Category Archives: Week 2

The Film Festival Phenomena and Latour’s Actor Network Theory

In processing this week’s readings, I found myself interpreting each author’s theoretical framework through the lens of the film festival circuit.  I have an extensive history within the film festival universe and currently work for the Tribeca Film Institute in NYC.  In order to better understand the totality of the festival phenomena, I find it a useful exercise to analyze its resemblance to a network of interdependent events.

Latour’s work on Actor Network Theory (ANT) attempts to examine the various relationships between things as well as concepts and ideas, both human and non-human, as seen through the structure of the network. It emphasizes the equal ability of all actors within the network to act, whether individual people or overarching ideas. Focusing on the interaction between the semiotic and the material and their contributions to the formation of a whole (network), Latour rightly emphasizes the principle of generalized symmetry between human and non-human actors. This principle allows for both categories of social actors to operate within the network without any preference given to one group over the other, but rather allowing the particular network to dictate the relations between them. He coins the term act-ants in reference to such actors at work within the network, and stresses the expansive nature of the network as an all-encompassing web of connections where nothing lies outside the network of relations.

ANT also places a high degree of importance on such actors as intermediaries and mediators. Intermediaries represent actors within the network that help to relocate the force of another entity within the network without alteration or transformation. However, mediators play a crucial role within networks, for their ability to enhance, transform, and multiply difference within the network of relations, and it is in this capacity that Latour’s Actor Network Theory stresses the importance of applying agency to non-human actors. And finally, Latour discusses the importance of translation, citing the ways in which social actors attempt to coordinate and agree upon the variables inherent to the building of networks. Within this concept,Latour points to the various problems that arise when actors enter a network and the forms of representation each actor or group constructs in order to best negotiate. Here Latour emphasizes the importance of the primary actors repositioning themselves with in the network as indispensable obligatory points of passage, capable of hosting key sets of negotiations between actors. It is through these points that the conditions of an actor’s involvement within the network are negotiated and the actors adopt their prescribed position and duties within the system.

Attempting to bring together the melting pot of performances, year round presences, and agendas operating within each festival and thus compounded across the festival circuit, Marijke de Valck utilizes ANT’s principles in order to establish a mobile line of inquiry.  ANT allows for a study of the film festival circuit while assuming relational interdependence of both human and non-human actors, straying from hierarchical oppositions between the actors and the network but rather emphasizing the processes of circulating entities.  Mobile agency distinguishes between the festival as an abstraction and the roles of its various participants.  “The sales representatives, film critics, and filmmakers meeting at film festivals are not considered separate from the event, but whose congregations, performances, and products are understood as necessary links that make up the event…” (de Valck 2007: 34)  Here the act-ants are the filmmakers and the media, journalists and systems of accreditation, the audience members and spectacle, printed leaflets and notions of power; both human and non-human with no bias implied in favor of one group over the other.  Rather, the film festival is better understood by analyzing the ways in which the entire range of actors come together to form the network.  From the innocent tourist stumbling through the festival crowd to ideas of race and class, nothing lies outside of the network.  Local street vendors hawking refreshments and thieving pickpockets possess an equal ability to act within the network as a Hollywood star or an international sponsor.  Overall, all the variables within the film festival event contribute to the construction of the network and facilitate the spread of human and non-human agency within the system.

But Henry Jenkins rightly outlines the dramatic shift in the the relationship between media convergence, participatory culture, and collective intelligence.

“The American media environment is now being shaped by two seemingly contradictory trends: on the one hand, new media technologies have lowered production and distribution costs, expanded the range of available delivery channels, and enabled consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways. At the same time, there has been an alarming concentration of the ownership of mainstream commercial media, with a small handful of multinational media conglomerates dominating all sectors of the entertainment industry. No one seems capable of describing both sets of changes at the same time, let alone showing how they impact each other.” (Jenkins 2008: 29)

