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Mel Stanfill

First, this gives me several more texts I need to examine in my catalogue of fans and representation.

But second, I’m struck by how much background knowledge is needed to understand this vid. Teaching fanvids, I often find students are not steeped in the tradition (unsurprisingly), but also not able to even follow the argument put forward by the editing and music (particularly when there’s a queer reading). This one is that on the next level, and it does frame the vid as FOR fans rather than an argument being made toward “mainstream” culture to appreciate fan difference.

Elsa from Frozen
Mel Stanfill

I find the wide difference between your reading of this trailer and mine really fascinating. I found myself horrified that the powerful Queen Elsa was not the Christian Grey analogue but instead was positioned as the impressionable young girl role.

It’s also interesting to me that while I am familiar with the 50 Shades trailer and with the many fan trailers that play with it, and with Frozen, I have no idea who Jack is—maybe that would make it less distressing if I did?

Then too, is my reading inflected by my distress over THIS thing being the mainstreaming of fanfic, BDSM, and women’s unapologetic sexuality. I am in favor of those things, but 50 Shades is such a terrible example of all three.

So the combination of stripping Elsa’s status and using 50 Shades makes it hard to see this as feminist, even as the reworking popular culture part clearly is. Shades of gray indeed.

Cynthia Meyers

Professionalization, networking, evolving business models: these are not bad developments, nor do they necessarily foretell closed systems. They are the normal outcomes of growth—and growth is not a bad thing. Efficiency, through networking, can be a good thing—sharing costs can improve content quality.

As to the numbers about how only a few podcasts dominate iTunes downloads, the 80/20 rule pertains to podcasts just as it does to other forms of cultural products—novels, movies, music tracks, blogs, etc. A minority of cultural products attracts the majority of audiences: this is not a bad thing, it’s just the way cultural diffusion tends to work. Few of us actually want to consume every cultural product, nor should we. And the majority of cultural products aren’t very good—let’s not blame audiences for choosing a few over many others.

When podcasters reference other distribution models, they are simply trying to place themselves within recognizable contexts. This is not evidence they plan to replicate bottlenecked systems. They seem to be trying to align themselves with high quality culturally legitimated forms.

Let’s not worry so much about podcasters’ success! Podcasters do not have the advantages of legacy media—they do not enjoy bottleneck-control mass distribution— and so their future depends on their ability to actively interest audiences. This, I think, is a good thing and why we can remain optimistic, at least for now, that podcasting will continue to innovate. :-)

Hardcore History Logo

I’ve had this page open in my browser for days as I’ve thought about its content and implications. What I’ve been pondering, Andrew, is the development of what it means to be a professional historian (which to me includes biographers). It seems that the notion that only academics are “professional historians” is a very new construct and might not be the best benchmark. When I think of historians — such as British historians Richard F. Burton, Catherine Macaulay, or Winston S. Churchill or Americans such as Carl Sandberg, Taylor Branch, or Shelby Foote, among many others, including Nobel and Pulitzer winners — these folks did not become historians by sequencing degrees together to create a certification as a professional historian. They became historians by writing well about history. I wasn’t familiar with Dan Carlin until your article, but despite his claims that he is not an historian, he seems to be following a very long heritage of being an historian by writing (or in this case speaking) about history in a manner that is well-informed and accurate. Thus rather than being disruptive— except in his attempt to disassociate himself from a new and perhaps limiting definition of historian (in a move that smacks just a bit of anti-intellectualism, which the baseball cap/jeans also seems to do), he seems to fit more with the historical trend of being an historian than the more contemporary exclusive one. The medium doesn’t seem to be any more disruptive than self-published histories of the past.

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Andrew J. Salvati

Hi Kathleen, nice to hear from you.

I’d want to point out first that I do not know how Carlin was approached by the CBS This Morning booking producer, or what the behind-the-scenes thinking was in inviting him on the show. For all I know he wasn’t their first choice! This kind of thing would be nice to know, and I might follow up on it in the future…

As for my attempt at your “non-rhetorical question,” yes, the appropriation of the “populist” or “grass roots” medium of podcasting by mainstream outlets (and even the emergence of podcast “networks” like Earwolf) reminds me somewhat of early radio, in which some optimists - perhaps too optimistically - predicted a day in which everyone in America could have their own station. But of course, it was largely those users with the most resources (i.e. the networks) that would dominate the airwaves.

But I think your question points to some interesting questions about the concept of disruption that are worth thinking about. There was an interesting piece by Kevin Roose in New York Magazine last year asserting that the term has recently been used so widely – and frequently as a stand-in for “cool” or “inventive” – as to have little meaning anymore.

I think we might be entering a point in the history of podcasting in which the possibility of disruption may still yet exist for some very creative independent podcast producers. However, these voices may be crowded out by the more mainstream, professionally produced podcasts. Timeshifted radio programs, or content produced by mainstream outlets seem to appear on sites like iTunes and various podcast ranking sites more frequently than independent ones. And from what I understand, it is difficult to get visibility for a new podcast on iTunes without first establishing a listenership (a kind of catch 22), so it may not be that easy for a new, independent podcast producer to be “disruptive” within this already mainstream-ing soundscape.

But perhaps if the medium is no longer “disruptive” per se, the content within the form can be. This is sort of my argument about Dan Carlin: He may in fact be a professional broadcaster and an undergraduate-trained historian, but he is attempting to disrupt historical discourse by producing his own.

