of resistance as we see with things like “Photoshop of Horrors” on Jezebel, where the exposé of labor is designed to show the impossibility or the fallacy of the image on display as an act of resisting, but rather these videos show the hidden labor as inspirational. As if once you know how to do it, you have no more excuses for why you can’t. This is especially true for women who have historically been left out or been marginalized by the editorial content of mainstream beauty magazines. Vloggers come in all races, shapes, and sizes to instruct the masses of women about how to create the perfect cat eye regardless of your eye shape or complexion. Vlogging culture creates a kind of uber customization of the beauty industry, but this seeming diversity belies the truth that most of these videos are ultimately asking women to aspire to the same feminine beauty standards. As scholar Elizabeth Nathanson has noted, “By demonstrating how to create a range of makeup looks, they perform their expertise for the masses, promising to democratize glamour and style by teaching others, while simultaneously establishing strict standards for appropriate femininity.” [ (( Elizabeth Nathanson, “Dressed for Economic Distress: Blogging and the ‘New’ Pleasures of Fashion.” in Gendering the Recession: Media and Culture in the Age of Austerity, ed. Diane Negra and Yvonne Tasker (Duke: Duke University Press, 2014) 136-160, 150. ))] The makeup tutorials show off the imperfections and note them as a feminine norm, but enunciate that imperfection is not an excuse for not adhering to the beauty standards of postfeminist consumer culture.

Diverse approaches to feminine beauty standards

In their showcasing of the labor of beauty, these videos also serve a secondary purpose of showcasing the intimate spaces of domesticity. The videos are primarily set in the spaces where women put on makeup, namely bedrooms and bathrooms. These are not the powder rooms or living rooms that represent the public spaces of houses, but rather the private spaces that only intimates are typically granted access to. I would argue that one of the great pleasures of YouTube is the access it grants you to these spaces that become more and more off limits to adults. The settings of these videos then reflect the real-life domestic spaces of their makers. These are not the hyper-stylized spaces of lifestyle blogs and Pinterest inspiration boards, but rather real lived spaces with their own imperfections about them. Makeup tutorials relish the imperfection of the postfeminist experience—so you dropped some makeup on the white duvet, no problem; you messed up your eyeshadow, then take it off, rewind, and try again. These images are notably not edited out or re-shot by the makers, but rather left in to show off the imperfection inherent to both the labor of transformation and the labor of making.

Image Credits:
1. “Here’s Our Winner!, ‘Redbook’ Shatters Our ‘Faith’ in Well, Not Publishing, But Maybe God,”

Please feel free to comment.

Saving New Sounds: Podcasts and Preservation
Jeremy Wade Morris / University of Wisconsin-Madison


Golden Age of Podcasts for Everyone!

We are, as commentators have noted, in the midst of a “Golden Age of Podcasts”; a moment where the choice for quality digital audio abounds, and where new voices and listeners connect daily through earbuds, car stereos, home speakers or office computers. Depending on how you define it, podcasting is either just over 10 years old, more than 20 years old, or merely the latest soundwave in radio’s much longer history. [ ((Bottomley, Andrew J. (2016) “Internet Radio: A History of a Medium in Transition.” [Dissertation] Order No. 10154207. The University of Wisconsin – Madison. ProQuest Dissertations.))] However you date it, in the decade since 2004 when the term “podcasting” was inadvertently coined the format has exploded: there are now over 300,000 podcasts and 8 million episodes in over 100 languages, with new ones launching every day. [ ((Hammersley, Ben. (2004, February 12). “Audible Revolution.” The Guardian. Section T1. Accessed July 13, 2007]

Given how ubiquitous and available podcasts are, you might assume they would not face the same preservation risks as, say, old radio tape reels, transcription discs or celluloid film stock. Podcasts are largely free and their near-instant availability on multiple devices makes them seem as if they are in endless supply. They take up relatively few megabytes, which makes it easy to store a lot of them, and they are often available through multiple channels and aggregators (iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, etc.).

premium paywall

Author screenshot of the premium paywall for the WTF with Marc Maron podcast.

But podcasts are surprisingly vulnerable; podcast feeds end abruptly, cease to be maintained, or become housed in proprietary databases, like iTunes, which are difficult to search with any rigor. Many podcasts get put behind paywalls as they get popular, or as back catalogues become a potential source of revenue. Then there’s the precarity of the very platforms that help make up podcasting’s diffuse and sometimes DIY infrastructure: I recently heard from an independent podcaster who had been hosting their show via the file management app/website Dropbox, but once that company made significant changes to its “public folder” feature, the podcaster was left scrambling to find another solution for where to host their files (and had to return to older shows to update the URLs and locations of new files).

Dropbox public folder

Author screenshot of a contingent platform, from a Dropbox press release.

It’s not just under-resourced independent podcasters whose files are at risk though. Well-known Internet entrepreneur and former MTV VJ Adam Curry shares a similar story. In 2014, he sent out a tweet asking his 40,000+ followers a relatively straightforward question: “Looking for a full archive of Daily Source Code mp3s.” The podcast he was trying to track down, the Daily Source Code, was an early (2004), and relatively popular podcast, that helped shaped the emerging format. It was an odd request, in some ways, since Curry was the creator, host and producer of the Daily Source Code (which ran from 2004-2013 and over 860 episodes). It’s not entirely clear what happened to Curry’s original copies of the shows; but it’s clear he doesn’t have them: “For a number of [stupid and careless] reasons, I am not in possession of most of these.” [ ((Curry, Adam (2014, January). “The Daily Source Code Archive Project: Bringing The DSC Back”. [blog] Accessed October 22, 2016] If the very people producing these new artifacts of audio culture aren’t necessarily saving their work, who is?

Adam Curry

Author screenshot of a tweet by Adam Curry looking for archives of his own show.

Of course, we can’t fault Curry for not saving the shows. If you’ve ever produced a podcast, you know that just getting the audio up and running, day after day, week after week, is accomplishment enough. There are countless hosts, producers and engineers without the foresight, budgets or means to label, store and archive their audio. Also, because of the mundane nature of a lot of podcasts, many podcasters probably do not realize the audio they are making is shaping the early stages of this emerging format, and doing so in a way that media historians, scholars and hobbyists might later want to analyze, research, teach and reference.

Unfortunately, we know this from precedent. Much of radio’s history has been lost to vagaries of time and only now are we starting to make sense of what we’re missing. The Radio Preservation Taskforce, for example, is working hard to try and preserve what remains of radio’s past, but claims that close to 75% of historical radio recordings in the U.S. have already been lost, destroyed, or are otherwise inaudible. The numbers are similar, if not worse, for silent films.

Podcasts might be newer than pre-1975 radio, and more digital and accessible than silent films, but this alone doesn’t ensure their continued existence. We are deep enough into our experiences with technologies like the world wide web, spinning disc hard drives, and error 404s to know that digital objects bring new challenges for saving, locating and retrieving data over time. [ ((Brügger, Neils (ed.). 2010. Web History. New York: Peter Lang))] Thankfully, sites like The Internet Archive are addressing some of these challenges, and providing new tools for thinking through, and doing, digital histories. The Internet Archive also has a growing audio database, part of which is devoted to podcasts. There are also a number of libraries that are beginning to bolster their digital audio collections and to take podcasts seriously as a format that deserves attention and long-term stewardship.

For the last few years, I’ve been coordinating a revolving team of students, technicians and faculty (primarily Dr. Eric Hoyt), in order to build a site to preserve podcasts and make them more researchable for audio scholars and enthusiasts. You can try out the beta version of PodcastRE (short for Podcast Research) to search for keywords and metadata associated with the 240,000+ audio files and over 1300 podcast feeds. There are also several thousand interactive transcripts (thanks to the good folks at AudioSearch). It’s far from comprehensive, but it’s growing daily and it will, when it’s complete, make podcasts and other born-digital audio as easy to use and research as textual resources you’d find in a library. It’ll also create a repository for these often vulnerable and ephemeral media texts.

screenshot of PodcastRE

Author screenshot of, the beta version of the database we are building to help preserve podcasts and make them more useable for researchers.

Ultimately, we hope the database will allow media and sound researchers to ask questions about podcasts and podcasting: how do podcasts differ, sonically and aesthetically, from radio? What new voices and perspectives do podcasts make audible and which ones do they silence? In what ways are the traditional conventions of the broadcasting industry shaping this new outlet? How are producers and consumers reimagining the broadcasting in light of podcasts? But we’re also hoping researchers from a broad array of disciplines and fields will be able to use podcasts and audio as resources to address a wide range of humanistic and scientific questions.

Whether we’re in some new golden age of audio, or whether we’re just hearing the vibrations of radio reformatted, we can at least hopefully agree that podcasting is a vibrant and growing space for new kinds of listening publics. [ ((Berry, Richard. 2016. “Podcasting: Considering the evolution of the medium and its association with the word ‘radio’.” Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media 14 (1):7-22. doi: 10.1386/rjao.14.1.7_1.; Hilmes, Michele. 2013. “The New Materiality of Radio: Sound on Screens.” In Radio’s New Wave: Global Sound in the Digital Era, edited by Jason Loviglio and Michele Hilmes, 43-61. New York: Routledge.; Lacey, Kate. 2013. Listening Publics : The Politics And Experience Of Listening In The Media Age. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity Press.))] If so, you’d think we’d have a more comprehensive strategy for saving these new sounds than optimistically assuming podcast producers are keeping proper backup copies of their shows, or that platforms like Dropbox, iTunes or SoundCloud will continue to provide the same kinds of services for the foreseeable future.

By virtue of the fact they are taking part in a format’s infancy, today’s podcasters are making history by default. What today’s podcasters are producing will have value in the future, if not for its content, but for it tells us about radio and audio’s longer history, about who has the right to communicate and by what means. [ ((Sterne, Jonathan, Jeremy Wade Morris, Michael Baker, and Ariana Moscote Freire. 2008. “The Politics of Podcasting.” Fibreculture (13). Available at] If we’re not making efforts to preserve podcasts now, we’ll likely find ourselves in the same sonic conundrum many radio historians now find themselves in: writing, researching and thinking about a past they can’t fully hear.

Luckily for Curry, shortly after his tweet for help, he discovered that a “super friend of the show” had a copy of the entire Daily Source Code archive and was uploading it and making to available to fans through Bit Torrent Sync. As with much of what we have left of radio’s golden age, fans and enthusiasts were helping rebuild the missing archive. As a result, one of podcasting’s first big shows wasn’t lost to time. The same can’t be said for many other feeds that have already disappeared and the many more that might if we don’t make preserving podcasts a priority.

Image Credits:

1. Golden Age of Podcasts for Everyone!
2. Author screenshot of the premium paywall for the WTF with Marc Maron podcast.(author’s screen grab)
3. Author screenshot of a contingent platform, from a Dropbox press release. (author’s screen grab)
4. Author screenshot of a tweet by Adam Curry looking for archives of his own show. (author’s screen grab)
5. Author screenshot of, the beta version of the database we are building to help preserve podcasts and make them more useable for researchers. (author’s screen grab)

Please feel free to comment.

Reflections of an Unintentional and Underqualified Social Media Micro-influencer
Lego Grad Student / Somewhere on the West Coast

LGS vignette

Checking his Twitter page, the grad student contemplates how many more people follow his account than will ever read his lifetime body of research

This “article” is an indirect result of a dark personal joke. [ (( I would put the word “article” in ten sets of quotation marks if it were typographically acceptable.))]

In the summer after my fifth year in a Ph.D. program, my dissertation work had hollowed out my soul. I sought a distraction from my feelings of despondence, only to realize an even harsher truth: I no longer had any hobbies, and I had lost my past sense of creativity. Not only was I failing at academia, but also at being a complete human being.

Feeling moderately hopeless, I took refuge in my childhood. I drove to a local LEGO Store and purchased a large $160 set that would have sent a younger me into some form of shock. (I had spent my entire childhood leveraging birthdays and holidays to slowly accumulate a five-gallon tub of LEGO pieces. The day I was forced to give my collection to some cousins was one of the sadder moments of my life.) Building the LEGO set gave me a childlike sense of joy and freedom I had not felt in months—if not years. [ (( Note that LEGO® is a trademark of the LEGO Group of companies which does not sponsor, authorize or endorse this written piece, my posts, or my social media accounts.))]

Dissatisfied with how quickly I built everything, I promptly tore apart the 2,300-piece set, as well as another 2,500-piece set I had purchased several years ago. With almost 5,000 pieces on hand and inspired by bathroom humor, I built a small scene of a mini-figure draped over a toilet. I wanted to keep building, so I decided to come up with a short story for why this nameless mini-figure ended up in this dire condition. The story was simple and uncomfortably familiar: A grad student is having trouble with his research, meets his advisor, and is crushed by his response (which led back to the first build). I constructed and took pictures of four additional scenes, each of which came with a dark and existential caption. [ (( I took these pictures using a glorified digital camera that I had previously purchased through a research grant. There is some poetic irony that.))]

Another LGS Vignette

The second thing I built: the grad student’s office

I found a strange sense of joy in seeing this collision of my childhood innocence and my adulthood cynicism. I posted these images and captions on my own Facebook page. My friends, many of them graduate students, suggested that I post them publicly. I subsequently opened several social media pages using the name “Lego Grad Student” (LGS), but harbored no expectations that anyone would see them.

Through an extraordinary stroke of luck, this personal joke called LGS now has almost 100,000 followers across all social media platforms, and I have been invited to write something for this special issue of Flow. I remain bewildered and grateful by this turn of events. People much more adept at social media say this makes me a “micro-influencer.” This term, as well as “brand,” were unsettlingly corporate words that highlighted how unfamiliar I was with social media. [ (( Given what little influence I felt I had with my dissertation committee, maybe “micro-influencer” is not a completely inaccurate term.))] I only used Facebook in my personal life, and I had never attempted to promote myself online.

As such, the last 16 months have been a jarring crash course in learning how I want to live in this completely unfamiliar realm. I will now pretend that I am thoughtful enough to reflect on these experiences. Apologies in advance to anyone, but particularly art and media studies students, that may find my discussion to be shockingly primitive.

A Change in Possession

LGS began as a private distraction and a semi-subconscious effort to wrestle with internal strife. Even so, it was clear that many people strongly related with the existential angst I captured in my posts, and that I was providing a source of solace to many academics that felt alone in their suffering. The comments and messages I read to this effect have been one of the most rewarding surprises of LGS.

At the same time, I have struggled with how to process this unexpected inflow of followers. My posts were no longer exclusively mine, but part of a collective experience. Because the posts were relatable on an emotional level, many people also seemed to feel a unique sense of ownership or connection with LGS. I was not prepared for this shift, and I initially felt new pressures to keep making new posts in order to appease the audience. I realize this may sound self-important, but it indicates my level of utter confusion when momentum began to build. It also attests to my own fears about striking a balance between my already busy academic life and a side project that was quickly threatening to get out of hand.