In the greater context of the festival circuit, Latour’s notion of obligatory points of passage plays a key role. But in a digital world, how are these points of passage being actively redefined?  Given the fact that the festival hierarchy is full of small, medium, and larger festivals jockeying for position within the network (and are trying to climb the ladder of societal importance), how will such an exhibition-driven side of cinema react to the multi-platform media environment of the future?  Ultimately, each festival is attempting to position itself as a necessary point of passage within the circuit while gaining status and affecting the condition of the greater network, but convergence culture seems to indicate that the film festival circuit runs the risk of quickly losing its relevance. Film festivals’ online/cable counterparts (re: Sundance streaming and The Sundance Channel) and such oddballs as Second Life’s Film Festivals all seem to try to connect the virtual experience to the tangible shared viewing experience in an attempt to dip their toes into proverbial waters.   By framing itself as a critical node with the network, the film festival defends its ability to capitalize on fanfare and social negotiations but the digital age continues to usher in new mobile technologies that operate at a similar (potentially disruptive) intersection.

Also, check out Jenkins’ related TED talk

Works Cited:

De Valck, Marijke. Film Festivals From European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2007.

Jenkins, Henry. “Introduction to Convergence Culture,” excerpt from Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York, NYU Press, 2008.

Latour, Bruno.  “Networks, Societies, Spheres: Reflections of an Actor-Network Theorist,” International Journal of Communication 5 (2011), 796–810.

The Role of Institutions in the Digital Age

“Sharing is to ownership what the iPod is to the eight-track, what the solar panel is to the coal mine. Sharing is clean, crisp, urbane, postmodern; owning is dull, selfish, timid, backward.” (Levine 2009)

Lessig and Lethem tackle issues relating to the globalizing digital economy in a handful of ways, but throughout all of the dissonance and discussions of copyright, ownership, and collaboration I found myself analyzing how many of these assumptions had become so institutionalized.  After pinballing from one argument to the next, I was reminded of the writings of TED talk fixture Clay Shirky and his thoughts on the future of collaborative creative models.

 “Groups of people are complex, in ways that make those groups hard to form and hard to sustain; much of the shape of traditional institutions is a response to those difficulties.” (Shirky 2008: 25)

In effect, Shirky argues that historical response to such coordination costs has been the creation of institutions. Public and private, for profit or not, the creation of both measly and massive institutions has been the age-old answer to achieving coordinated results. Ribbon cutting ceremonies jumpstart the management of a group’s activities. However, amidst Lessig’s depiction of today’s key players, is this model still relevant in today’s increasingly connected world?

Participatory institution specialist Nina Simon famously outlined five commonly-expressed forms of public dissatisfaction with cultural institutions. Museums can seem irrelevant to visitors’ lives and never seem to change. The authoritative voice of the institution doesn’t always include the visitor’s view or provide context for understanding what’s presented. It isn’t a creative place where visitors can express themselves and contribute to history, science, and art nor is it a comfortable social place for them to talk about ideas with friends and strangers. (Simon 2010: Preface) So this begs the question, how many of these gripes can be directly tied to intuitional mire. Are institutions the answer to many or most of contemporary society’s greater challenges? The facilitation of group communication has certainly proven to be an effective tool in the institution’s tool belt, but at what cost? What is lost through the creation of institutions and how does a globalizing, interconnected network magnify the model’s outdated modes of operation?

The creation of an institution brings with it a management dilemma. Employees must be hired to manage other employees to manage other employees, all the while advocating on behalf of the institution’s goals. Economic and legal frameworks have to be applied and a physical space needs to be secured in which to operate. Famed technologist Clay Shirky goes on to depict institutions as being inherently exclusionary. Organizations can’t hire six billion employees. You can’t recruit everyone. And ultimately, this results in a professional class. Within his work Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organization, Shirky assesses the implications of operating outside of traditional organizational structures. Arguing that the digital age has provided a vast array of dynamic tools allowing people to do things together, Shirky warns of the shortcomings of previous models.

“Every institution lives in a kind of contradiction: it exists to take advantage of group effort, but some of its resources are drained away by directing that effort. Call this the institutional dilemma–because an institution expends resources to manage resources, there is a gap between what those institutions are capable of in theory and in practice, and the larger the institution, the greater those costs.” (Shirky 2008: 21)

Leaving people where they are, such coordination brings the problem to the people instead of bringing the people to the problem. Preparation caves to flexibility. And while losing the ability to firmly shape the actions and activities of a volunteer-driven community, such a system similarly sheds the institutional cost that comprises the institutional dilemma.

