A journal of television and new media

Call for Responses

Flow Conference 2010 will resemble traditional academic meetings in name only: There will be no panels, no papers, and no plenary sessions. Instead, the event will feature a series of roundtables, each organized around a compelling question. Respondents are asked to submit a brief abstract addressing one of the roundtable questions listed below. We especially encourage responses that address issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, age, and ability, as well as international perspectives.

To submit a response send a 150-word abstract to flowconference2010@gmail.com by June 11, 2010. Deadline has passed. If you are still interested in attending the conference, please click here to register. In the subject line of the email, please put the title of the roundtable to which you are responding. Be sure to also include your full name, e-mail address, and affiliation in the body of the e-mail.

Please submit a response to only one roundtable topic. However, we imagine that some individuals will have interest in several roundtable discussions and thus difficulty choosing between them. We want to accommodate as many people and their preferences as possible. Therefore, it would be helpful for us to know about those individuals who are willing to participate in another roundtable if too many responses are submitted for their original question.

If this applies to you, please submit one response to one roundtable question AND let us know two other roundtable questions in which you’re interested. If the original question to which you respond produces too many responses, we will invite you to submit a response to one of the other questions.

We will inform participants of acceptance via e-mail by June 28, 2010. Upon acceptance, respondents will be asked to expand their abstract to a 600-800 word position paper, due by August 20, 2010.

If your question was accepted you DO NOT need to submit an abstract of your position paper. We will contact you during the summer with further information on you next step.

Note concerning UT RTF students: While we welcome your participation with the conference, we ask that you do not submit a response to a roundtable. If you would like to be a part of the 2010 conference, you can either join the conference committee by sending us an e-mail or look for upcoming volunteer opportunities (such as panel moderators) this fall. This only applies to RTF graduate students; UT students from other departments are welcome to submit an abstract.

2010 Roundtable Questions:

What’s Stopping the (Global) Flow of TV?
Despite living in an increasingly wired globe, television distribution still occurs according to national boundaries and economic principles established in an analog era. In contrast, if the active viewers and fans of TV programs congregate in real-time across the world, why does it take days, weeks or months for certain shows to be broadcast in different countries? Be it US viewers downloading the BBC’s Torchwood, Australian viewers downloading Lost, or Britons downloading Neighbours well ahead of their official national (and thus legal) release dates, the internet is changing viewing and consumption patterns. Is ‘piracy’ of television inevitable or will better legal alternatives reign in unauthorized downloads and potentially increase the revenue for TV distributors?

Serial Narratives and Viewing Demands
Serialization is ubiquitous in media culture. Serialization, however, can make the viewing experience different from watching something in its entirety. For one thing, the amount of information to be organized increases dramatically as length expands. Not only length, but also the inter-episode gap takes on significance when it comes to engaging with serial narratives. Anecdotal evidence indicates that both the slow episodic release of narrative and the desire for more impact audiences in not only a cognitive but also an affective manner: anxiety develops for the viewer. Why does serialization continue to matter? What are the questions to ask about contemporary serials? How can research in serialization explain the ways in which people engage with narratives?

Tuning in to the Fine Print: Law and Social Change in Media
Discussions of media regulation and policy often get pushed to the sidelines in media studies – that is, until we realize that Facebook now owns all of our personal profile pictures. While we spend our time critiquing media culture, the regulatory processes that produce the spaces for media culture to exist often go unnoticed until the policies fail. And that’s usually when many media scholars jump in with critiques. How should media scholars approach regulation issues proactively in their work? How can we combine policy debates within our critiques of media culture? This question aims to interrogate how we can better “tune in” to issues of media regulation, including issues of privacy, ownership, and access.