I ultimately made a very conscious choice to keep treating LGS as a personal hobby—something I am doing for myself that incidentally happens to provide solace to others. This seemingly ungracious philosophy is my attempt to prevent unforeseen social media success from undermining the original point and appeal of LGS: to unwind and to document/process my own turmoil. The more people that follow, the more I try to ground myself in this philosophy. It does not always work, but this mindset is what keeps LGS from becoming an obligation, which is the quickest way to kill it.

A Change in Consistency

My first post had this caption: “Suffering from writer’s block, the grad student stares at a screen as empty as his hopes and dreams.” As I built more scenes, I decided to tie everything together by sticking to the same structure as the first caption: “[Present participle] ____, the grad student ____.” I essentially thought of LGS as an actively growing photo exhibition that featured a consistent running series of images and words documenting the injustices of grad student life. This worked well enough, and followers seemed content with this scheme. But looking back, this was a very strict, unidirectional, and inexperienced approach that did not fully recognize social media’s flexibility.

LGS Vignette 3

Purchasing his sixth coffee of the day, the grad student categorically, indisputably, and vehemently does not have a dependence

Things forcibly changed after the 2016 presidential election. LGS was no longer fun to create and felt even more trivial than ever before. After some time passed (including a period where I considered ending LGS), I returned to it as a conduit to help me process my turmoil—except now, that turmoil was political. Even so, I wanted to stay within some broad confines that kept the page’s general tone. I decided that if I wanted to post something involving politics, it needed to either feature a LEGO build or have some tenuous academic angle. That is, if it was not LGS, then it needed to have at least the “L” or the “GS.” This rationale sounds far more thoughtful than what I felt back then. In the moment, I was blindingly upset and did not care whether any change in LGS’s so-called “brand” would kill the page or not. I suppose my creative sensibilities just refused to stay silent, even in the midst of a crisis.

LGS Vignette 4

Posts on the morning and late night of Election Day: These flag images have evolved into a parallel running series

LGS Tweet

When politics and academics become uncomfortably similar

The fact that it helped to gain followers is a testament to how poorly I understand social media. My political posts appeared to provide a sense of solace and togetherness that was similar to my typical LGS posts. But more importantly, I think I have realized that many see my personality, expressed through my posts and my responses to comments, as the real core of LGS. [ (( That said, I chose to keep Instagram and Tumblr free of politics for a couple reasons. First, I wanted to leave a space where people could choose to only look at the LGS posts without thinking about politics. Second, I found Instagram and Tumblr to be terrible for social interaction.))] That provides a great deal of latitude in how I (ab)use my social media presence beyond the typical images and [present participle] captions that I continue to post. Of course, I could be wrong and one day do or say something that alienates all my followers. It does not take an expert to know that social media is a fickle beast.

A Change in Identity

LGS started anonymously as an act of self-preservation: I was going on the academic job market and feared that a humorless search committee member would discount my ability to engage in a professional career. I also saw no reason to voluntarily disclose my identity.

It took time for me to discover that this decision to remain anonymous would actually become a quiet but essential part of LGS. As I gained followers from a spectrum of fields, I sensed that my anonymity also enhanced my relatability. [ (( This stands in contrast with academia, where anonymity in the review process enhances vitriol and bitterly destructive comments.))] People were able to insert themselves into my posts much more easily when they could not think, “Well, LGS studies [discipline] at [location], so this is not really about me.” I feel considerable joy (mixed with a twinge of sadness) from seeing people across so many fields react similarly to my content.

My anonymity also seems to invite followers to create their own image of who I am. It is not impossible to figure out my identity based on what I have publicly posted, but relatively few people have asked me about it. Most followers appear not to care or perhaps prefer not to know. I do not blame them. In fact, I almost appreciate the gesture. I can categorically say that I am not as interesting in real life as I may seem online. That is not to say that I adopt a fake persona online, but rather that people only see an incomplete version of me and tend to be generous when they try to fill in the blanks. It is mystifying when I respond to comments, only to see the original commenter get excited that LGS spoke to them. I know myself, and I do not merit that level of enthusiasm. That said, I have gradually done things that have exposed more of my identity (including a guest appearance on a podcast), so perhaps I should not lean on this point too strongly.

In conclusion, this “article” boils down to five thoughts.

  • I am unsure how I got here.
  • I do not know how social media works, much less what it means to be a micro-influencer.
  • Almost every seemingly good choice I have made regarding LGS has been inadvertent.
  • My only plausible qualifications to write for this special issue were owning a decent LEGO collection, trying to stay true to myself, and being swept up by the random whims of the internet.
  • Sorry.

Image Credits:
All images are the author’s own work.

Please feel free to comment.

The Personal Is Digital: Exploring Race, Beauty and Hair Online
Briana Barner/ University of Texas at Austin

screenshot from Shea Moisture commercial

Screenshot from the Shea Moisture hair commercial.

Hair care company Shea Moisture quickly learned the power of a viral ad when one of their recent digital commercials caused much controversy. It debuted on the heels of another viral ad that caused similar controversy: Pepsi’s ill-fated protest commercial that starred Kendall Jenner. What the two commercials have in common is that there was an almost-immediate online backlash to the ads’ content: both attempted to deal with racially sensitive issues. Pepsi’s ad staged a protest that ended with Jenner handing a cop…a Pepsi. Shea Moisture’s ad featured a concept they called “hair hate,” which will be explored throughout this article.

According to scholar Joanna L. Jenkins, Black women have had a contested relationship with advertising. During enslavement, they were advertised in local media as commodities and wenches to be both physical and sexual property during slavery. Jenkins writes that “advertising proliferates portrayals of people of color, such as Black women, that reflect the perceived values and norms of general market audiences” ((Jenkins, Joanna L. “Apparitions of the Past and Obscure Visions for the Future: Stereotypes of Black Women and Advertising during a Paradigm Shift” in Black Women and Popular Culture, ed. Adria Y. Goldman, Lexington Books, London, 2014, pp. 199-233.)) Images are a key component of advertisements, and are also key components of ideologies about race present in media. Media then helps to construct ideas about race.

The Shea Moisture commercial was released on their social media platforms on April 24, 2017. Within hours of its release, the company removed the commercial and quickly released an apology on their Facebook page. The company has utilized social media as a way to connect with its loyal users, who they said in one Facebook post, utilized their brand even when they were selling their merchandise on the streets of New York. Those same customers took to the company’s Facebook page to express their hurt and disappointment over the commercial by leaving very detailed 1-star reviews. One of those reviews, which was written the day after the commercial was released, stated the following:

“But the problem with that ad is that there is no clear connection between SM [Shea Moisture] and the needs the product serve for the red headed lady or blonde. Sure consumers who are white may enjoy using your products, but they aren’t necessarily your core consumer. The “hate” those women may have for their hair doesn’t come from the same place as a black woman’s nor does their path to loving their hair look like a black woman’s. This ad conflates those experiences and erases the nuances of the black woman’s hair journey.”

Race and beauty have become digitized, to echo Lisa Nakamura, and in the wake of this, online spaces have become spaces to share information but to also exercise buying power and to influence others to do the same. ((Nakamura, Lisa and Chow-White, Peter A. “Introduction: Race and Digital Technology.” in Race after the Internet, eds. Lisa Nakamura and Peter A. Chow-White, Taylor and Francis, Hoboken, 2011, pp. 5.)) Several bad reviews on social media is bad business for any business—Shea Moisture now has thousands of them. Joanna Jenkins states, “The Internet has become a form forum for communities to mobilize their collective voices to support causes they care about, increase philanthropy and use consumerism for good…Advertising has become increasingly participatory. As a result, advertisers are being held accountable for their choices in real time.” ((Jenkins, 217.))

The ad featured three women discussing “hair hate.” Two of them were White women—one with blonde hair and one with red hair. The third woman had long, curly dark hair and appears to be a woman of color. The commercial begins with her saying, “People would throw stuff in my hair and there would be like, little paper balls in my hair. I hated it because I have this (pointing to her hair) and people make fun of me for it.” The next image are words that say, “Fact: Hair hate is real.” This implies that the treatment that the previous woman described is to be understood as “hair hate,” though it is never explicitly defined.

hair hate

Screenshot from the commercial, with the theme of addressing and ending “hair hate.

Next, the woman with blonde hair states, “It was a lot of days of staring in the mirror going, ‘I don’t know what to do with it.’” She points to her hair, similar to the previous woman with the curly hair. Finally, the woman with the red hair says, ‘I didn’t feel like I was supposed to be a red head. I dyed my hair blonde for seven years of my life. Platinum blonde.” She emphasizes the last two words with a knowing glance toward the camera, to signal the incredulity of dying her hair that color. The camera returns back to the woman with darker hair as she says, “I didn’t embrace my hair. But as I got older I learned how to do it and learned how to love it.” The following scene has these words in big letters: “Break free from hair hate.”

The commercial ends with the hashtag #EverybodyGetsLove. #EverybodyGetsLove, the commercial insists, but there is a noticeable absence of the women of color who made the product popular. “Embrace hair love in every form,” the commercial states before including brief images of a more diverse group of people. But there is not an embrace of a variety of hair types in the commercial. The main models all have long hair, and the only one with curls, has very loose, almost wavy curls—unlike the tighter coiled hair of many of the Youtube hair vloggers who do reviews of Shea Moisture’s products. There is a small but growing portion of health and beauty aisles in major stores like Walmart and Target that cater to “Ethnic Hair Care.” For Black women, wearing their hair in its natural state requires not only the right hair products but acceptance in some form. Being “natural” is an identity that connects Black people to others doing the same, wearing their hair in styles that are in direct opposition to mainstream ideals of beauty.

diverse models

Screenshot from the Shea Moisture commercial that features models with more diverse hair types.

In a Facebook post written in 2016 after there were concerns that the company would no longer prioritize the women of color consumers the brand seemed to target, the company stated:

“Because of your love for what we do and how we do it, our SheaMoisture and Nubian Heritage brands are now in stores all across the country and internationally. We are here because of you – and we will never take that for granted…When we started in 1992, there were very few companies focused on creating natural products for natural and textured hair needs. In fact, there were very few companies that even made an effort to understand and service your needs.”

The hair hate discussed in the commercial minimizes the actual discrimination and prejudice that Black women face solely because of their hair. Congresswoman Maxine Waters provides a great example of this. Despite challenging an administration that puts the lives of many at risk with their racist, sexist, ableist, Islamophobic and homophobic rhetoric, Waters was disparaged by Bill O’Reilly because he did not find her hair appealing. We can also look at the many states in which dreadlocks can be a reason to discriminate against a potential employee.

free from hair hate

The ad encourages the viewer to end “hair hate,” with the use of Shea Moisture products.

It is important to acknowledge the role that the Internet played in this controversy. Lisa Nakamura writes: “Mediated conversations about race, whether on the Internet with human interlocutors or with the torrent of digitized media texts, have become an increasingly important channel for discourse about our differences. Race has itself become a digital medium, a distinctive set of infomatic codes, networked mediated narratives, maps, images and visualizations that index identity.” ((Nakamura and Chow-White, 5.)) Black women have used their collective voices to fight back against harmful ideologies of erasure and the minimizing of issues important to them. Within hours of both the release of the commercial and the apology, many declared on various social media platforms and thinkpieces that Shea Moisture had been “cancelled,” and began highlighting other Black-owned hair care lines. Only time will tell if this does long-term damage to their brand, but it is a lesson that harmful ideologies can now be addressed and protested within hours of them spreading.

Image Credits:

1. Author’s screen grab.
2. Author’s screen grab.
3. Author’s screen grab.
4. Author’s screen grab.

Please feel free to comment.

Biometrics and Machinima, Reanimated:
Jacqueline Goss’s “Stranger Comes to Town”

Dale Hudson / NYU Abu Dhabi

night moves elf

1: Night Elf discussing NSEERS in Stranger Comes to Town.

In Jacqueline Goss’s Stranger Comes to Town (USA 2007), green Orcs and purple Night Elves appear to discuss their experiences of U.S. customs and immigration policies. The humanoid forms of avatars from the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft (WoW) perform difference between citizens and non-citizens in the United States, as the video’s critical texture emerges within its assemblage different types of animation and anonymous interviews. By appropriating and reworking sound and visual images from machinima shot in WoW and Google Earth’s program that allows users to fly over 3D renderings of satellite and aerial photography with a United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) documentary, Goss identifies what might be called the “unseemly” intervals within the purportedly seamless interface of digital technologies. (( I discuss comparable intervals within globalized digital interfaces in “Undesirable Bodies and Desirable Labor: Documenting the Globalization and Digitization of Transnational American Dreams in Indian Call Centers,” Cinema Journal 49.1 (fall 2009): 82–102.)) Like Alex Rivera’s short video Why Cybraceros? (USA 1997), discussed in “Race and Labor, Unplugged: Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer,” Goss’s video reanimates an extant documentary that draws upon rational discourses of scientific progress and national exceptionalism to divert attention from corporate capitalism and racialization. If Rivera’s video exposes ways that globalization and digitization converge on the bodies of non-citizens along physical borders according to U.S. immigration and labor laws guided by private industrial interests, then Goss’s video exposes a similar convergence on non-citizen bodies along the “virtual” borders according to customs and immigration policies that use the purportedly objective technologies of biometrics.

orc not there

2–4: Three views of a WoW avatar: machinima, rotoscoped, and prepared for biometrics.

Goss reanimates the US-VISIT animated documentary to contest its implied claims that racially/ethnically determined “barred zones” and “national quotas” of U.S. immigration law before 1965 have been replaced by racially/ethnically blind policies. One such policy is the “layer of security that uses biometrics” in US-VISIT. Biometric systems include a variety of means by which the physical bodies and behaviors are rendered as digital information that can be sorted for verification and identification. Promoted for its ability to “protect” privacy and “prevent” identity theft, US-VISIT is an identity-management system that collects biometric data, such as fingerprints and retina scans, to control the mobility of “international visitors” at points of entry to and departure from the United States. (( These phrases are taken from U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “US-VISIT What to Expect When Visiting the United States,” (“last modified and revised”, 04 March 2011; accessed, 01 February 2012), where the video may be streamed, and “US-VISIT Biometric Identification Services,” (“last reviewed and modified,” 18 March 2011; accessed, 01 February 2012). The video does not mentioned “outsourced” border regulation before departure for the United States. )) Goss complicates the scientific efficiency of biometrics by interviewing people on their experiences of US-VISIT. “You can calculate who will stop the line because he or she looks a certain way,” comments one of her subjects on variations in wait time. In biometric systems, the term “failure to enroll” (FTE) describes an event that occurs when the biometric program’s algorithms cannot capture data, when they cannot scan bodies in ways that produce legible data. FTEs often cause additional layers of security and longer wait times in queues containing bodies that fail to enroll.