Institutions are certainly not a blight on the planet. And Shirky isn’t advocating for the dissolution of institutions across the board. Alternatively, he is proposing intriguing new ways of framing bureaucracy and challenging many of our assumptions about the way things should/have to be. Pointing to such economic theories as power law distribution and the 80/20 rule to differentiate between institution-as-enabler and institution-as obstacle, Shirky is actually a proponent of institutional solutions as long as they best serve the overall objective. However, the digital age has simply upended traditional modes of communication and contribution, routinely exposing the glaring inefficiencies in many of today’s institutional models.

“Welcome to convergence culture, where old and new media collide, where grassroots and corporate media intersect, where the power of the media producer and the power of the media consumer interact in unpredictable ways. Convergence culture is the future.” (Jenkins 2006: 259-60)


Works Cited:

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press, 2006.

Mark Levine, NY Times, March 2009.

Shirky, Clay. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. London: Penguin Group, 2008.

Shirky Clay. Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. London, Penguin Group, 2010.

Simon, Nina. The Participatory Museum. Santa Cruz: Museum 2.0, 2010.

Avatar: A Whole New World?

Among the infinite number of meanings, observations, theories, and conclusions that can be drawn from the world around us there is a constant age of convergence and effort to make further advancements in technology and understanding of cultures. This technology and observation allows us to learn more, putting pieces of different puzzles together around the world. International communications is more important than ever – it brings a different point of view from individuals all around the world. Furthermore this communication and hybridity between countries is only beneficial when one country knows what it needs from the integration of culture with another. It’s almost like the movie Avatar, which, if you haven’t seen it, includes members of Earth attempting to use another world for its resources when it is wholesomely unaware of most of it’s inhabitants.

Until we explore these new “worlds” present in our own planet, they will remain foreign; not in a physical sense, but in a cultural sense. (Trailer to Avatar:

From the readings I have gathered three things I think are important to recognize: Infinite information, understanding of cultural identity, and the power of our own fame are three factors I believe to be the most imperative when it comes to interconnectedness of the world and causes of societal tension.

Privileged countries are used to having an infinite amount of information because of the media and internet. Internet has changed the way the world works. Most things can be tracked, sent, received, looked up, and scene through the invention of the Internet. It’s like the human brain. There’s millions, billions, trillions of connections internationally to technology and foreign places around the world. We should keep in mind that most of Earth’s population isn’t even privy to basic phones or telecommunications services. It’s a privilege to be so globally connected and in tune with any “thing” or current event. Similarly in Avatar their world was one big ball of interconnected messages:

(From Avatar)

Dr. Grace Augustine: What we think we know – is that there’s some kind of electrochemical communication between the roots of the trees. Like the synapses between neurons. Each tree has ten to the fourth connections to the trees around it, and there are ten to the twelfth trees on Pandora…

Selfridge: That’s a lot, I’m guessing.

Dr. Grace Augustine: That’s more connections than the human brain. You get it? It’s a network – a global network. And the Na’vi can access it – they can upload and download data – memories – at sites like the one you just destroyed.”

Next, understanding (or lack thereof) of a country’s cultural identity can be quite detrimental. Without fully understanding the concepts of another country’s culture leaves a weakness and possible liability for political and cultural domination. In today’s world, in order to excel, one government must make somewhat of an effort to understand the other, and know what type of influence they hold. For example, in the readings, polyglot tv and media was mentioned. Within media we integrate different languages and cultures, but in a way, it can be filtered to a certain way to view another country or society. “The fact that we proiect ‘ourselves’ into these cultural identities, at the same time internalizing their meanings and values, making them ‘part of us,’ helps to align our subjective feelings with the objective places we occupy in the social and cultural world” (Hall).