A Month Before the Midterm: The State of Television and Media Practices in the Political Landscape
Barack Obama’s presidential campaign revealed the impressive possibilities of television and media practices in electoral politics. The campaign employed a strategy that combined traditional television outreach with social media canvassing. Since the election, the technologies, tactics and strategies that cultivated his voters have become agnostic; they are tools that drive other movements, political parties and politicians. While bottom-up forms of cultural production enabled by new digital media have been important to anti-war and progressive left organizing, they have more recently been adopted by right wing activists as well. What do these shifting political practices tell us about social media as organizing tools? What historical parallels can help us make sense of these practices? What might be the lasting impacts of these media practices on our understanding of public spheres and political processes? From Tea Parties, Coffee Parties and information noise, what is the state and role of today’s television and media practices in the political landscape? Have televisual and new media platforms degraded or advanced political discourse? How might the integration of social media and politics changed the way we think about spectators and citizens?

The State of American Network Television
What is the state of American network television in the current era of conglomeration, convergence, and global media expansion? This question entails both cultural considerations (regarding the nature, production and consumption of network programming) and economic ones as well (regarding the structure, conduct, and performance of the television industry at large and of the individual networks, and the “situation” of television within the conglomerates’ global media-and-entertainment empires).

Interrogating an Anglo-American Context in Media Studies
Television is a globally interlinked industry, yet its critical and theoretical context remains resolutely Anglo-American. In an age when no one believes in American media imperialism any more, why is it that issues of pleasure, fandom, representation, aesthetics, and identity qualify as Western luxury preoccupations, whereas issues of censorship, nation and regulation tend to define other places? Is this division inevitable? What really prevents critics and viewers from adopting less insular attitudes? What roles do production and pedagogy play in this Anglocentrism? Who is defining this division?

Television Flows: A Regional Alternative?
Is the category of the region a useful alternative, or supplement, to the usual divide between the global and national, when it comes to assessing television flows? What are the benefits of focusing on regions – both sub-national and cross-national – as economic, geographical, political and cultural units, in specific areas?

Science Fiction: What does the future hold?
In the spirit of science fiction, we must acknowledge the precariousness of predicting a genre’s future: time always plays tricks on us. Yet televisual science fiction does seem to be at something of a crossroads. Rebooted on the big screen, the Trek franchise remains on TV, but only in syndication. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was canceled (too weird, not heteronormative, lacking video game potential?). Battlestar Galactica ended with a thud, though its prequel Caprica shows potential, while the Sci-Fi channel has confused everyone by becoming SyFy. Does science fiction have a future outside of the franchise? Can franchises provide enough flexibility for interesting series?

Left Behind
As we know, the past decade proved to be critical for “old media”, its practices and practitioners. For example, several local papers like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Ann Arbor News have ceased print publication, numerous local and chain video stores and record shops have shuttered, and TV affiliates have had to rethink their practices as networks have found new avenues for their programming wares. Still, these workers, works and spaces exist in our media landscape. This panel will be devoted to questioning and discussing why what we have left behind continues to exist and vibrate throughout our contemporary media culture.

‘Til Series Finale Do Us Part? Fan Commitment and the Long-running Series
While serialized shows like Grey’s Anatomy, American Idol, House and The Office are still popular, these are also shows that many previously devoted viewers have stopped watching. What elements of fandom, spectatorship, narrative, programming, and production factor into a viewer’s decision to abandon a series after a multi-season investment or, conversely, to keep watching despite diminished engagement? How are such decisions facilitated by contemporary developments in viewing technologies (DVD, DVR, Hulu); viewer knowledge (spoilers, recaps); and viewership outlets (transmedia experiences, paratexts)? As these elements shift in the future, how might spectator commitment to long-running series shift as well?

The Mass Audience Lives! (Or Does It?)
Even as new media technologies have fragmented us into so many niches, television often still addresses huge audiences, and the virtual watercooler (Twitter, Facebook) seems to be intensifying experiences of mass media. What are the implications of a residual mass audience experience amidst the fragmentary landscape of contemporary culture? Recent scholarly focus on fandom, quality TV, and narrowcasting may overemphasize the extent to which TV’s address has lost the mass appeal historically attributed to it. What is neglected if this is so? Can TV be considered as “mass culture” without necessarily engaging a passé “mass society critique”?