5–6: Nationalist title card of US-VISIT video; same title card, rotoscoped by Goss.

Goss allows her subjects to be identified only by their voices, which are mostly “accented” according to normative U.S. standards of spoken English, and by what they reveal about themselves in words. Their visual identities are camouflaged under rotoscoped machinima and critically inserted into the US-VISIT video [images 2–4]. Developed during the 1910s by Max Fleischer, rotoscoping typically involves frame-by-frame tracing over images from live-action filmed sequences, so that movements and expressions appear natural; however, Goss rotoscopes over the “action” in the animated US-VISIT video precisely to denaturalize its assumptions about biometrics. As Tess Takahashi argues, the video can be considered a “speculative documentary” for its use of “animation’s formal malleability to emphasize the uncertainty of much of the information we encounter.” (( Tess Takahashi, “Experiments in Documentary Animation: Anxious Borders, Speculative Media,” Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 6.3 (November 2011): 235. )) Goss’s rotoscoped copies of images disrupt the original video’s conceits of clarity and objectivity through simplified graphics and limited colors that promoting legibility for—and of—international visitors [images 5–6]. Black stick figures suggest an ease and orderliness with which visitors are processed. They resemble familiar stick figures on toilet signage in airports.

illegal aliens

7–9: Caution: DOT’s racially/ethnically unambiguous “illegal aliens” and internet memes of “illegal immigration” and “alien immigration.

If live-action films rely on facial expressions and bodily gestures to convey emotional meaning, then these graphics erase that level of meaning, generating the appearance of a rational and impersonal system. They adapt principles from constructed universal pictorial languages, such as Otto Neurath’s Isotype (International System of TYpographic Picture Education), to suggest that all international visitors are treated equally and fairly. The figures resemble ones on Department of Transportation (DOT) road signs, as well as in internet memes that parody DOT caution signs about “illegal aliens” crossing highways by revealing “illegals” as seventeenth-century Christian pilgrims from northern Europe and “aliens” as beings from outer space [images 7–9].

Goss challenges the universalizing strategies of stick figures by replacing them with avatars from WoW whose racial/ethnic, class, and sexual characteristics are exaggerated in caricature. By representing US-VISIT’s international visitors (aka “aliens”) as humanoid avatars, her video reanimates processes of differentiation that are erased by biometrics yet continue to sort international visitors according to race/ethnicity, sex, religion, class, and nationality. Goss’s video asks what biometric information might look like in playback.

night elf security

10–11: Smooth round-headed silhouette in US-VISIT video and pointy-haired and bearded silhouette in Stranger Comes to Town.

The humanoid silhouettes of Night Elves and Orcs reanimate particularity within the universalizing stylization of human figures [images 10–11]. In one scene, a Night Elf watches as fellow arrivals approach a US-VISIT kiosk [image 12]. His jagged beard and spiky hair distinguish him from the smooth, shaved or bald, heads of the other figures. Paired with the voice of Goss’s male Egyptian subject, the characteristic silhouette of a Night Elf visualizes ways that the DHS might tag and sort biometric data to produce results comparable to racial/ethnic, religious, or national profiling. Other scenes include DHS officers identifying WoW humanoids on their computer screens and rotoscoped WoW avatars looking at other WoW avatars on US-VISIT screens [images 13–14]. By making DHS screens visible, Goss exposes invisible layers of mediation within the US-VISIT application of biometrics. Bodies are made legible for security. In another scene, a female voice describes the inspection of her “private parts,” perhaps so that her records can be tagged as female, in a procedure not visualized with the male-only stick figures in the US-VISIT video. Like new media in general, data can be tagged, sorted, and recombined according to needs by data aggregators, and algorithms can be programmed to make interpretations automatically. (( This point is illustrated by Lori Andrews’s “Facebook Is Using You,” The New York Times (04 February 2012),, an op-ed piece that went viral on Facebook at the time of writing. She points out that Facebook and Google make huge profits by selling personal information on posts, searches, and the content of email to advertisers. “If I’ve Googled “diabetes” for a friend or “date rape drugs” for a mystery I’m writing,” she explains; “data aggregators assume those searches reflect my own health and proclivities.” ))

watching orc

12–14: Goss’s interpretation of screens within the US-VISIT user interface.

Goss’s male Egyptian subject discusses changes to his mobility and sense of identity after the USA Patriot Act of 2001 and National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS, or “Special Registration”) of 2002 for male nationals of states categorized as predominantly Arab and/or Muslim by the United States [image 1]. Identity is tied to biological data from scans, which is translated into political categorizations (“risk assessment”) and racial/ethnic profiling that are, in turn, internalized. Living in the so-called cosmopolitan diversity of New York City, he thought that being Egyptian was irrelevant until he experienced certain DHS procedures. The information gathered makes him knowable according to anything that is “broadly physical” yet renders him invisible and unknowable in terms of everything else like how his friends and family know him or how he feels about being in the United States. “Am I here because of a girlfriend or to make more money or because I don’t like it in Egypt, that, they have no idea about,” he explains; “and I don’t think that it would to translate them in any way because actually it doesn’t translate into a document.” Special Registration makes him legible as suspicious. Before when asked whether he was Muslim, he would reply that he was not; now, he says that he was “brought up in a Muslim family” but “is not religious.” “That’s the kind of difference,” he explains. Identity is prescribed and precedes the individual. Self-definition functions according to the anticipated criteria of others; it is ever contingent.

Goss links the animated security world of the US-VISIT video, the satellite-view of the “real world” of Google Earth, and the role-playing world of WoW, explaining her attraction to the MMORPG due to its “game-logic that suggests that species and races of avatars naturally belong to specific geographies.” (( Jacqueline Goss, “Drawing Voices,” Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 6.3 (November 2011): 247. )) WoW relies on an understanding of the isomorphic correspondences of nation and state in modern nation-state that produces certain bodies as belonging “naturally” in certain places, as appearing “normal” there. Players select avatars by race and class according to political allegiance with one of the two warring factions: Alliance or Horde. Goss asked her subjects to select an avatar. Canadians chose to represent themselves as Orcs, a non-native race to Azeroth where most action takes place, aligned with the Horde. Their “naturally brown skin” turned a “sickly green” due to exposure to “fel magic” which caused their “ancestral lands to wither and die.” (( Blizzard Entertainment, “Races of World of Warcraft: Orc,” (2012; accessed 01 February 2012). )) Egyptians and Argentineans represented themselves as violet-skinned Night Elves on the Alliance side.


15–17: Tagged and untagged borders rendered on Google Earth.

The video incorporates machinima shot in WoW. A process of recording video of live gameplay within the game engine developed in the 1990s, machinima emerged as a means of sharing tricks and cheats among videogame players. It has also become a mode of narrative filmmaking. Goss’s use of the 3D animation rendered by the game engine differs from the original stories, literary adaptations, and amateur music videos (AMVs) that are often shot in SIMS and WoW. (( A WoW machinima that became a viral video is “Leeroy Jenkins.” )) The machinima sequences in experimental and amateur media, such as She Puppet(USA 2001; dir. Peggy Ahwesh) and Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles (USA 2003–2007; dir. Burnie Burns, Matt Hullum, and Geoff Ramsey), comment upon commercial video games that are designed to “entertain.” (( She Puppet was shot partially in the first-person shooter (FPS) game Tomb Raider and questions assumptions gender and media, and Red vs. Blue was shot in the FPS Halo and questions the binary logic of politics and political life in the United States during the invasion and occupation of Iraq in search of “weapons of mass destruction.” )) Those in Stranger Comes to Town serve to protect (rather than confirm) the identity of Goss’s interview subjects, as well as to reanimate a certain “game logic” within the US-VISIT video on biometrics.

Goss’s video opens with a fly-over an undifferentiated blue landscape. A female voice describes going for a “biometric recording for immigration” in “same building, interestingly enough, of the national archives.” Towards the end, images from Google Earth focus on digital renderings of militarized zones, such as the Line of Control (LOC) between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir and the Ceasefire Lines between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights [images 15–16]. These zones are reminders of wars and violent displacements of millions based upon assumptions that political geography can be mapped onto cultural identity, often with race/ethnicity and religion as prime vectors of segregation. Globalization propels migrations over borders that might not be tagged with names [image 17].

Image Credits:
1–4, 6, and 10–17: Stranger Comes to Town (2007). Jacqueline Goss. Used
with permission.
5 and 10: US-VISIT. U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
7–9: Images of DOT road sign and internet memes.

Please feel free to comment.

“Cibercultura” y cibercultur@

por: Jorge A. González / Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

(for English, click here)

Gráfico del sitio web Imaginify

Gráfico del sitio web Imaginify

La concepción de la cibercultur@ que presento aquí no necesariamente está ligada con el mundo de las computadoras o a las redes de Internet, como ya se le entiende en todas partes, sino que resalta las tres direcciones de sentido de los elementos que la componen: el prefijo griego “Kyber” (ciber), la palabra latina “cultur” y el signo tipográfico “@” (González, 2003).

• Tomo literalmente el sentido de director y timonel del vocablo “Kyber”, pues desarrollar cibercultur@ implica generar, incrementar, perfeccionar, mejorar y compartir las habilidades para conducir, dirigir y “pilotear” relaciones sociales, en un ejercicio de autogestión colectiva, horizontal y participativa.

• Tomo el sentido original de “cultivo, cuidado, atención y desarrollo” de la palabra “cultura”. La habilidad para pilotearse y dirigirse con otros hacia soluciones más inteligentes frente a los enormes retos del siglo XXI, se puede aprender, se puede compartir y se puede cultivar con otros y para otros.

• El signo de la arroba “@”, que hoy se ha vuelto familiar entre quienes utilizan la red, y precisamente por su semejanza gráfica a una espiral, utilizo “@” por su semejanza para representar un bucle de retroalimentación positivo, un proceso abierto y adaptable que genera una respuesta emergente que surge de la densidad de las relaciones del sistema y no se reduce a la suma de sus componentes.

Propongo el neologismo cibercultur@ (con la arroba “@” incluida) para designar una serie de procesos específicos que implican una doble cualidad complementaria y simultánea: cibercultur@ entendida como un objeto de estudio y cibercultur@ entendida como un valor de desarrollo y empoderamiento social.

Cibercultur@ como objeto de estudio

Como objeto de conocimiento, el estudio de los fenómenos de cibercultur@, se dirige a describir, analizar y explicar los diversos procesos de relación entre las ecologías simbólicas de sociedades determinadas en el tiempo y en el espacio con el vector tecnológico.

Con la noción de ecologías simbólicas designo el conjunto total de relaciones de sentido que en una sociedad se construyen en la historia con un entorno físico, biológico, psicológico, social y cultural a través de la actividad cognitiva y sus dimensiones más complejas, como la mente, el discurso, y la actividad modeladora y adaptativa de las identidades y alteridades de los diferentes y variados colectivos sociales. Esta dimensión cognitiva y simbólica sólo se puede lograr dentro de un ecosistema de soportes materiales de la actividad de representación de la sociedad. Sin ellos, la eficacia de la cultura en la construcción de identidades, en la reproducción de la sociedad, en el establecimiento de las tradiciones, en las vanguardias es, impensable.


La especie humana es la única que para poder sobrevivir necesita construirse diestramente una “segunda naturaleza”, a todo título sígnica y plena de actividad interpretativa, es por eso que la historia de los ecosistemas materiales de la cultura debe ponerse en correspondencia con la historia de la generación de sus públicos, es decir, la historia de la distribución social de las disposiciones cognitivas para operar en esos ecosistemas.

El concepto de ecologías simbólicas intenta dar cuenta, tanto de las formas sistémicas (estructuradas y ordenadas), como de las formas enactivas (en proceso de estructuración) de la signicidad, tal y como la ha definido Cirese desde la antropología cultural italiana.

Por la interrelación intensa entre los significados, las normas y el poder, me interesa estudiar esta relación desde la perspectiva de las sociedades que han sido desplazadas y excluidas en el espacio social, y ello significa que han sido (o están siendo) explotadas en lo económico, dominadas en lo político y dirigidas en lo cultural. Excluidos desde la noche de los tiempos de los beneficios de la globalización, a enormes sectores sociales dispersos por todo el mundo sólo se les ha globalizado la miseria y la degradación, y se han convertido en lo que Castells llama “los agujeros negros del capitalismo informacional”. En la perspectiva que propongo, describir, analizar y explicar los procesos sociales e históricos de la génesis y desarrollo de las modulaciones simbólicas de la relación de estas dos dimensiones, es crucial para potenciar cualquier desarrollo científico que, además de interpretar y teorizar el mundo, busque la transformación del mismo mediante el empoderamiento de los sectores sociales más numerosos y deprimidos.

Con el nombre de vector tecnológico denomino todos los procesos y efectos socio-históricos de fuerza con dirección que se han verificado y verifican cotidianamente en procesos de adopción, adaptación, imposición o rechazo de dispositivos y complejos tecnológicos entre sociedades con recursos y posiciones disimétricas y desniveladas en la estructura desigual del espacio social mundial.

Me interesan en particular dos de las dimensiones más agudas y que verifican un crecimiento exponencial de dicho vector, a saber, las llamadas tecnologías digitales y los procesos de comunicación mediada por computadoras debido a la difusión y penetración de capilaridad creciente que se experimenta en todas las esferas de la vida pública y cotidiana de las sociedades contemporáneas.

Las ventajas y potencialidades que aporta la forma digital de procesar, empaquetar, enviar, recibir y acumular la información, se ven incrementadas por la comunicación instantánea a través de redes de computadoras que — con el acceso al conocimiento y práctica que requieren necesariamente para su operación funcional — permiten coordinar, dirigir y orientar con toda destreza la dirección y sentido de los flujos mencionados. Estos dispositivos o complejos socio-técnicos, conforman parte crucial de los resortes tecnológicos que generan la aparición y la dispersión global del “cuarto mundo”, de los excluidos y los prescindibles que han sido diseñados desde arriba del sistema como terminales tontas:

“…en este proceso de reestructuración social, hay más que desigualdad y pobreza. También hay exclusión de pueblos y territorios que, desde la perspectiva de los intereses dominantes del capitalismo informacional global, pasan a una posición de irrelevancia estructural” (Castells, 1999a).