Furthermore, “In the modern world, the national cultures into which we are born are one of the principal sources of cultural identity. In defining ourselves we sometimes say we are English or welsh or Indian or Jamaican. of course, this is to speak metaphorically. These identities are not literally imprinted in our genes. However, we do think of them as if they are part of our essential natures… We only know what it is to be, “English” because of the way “Englishness” has come ‘to be represented, as a set of meanings, by English national culture’ It follows that a nation is not only a political entity but something which: produces meanings – a system of cultural representation” (Hall). In essence, we label ourselves and separate ourselves because of traditions and norms within our allocated habitats around the world. If you understand others’ traditions and habitats, you will have a better chance at communicating with them and lessening any current/possible tension. This example links to the movie Avatar, because Earthlings made little attempt to find the meanings and traditions of the natives of Pandora. The people of Pandora did not have much opportunity to know much more than what we made ourselves look like – barbarians with big machines in the movie. It took an Earthling (Jake Sully) in order to communicate between the two since he integrated himself into the Avatar’s world. He was then able to communicate, looking past stereotypes and other cultural barriers, taking tension away from the relationship between the two groups for a while.

Lastly, power of our own fame is something I thought of when reading Fagerjord, when he talks about, “Remix of Power: Who gets the Podium?” With infinite information and understanding culture, many individuals figure out what people want and how to manipulate that want with what is posted on the Internet. Many medias have converged into one, so that anyone around the world can watch the phenomenon of Youtube, or posts on Facebook. Fagerjord says, “Convergence as a development must logically end at some point either because media cease to converge, or because all media have converged into one, or have reached a limit where further convergence is impossible.” I do not think that this limit has been reached, but I do think that it has been so combined that we can pretty much create most things we desire online. Which leads to our own fame. Everyone is somebody. It’s a matter of attention. Anyone can create a “movie,” do the cover of a song, be Tumblr famous, or the next worldly renowned photographer or model. So, basically, has it has taught us that attention is power? If we are only famous by the attention we receive online from the content we know to post (because we have infinite possibilities and understand the culture of our audiences) then doesn’t the power of our own fame interconnect us? In the movie Avatar, the Earthlings had all the means to understand the people of Pandora, but failed to do so. With utilizing infinite information, understanding cultural identity, and then using the power of their own fame to appeal to what the people of Pandora wanted, could they have manipulated their audience completely?

With these three factors discovered from the readings, globalization, interconnectedness, and relief of societal tension between parties may/may not be achieved in a positive way. But, with the right motives, globalization can be looked upon as a way of learning, and a way of broadening the world’s knowledge, possibly taking us to a higher understanding that we are unable to comprehend in today’s society.

The Multiplicity of YouTube

Defining YouTube has been problematic for scholars, resulting in a variety of contexts in which academics write about the website. Is YouTube a “platform, an archive, a library, a laboratory, a medium” (Snickers & Vonderau, 2009)? Is it a “complex parasitical media” (Mitchem, 2008) or rather “networked individualism” (Haythornthwaite & Wellman, 2002)? Some see YouTube as a digital bard (Hartley, 2009), storyteller (Ryan, 2006), or a modern day myth-maker (Mosco, 2005). Yet, there seems to be a troubling trend in research which confines YouTube into a box that can be easily consumed and considered. Limiting discussion of YouTube to inclusions of Web 2.0 or a singular point of remix or participatory culture is a deleterious endeavor.

The history of YouTube is well documented and oft-cited. Founded by former employees of web-based financial PayPal, Chad Harley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim officially launched YouTube with little to no fanfare in June 2005. “The website provided a very simple, integrated interface without high levels of technological knowledge, and within the technological constraints of standard browser software relatively modest bandwidth” (Burgess & Green, 2009, p. 1). There were a number of other video and file-sharing websites competing at that time, but as Burgess and Green suggest, the simplicity of YouTube’s design and its relative ease of use made it stand out in an otherwise crowded field. A number of scholars have argued that this openness has ultimately fed YouTube’s success, a “hybrid model of engagement” driven by consumer-citizens experiencing the site in a variety of ways. “From an audience point of view, is it a platform that provides access to culture, on a platform that enables consumers to participate as producers?” (Burgess & Green, 2009, p. 14). Kavoori (2011) adds “I suggest that we see YouTube as much more than a website – it is a key element in the way we think about our online experience and (shared) digital culture” (p. 3).

In an interview, Jawid Karim attributed the early success of YouTube to four essential properties: video recommendations via the ‘related videos’ list, an email link to enable video sharing, comments (and other social networking functionality), and an embeddable video player (Gannes, 2006). YouTube then becomes the logical destination for many users and their expressions of remix culture.