Rethinking the Audience/Producer Relationship
Given the increased visibility of audiences online, how might we understand the shifts in the relationship between audiences and producers? How have producers’ perceptions of audiences and fans transformed over the past decade? How have audience/producer interactions changed because of fans’ increasing knowledge of and access to a range of producers, from showrunners to writers to performers? As TV and new media scholars enter into dialogue with both producers and fans, how do we negotiate our positions as scholars invested in both sides? Can and should we try to bridge gaps between fan- and producer-created fan engagement?

The New Criticism?: Academia, Journalism, and Digital Critics
The rise of blogs, Twitter, and online publishing platforms has coincided with crises in journalistic and academic publishing, with television criticism straddling all of these eroding boundaries. How does television criticism adapt to these transformations? What is the place of criticism within academia and journalism today and into the future? What previous roles of criticism might be abandoned or renewed in the digital era? How do critics from the ranks of journalists, faculty, graduate students, and amateurs intermingle in the realm of “TVitter” today? Another way of discussing this might be to ask, what roles do blogging and Twitter play in academic culture, such as at conferences like Flow and within research and pedagogy?

Putting the TV Back in Television Studies
Television studies scholars have traditionally approached questions about the medium’s apparatuses apprehensively, wary of reducing television to a mere box of wires and chips. By doing so, we have relegated ourselves to the sidelines of important public debates about technological standards, obsolescence, e-waste, spectrum policy, and access. In addition, the focus on television across technologies sidesteps discussion of the significance of the other ways in which the television set is used (i.e. for gaming, installation and video art, etc.). What can humanities-based criticism contribute to public debates about television technologies? What might creative uses of the television tell us about the past, present, and future of the medium?

Managing Media Production in the Age of Convergence
Tensions between Silicon Valley firms and content providers, recording labels and television producers, and Hollywood studios and game publishers illustrate how difficult writing about media production has become. How do media sector cooperations and competitions influence what gets made? How do licensing debates and contract stipulations influence production processes? What new languages must we learn as scholars? How do we facilitate collaboration between scholars who study different creative industry sectors? This roundtable aims to examine these issues by bringing together observers of a range of media industries to examine the production of convergent texts.

Reality TV: Deja Vu All Over Again?
Are current reality show formats and fan appeals so new? What might the past teach us about the future of programming and audiences? We can look to historical examples in radio and TV to find instances where new audience/fan relationships with media programs dominated the public discourse about each particular format. Examples such as 1940s local wrestling, 1950s post-modern homemaking, and 1930s innovative issues programming, as well as unusual fan interactions in amateur publications, program concepts and public gatherings during the 1960s and 1970s may provide a useful starting point to think about the latest TV practices. Are these cyclical trends? How do historical contexts, ideologies and practices matter in analyzing today’s media?

Comics Across Media
The young Superman adaptation, Smallville, is entering its tenth season this fall on the CW. Joss Whedon has written for The Runaways and transitioned Buffy into comic book form. Established comic book characters have been mainstays in video games for the last few decades. In recent years, an increasingly visible number of writers and artists have begun to move among comics, film, television and video games. How can we explain the increased importance of comics to media companies in recent years? Is it a recent development or merely a new way of looking at an older trend? In what ways or to what extent have the narrative and aesthetic traits of comics been incorporated into moving image media? What is the nature of the relationship between comics and other media? Are audiovisual media engaged in reciprocal influence with comics or is the exchange more skewed? What does the future pose for both the adaptation of comics across media and for comics studies?

The Pitfalls of Positive Representation
Racial and ethnic minorities have long suffered from negative representations and stereotypes in television, and positive depictions serve as an antidote in the minds of producers and critics alike. How do we critically understand the poetics and politics of positive representations of minorities? What has changed in terms of minority representation in the television landscape since The Cosby Show? How are dominant ideologies challenged and supported in these discourses?

