Fan Innovators and Mass-Media Copycats


The MIT media scholar Henry Jenkins, whose comments have surfaced in several stories for Reason, has started a blog. One of the earliest posts explores the sporadically brilliant TV show Robot Chicken and the grassroots genre that birthed it:

Action figure cinema is an emblematic example of the capacity of grassroots media makers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content. Fan filmmakers essentially take toys that were sold to them as commodities and [transform] them into resources for their own creative output. Action figure cinema makes a virtue of the technical limits of amateur filmmaking. The movies are intentionally crudely done—everyone is supposed to recognize that the sets are built from Lego blocks and the roles are performed by molded plastic figurines….

Action figure cinema was quickly absorbed by commercial media-makers. We see a similar blend of low tech production and pop culture references in MTV's Celebrity Death Match and Nickelodeon's Action League Now!!! series, both of which used stop motion animation and in the case of Nickelodeon, actual action figures, to parody icons of contemporary popular culture. If amateur filmmakers parody and remix popular culture, commercial media engages in "cool hunting," monitoring their local innovations and pull[ing] back into the mainstream those that they think may have a broader market appeal. And then the process begins all over again. Innovation is most likely to occur on the fan fringes where the stakes are low; the power of mass media comes through its capacity for amplification.

[via bOING bOING.]

NEXT: Why Wait?

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  1. Seth Green’s prior show, Greg The Bunny, was far better than Robot Chicken.

  2. A couple of the RC writers are alumni of the fumetti known as Twisted Toyfare Theatre!

    I loved Greg The Bunny. Sarah Silverman and puppetsex jokes – what more could a boy want?


  3. I honestly have to say I thought Greg the Bunny was not funny at all. I don’t know why. The concept was brilliant. The characters were good. But the show just wasn’t funny.

    Robot Chicken, on the other hand, is utterly hilarious.

    But maybe only late at night.

  4. I am a huge fan of low-fi animation. I adore claymation and stop-motion. It is the best.

  5. It has good segments every now and then, but it seemed to me like Robot Chicken just blew its hilarious wad on the very first episode, and just hasn’t been as funny since then.

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