Fagerjord (2010) calls YouTube a remix in itself: “You might call the site a clever remix of a video gallery, a blog-like commenting system, a system of friends and connections as in a social network site such as LinkedIn and a file-sharing site or network” (p. 195). But Halbert (2009) argues that video remixes constitute a different logic than that of commercial production, whereby professionals create artistic content that is then distributed to the masses. The logic of remix, Halbert argues, does not rely on the motive of profit, but of cultural circulation and provides an alternative to the commercial model, “By using the term “user-generated content,” the structure of the narrative implicitly undermines the value that can be placed on the original work of “users” and implies that professional contributions are somehow superior” (p. 929). Video remix, then, constitutes the creation of original creative content using commercial sources in a way that often undermines or speaks back to the original source. Rather than seeing remixed videos as derivative entertainment, some scholars argue that these products stand as creative works in their own right.

The mash-up above is archetypal YouTube music remix, subverting the previous text, that is The Cosby Show, with its wholesome Huxtables and jazz loving obstetrician, and inserting the salaciousness of the hit of Summer 2013, the sexually charged and overtly over-the-top “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. The remixed text then reads as a deft reordering, the dancing family sniffs of puerile impropriety all while Bill Cosby shimmies with a sly wink and a nod. A battle of the mind commences, was 80’s television so vapid or was the quintessential sitcom really so naughty?

The result of such interplay between consumers and consumers as producers or “produsers” to borrow the term from Bruns (2009) position YouTube as a curator of remix culture, especially interesting when one considers YouTube’s original byline of “Your Digital Video Repository” as opposed to the current iteration, “Broadcast Yourself.” Castells (2000) writes “We live in a new economy, characterized by three fundamental features”: informational, global, and networked. With this understanding, we can view YouTube through a particular lens, as a network of global citizens and individuals sharing and creating new cultural products, all while experiencing and using YouTube in vastly different ways and for vastly different purposes. In the end, there are really multiple YouTubes, as each visitor experiences the site in different ways, i.e. some may use the site for subscription, instantly clicking to their favorite channels, while others use the site as a cultural aggregator, “scanning and sorting through a magazine catalog: when one is flipping through a magazine catalog, the stories, advertisments and images are skimmed through, with attention resting briefly on one or more items” (Kavoori, 2011, p. 8).


Bruns, A. (2006) ‘Towards Produsage: Futures for User-led Content Production’, in F. Sudweeks, H. Hrachovec and C. Ess (eds) Proceedings: Cultural Attitudes towards Communication and Technology 2006, pp. 275–84. Perth: Murdoch University.

Burgess, J. & Green, J. (2009). YouTube: Online video and participatory culture. Polity, Malden, MA.

Castells, M. (2000, January/March) “Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society,” British Journal of Sociology, 51/1, 5–24.

Fagerjord, Anders. (2010). After convergence: YouTube and remix culture. In J. Hunsinger et al., (Eds.), International handbook of internet research (pp. 187-200), Springer.

Gannes, L. (2009). YouTube changes everything: The online video revolution. In Television Goes Digital (pp. 147-155). Springer New York.

Halbert, D. (2009). Mass culture and the culture of the masses: A manifesto for user-generated rights. Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law, 11, 921-961.

Haythornthwaite, C., & Wellman, H. (2002). The Internet in everyday life: An introduction. The Internet in everyday life, 1-41.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York, NYU Press, 2008.

Lessig, Lawrence. (2008). Remix: Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy. New York: Penguin.

Mitchem, M. (2008). Video social: Complex parasitical media. In G. Lovink & S. Niederer (Eds.), Video vortex reader:  Responses to YouTube (pp. 273-282). Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures.

Snickers, P., & Vonderau, P. (2009). The YouTube Reader. Stockholm: National Library of Sweden.