Remodeling Television
In television studies, we tend to critically approach television technologies, industries and programs as givens—as they have already been conceived of and operationalized by entities and forces elsewhere. If you could remodel the current U.S. television system, what would it look like? What parts are in greatest need of change? How would you restructure ownership or production, distribution and/or exhibition practices? How might television be redesigned to be more multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, environmentally friendly or international? What new kinds of programming would you like to see? Would you embrace or reject digitization? Are there models beyond the U.S. that are helpful? Finally, how can we, as television scholars and critics, alter our objects and systems of study?

Animating Reality
This roundtable question is based on the growing ubiquity of animation—on computer screens, in video games, and in special effects, and how it affects our perceptions of the world around us. With the popularity of games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Farmville, and Mass Effect 2 and anime adapted from manga such as Bleach, Naruto, Nana, and Deathnote, as well as the successes of Up, Ponyo, and Avatar, we are potentially entering an era of virtual “world building” to a degree never before experienced. Animated worlds can cause us to question our notions of gender, humanity and ultimately of reality itself. Is animation the medium of the 21st century, and if so, what does this do to our notions of reality?

Once regarded as a microblogging status update platform, Twitter is evolving into an increasingly complex social and mobile media experience. Twitter’s implications for three distinct but interrelated domains in television–industry, celebrity, and fan community–are real, yet unclear. For example, how are the networks strategically using Twitter to encourage fan loyalty, engagement, and viewership? How does the use of Twitter by celebrities represent the next moment in how we produce, consume, and participate in reality television? Also, how are celebrity “tweets” blurring the lines between public persona and private person? Finally, what role is Twitter playing in the transformation of how distinct audiences/publics “watch” television and participate in the virtual water cooler?

“Featuring Music From”: Song, Sound, and Remix
Recent years have seen a proliferation of the use of the popular, pre-existing songs in film, television and other audiovisual media. Whether diegetically motivated by characters playing music or appearing as non-diegetic score (the ubiquitous musical montage, for instance), the popular song has a new presence — one that this roundtable seeks to query and investigate. What is the role of the popular song in contemporary audiovisual media, and how can we analyze its function, effects and impact in relation to media form and history, film scoring, soundtracks, music videos and media aesthetics? How do we account for the use of non-musical film and television sound to create new music as in remix culture like Pogo’s “Upular?” How have popular television shows like The O.C. and Gossip Girl or Ally McBeal that promote songs and musical acts affected the relationship between popular music and television? Is this truly a new presence or are there historical precedents?

New Media and Post-feminist Critical Pathways
A now well-established body of theory on post-feminism has tended to address itself to film, television and print texts, yet post-feminist popular culture also circulates online. How do sites marketed for female demographics, such as “mommy blogs”, O Magazine online, and Slate’s The XX Factor, as well as those who post on them, incorporate and create post-feminism? Bearing in mind these questions, this roundtable considers what the next wave of post-feminist scholarship will look like. Will a transnational focus be increasingly necessary, as Western, neoliberal notions of global capital and feminine identity take hold in other contexts? What effect will the realities of media convergence have on knowledge production in the field? What will (or should) be its preferred objects of study? How/to what ends can post-feminist theories of production and consumption be joined with critical industry studies?

Quality TV and Pedagogy: Formalism, Contextualism, and Productive Tensions
What makes True Blood “quality” while The Vampire Diaries go unnoticed? Why do academics love to write about Lost and The Wire yet ignore Gilmore Girls? Why do we idolize David Simon, but not Aaron Spelling? Notions of “Quality Television” have been an important part of television studies, yet media scholars have neglected to turn the analysis back on themselves by talking about why we choose to study and write about particular texts. This panel will interrogate notions of “Quality TV” in academia and how scholars might reconcile these new modes of formal analysis with the field’s history of cultural and contextual analytical methods. Debates over the formal and cultural characteristics of “Quality TV” have captured recent attention, but we particularly welcome a discussion of the productive tensions between formalism and contextualism across a range of televisual forms. We are also interested in the underlying pedagogical question: How do our interests relate to our teaching practices and the establishment of canon?