No hay tal periferia pura, ni centro inmaculado de este proceso — verdaderamente global — de exclusión social potenciado por la tecnología, que lejos de ser meros aparatos, implican toda una fuerza constituida con dirección y con efectos constituyentes multidimensionales más allá de la técnica, muy poco estudiados en tanto que innovaciones radicales. El vector tecnológico es producto del movimiento de la sociedad mundial y al mismo tiempo configura y ayuda a producir los mundos sociales que progresivamente toca y transforma y desde luego genera resistencias múltiples en sentidos diversos y “aberrantes” e inesperados. Por ello mismo, no se debe tomar esto como una denuncia de un plan organizado y conciente de dominación y sometimiento del mundo a los “malos” del “centro”: una vez que despegó históricamente, el desarrollo tecnológico ha adquirido sus propias “leyes”, su propia autonomía e impulso, con costos y beneficios, que desde luego nunca — y menos ahora — se han gozado aquellos, ni pagado éstos, de manera equitativa en el mundo moderno.

Lab Complex

Lab Complex

Esta primera delimitación de la cibercultur@ como objeto de estudio, comporta varios supuestos y antecedentes.

• Por un lado, partimos de un complejo cognoscitivo caracterizado por la desigualdad de la estructura de relaciones del sistema mundial, en el que observamos vastas y múltiples zonas pluri-distribuidas del planeta, históricamente colonizadas y depauperadas por relaciones sociales de explotación, dominación y exclusión, que proveen y nutren de energía social (capital) a diferentes ciudades/nodos atractores de enormes e intensos flujos de personas principalmente, pero no solo a través de la migración y los consiguientes flujos de capitales financieros. Estas “ciudades/nodo” (ciudades Alpha) del sistema-mundo además de ser concentradoras de volúmenes inmensos de capitales, también concentran crecientemente a millones de miserables (y otros no tan miserables)[i] que se desplazan para vivir mejor hacia tales ciudades/nodo. Estos centros globales que capturan crecientemente los flujos de personas y capitales, operan también como generadores y difusores masivos de flujos permanentes y “globales” de información e imágenes mediados tecnológicamente y que sirven como materia prima básica para metabolizar y representarse de diversas formas el mundo, quién es cada uno y cada cuál de los actores sociales y de qué forma se hacen visibles o invisibles en el escenario de la vida pública.

• • Estos procesos de elaboración discursiva y simbólica son indispensables para poder narrar los hilos y editar el valor y el significado de los hitos de la memoria social, las definiciones de la situación presente, así como la factibilidad y densidad de otros mundos también posibles.

• Con y desde estos procesos simbólicos se establecen en la historia diversas relaciones sociales de hegemonía, subalternidad, alteridad, resistencia y en algunos casos y períodos determinados, se establecen también relaciones de contra-hegemonía que requieren y generan formas emergentes para la organización de diversas estrategias simbólicas que buscan atraer y modular el discurso social para la dirección intelectual y moral de toda la sociedad, como bien lo señaló Gramsci en el siglo pasado.

El aluvión inicial de mano de obra barata, no calificada y con escaso “cosmopolitismo” que se ha movido históricamente en los flujos migratorios, por efecto de la globalización forzada ha ido “enriqueciéndose” con el alarmante desangramiento en sus países de origen de profesionistas calificados, pero desempleados o con un gris futuro laboral, como lo documenta la migración educada de Ecuador y otros países del sur de América hacia los servicios domésticos en España y en general a la Comunidad Europea (Pellegrino, 2004: 12 y ss.).

Castells, Manuel (1999). La era de la información. Economía, sociedad y cultura: La sociedad red, Madrid, Alianza Editorial.

Cirese, Alberto (1984). Segnicitá, fabrilitá, procreazione. Appunti etnoantropologici, Roma, CISU.

Gramsci, Antonio (1976). Quaderni del carcere, Roma, Einaudi.

Pellegrino, Adela (2004). Migration from Latin America to Europe. Trends and policy challenges, International Organization for Migration, Migration Series, No. 16

González, Jorge (2004). “Cibercultur@ como estrategia de comunicación compleja desde la periferia“.

González, Jorge (2003). Cultura(s) y Cibercultur@(s). Incursiones no lineales entre complejidad y comunicación, México Universidad Iberoamericana.

Lab Complex (Sección productos realizados)

1. Gráfico del sitio web Imaginify
3. Lab Complex

Jorge A. González es profesor en la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Favor de comentar.

by: Jorge A. González / Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Against the current conceptions of cybercultur@ I propose here a sort of meaning that is not necessarily related to the universe of computers or to the Internet. Instead, I shall emphasize three directions of meaning from the elements that compose the neologism: the Greek prefix “Κψβερ” (cyber), the Latin word “cultur”, and I will take analogically the spiral form of the sign “@”.

• I take from the word “Kyber” the meaning of steersman, because developing cybercultur@ implies to generate, to increase, to perfect, to improve and to share the abilities to steer, to direct and “to pilot” social relations in an exercise of collective, horizontal and participative self steering.

• I will also take the original earthly meaning from culture, understood as the action of cultivation, taking care, paying attention and motivating transformations from the soil. The first junction between Kyber and Cultur, points to the ability to pilot ourselves and to go with others towards more intelligent solutions facing the huge challenges of the 21st century; it is possible to learn, to share, and to cultivate along with others and for others.

• The sign “@”that today has become familiar between those who use e-mail, and precisely by its graphical similarity to a spiral, I use “@” by its similarity to represent a positive feedback loop, an open and adaptable process that generates a range of emergent answers that arise from the density of the relations of the system and it is not reduced to the sum of its components.

Given that, I propose the neologism cybercultur@ (with the sign “@” included) to designate a series of specific processes that imply one twofold complementary and simultaneous qualities: cybercultur@ understood as an object of study, and cybercultur@ understood as a value for development and social empowerment.

Cybercultur@ as an object of study

• As an object of knowledge, cybercultur@ implies the study of complex phenomena in social, historical, symbolic and contextual levels than can be described, analyzed and explained facing multi level processes of relations between the symbolic ecologies of specific societies with the technological vector.

• With the notion of symbolic ecologies I designate the total set of relations of meaning that in a specific society are constructed along history with physical, biological, psychological, social and cultural environments. Through the cognitive activity and its more complex dimensions, like the mind, the speech, and the modelling and adapting activity of social identities. This cognitive and symbolic dimension can only be generated within a kind of ecosystem of material supports that make possible the activity of symbolic representation of any society. Without them, the efficacy of culture in the construction of identities, in the reproduction of the society, in the establishment of traditions and avant-garde movements is just unthinkable.

The human species is unique in that, besides the satisfaction of the material needs (feeding, covering, drinking, housing…) in order to survive it must generate a totally meaningful “second nature,” composite by simple and complex signs, texts and discourses that shape the human interpretative activity.

That is why the history of the material ecosystems of culture must be related with the history of the generation of its audiences, that is to say, the history of the social distribution of the cognitive dispositions operating in those ecosystems.

The concept of symbolic ecologies gives account, both of the systemic forms (structured and ordered) and of the enactive forms (in structuring processes) of the “signicity” (segnicitá), as has been defined by Cirese from Italian cultural anthropology.

In the intense interrelation between meaning, norms and power, I am interested in studying that relation from the perspective of the societies that have been moved and excluded in the social space, and it means that they have been (or they are actually being) economically exploited, politically dominated and culturally directed.

Excluded from the beginning from the benefits of the globalization, enormous and dispersed social sectors have been “globalized” by the misery and the degradation, and they have become which Castells calls “the black holes of informational capitalism.”

In the proposed perspective describing, analyzing and explaining the social and historical processes of the genesis and development of the symbolic modulations of the relation of these two explained dimensions. It is crucial to harness any scientific development that, besides to interpret and to theorize about the world, looks for the transformation of the world itself seeking the empowerment of the more numerous and depressed social sectors.

With the concept of technological vector I describe the socio-historical processes and effects of forces with direction that have been verified in processes of adoption, adaptation, imposition or rejection of technological complexes and devices between societies with resources and dissymmetric and uneven positions in the unequal structure of world-wide social space.

I am particularly interested in two of the more acute dimensions that have prompted an exponential growth of this vector: the so called digital technologies and the processes of computer mediated communication. Both have a large diffusion and penetration in public sphere and into everyday life of contemporary societies.

The advantages and potentialities provided by the digital form of processing, packing, sending, receiving and collecting data are increased by the instantaneous communication through networks of computers that — with the access to knowledge and practice that they necessarily require for its functional operation — allow coordinating, directing and orienting skilfully the direction and meaning of the flows. These socio-technical complexes shape a crucial part of the technological springs that generate the appearance and the global dispersion of the “fourth world”, of the excluded and disposable social settings that have been designed top-down of the system as dumb terminals:

“… in this process of social reconstruction, there is more inequality and poverty. Also there are exclusions of villages and territories that, from the perspective of the dominant interests of global informational capitalism, occupy a position of structural irrelevance” as Castells has pointed out.

There is nothing as pure periphery, and no immaculate center of this process — truly global — of social exclusion prompted by the technology, that far from being mere mechanical utilities, implies a constituted force with direction and multidimensional constituent effects beyond the technique. These aspects have been little studied as radical social innovations. The technological vector is an outcome of the movement of the world-wide society and at the same time, it forms and helps to produce the aberrant and unexpected social worlds that touch and progressively transform, and generates multiple resistances. This is precisely why this should not be taken as a conspiracy plan organized and conscientious for domination and submission of the world to the “bad ones” of the “center”: once it took off historically, technological development has generated its own “laws,” its own autonomy and impulse, with costs and benefits, that never have been enjoyed in to an equitable way within the modern world.

This first boundary of cybercultur@ as object of study implies several assumptions and antecedents:

• On the one hand, we depart from a cognitive complex, characterized by inequality of the structure of relations of the world-system, in which we can observe vast and multiple multi-distributed zones of the planet, historically colonized and impoverished by social relations of exploitation, domination and exclusion, that provide and nourish of social energy (capital) to different cities/enormous attracting nodes of intense flows of people, but not only through the migration and the consequent flows of financial capitals. These “cities/node” (Alpha cities) of the world-system in addition to concentrating immense volumes of capital, also concentrate increasingly millions of poor (and others not so poor)[i] moving towards such cities/node in order to get a better life. These global centers that increasingly capture the flows of people and capital, also operate like generators and massive diffusers of permanent and “global” flows of information and images technologically mediated that serve as basic raw material for metabolizing and for representing the world, who is who and everyone of the social actors and how they become visible or invisible in the scene of the public life.

• • These processes of discursive and symbolic elaboration are indispensable to be able to narrate the threads and publish the value and the meaning of the landmarks of social memory, the definitions of the present situation, as well as the feasibility and density of other also possible worlds.

• With and from these symbolic processes, relations are established and transformed in history, social relations of hegemony, subalternity, alterity and resistance, and in some cases, counter-hegemonic relations that require and generate new and emergent forms of organization of the diverse symbolic strategies trying to attract and to modulate the social discourse for enabling the intellectual and moral direction of all the society, as Gramsci illustrated so well in the previous century.

The initial excess of cheap and unskilled handwork with scarce “cosmopolitism” that has been historically moved into the migrant flows by means of forced “globalization,” has been “enriched” by the flight of “qualified professionals” (but still unemployed or with rather grim higher wealth expectations) from their original countries, as documented by the “educated” migration from Ecuador and other Latin American countries to Spain and in general to the European Community (Pellegrino, 2004: 12+).

Click here to see the author’s Bibliography

Image Credits: (located in primary Spanish text)
1. Graphic from the website Imaginify
3. Lab Complex

Author: Jorge A. González is a professor at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (the National Autonomous University of Mexico).

La telenovela mexicana en el ciberespacio

por: Claudia Benassini Félix / Tecnológico de Monterrey, State of Mexico

(for English, click here)

Los actores de Senda Prohibida

Los actores de “Senda Prohibida”

La telenovela mexicana es uno de los productos más exitosos de la televisión nacional. Desde 1958, año en que se inician las transmisiones de Senda Prohibida, el género fue posicionándose entre las audiencias nacionales. De aquí su inclusión gradual en la programación que desde sus comienzos ofrece la Spanish Internacional Network a partir de 1962, y que catorce años más adelante se convertiría en la Cadena Univisión. Y de ahí su inclusión en la oferta programática que Televisa — entonces Telesistema Mexicano — exportó a otros países vía Protele, empresa fundada por Emilio Azcárraga Vidaurreta para vender las producciones mexicanas a las televisoras extranjeras. En consecuencia, de manera gradual el género fue conquistando a las audiencias más allá de las fronteras nacionales.

Por tanto, tampoco fue casual que en 1988, cuando Televisa incursionó nuevamente en el mercado europeo a través de España y el sistema Galavisión[i], la telenovela fue incluida como parte de la programación. Y fue a través de Quinceañera, la telenovela mexicana entonces más popular en nuestro país, que las audiencias europeas, comenzando por las españolas, comenzaron a relacionarse con el género. De manera casi paralela, los logros continuaron en otros países, sobre todo los ubicados en la zona oriental del continente[ii]. De hecho, estos logros ocuparon espacios importantes en los espacios destinados al espectáculo en la prensa, radio y televisión nacionales e internacionales.

Victoria Ruffo de La Madrastra

Victoria Ruffo de “La Madrastra”

En este proceso, las producciones mexicanas han enfrentado a la competencia de otros países. Primero, Venezuela y Brasil; más adelante Colombia y Argentina; más recientemente, otros países que han incorporado el género a su oferta programática, en buena medida por la aceptación que ha tenido entre las audiencias, como España. Adicionalmente, si bien en sus inicios la telenovela mexicana fue producida por Televisa, en este momento se enfrenta a la competencia de Televisión Azteca, empresa que desde 1996 ingresó al género con producciones como Mirada de mujer, con las que ha buscado incursionar en el mercado internacional[iii]. Asimismo, en el contexto de la producción nacional y de la competencia entre países, es importante considerar que la telenovela mexicana ha pasado por altibajos, identificables por los estudiosos del género, la crítica especializada y las propias audiencias[iv].

Este panorama descrito apretadamente da cuenta de los espacios conquistados por la telenovela mexicana y del crecimiento de sus audiencias, cuantitativa y cualitativamente hablando. Es difícil hacer un estimado real del número de televidentes que cotidianamente se exponen al género; sin embargo, los estudios realizados por investigadores del tema dan cuenta de los procesos a través de los cuales las audiencias televisivas — y por tanto de la telenovela — se apropian de los contenidos del medio y los incorporan a sus prácticas cotidianas. Como muestra, basta ver el crecimiento de los espacios en Internet dedicados el tema, la mayoría diseñados y actualizados por sus aficionados[v]. El movimiento se inició en 1976, cuando la venezolana Jolette Nicholson, apoyada por el ruso Alexander Zhukov, lanzó al ciberespacio su página “Telenovelas-Internet”, en el que reconocía su afición por la telenovela mexicana[vi] y su interés por intercambiar materiales y opiniones con otros ciberaficionados.

Los actores de Rebelde

Los actores de “Rebelde”

Rápidamente el ejemplo de Jolette tuvo sus seguidores, como el mexicano Juan Carlos Alvarado y la chilena María Elena Venant, el español “Moisés”, el portorriqueño Rafael Ochoteco y muchos más ciberaficionados a la telenovela mexicana, ubicados en diversas partes del mundo[vii]. Más recientemente, las opciones abiertas por la blogósfera han incrementado los espacios[viii]. Asimismo, las consideradas “escenas importantes” del género –finales, entradas, temas musicales etc.- han comenzado a subirse a YouTube y pueden observarse y comentarse por los interesados.

Cabe señalar que cada vez resulta más complicado encontrar espacios dedicados específicamente a la telenovela mexicana, puesto que la internacionalización del género ha propiciado que los ciberaficionados se vuelquen en sus preferencias, más allá de sus orígenes. Aproximarse a la indagación, la exploración y la investigación de este espacio constituye una opción que da cuenta de una nueva modalidad de apropiación del género que da cuenta del interés de sus aficionados, mismo que se traduce en procesos tan diversos que van desde la construcción de espacios propios hasta el debate y la polémica sobre el tema. Adicionalmente, adentrarse en este ámbito supone utilizar metodologías tan variadas como la etnografía, el análisis conversacional y la etnometodología entre otras. Un campo, en suma, sobre el que todavía queda mucho por investigar.

Una primera incursión fue en 1975, básicamente a través de programas informativos. Sin embargo, en ese momento la aceptación de la programación mexicana en España fue mínima. En consecuencia, las oficinas de Televisa España se mantuvieron más bien como una suerte de corresponsalía informativa. La segunda incursión, en 1988 — a la que hacemos referencia–, se produjo en el contextoy del de la era de los satélites y de la televisión de paga.
Este proceso se inició a finales de 1989, en el contexto de la apertura regional iniciada por la entonces Unión Soviética durante el régimen de Mijail Gorbachov.
Sin embargo, revisiones periódicas a la programación de diversas televisoras latinoamericanas y europeas da cuenta de que las telenovelas de Televisa tienen más aceptación que las de TV Azteca.
En este momento, la crítica central es la poca presencia de argumentos originales. Si bien la telenovela mexicana continúa posicionada como uno de los géneros favoritos entre las audiencias nacionales e internacionales, se reconoce que sus argumentos son remakes de producciones locales exitosas, como Vivir un poco (1985), que veinte años después se convirtió en La Madrastra, o Rubí (1964), cuya nueva versión llegó a la pantalla casera cuatro décadas más tarde. Asimismo, Mirada de mujer fue primera una exitosa telenovela en Colombia, igual que Rebelde lo fue en Argentina.
Nos referimos específicamente a los espacios de aficionados que circulan a través de la red y no a las páginas institucionales diseñadas y mantenidas por las televisoras. También nos referimos en particular a los espacios destinados a discutir la telenovela mexicana.
Desde hace casi siete años, Jolette trabaja para Univisión y su sitio pionero fue absorbido por la televisora.
Por ejemplo, los sitios Telenovelas del Momento, Telenovelas online, en los que se da cuenta de otros muchos espacios dedicados al género.
Por ejemplo, La Coctelera/Rebelde, Las Telenovelas Mexicanas en EUA, entre muchas opciones.

“Comunidades virtuales: ¿espacios de convivencia pacífica?”, en Dia-logos de la Comunicación núm. 59-60, FELAFACS, Lima.

“Formación de comunidades virtuales a través de la televisión” en ISLAS, Octavio y Fernando GUTIERREZ (coord.) Internet: el medio inteligente, 2000, Edit. CECSA.

“El papel de la telenovela latinoamericana en la formación de comunidades virtuales: propuestas para su abordaje”, en Signo y Pensamiento núm. 36, 2000, Facultad de Comunicación y Lenguaje, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Santa Fe de Bogotá.

1. Los actores de “Senda Prohibida”
2. Victoria Ruffo de “La Madrastra”
3. Los actores de “Rebelde”

Claudia Benassini Félix es investigadora asociada, Cátedra de Investigación en Comunicación Estratégica y Cibercultura, ITESM Campus Estado de México.

Favor de comentar.

by: Claudia Benassini Félix / Tecnológico de Monterrey, State of Mexico

Telenovelas represent one of the most successful products to emerge from Mexico’s television industry. The genre positioned itself as an important alternative for audiences since 1958, when Senda Prohibida [Forbidden Path] was broadcasted. Thus, it was gradually incorporated into the programming offered by Spanish International Network from 1962 onwards; fourteen years later this entity would become Cadena Univisión. Therefore, it was included among the various programs exported by Televisa, then known as Telesistema Mexicano. The corporation exported the genre through Protele, a company created by Emilio Azcárraga to sell Mexican productions to foreign networks and television stations. Consequently, this genre slowly conquered foreign audiences.

Thus, it is not surprising that in 1988, when Televisa once again ventured into the European market through Spain and the Galavision system,[i] telenovelas were part of the overall programming. European audiences (particularly those from Spain) first began relating to this genre through Quinceañera [Fifteen-year old girl]. At the same time, Televisa achieved success in other countries, particularly those located in the Eastern part of the continent.[ii]

Throughout this process, Mexican productions have faced competition from other countries. First, Venezuela and Brazil; later on, Colombia and Argentina. More recently, other countries have incorporated the genre in their programming, mostly because of the positive response from audiences; Spanish television production exemplifies this model. Additionally, even though Mexican telenovelas were initially produced by Televisa, this corporation now faces competition from Televisión Azteca. The latter entered the playing field through productions such as Mirada de Mujer [A Woman’s Gaze]; it later entered the international market with the same product.[iii] Moreover, one must note that Mexican telenovelas have gone through various setbacks, identified by various scholars devoted to the genre, specialized critics, and audiences themselves.[iv]

This cursory overview describes the spaces conquered by Mexican telenovelas, even as it details the growth of audiences in a quantitative and qualitative fashion. It is difficult to determine the real number of television viewers that are regularly exposed to this genre. Nevertheless, researchers have noted how television audiences — and hence, telenovela viewers — appropriate the contents of the medium and incorporate them in their everyday practices. One can note the various internet sites devoted to the genre, most of them designed and updated by fans.[v] This process began in 1976, when Jolette Nicholson launched her cyberspace site, “Telenovelas-Internet” with the help of Alexander Zhukov from Russia. Through this site, she noted her devotion to Mexican telenovelas, and her wish to exchange materials and opinions with other cyberfans.[vi]

Jolette’s example was quickly followed by people such as Juan Carlos Alvarado (Mexico) and María Elenba Venant (Chile), “Moisés” (Spain), and Rafael Ochoteco (Puerto Rico); various other Mexican telenovela cyberfans also participated in this process.[vii] More recently, the options made available by the blogosphere have multiplied these sites.[viii] Moreover, the “most important scenes” from the genre — opening credits, endings, musical themes, and more — are being uploaded into YouTube, so that all those who are interested can watch them.

One must note that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find sites specifically devoted to Mexican telenovelas, as the internationalization of the genre has altered the tastes and preferences of cyberfans, regardless of their country of origin. As one investigates, explores, and researches this space, one must note a new genre appropriation modality, one that speaks of the interest from fans, which in turn produces a diverse gamut of processes from these individuals. These processes veer from the construction of their own sites to a number of spirited debates and controversies around the telenovela genre. Additionally, in order to enter this body of knowledge, one must engage in various methodologies, such as ethnography, conversation analysis, and ethnomethodology, among others. In other words, much remains to be done within this field.

One early example took place in 1975 with news programming. At that moment, however, there was a limited acceptance of Mexican programming in Spain. Consequently, the Televisa España offices were mostly kept as news correspondents. The second attempt, taking place in 1988, was produced within the context and era of satellite and pay-per-view television.
This process began towards the end of 1989, as part of the historical and social processes developing throughout the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev.
Nevertheless, a periodic overview of programming in Latin American and European networks reveals that telenovelas by Televisa are still more popular than those produced by TV Azteca.
At this moment, a common complaint is the lack of original plots. Even though most people recognize that Mexican telenovelas are popular with national and international audiences, one must recognize that the plots are mostly remakes of successful local productions. For example, Vivir un poco [To Live a Little], from 1985, was later remade as La Madrasta [The Step-Mother]. Other productions include a 1964 telenovela, Rubí, which four decades later was “remade.” Similarly, Mirada de Mujer was first a successful Colombian telenovela, as well as Rebelde [Rebel].
I am specifically referring to the sites built and maintained by fans, not to the various websites designed and maintained by television networks. I am also referring specifically to those sites devoted to discuss Mexican telenovelas.
For over seven years, Jolette has been working for Univisión. Her pioneering website, was absorbed by the television network.
For instance, sites such as Telenovelas del Momento, Telenovelas online, which list various other websites devoted to the genre.
For instance, La Coctelera/Rebelde, Las Telenovelas Mexicanas en EUA, among various other options.

Click here to see the author’s publications in this area

Image Credits: (located in primary Spanish text)
1. The Cast of Senda Prohibida
2. Victoria Ruffo from La Madrastra
3. The Cast of Rebelde

Author: Claudia Benassini Félix is Associate Researcher, Tec de Monterrey, Campus State of Mexico.

Translator: Alberto McKelligan Hernandez is a Ph.D. Student in Art History at the City University of New York (CUNY).

La info-estructura de los 22 portales o sitios ciudadanos de los países

por: Octavio Islas and Arturo Caro / Tecnológico de Monterrey, State of Mexico

(for English, click here)



El desarrollo de la economía del conocimiento — en la cual Internet observa un papel central–, ha impuesto profundos cambios en el orden económico mundial. De acuerdo con Neil Postman -quien con Marshall McLuhan son reconocidos como los fundadores de la Media Ecology, Ecología Mediática o “Escuela de Toronto”–, el impacto de toda nueva tecnología no es aditivo sino “ecológico”.[i] Efectivamente, el impacto de Internet en las sociedades contemporáneas es profundo, complejo[ii] e irreversible. De acuerdo con Thomas Friedman, autor del libro La Tierra es plana. Breve historia del mundo globalizado del siglo XXI (2006: 164): “Jamás en la historia del planeta tanta gente ha tenido la posibilidad de buscar por sí misma tanta información acerca de tantos temas o acerca de tanta gente”. Además de la abundante información que hoy es posible consultar a través de Internet, la velocidad en el procesamiento de la información ha registrado notables incrementos. Se estima que a finales de la presente década las computadoras podrían llegar a alcanzar velocidades petaflops, es decir, capacidades para realizar mil billones de operaciones matemáticas por segundo.

El número de usuarios de Internet aumenta cada año. A comienzos de enero de 2007, la World Internet Stats estimaba 1,091,730,861 usuarios de Internet — el 16.8% de la población mundial. La primera tabla, elaborada con base en información de la World Internet Stats, comprende información relativa a la concentración geográfica de los usuarios de Internet en el mundo.

Tabla 1. Usuarios de Internet en el mundo, 2006.
Tabla 1
Fuente: Internet World Stats. Última actualización: 31 diciembre 2006.

El tránsito hacia la sociedad de la información y el conocimiento representa un profundo cambio ecológico en las sociedades, y tomará tiempo. De acuerdo con Alfons Cornella (2002: 2):

“Cambiar hacia la sociedad del conocimiento llevará su tiempo, y para conseguirlo es preciso entender mejor por qué ahora el conocimiento es la clave del crecimiento y la riqueza. Y es preciso que la gente adquiera como valor personal la renovación intelectual; que esto no sea patrimonio de un colectivo, la intelligentsia de la sociedad del conocimiento, sino que sea un valor extendido a todos los niveles de la sociedad”.[iii]

De la tensión creativa entre la cultura de un país -que también comprende su percepción positiva o negativa de lo nuevo, su voluntad o reticencia a innovar, y la disposición más o menos abierta de su estructura política dependerá, según Cornella, (2002:13): “que su sociedad pueda modernizarse mediante el avance tecnológico o, al contrario, se estanque”. Declarar voluntad de cambio para transitar a la sociedad de la información y el conocimiento no es suficiente. La cultura de información es factor clave en la transformación de la economía de la información en sociedad de la información y el conocimiento. De acuerdo con Alfons Cornella (2002:34-35): “un país puede disponer de una potente economía de la información sin que llegue a constituirse en una sociedad de la información (…) y al revés, una sociedad puede estar constituida por ciudadanos y organizaciones informacionalmente cultas sin que ello conlleve automáticamente el surgimiento de una economía de la información”.

El tránsito hacia la sociedad de la información y el conocimiento depende fundamentalmente de dos variables que guardan estrecha relación entre sí: infraestructura e info-estructura. La infraestructura comprende “una red suficientemente dimensionada (es decir, con suficiente ancho de banda), de fácil acceso, barata, abierta a ciudadanos y organizaciones” (Cornella. 2002: 37). La info-estructura “deriva de la idea de que la riqueza de un país con infraestructura no se genera como simple consecuencia de tenerla, sino de usarla, de explotarla. La info-estructura consiste en todo aquello que permite sacar rendimiento de la infraestructura.

El adecuado desarrollo de la info-estructura de un país supone radicales reformas en no pocas instituciones. Algunas de las reformas que propone Cornella son (2002:38): un sistema educativo que tenga por objetivo esencial enseñar a aprender; un sistema ciencia-tecnología que aproveche la capacidad creativa de los ciudadanos y la transforme en nuevos productos y servicios competitivos en mercados mundiales; un sistema legal capaz de responder a los retos que impone la velocidad de desarrollo de las tecnologías; una base de contenidos que haga posible que las actividades de ciudadanos en la era de la información sean más fáciles; un entorno fiscal que facilite el surgimiento y desarrollo del sector información local; una administración que sea ejemplo en el uso eficiente y eficaz de las tecnologías de información.

Análisis de la info-estructura que presentan los 22 portales gubernamentales de los países ubicados en la plataforma continental de América (2006)

El imaginario de las sociedades informacionales –que de acuerdo con Alfons Cornella (2002), sólo es posible concebir con ciudadanos que efectivamente dispongan de una profunda cultura de información-. Aún cuando no pocos gobernantes ya reconocen que del adecuado desarrollo del capital intelectual dependerá la “nueva riqueza de las naciones”, en pocos países hoy es posible advertir que el comportamiento del Estado efectivamente se ajusta al desempeño deseable de todo actor inteligente.[iv] Para no pocos gobiernos la expresividad del Estado digital representa asunto accesorio y secundario. La calidad de la expresividad desplegada en el ciberespacio por el Estado revela cuan honesto es su interés por acceder a la sociedad de la información. La formidable capacidad de las avanzadas tecnologías para transferir información no basta para asegurar que los usuarios recibirán la información que efectivamente necesitan. De acuerdo con Alfons Cornella (2002: 41-42):

“un país puede entrar en la economía de la información mediante un esfuerzo de inversión importante en la creación, adquisición e implementación de sistemas y tecnologías de información, pero eso no es garantía de que, como consecuencia, la sociedad se transforme en una sociedad de la información. Para llegar a ella tiene un papel importante lo que se ha venido a denominar cultura de la información”.