The Psyche of Gen Napster

Emily Rothkopf

Larry Lessig: Laws that Choke Creativity takes a unique outlook on the negative effects of piracy, focusing on the sociological effects on the culprit – particularly the child pirate – rather than the political and economic implications on an industry, or on an even larger scale – art and capitalism.  The latter is what the majority has discussed and focused on.  Perhaps upon having children of his own, Lessig has taken a 180 degree look at the issue proposing that the real threat of piracy is the psychological effects on a generation and future generations of children growing up, adopting the technologies available to them, “stealing” digital content (music, movies, etc.), and perceiving themselves and their actions as criminal.  Will these generations continue to blur the lines between what they can and can’t do according to law?  Lessig faults copyright laws in the piracy dilemma, or in general, laws that are dysfunctional and overly strict (Lessig xx).  As part of the original “Napster Generation,” perhaps the largest, original group of young pirates in the digital age, I concur that the unnecessary criminalization could have potentially detrimental effects on youth culture and that the outdated laws need to be modified.  However, I would like to examine the psyche of the pirate from a different angle to explore the role of technology and community in the solution.

I started using Napster upon purchasing my brand new desktop computer (which literally encompassed my entire desktop) for college in 2000.  I admittedly recall one of my first downloads being Christina Aguilera’s Genie in a Bottle – quite an innocent download for a pirate.  By the end of my freshman year I had compiled close to 1,000 songs and was immensely proud of my diverse and extensive collection.  For college students, our Napster playlists were with us as we did everything from studying to “pre-gaming” to just chilling out.  And it gave us exposure to more genres and artists than we could have possibly imagined.  It served a purpose just as other newly arising technologies did at the time – e.g. Instant Messenger, texting – and enabled us to fit into our ever-evolving communities.  With Napster, I was adopting a technology that my community had agreed upon was the most efficient and purposeful of its kind.  I wasn’t just “stealing” music for the sake of it or because I wanted something for free.  And I certainly wasn’t profiting off of my collection.  I was doing it because it simply made sense.  Would I even be able to find Rahzel’s If Your Mother Only Knew at Tower Records?  Or would I even be interested in the rest of the tracks on his album?  Well, I wouldn’t have even heard of the song, or beatboxing, if it weren’t for Napster.

Over the last ten years, new technologies have arisen in music sharing that enhance the user experience, serve new purpose and build off of a sense of community – all while generating profit.  Apple’s iPod and iTunes opened up a whole new world – 99 cents seemed like a pretty good deal for a song, knowing you were purchasing it legally and had the ability to build a collection on a cool, purposeful device.  I couldn’t lug my desktop computer with my Napster playlists on it to the gym.  But I could strap my iPod Nano with 1,000 songs to my arm while going on a scenic run through San Diego on a business trip.  Today, I turn to Pandora to accompany me on my runs, work days, etc, and to give me exposure to new artists.  While Pandora offers a free service, the company is still able to profit off of advertising.  For an enhanced experience, many consumers are willing to pay a nominal fee for Spotify or Grooveshark.  Or consider Sirius radio – why would consumers be willing to pay for radio?  I for one am a subscriber primarily for the Howard Stern Show.  He has built up a community of listeners who would feel like they are missing out if no longer getting access to him daily.  And through OnDemand programming, he has found an additional stream of revenue for his brand.

While Lessig is correct in targeting copyright laws as a dysfunction in the piracy dilemma, there are intangible aspects that should be prioritized as part of the solution.  I’m unsure of the subliminal effects the criminalization had on me as a young pirate and believe we shouldn’t hold our breath while the legal system enacts efficient and effective copyright laws.  Copyright is an ongoing social negotiation that will be endlessly revised (Lethem).  Instead, technology and the industries at-hand need to stay a step ahead of the demand – continuously crafting new ways to enhance the user experience, serve new purpose and make one feel as if he/she is part of a community by adopting the new product or service.  Being able to monetize your product in innovative ways, a la Apple and iTunes, doesn’t hurt either.  And while there will always be a minority trying to cheat the system, from my viewpoint as a member of Gen Napster, the majority will always seek to do what simply makes sense.

 Works Cited

Larry Lessig: Laws that Choke Creativity. Web. 15 Nov 2007.

Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print.

Lethem, Jonathan. “The Ecstasy of Influence” Harpers Magazine Web, Feb. 2007.

Zara, Globalization & Culture

This week’s readings on globalization and the global network society called to mind an article I read in the New York Times Magazine last year, called “How Zara Grew Into the World’s Largest Fashion Retailer,” by Suzy Hansen (

Video from the article:

The article raises interesting points about the fashion industry today, and perhaps even more fascinating for our discussion, provides details on the international retailer Zara, and its Spanish parent company, