Ph.D summary as of 27 August 2007

Title as of 27 August 2007

Digital media and worldwide circulation of cultural contents – The DVD as a multi-content medium between commercial audiovisual contents and publics from various cultural background. The case of the cultural reception in a digital context of Japanese animation circulated on DVD in Europe.

Personal motivations

For the last 7 years, I have been collecting DVD’s of Japanese animation (‘Animes’) and have discovered some really interesting (and at the time) new features, like choice of different audio tracks and subtitles, documentaries on the movie-making, interviews of the people involved in it,… I felt then that this technology definitely changed my experience as a viewer. I also thought that the DVD editors weren’t using the full potential of its technological features. Anyway, I believed that there was something interesting to dig in as far as technology use and development is concerned.

I have decided to combine my interest for the evolution of the social meaning of new information and communication technology (NICT) with one of my favorite form of entertainment, Japanese animation, when I discovered books by American researchers on the worldwide circulation of Japanese popular culture. I realized that Animes had not only been distributed in France and Italy, but also in Asia, North America and Latin America, since the 1960’s-1970’s. I was amazed that series so deeply entrenched in a very specific cultural setting with respect to both narrative and aesthetic could have spread so widely around the world. I thought that the theoretical and methodological tools from both media and technological reception studies could help me understand better how commercial audiovisual content like Animes can travel around the world and meet success in various cultural settings.

General background

Between 1978 and around 1994, Japanese animated series or Animes dominated most of the programs for children on French and Italian TV channels. However, they became quickly the focus of raging controversies, when these debates were sparked by lobbies involving parents, sociologists and educationalists all worried about the potentially disastrous impacts these series deemed overviolent and pornographic could have on children. The media inflated these concerns so much that soon the politicians entered the ball and, in France, introduced protective laws that drastically decreased the amount of foreign productions the radio and televisions were allowed to broadcast. By 1995-1996, animes had almost completely disappeared from the French screens. At the same time, they were begining to show up on private and digital German-speaking channels. Since 2000, they have been making a noticeable return both on specialized private channles and on video (first VHS and then DVD) a bit everywhere in Western Europe.

What I would like to understand is how series, peppered with cultural and sociological references that are so specific to Japanese society, could obtain such a success with Italian and French-speaking publics, both in the 80’s and now. As it is not possible to rewind the clock back to my youth, I’ll have to restrain myself to the present circumstances.

Thesis topics

My thesis addresses the international circulation of audiovisual narrative universes in what I would call a « digital mediasphere ». This mediasphere is caracterized by two sets of converging transitions in people’s consumming-uses practices and in the media industry. On the one hand, people are increasingly appropriating new and traditional medias, which have been rapidly adapted to the process of digital encoding for both content transmission and storage. On the other one, we have witnessed for the last 15 years a convergence between media broadcasters, content producers and telecommunication into multinational groups active at the global level. One of the main argument, on which I would like to base my research is that technology and its uses play a key role in the way people appropriate cultural contents produced abroad. I also feel that eventhough cultural contents have been circulating worldwide for a long time (printed books, music,…), we cannot say that the present global trade in cultural/commercial contents is just an intensification of pre-existing practices, enhanced through more intense economic worldwide integration and « revolutionary » digital technologies. The success of any commercial model and technology depends also in great part on their acceptation or rejection by the « end-users » and consummers as well as social institutions in general, which contribute to publicly legitimate and delegitimate practices. These are issues I would like to look into when it comes to the role of the DVD in the circulation and appropriation of audiovisual commercial and cultural contents.

General frame of study

This industrial convergence of creation, production, distribution and publishing of audiovisual content encoded in digital language is now defining the commercial practices of the media industry, and particularly in Japan. For more than 20 years, the Japanese media industry has already been a champion in the declension of narrative universes into various audiovisual media products made available on all the existing platforms, digital or not. It is also extremely successfull at transforming dematerialized iconic heroes into wide-ranging types of goodies or merchandizing, thus introducing these characters into people’s daily life as mugs, towels, TV ads,….My research will rather focus on the digital audiovisual productions, which offer the users-consummers with a choice of entertainment experiences. I believe that one of the key variations is the degree of interaction, which is allowed by the technology and the editors/creators of the products.

Specific frame of study

More specifically, I would like to study the users-consummers’ expectations in terms of audiovisual experience based on their understanding and perception of digital media. In other words, I will try to identify how they choose the digital platform on which they would like to experiment a narrative universe and what role the interactivity offered by these technologies plays in this choice.

Central issue addressed

I will not be able to cover the whole range of digital media available to people, so as the title of my thesis suggests, I will focus on the cultural reception of Japanese animation edited on DVD. I will consider it as multi-contents storage medium, whose content is organized in a way that has become the paradigm for all digital platforms. However, the DVD technology and industry itself offers quite a large choice of possibilities, especially with respect to interaction with the texts and to the type of editorial formats (choice of audiotracks and subtitles, audiovisual formats, types of add-ons,…). When confronted with these seemingly purely technical choices, I would like to look at the way people negociate various identities, and juggle with social and technical logics. I will argue that their expectations with respect to the type of content edition and practibility are related to their perception of what is acceptable/legitimate in their socio-cultural environment, which can be defined by a range of differing groups of people.

Moreover, I will also consider the perception DVD editors have of this appropriation process both at the cultural and technological levels. I will then consider how they try to adapt their products to these « imagined » users-consummers-publics. I will argue that this adaptation concerns not only the type of contents selected (featured film/series and add-ons) but also the way it is organized and presented, especially in terms of audiotracks and subtitles choices. I will also argue they adapt the interaction allowed with the DVD content on the basis of what they imagine is the level of technical command their publics might have.

Analyzing the discourses on new media technologies and globalization produced by these two different sets of actors should give me an idea of the way they perceive the evolution of the media industry, entertainment and the potential arising of global cultures.

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