La burocracia acostumbra ignorar las auténticas necesidades de información de la ciudadanía, anteponiendo sus visiones, relatos e intereses. No pocos sitios web y/o portales gubernamentales se apartan del genuino propósito de contribuir al desarrollo de una cultura efectiva informacional en la ciudadanía. Pocos desarrolladores de sistemas de información gubernamental en línea reparan en la importancia de ubicar el desarrollo del sistema en el reconocimiento de necesidades de información cambiantes en el usuario.

En el Proyecto Internet[v] — Cátedra de Comunicaciones Estratégicas y Cibercultura del Tecnológico de Monterrey Campus Estado de México, desde 2003 hemos venido realizando estudios comparativos de los contenidos y usabilidad[vi] de sitios web y portales de instituciones gubernamentales en América. En el verano de 2006 decidimos centrar nuestra atención en los “portales ciudadanos”, sitios web desarrollados por instituciones de gobierno que advierten la necesidad de concentrar toda aquella información que facilite al ciudadano el acceso a los principales servicios proporcionados por el Estado, simplificando significativamente los trámites.

El estudio de 2006 fue coordinado por Arturo Caro Islas, egresado de la licenciatura en ciencias de la comunicación en la Universidad de Occidente, en Los Mochis, Sinaloa. La captura y procesamiento de la información fue responsabilidad de Janeth Everastico Bautista (Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero); Carolina Apodaca Prieto (Universidad de Occidente); Blanca Talamantes (Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez); Josué Enrique Bañuelos Peña (Universidad de Occidente) y Luis Zaragoza (Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Occidente).

En el estudio de 2006 — realizado de junio a agosto del año pasadazo-, decidimos centrar nuestra atención en la información contenida en los principales portales ciudadanos o sitios web que asumen tales funciones informativas, de los gobiernos de veintidós países de nuestra plataforma continental: Canadá, Estados Unidos, México, Belice, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panamá, Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Perú, Surinam, Uruguay, Venezuela.

Nuestra matriz de usabilidad fue el resultado de integrar los contenidos específicos de cada uno de los portales y sitios web gubernamentales, derivando un total de 50 unidades de contenido. Desde la perspectiva del emisor web, hasta el momento de integrar la información — julio de 2006–, nuestra matriz representaría la estructura de información más completa, pues aglutinaría la suma de unidades de contenido consideradas en todos los portales gubernamentales analizados Las 50 unidades de contenido fueron agrupadas en cuatro ejes temáticos: información que se ofrece en el portal; servicios de información; accesibilidad; seguridad y transparencia. Se añadió un quinto campo para estudiar la eficiencia en respuesta por parte de los webmasters.

Tabla 2

1 Información que ofrece el portal

Este eje temático comprendió las primeras 26 unidades de contenido: idiomas, nombre del presidente o jefe de gobierno, estructura del Estado, información del gobierno, agenda gubernamental, directorio del gobierno, perfil de los funcionarios públicos, programas y acciones del gobierno/ programas sociales, leyes, regulaciones, decretos, gaceta oficial, discursos del presidente o jefe de gobierno, relaciones exteriores, embajadas y consulados, gobierno local, educación, salud, vivienda, economía y negocios, medio ambiente, agricultura, cultura, ciencia y tecnología, deporte, turismo, trabajo, estadísticas, efemérides.

Tabla 3

2 Servicios de información

Este eje temático comprendió las unidades de contenido 27 a 35 de nuestra matriz: trámites, formas y servicios en línea, licitaciones, asistencia legal y jurídica, preguntas frecuentes, glosario de términos, chat y foros, URL, recursos multimedia.

Tabla 4

3 Accesibilidad

Este eje temático comprendió las unidades de contenido 36 a 48 de nuestra matriz: página principal, inicio, portada; mensaje de bienvenida del presidente o jefe de gobierno; visita virtual; públicos -secciones para niños, jóvenes, personas de la tercera edad, discapacitados-; sitios relacionados y sitios de interés; medios de comunicación; buscador; mapa del sitio; sistemas de ayuda; nombre del webmaster; correo; dirección; teléfono/fax.

Tabla 5

4 Seguridad y transparencia

Este eje temático comprendió las unidades de contenido 49 y 50 de nuestra matriz.

Tabla 6

5 Resultados generales

Estos son los resultados que arrojó nuestro estudio. Los portales gubernamentales de Canadá y Chile recibieron una alta calificación (88 y 84, respectivamente). Los portales gubernamentales de siete países recibieron una calificación no aprobatoria: Honduras, Guyana, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Surinam, Belice, Paraguay.

Tabla 7


Los resultados que arrojó nuestro estudio ofrecen una útil radiografía del estado que presenta la marcha de las sociedades informacionales en América, pues permiten identificar el tipo de prioridades informativas en las cuales han reparado los responsables del desarrollo de sitios y portales ciudadanos.

Los resultados del presente estudio fueron remitidos a cada uno de los administradores de los portales analizados.

Una de las mejores explicaciones sobre el impacto del cambio tecnológico en la economía política de las sociedades — tema medular en la ecología de medios–, corrió a cargo del propio Postman, entonces decano de la Universidad de Nueva York, quien el 27 de marzo de 1998 dictó una de las conferencias magistrales del “Congreso Internacional sobre Nuevas Tecnologías y Persona Humana: Comunicando la fe en el Nuevo Milenio, o NewTech´98”, en Denver, Colorado, Estados Unidos. El título de la conferencia fue: “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change” (Cinco cosas que necesitamos conocer aceca del cambio tecnológico). Las cinco tesis son: 1. La cultura siempre paga el precio de la tecnología; 2. Siempre hay ganadores y perdedores en el cambio tecnológico; 3. Toda la tecnología tiene una filosofía; 4. El cambio tecnológico no es aditivo; es ecológico; 5. Los medios de comunicación tienden a convertirse en míticos. Véase: Postman, N. “Five things we need to know about technological change”. Fecha de consulta: 12 de enero de 2007.
La complejidad, nos advierte Marcelo Manucci (2004: 28) “es una palabra problema no una palabra solución (…) La complejidad como un estado que se encuentra en el orden y el caos, concebidos éstos como situaciones extremas, situación que los científicos (matemáticos, en particular), denominan fenómenos al límite del caos. Otra definición general se fundamenta en las teorías de la autoorganización, y la define como una tendencia constante y espontánea de un sistema en la que sus elementos interactúan entre sí y con el entorno, dando lugar a patrones de comportamiento global”, sentido en el cual, precisamente, destacamos la complejidad de Internet.
El texto original consigna las itálicas.
David Osborne y Ted Gaebler figuran entre los primeros analistas digitales que anticiparon que las avanzadas tecnologías de información y comunicaciones asumirían un rol fundamental en la positiva reingeniería del Estado. Al Gore -quien admite ser reconocido como primer ciberestadista-, perfiló las bases del nuevo contrato social sobre el cual bien podría reposar el desarrollo de las sociedades informacionales, en un discurso que dictó el 12 de octubre de 1998, conocido como la “Declaración de la Independencia Digital”. La mayor parte de los programas de e-gobierno en el mundo recuperan las tesis expuestas por Gore en el citado discurso. Fecha de consulta: 7 de noviembre de 2006. Richard Rosecrance fue uno de los primeros analistas que reparó en el advenimiento del “Estado virtual” y las condiciones en las cuales se desarrolla la “nueva gobernanza”.
El Proyecto Internet del Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Estado de México (ITESM CEM), fue creado en 1995 por iniciativa de académicos, investigadores y estudiantes de la licenciatura en ciencias de la comunicación del ITESM CEM. Entre 1996 y 2000, el Proyecto Internet del Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Estado de México, desarrolló algunos de los principales sitios web del gobierno de México, destacando: Presidencia de la República (1996), PEMEX (1996 y 1998), Cámara de Diputados (1997-2000), Senado de la República (1998).
La palabra usuabilidad, procede del término usability (inglés). Usabilidad nos permite referir el conjunto de técnicas y elementos de medición susceptibles de ser empleados para evaluar la facilidad, rapidez y amigabilidad de determinados productos o servicios. En cuanto a aplicaciones informáticas, de hardware o software, el modelo conceptual de usabilidad responde a necesidades de evaluación de prototipos de diseño centrados en las necesidades del usuario — considerando entre el extenso conjunto posible de prototipos de diseño, páginas web o sistemas de información en línea. Un elemento íntimamente asociado con la usabilidad es la utilidad. En inglés, utilidad + usabilidad se conoce como usefulness.

Castells, M. (1996). The rise of the network society. USA: Blackwell Publishers.

Cornella, A. (2002). Infornomía!com. La gestión inteligente de la información en las organizaciones. España: Deusto.

Osborne, D., y Gaebler, T. (1992). Reinventing government. How the entrepreneurial spirit is transforming the public sector. USA: Addison Wesley.

Rosecrance, R. (1999). The rise of the virtual state. Wealth and power in the coming century. USA: Basic Books.

Imágen cortesía de los autores.

Octavio Islas es director de la Asociación Latinoamericana de Investigadores de la Comunicación (ALAIC), coordinador de los consejos editoriales de la revista web Razón y palabra, y la Revista Mexicana de Comunicación. Miembro del Sistema Nacional de Investigadores (SNI).

Arturo Caro Islas es investigador asociado de la Cátedra de Comunicaciones Estratégicas y Cibercultura del Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Estado de México, y director de organización de la VIII Convención Anual de la Media Ecology Association.

Favor de comentar.

by: Octavio Islas and Arturo Caro / Tecnológico de Monterrey, State of Mexico


Development of the knowledge economy — in which the Internet plays a main role — has imposed deep changes in the economic order of the world. According to Neil Postman — who along with Marshall McLuhan are acknowledged as the founders of Media Ecology, Ecology of the Media or “Toronto School”–, the impact of every new technology is not additive but “ecologic.”[i] Indeed, the impact of the Internet in contemporary societies is deep, complex,[ii] and irreversible. According to Thomas Friedman, author of the book The Earth is Flat. A Brief History of the Twentieth First Century (2006: 164): “Never in the history of the planet has many people had this possibility to look up information by themselves about so many subjects, themes or even about so many people.” Aside from the abundant information that is possible to consult on the Internet today, processing speeds of information has noticed important improves. It’s estimated that by the end of the present decade computers will be able to reach petaflops speeds, meaning, they will have capacity to do about a thousand billion mathematical operations every second.

The number of Internet users increases every year. At the beginning of January 2007, World Internet Stats estimated 1,091,730,86 Internet users — 16.8% of the world’s population. The first chart, elaborated based on information of World Internet Stats, comprehends information related to Internet users in the world depending population in geographical regions.

Chart 1. Internet users in the world, 2006.
Chart 1
Source: Internet World Stats. Last updated: December 31, 2006.

The transition to the knowledge and information society, represents a deep ecological chance in societies, and will take time. According to Alfons Cornella (2002: 2):

“To change towards an information society will take its time, and to accomplish that it’s necessary to better understand why now knowledge is the key to growth and wealth. It is also necessary that people acquire as a personal value, intellectual renovation; this shall not be collective heritage, the intelligentsia of knowledge society, but a value extended to all levels of society.”[iii]

From the creative tension amongst a country’s culture — that also comprehends its positive or negative perception of the modern, its choice or not to innovate, and the availability more or less open of its political structure will depend, according to Cornella (2002:13): “that its society can modernize through technological advances or, be stuck.” To declare a will of change to the society of information and knowledge is not enough. An Information Culture is the key player in transforming the economy of information in the society of information and knowledge. According to Alfons Cornella (2002:34-35): “a country can have a powerful information economy without it becoming an information society (…) and backwards, a society can be constituted by citizens and informally cultured organizations without this meaning the born of an information economy.”

Transitioning towards a knowledge and information society fundamentally depends on two variables that keep a close relation in between: infrastructure and infostructure. Infrastructure comprehends “a sufficiently dimensioned network (broadband), of easy access, inexpensive, open to citizenship and organizations” (Cornella 2002: 37). Infostructure “derives from the idea that a country’s infrastructure richness is not generated just as a consequence of having it, but to use it, to exploit it. Infostructure consists in all that allows getting the best utility off infrastructure.”

The adequate development of infostructure in a country supposes radical changes in many institutions. Some of the changes proposed by Cornella (2002:38) are: an educative system that has as an essential objective to teach how to learn; a science-technology system that takes advantage of the creative capacity of the citizenship and transforms it in new products and competitive services in global markets; a legal system capable of responding to the challenges imposed by the velocity to which technologies develop; a content base to ease the activities of citizens in the information era; a fiscal environment that softens the coming and development of a local information sector; an administration that can set an example in the efficient use of information technologies.

Analysis of the Info-Structure presented in the 22 web gateways or citizen targeted government websites of countries located in the continental platform of America (2006)

The imaginary of informational societies — that according to Alfons Cornella (2002), it’s just possible to conceive with citizens that effectively have a deep information culture available. Even when not many governors acknowledge that the “new wealth of nations” will depend on the adequate development of intellectual capital, today is possible to notice in a few countries that the State’s behavior effectively adjusts to the desirable outcome of every intelligent actor.[iv] For many governments the expression of the digital State represents an accessory and a secondary issue. The quality of the expression displayed in cyberspace by the State reveals how honest their interest is to access the information society. The wonderful capacity of advanced technologies to transfer information is not enough to assure that users will get the information the actually need.

Bureaucracy is used to ignore the actual informational needs of the citizenship, therefore putting upfront their own visions and interests. Not few websites and/or governmental web gateways distance themselves from the genuine purpose of contributing to the development of an effective informational culture in citizenship. Very few developers of online governmental information systems take into account the importance of incorporating into the development of such systems the recognition of how the needs of information in users changes.

The Internet Project[v] — Cátedra de Comunicaciones Estratégicas y Cibercultura of Tecnológico de Monterrey Campus Estado de Mexico, has been conducting since 2003 comparative studies of contents and usability[vi] of websites and web gateways of governmental institutes in the American continent. In the summer of 2006 we decided to center our attention on “citizen targeted government websites,” websites developed by government institutes that foresee the need to concentrate all information that eases citizen access to every main service provided by the State, certainly simplifying some actions that had to be done in person at government offices before.

The 2006 study and research were coordinated by Arturo Caro Islas, a Communications graduate from Universidad de Occidente, in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico. The processing of information was done by Janeth Everastico Bautista (Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero); Carolina Apodaca Prieto (Universidad de Occidente); Blanca Talamantes (Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez); Josué Enrique Bañuelos Peña (Universidad de Occidente) y Luis Zaragoza (Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Occidente).