Jeff Casey

This is a great post, Andrew. I want to mostly agree with you and then quibble a bit.

So, first, you seem to be dead on in diagnosing the inevitable corporatization of podcasting. The Panoply Network is a canny bid by the Slate Media Group to exploit their existing podcast marketshare, ad revenue, and technical expertise. StartUp would have us see Gimlet Media as a scrappy insurgent company, but all three of Gimlet’s existing programs are in the top fifty podcasts on iTunes. Panoply and Gimlet arguably represent an “upward” pressure on the marketplace, coming from newly organized or re-organized media groups. At the same time, (as I note in my post) if we look at the most popular downloads on Stitcher or the most popular on iTunes, public radio (i.e., NPR, PRI, APM, PBS, and BBC) programs still dominate. Increasingly public radio serves as an incubator for native digital content. (The Planet Money team produces web-only and dual use content.) Established media are also found in the top fifty lists (e.g., Reuters, MSNBC, Time magazine, The New York Times, The New Yorker, HBO, etc.). Public radio and corporate media are able to simply repurpose existing content with minimal cost as a way to keep a foothold in the podcast marketplace. So, these may be seen as two different vectors of corporatization: from new networks, exerting upward pressure, and existing media companies, exerting downward pressure.

Having said that, I wanted to ask you to what extent podcasts might be inherently resistant to corporatization? Podcasts have low production costs, few of barriers to distribution (for the time being), and a low threshold for success. Moreover, as Brad notes with the example of Maron, podcasters often rely on their aura of “authenticity” to appeal to listeners. Podcasters can then to generate revenue by leveraging fan loyalty through cross-media strategies.

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Kathleen Collins

Very interesting observations, and thanks for introducing me to this podcast. Carlin is indeed quite comfortable as a talking head, and his hosts don’t even ask him about his podcast or expertise – it’s just a given that because he has a history-related platform that is reportedly “popular” that that’s good enough, presumably, for the view audience. Each of the posts this week mentioned the fact that podcasting began as a disruptive, democratic or populist new medium but has now perhaps entered into the mainstream arena of professionally produced broadcasting. It’s reminiscent of the evolution of reality tv, and surely a bunch of other endeavors that I can’t think of at the moment. My non-rhetorical question is: what does this say about media/popular culture in the 21st century?

WTF? How a podcast established a unique transmedia dialogue
Kathleen Collins

Jeff- Excellent points, all! Thank you for raising them. I do not dispute any of it. Kathleen

WTF? How a podcast established a unique transmedia dialogue
Jeff Casey

I don’t think I want to dispute with either of you, Kathleen and Brad, on the issue of Maron as an innovator in the medium of podcast or as transmedia pioneer. Though I do want to push back a little on praising Maron as a unique voice of male confessional “authenticity” and “honesty.” I’m a little skeptical (perhaps cynical) about applying these terms to media figures, but that is not my main objection. I would mainly disagree with the assessment that Maron is a uniquely confessional male voice. He was perhaps the first to deploy the voice effectively within podcasting, but the male “confessional” is central to modern American culture.

Let’s not even go into the tortured white heterosexual male protagonists featured in the novels and stories of Hemingway, Roth, Cheever, Carver, Bukowski, etc.; or the alcoholic/recovering alcoholic memoirs of Frederick Exley, Augusten Burroughs, James Frey, etc.; or the tortured figuring of the white straight male in contemporary American television, e.g., Don Draper, Walter White, Jimmy McNulty, etc.

Putting these texts to one side, I would point to prominent stand up comedians who use, to lesser and greater degrees, confessional styles, for example, Lenny Bruce, particularly in the heartbreaking routine he performed after his obscenity trial, or Rick Reynolds in his darkly philosophical “Only the Truth Is Funny.” Bill Hicks and Doug Stanhope present an angry version of confessional stand up. Bill Hicks raged continuously on stage about his career. Richard Pryor was perhaps the most brutally confessional comedian ever.

If we ignore the artificial boundary between “stand up” and “performance art” (a boundary that Bobcat Goldthwait and Any Kauffman effectively erased), then we should also consider Spalding Gray and Eric Begosian (cf. Michael Peterson’s “Straight White Male Performance Art Monologues”). No one, I would argue, was more neurotically confessional than Gray.

So, I say all of this not to dismiss Maron. I’m a fan of his podcast, his standup, and his series. However, in recognizing Maron as an innovative podcaster and a talented comedian, I would want to carefully avoid celebrating straight white men for, yet again, claiming a new medium in which to work out their anger, fears, and psychotherapeutic issues. I *don’t* think either of you are doing this, but I think it is worth hammering out this aspect of the conversation.

WTF? How a podcast established a unique transmedia dialogue
Brad Mitchell

In lieu of repeating what Kathleen wrote, I do feel that Maron has created something unique when compared to the other comedians you mentioned.

One aspect of the podcast I would have loved to include in my original post but could not due to text length constraints is why it was originally conceived. You have to look back to where Maron was when the podcast started: down on his luck, having professional difficulties, and questioning his purpose in life. The podcast was created as a means of dealing with the disappointment and frustration with his comedy career. The podcast is what really allowed him to find a new audience, and he’s obviously much more well known now than before the podcast began.

I think a combination of the confessional nature of his output plus his overly active audience are what set him apart. As Kathleen also mentioned, many other male comedians have now gone the podcast route, and he seems to have built the blueprint for how it can be successful.