“It’s not History, It’s HBO”
In the past several years, HBO’s programming has become increasingly concerned with the representation of American history in particular and World history more generally. Given that the network’s wide range of series have been set as far afield as ancient Rome (Rome), Juno Beach (Band of Brothers), The Pacific theater (The Pacific), the Wild West (Deadwood), outer space (From the Earth to the Moon), or closer to home in post-Katrina New Orleans in Treme, we should ask ourselves what HBO’s role in the representation of history is? Bigger questions, such as “How does the reconstruction of historical figures in series such as John Adams change perceptions of American history?”, “Why does HBO fund political material – such as Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke, or Edward Norton’s By the People: The Election of Barack Obama?” How do prestige historical movies such as Iron Jawed Angels – focusing on women’s suffrage – or The Tuskugee Airmen – representing the black contribution to World War II – bring to light formerly untold stories within a historical narrative?

The Sitcoms Have Become Self-Aware: A Discussion of the Current American Sitcom
This roundtable will focus on the state of the sitcom in the U.S. How, for instance, do we account for the current cycle of reflexive sitcoms and their use of the mocumentary mode (e.g. The Office, Parks and Recreation, Modern Family), narrators (e.g. How I Met Your Mother, Scrubs), self-reference (e.g. Community, 30 Rock, Party Down), or the blurring of “reality” exemplified in Curb Your Enthusiasm’s seventh season finale? And how do successful sitcoms engage with sitcom history, format, generic conventions, etc? Respondents are encouraged to draw attention to shifts and/or continuities in the American sitcom. Topics might range from patterns of representation or narrative structure in the sitcom; network or cable programming strategies; performance styles; micro-taxonomies of irony or critical intertextuality.

Convergent Sport Culture: Mediating the Game
Given the ever diminishing line between media format boundaries and genres, how might we as scholars address the issues of “convergence” with regard to mediated sports programming and coverage? A few potential lines of inquiry include: How does sports coverage influence and/or mimic video game stylistics? How are media content producers thinking about sports aesthetics with regard to the “look” or televisuality associated with sports content? How does the influence of technology (HD, 3-D, etc.) affect the spectator’s experience of the game itself? How are programmers/networks reconfiguring the sports viewing experience with regard to convergence (i.e. NFL’s Red Zone Network, AT&T/Direct TV’s Masters Experience)? How are new media and social media impacting the fan viewing experience and the nature of fandom, especially diasporic fandom? How are new media and social media impacting local and national coverage of sports (regional ESPN sites, league online beat writers, corporate outlets buying out fan blogs)?

Glee: Give Us Something to Sing About
Whether you are a fascinated scholar of TV, music, or musicals, a confused or critical bystander, and/or a proud “Gleek”, Glee is one of the most talked about shows at the watercooler, on the internet, and in the classroom. While hugely popular and successful, critics, fans, and academic alike are already drawing up lists on how to save the show from its own devices. This panel hopes to grapple with the show, its popularity, and the reasons it is a breath of fresh, yet problematic air. Why is Glee such a hit? How does it reinvigorate or restructure the musical genre and musical performance? What is the significance of the show’s melding of realism and absurdity, genuineness and farce? What does the show reaffirm and/or critique about race, sexual orientation, gender, and high school politics. Simply, what is Glee talking about?

Emmy Gone Wire-less
How important and/or relevant is the Emmy Award to post-network era television and the medium’s discourses? Part of the mission of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is to “promote creativity, diversity, innovation and excellence.” HBO’s The Wire, which some TV critics called “surely the best TV show ever broadcast in America” and “genius TV,” depicted the underclass in America and boasted a cast of 40-60 recurring characters, most of whom are Black, yet it won zero Emmys from only two nominations. With new media flourishing, volumes of fresh content increasing, audiences splintering, and TV critics disappearing, how important can (or perhaps should) the Emmy – television’s most notable award – be to sustaining diverse, socially relevant series in this era of narrowcasting? Does the Emmy even deserve to be part of the dialogue?

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