In the 2006 study — done from June to August of said year–, we centered our attention in websites with the aforementioned characteristics and from the following countries: Canada, the United States, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Surinam, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Our usability matrix was the result of integrating the specific contents of each and every website and web governmental getaways, deriving in a total 50 units of content. From the perspective of a web emissary, to the moment of integrating the information — July of 2006–, our matrix would represent the structure of the most complete information, because it would conjoin the sum of content units considered in every website analyzed. Those 50 units of content were grouped in 4-themed axis: information offered at the web getaway; information services; accessibility; security and transparency. A fifth one was added for efficiency in contacting the webmasters or those responsible of such websites.

Chart 2

1 Information offered at the web gateway

This theme axis includes the first 26 units of content: languages, president or head of State info, state structure, government information, governmental agenda, government directory, profile of public functionaries, government / social programs, laws and regulations, official gazette / magazine, presidential or head of State speeches, exterior relations and embassies, local government, education, health, housing, business and economy, natural environment, agriculture, culture, science and technology, sports, tourism, jobs, statistics, holidays.

Chart 3

2 Information services

This theme axis includes the units of content located from 27 to 35 in our matrix: applications, forms and online services, service-prior-asking, legal assistance, frequently asked questions, glossary, chat and discussion rooms, URL, multimedia.

Chart 4

3 Accessibility

In this theme axis, the units of content studied were the ones located from number 36 to 48 in our matrix: homepage, welcome message by president or head of state, virtual tour, information targeted to specific audiences (kids, youth, adults, handicapped), links, media, search engine, map, help, webmaster name, e-mail, address, tel./fax.

Chart 5

4 Security and Transparency

This chart includes the units located in the spots 49 and 50 of our matrix.

Chart 6

5 General results

These are the results obtained from our study. The web gateways of Canada and Chile received high ratings (88 and 84, respectively). The web governmental gateways of seven countries received a disapproval rating: Honduras, Guyana, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Surinam, Belize and Paraguay.

Chart 7


The results obtained from our study offer a useful overview of the current status in the development of information societies in America, therefore to allow identifying the kind of information priorities of the webmasters and responsible of said web governmental getaways and websites. The results of this study and research were sent to each and every one of the administrators of the analyzed websites.

One of the best explanations about the impact of technological change in political economies in societies — a core theme in media ecology–, comes from Postman himself, then dean of NYU, who in march 27, 1998, was a keynote speaker at NewTech’98, in Denver, Colorado, United States. The title of his keynote was: “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change”. The five theses are: 1. Culture always pays the price for technology; 2. There are always winners and losers in technological change; 3. Every technology has a philosophy; 4. Technological change is not addictive, it’s ecological; 5. Media outlets end up becoming mythical. Source: Postman, N. “Five things we need to know about technological change”. Website consulted on January 12, 2007.
Complexity, as signaled by Marcelo Manucci (2004: 28) “is a problem word not a solution word (…) Complexity as a state found in order and chaos, conceived as extreme situations, situation that scientists (mathematicians, in particular), denominate phenomena at the limits of chaos. Another general definition is based in theories of self-organization, and is defined as a constant and spontaneous tendency of a system in which its elements interact amongst themselves and with the environment, giving place to patterns of global behavior.” This is the sense in which, precisely, we see the complexity of the Internet. [Editor’s note: translations from English to Spanish were provided by the authors, and subsequently edited for clarity during the production process – jl.]
Emphasis based on the original.
David Osborne and Ted Gaebler were amongst the first digital analysts that foresaw how advanced communication and information Technologies World assume a fundamental role in the positive re-engineering of the State. Al Gore –who admits to be acknowledged as the first cyber-statistic-, profiled the basis of a new social contract over which could reside the development of informational societies, in a speech he gave on October 12, 1998, known as the “Declaration of Digital Independence”. The majority of the e-government programs in the world recover the thesis exposed by Gore in said speech. Website consulted on November 7, 2006. Richard Rosecrance was one of the first analysts who saw the coming of a “virtual State” and the conditions on which such governance would develop.
Proyecto Internet (Internet Project) of Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Estado de Mexico (ITESM CEM), was created on 1995 by an initiative of academics, investigators and students of the Communications major of ITESM CEM. Between 1996 and 2000, the Internet Project of Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Estado de Mexico, developed some of the most important websites of the Mexican government, like: Presidency (1996), [The National Petrolium Industry in Mexico] PEMEX (1996 and 1998), Congress (1997-2000), and Senate (1998).
Usability allows us to determine the group of techniques and elements to size up or study and evaluate the easiness, quickness and the level of user-friendly factors on determined products or services. Talking about hardware or software in the computer world, the model concept for usability answers the evaluation needs of design prototypes centered on the needs of users — considering the vast number of design prototypes, websites or online information services. An intimately related element to usability is utility. Utility plus usability is also known as usefulness.

Click here to go to the Sources

Image Credits:
Images provided by authors.

Co-Author: Octavio Islas is Director of the Cátedra de Comunicaciones Estratégicas y Cibercultura del Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Estado de Mexico. Also director of ALAIC (Latin-American Association of Communication Investigators), coordinates the editorial boards of Razón y palabra web magazine, and Revista Mexicana de Comunicación. Member of the National System of Investigators (SNI).

Co-Author: Arturo Caro Islas is an associate investigator and researcher of the Cátedra de Comunicaciones Estratégicas y Cibercultura del Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Estado de Mexico. Head of coordination of the 8th Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association.

Watching TV Without Pity

by: Mark Andrejevic / University of Iowa


Despite their threats and invective, it’s hard to take the folks at Fox seriously when they badmouth, the Website that champions the underdogs on American Idol – not out of pity, but in order to have them to kick around a bit longer. Fox has reportedly slapped the site with cease-and-desist orders and dispatched its spokespeople to call it “hateful” and “mean-spirited,” but as is so often the case with Murdoch-style outrage, this reeks of a certain gleeful hypocrisy – as when the network turned suddenly penitent after Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?, and trumpeted its remorse all the way to the bank ( is merely one more self-stoking symptom of American Idol’s daunting success. As the site’s founder put it, Fox needs to lighten up: “All we’re doing is getting people to watch their show…We’re [earning] you money for the sponsors!” (Elfman, 2007).

If it’s not already quietly negotiating a deal to buy the site, Fox should learn from Bravo, which recently purchased the well established, rip-on-your-favorite-show site, (TWoP for short) (Peterson, 2007). For those who have been following its snarky antics since it changed its name from Mighty Big TV and attracted a loyal following of some 50,000 registered users with lots more visitors and lurkers, the sale might be somewhat bittersweet: the site that gleefully ripped on The Powers That Be (TPTB, in TWoPspeak) has officially been deputized by them (Kapica, 2006). All of which might threaten to take some of the satisfaction out of the snark…or not.

A few years ago, I posted an advertisement on the site (which was strapped for cash at the time, before its deal with Yahoo and its purchase by Bravo) inviting visitors to participate in an online survey. In keeping with the general tenor of the site, I received lots (almost 1,800, within a matter of days) of articulate, thoughtful, and highly self-reflexive answers to questions about how TWoPpers envisioned their role in the media food chain. Despite the interactive hype that has inundated the media environment since the start of the millennium, the people who wrote me were, in keeping with the upbeat cynicism that characterizes all but the most unabashedly fannish forums on the site, quite cautious about making any broad claims regarding audience empowerment or subversive consumption. As one respondent put it, “the producers are such prostitutes to advertisers and whatever other show may be popular that giving advice would be pointless. It is all about the Benjamins.”

This response was typical. Most of those who wrote me took pains to suggest that they didn’t have any illusions about transforming or improving the culture industry. The recurring theme in the responses was that contributors post primarily for one another, and that if producers feel like paying attention, so much the better. Some respondents cautioned against the dangers of TWoPpers believing their own press coverage, which included accounts of show runners scurrying back to their computers to see how the boards were treating their shows. As one respondent put it, “Although the artistic personnel of some shows probably read TWOP, I think the posters on the forums think they have more influence than they probably do. If they write posts for the series creators, they are deluded as to their influence.”



Which is not to say TWoPpers were entirely without hope: the site’s snark is motivated in no small part by disappointment in the persistent inanity and unfulfilled potential of a medium for which contributors and founders alike maintain a perverse affection. As one of the site’s co-founders, Sarah Bunting put it, “We love television, and we want it to be better than it is. Because most of the time — 85 percent of the time — it’s crap” (Vogel, 2006). But improving TV via fan participation is not something they’re counting on: “If TV is watching us, that’s great,” Bunting said, “but it’s not what we set out to do” (Kapica, 2006).

TWoPpers are using a new medium – the Internet – to make an older one more entertaining for themselves and anyone else who wants to tag along or chip in. As one of the respondents to my survey put it, “I would like my TV to be smarter, better written, more intellectually stimulating, and more emotionally engaging. With TWoP, at least my watching of TV can be those things.”

This is the beauty of interactivity from the producers’ perspective: not only does it allow for the spontaneous formation of instant focus groups, but it also allows them to benefit from the free labor of smart people trying to make bad TV more entertaining.

I first noticed this phenomenon when I was spending a fair amount of time in the official chat rooms for the first US version of Big Brother. Despite much hype, the show was often mind-numbingly boring, as were the round-the-clock live Internet video feeds. The chat rooms became, for at least some viewers, the only way to make the show interesting. While watching the cast members’ attempts to entertain themselves in a drab, media-free ranch house on a lot in studio city, online viewers similarly took upon themselves the task of amusing themselves by speculating on plot twists that might make the show more interesting, by sharing information about the various contestants, and by starting online debates.

TWoP has elevated the attempt to make bad TV more entertaining to a popular art form. In the TWoP world, the show is no longer the final product, but rather the raw material to which value is added by the labor – some paid, some free – of recappers and forum contributors. While TWoPpers benefit from the wit and wisdom of their fellow posters and their shared project, so do producers. Not only did roughly one-third of the respondents to my survey indicate that they watched more TV because of TWoP but a similar number indicated that there were shows that they would not have watched without the TWoP recaps.

All of which suggests that it might be worth revisiting the Jenkinsian appropriation of de Certeau’s observation that, “ readers are travelers; they move across lands belonging to someone else, like nomads poaching their way across fields they did not write, despoiling the wealth of Egypt to enjoy it themselves” (as quoted in Jenkins, 1988; 86). The romantic appeal of this formulation is unmistakable: it refigures fans of all stripes as latter day Robin Hoods, bandits, and rebels – pirating the wealth of the Hollywood heavies. In the interactive era, the metaphor breaks down in the transition from fields to texts. As economists might put it, the consumption of crops is rival: if I make off in the night with the wheat you worked all season tending, you’ve been despoiled, stripped of your goods. If however, I devote my lunch hour and down time at work honing my wit on the grindstone of American Idol, my enjoyment only enhances the wealth of Century City.

It turns out that the despoilers aren’t tearing their way across the media landscape like rapacious rebels, but perhaps more like unpaid nomadic laborers, turning the soil and enriching it as they go. Fox needs to wake up and smell the fertilizer that’s being lavished on its fields for free.


Elfman, Doug. 2007. “Enjoying Their Worst: Suburban Web Site says Idol is ‘Giant Karaoke Contest.’” Chicago Sun Times, March 26.

Jenkins, Henry. 1988. “Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten: Fan Writing as Textual Poaching.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 5: 85-107.

Kapica, Jack. 2006. Serious TV Web Forum Getting Serious Notice. The Globe and Mail (Canada), April 13, p. B11.

Peterson, Karla. 2007. “With TWoP in Bravo’s Pocket, Does This Mean the Party’s Over?” The San-Diego Union-Tribune, March 16, p. E9.

Vogel, Charity. 2006. “Living in TV Land.” The Buffalo News, December 10, p. G3.

Image Credits:
2. Tubey

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Sex, Media, Celebrity: A Queer Culture of Media Production

by: Adam Fish / UCLA

“Bring us your weird, your extreme, your niche, your marginal, your utterly twisted, and we will show you a world of wonder.”
WOW TV Manifesto

World of Wonder

World of Wonder

World of Wonder (WOW) is a cutting-edge independent documentary television, film, and new media production company headed by two executive producers, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato.

Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato at Sundance Film Festival

Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato at Sundance Film Festival

They currently produce documentary and reality TV programs dealing with sex, media, celebrity, and queer identity. WOW almost always has something airing in the US on networks such as HBO, Showtime, Bravo and VH1 and in the UK on Channel 4.

Presently you can watch Debbie Does Dallas…Again on Showtime, Tori and Dean: Inn Love on Oxygen, and Party Monster on IFC. These shows are hyped online on their weblog, The WOW Report and licensed television for WOW TV, their hosted digital video community.

WOW brands itself with a style of intimate and verite studies of queer culture, sexuality, celebrity, and media. These topics are synergistically mobilized to produce content for US and UK cable television, worldwide festival films, and WOW’s websites.

WOW’s transmedia story of sex, celebrity, media, and queerness is charged with a subcultural capital of sexual liberation and radical individuality.

WOW adopts a drag queen plasticity with gender and a campy re-reading of sexual norms to fuel simultaneous sensationalism and political visibility on three media platforms: film, TV, and web 2.0.

WOW became a profitable documentary production company in the early-1990s, during a period of cable ascendancy, industrial instability, and competitive primetime network re-branding (Caldwell 2004, 54). The early 1990s was also an historical moment witnessing the rise of reality television.

With their documentary film sensibility and infatuation with popular culture, WOW was an easy and profitable fit with cable companies looking to hit niche demographics with low-budget reality television. WOW became and remains the go-to production company for many US and UK communications conglomerates needing to cultivate a sexually-curious, subculturally-interested micro audience.

Club Culture: The Scene becomes the Mise-en-Scene
WOW’s sensibility began in experiences in the clubs and subcultural arts scene of New York City in the 1980s. As DJs and the disco rock band The Fabulous Pop Tarts, Bailey and Barbato were insiders to a gay media movement rising in Manhattan in the wake of Warhol’s death. Failing to become pop music stars, Bailey and Barbato turned to managing in the early 1990s. They successfully introduced RuPaul, the first drag queen to hit popular American culture. The RuPaul Show aired in 1996 and ran for over 100 episodes on VH1.

As politically active or hedonistic entrepreneurs, Bailey and Barbato began to see an economic-future in producing media from their experiences in queer and art subcultures. From their experience in the Club Kid scene in the late 1980s and early 90s they made their first acclaimed documentary, Party Monster, which premiered at Sundance in 1998.

Club Kids in WOW documentary Party Monster

Club Kids in WOW documentary Party Monster

These experiences in performance, gender bending, celebrity construction and media play set the foundation for the production of over 125 documentary television series and films queerly dealing with sex, media, and celebrity. As WOW grew in stature they were increasingly interested in making participatory television and interactive websites.

Participatory Television

“Today’s underground is tomorrow’s mainstream”
–from the WOW TV Manifesto

WOW’s motto is a fitting explanation of their role in transforming the underground artist-viewer into avant-garde television users. Several of their earliest and original series were based on airing user-submitted videos and talking with viewers on live television. WOW’s participation with viewers continued from television to web 2.0.

Takeover TV was WOW’s first experiment in participatory television.

User-submitted program, Takeover TV

User-submitted program, Takeover TV

Manhattan Cable was a repurposing of strange American cable access programs for British audiences. The terrifying drag host Divine David features viewer submitted videos mixed with his diabolically drag performances. The Adam and Joe Show, a spin-off of WOW’s first show, Takeover TV, also featured campy-boy hosts toying with user-submitted video tapes. Made in the USA was a travelogue of American cable access video-auteurs. Also, WOW gave cameras to ten people to record LA after the 1992 riots for LA Stories. All of these programs are available online on WOW TV, their online, user-generated content network.

Participant Television (2.0): WOW TV

“TV is a medium that belongs to all of us. And often the best TV comes from those who have nothing to do with it.”
-Fenton Bailey, WOW Executive Producer



WOW TV was launched in late 2006. Most of the programs included in this documentary were downloaded from WOW TV and many of the television programs repurposed for WOW TV come from early WOW programs aired first in the UK on Channel 4.

WOW understood the sensationalism and activism in programming user-generated content as early as 1995 when they accumulated amateur videos for Manhattan Cable, Takeover TV, The Adam and Joe Show, Made in the USA, and Divine David. Today offering nearly 1000 downloads–the majority from WOW’s corporate library–WOW TV is a digital location to cultivate a niche audience of user-viewers.

“Randy and Fenton were new media before there was new media,” says J. Max Robins, editor of the trade journal Broadcasting & Cable. “They have always been aggregators who go out and see what’s there, put it together, and find a thread to put through it. The connective tissue is their humor and acute pop sensibility. All that translates well to the Web” (Pike 2006).

WOW TV works for WOW as a repurposing station, and works for fans as a place to showcase what may be censored on YouTube, MySpace, or Google video. WOW TV serves as a place for community media experimentation and where WOW can remain connected through structural support of their fanbase. In the ideal, WOW TV would become a cable television network.

For either their camp, voyeuristic, or genius appeal, WOW popularized participatory television, a collaborative production between broadcasters and the audience, before web 2.0 facilitated and capitalized on this interactivity. Both economics and community identification inspire WOW’s focus on making alternative visions visable. Subcultures and their subcultural capital are made profitable and brought to the masses while broadcast on television and web 2.0.

Queer Convergence
To explain how WOW began in subcultural experience, produced for television and film, and developed a powerful interactive online presence, I will use three phrases: cultural convergence, multiform convergence, and multicultural convergence. By cultural convergence I mean the culture, history, and experience that predate and fertilize a media idea. By multiform convergence, I refer to multiple media platforms–television, film, the web–working in synergy for the economic and political gain of the production company. By multicultural convergence, I mean the interactions that develop between users, viewers, and producers in online participatory media.

A transmedia story of queer visibility set within a popular culture of sex, media, and celebrity transects and connects cultural, multiform, and multicultural convergence. WOW’s transmedia story of queer visibility and interactivity began in the club culture, migrated to film and television, and emerged on the web. In the core of this communication circuit between media makers and media users is convergence, the coming together of people and the development of physical and virtual communities.

Like no other production company before or since, WOW worked documents of queer culture onto cable networks. As documentary films, reality television, and the queering of television increase in popularity, WOW’s brand satisfies the niche need in network conglomerate programming. As these network relations progress, WOW will gain more creative agency to spin their participant take on gender, sex, celebrity, and media subcultures into increasingly progressive programming.

From the beginning to the present, interactivity and a connection to subcultures are a cultural and economic imperative for WOW. WOW’s representations normalize the existence of multiple sexual identities, melding commerciability with a subtext of sexual diversity.

Convergence Circuit

Convergence Circuit

Some may say WOW produces trash TV. But because of their emphasis on and engagement with queers, sex, media, and celebrity—while being participants in these cultures—WOW’s productions are both sensational and subjectively honest, profitable and political. WOW makes visible those neglected by media representation—amateur producers, drag queens, transgendered students, male whores—and WOW re-represents and queers those overly-visible—celebrities, porn stars, and mediamakers. WOW’s ability to interactively make visible alternative genders and sexualities is behind their economic success and political potency.

Image Credits:
Images provided by author. All frame stills are the property of World of Wonder, downloaded from WOW TV, and in the forthcoming documentary World of Wonder: A Documentary of a Production Company, Raw Bird Films

Works Cited:

1. Caldwell, John. 2004. “Convergence Television: Aggregating Form and Repurposing Content in the Culture of Conglomeration.” In Television After TV: Essays on a Medium in Transition, edited by Lynn Spigel and Jan Olsson, 41-74. Durham: Duke University Press.

2. Pike, Laurie. “Channel XYZ: drag queens, club kids, and amateur erotic filmmakers make WOW TV the online outlet for artists on the edge.” Los Angeles Magazine, Oct 1, 2006.

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“Why 2008 Won’t Be Like 1984:” Viral Videos and Presidential Politics

by: Chuck Tryon / Fayetteville State University

As a media studies scholar and an incurable political junkie, I watched with fascination this week as the drama surrounding the (initially) anonymously posted “Vote Different” advertisement unfolded. In my previous article for Flow, I addressed some reservations about the hype regarding participatory culture, while the 2006 elections clearly depicted the potential for online videos to shape political discourse.

The “Vote Different” video, in my reading, raises further questions regarding the potential of the internet to shape the political process, questions I’m not entirely sure I can answer. These questions grow out of the following dilemma: While I remain unconvinced that the “Vote Different” advertisement significantly altered the current political discourse, I still find the underlying message of citizen empowerment irresistible.

“Vote Different,” a mashup of the highly-regarded 1984 Apple Macintosh Super Bowl advertisement directed by Ridley Scott, replaces the IBM-style Big Brother figure in the Apple advertisement with footage of Hillary Clinton’s “Conversation with America” speech. The ad famously depicts a dreary world in which workers wearing identical grey clothing move listlessly through their workday while passively absorbing the messages delivered from the giant screen that hovers above them. As Senator Clinton speaks to the inert audience, an athletic woman sprints through the crowd, throwing a hammer through the screen, and by implication shattering the “politics-as-usual” she has come to represent. Edited onto the woman’s t-shirt is a modified Apple logo made to resemble an O, identifying her with rival presidential candidate Barack Obama. The original advertisement, an allegory of the Macintosh user fighting against a conformist establishment, maps neatly onto cultural desires for a more participatory political system.

The mashup is one of the first truly viral videos to emerge from the 2008 presidential election. The original “Vote Different” video had been viewed over two million times on YouTube alone, but its real online audience would be almost impossible to measure. The video has also inspired a number of imitations, including this clumsily assembled anti-Obama mashup of the same Macintosh advertisement with the Illinois Senator’s popular Monday Night Football appearance.

Of course, one of the reasons the advertisement is so successful is its creative reinterpretation of Ridley Scott’s original Macintosh advertisement, which aired only once during the 1984 Super Bowl. While the mashup attempts to align Senator Clinton with “politics-as-usual,” through the reference to Apple’s “revolutionary” brand, it has the added bonus of bringing the legendary Apple advertisement back into public consciousness (in fact, I’m not sure that I had even seen the original Macintosh ad since its 1984 broadcast).

Much of the controversy surrounding the video can be attributed to the fact that it was originally posted anonymously on YouTube several weeks ago under the pseudonym, ParkRidge47 (Hilary Clinton was born in Park Ridge, Illinois in 1947). Because the video was posted anonymously and because it explicitly identified Clinton with Big Brother, a number of readings emerged on the web attributing the video not only to Obama supporters but also to Republican activists. While the anonymity initially posed a number of interpretive difficulties, Jeff Jarvis argued in The Washington Post that the anonymously posted advertisement betrayed an important trust within political discourse, representing the possibility that attack ads could come from “anywhere.” The video’s creator, Phil de Vellis, eventually stepped forward, taking credit for the ad when it became clear that his work on it might reflect poorly on his employer, Blue State Digital, which had worked on the Obama campaign. De Vellis’s involvement with Blue State Digital certainly raises questions about whether the advertisement is genuinely the product of a “political outsider;” however, the repeated viewings certainly suggest that the advertisement has struck a chord with the groups who have been closely following the 2008 election.

Political Cartoon by Lisa Benson

Political Cartoon by Lisa Benson (3/21/07)

The debate about the advertisement also managed to attract the attention of newspaper and cable news analysts who typically argued that its popularity marked a historic shift where anyone could participate in the election process. In fact, the advertisement has prompted a number of observers to describe the advertisement as “revolutionary,” with Peter Leyden, director of the New Politics Institute, arguing in the San Francisco Chronicle, that the ad is “about the end of the broadcast era.” However, while the ad is no doubt powerful and illustrates the potential of citizen media, I can’t help but find myself feeling skeptical when I hear phrases like “revolutionary” and “end of the broadcast era” being thrown around. Instead, it’s worth emphasizing that the ad’s popularity actually depends in part on the broadcast media that it supposedly threatens. De Vellis himself promoted this reading on The Huffington Post, commenting that “the specific point of the ad was that Obama represents a new kind of politics, and that Senator Clinton’s ‘conversation’ is disingenuous. And the underlying point was that the old political machine no longer holds all the power.”

Whether de Vellis’s specific point about the Clinton campaign is true, I remain somewhat uncertain regarding the role of voter-generated content in shaping political discourse. The advertisement does little, in my opinion, to change popular perception of the two Democratic frontrunners. Clinton will continue to be perceived as the Washington insider identified with traditional political campaigns while Obama’s image as someone who will reinvigorate the political process remains unchanged. It is clear, however, that these videos are attracting audiences because they tap into larger cultural desires regarding the election process. As David Weinberger pointed out in the Washington Post article, “expressing frustration and unhappiness with the level of control that her campaign is exerting.” I certainly recognize the degree to which the “Vote Different” advertisement and its popularity is an expression of the desire to open up the election process to greater participation. And the expression of this desire may be the great contribution of “Vote Different” to our ongoing conversations about democracy and participation.

Image Credits:
1. Clinton Still from Summary
2. Political Cartoon by Lisa Benson (3/21/07)

Video Credits:
1. “Vote Different” (Anti-Clinton)
2. “Vote Different” (Anti-Obama)

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Network Television’s Ongoing Struggle with Web-based Television

by: Ray Cha / Independent Scholar



As television continues to evolve, we see changes occurring, in terms of its content, delivery and reception, and distribution. In the area of web delivered television, traditional broadcasters have been slowly figuring out ways to deliver television onto the Internet. As more people are viewing and posting video onto the web, they are finally admitting that watching television on the web is a matter of when and how, rather than if.

When discussing web delivery of television, it is easy to focus on YouTube, especially with its well publicized purchase by Google and constant demands of content providers to remove illegally posted material (most recently seen by the Oscars.) Of course, YouTube was able to show the great potential of video that does not clog email inboxes, require web authoring skills, or get lost due to unstable links. However, its success now drives the fragmentation of web-based television with competing services, which make the landscape all the more complicated.

Joost recently signed a major distribution deal with Viacom to host content from its various outlets including Comedy Central, VH1 and MTV. Ironically, the owners of Joost were also behind the often sued second generation P2P network, Kazaa. This deal shows how these once fringe services are now moving towards the center. YouTube added a BBC channel to go along with NBC, PBS, the NBA, and others. US television networks, NBC and ABC (and their cable partners) host full episodes or clips on their sites and sells them on iTunes.

Television networks continue to struggle with finding ways to deliver content without losing their tight control over their content. NBC and their relationship with Saturday Night Live clips is telling. Because they have been lagging behind the other three major US networks, they were often leaders with experimenting with several different vehicles including YouTube, iTunes and their own site with varying effectiveness and understanding.

YouTube logo

YouTube logo

In one case, Fishbowl NY, a New York focused media blog, posted about a Saturday Night Live segment parody of Hillary Clinton. By the time I tried to watch the clip, it has been removed by request from NBC, which of course, is their right. The clip has not been posted to the official NBC YouTube channel, or on the SNL video page on the NBC site. While NBC may have a strategy behind which clips they post, it does seem that they are missing the advantages of the long tail, which capitalizes on niche tastes. While many more people download their rap parodies than watch the show on tv sets, they still feel the need to be gatekeepers. They lose relevance by locking up their content. Therefore, insight from fan YouTube postings and the discussion on the blogosphere is left untapped. Appreciating remix culture is even more distant and beyond the scope of this column.

Based on the experiences of NBC as well as other television networks, three areas that they will need to grasp soon are the longtail, search, and access. Traditional television programming is the polar opposite of long tail principles, which explains their reluctance to adapt. The success of Netflix and Amazon show the benefits of making entire archives available for sharing content and gaining insight on their viewers. The long tail allows them to maintain relevancy in an era of shrinking audiences and one in which viewers are increasingly selective and expect their well- defined preferences to be satisfied.

Along with the principles of the longtail, search will become crucial for people to find their desired media. Useful video search requires conventions in tagging, which is notoriously difficult for time-based media. Quality control for large-scale crowd sourcing tagging efforts, as seen in YouTube, is especially challenging. Formats such as Quicktime, have time-based tagging functionality in place, however the conventions are still unformed. Formal systems to dictate the tagging overall themes versus specific objects on screen is one simple examplethat needs to be addressed.

On a recent trip to Asia, I was surprised to find that ABC and NBC blocked their streaming content outside the US. Further, the BBCs Creative Archive pilot program uploaded 500 clips for people in the UK to download. Granted, UK citizens pay the BBC. (The 36 clips that BBC provides on its YouTube helps, but is not a replacement.) In both cases, the lack of access highlights the complicated issue of access to knowledge and culture (both high and low) that will only becoming more important in the future.

We are now in the adolescence, and no longer the infancy, of web delivered television. There are a number of services and models, some of which are bound to fail, before we settle upon standard outlets. In the transitional period of a disruptive technology, it is important to have experimental models and methods.

As the landscape continues to evolve, we are at the point of slowing speculation. Television networks need to shed many of their older conventions in order to maintain their relevance.


Jeremy W. Peters, “Kazaa’s Creators Do Latest Venture by the
Book,” New York Times, February 27, 2007.

Joshua Chaffin and Francesco Guerrera, “NBC’s Zucker lashes
out at YouTube,” Financial Times, February 6 2007.

Image Credits:
1. Television
2. YouTube logo

Please feel free to comment.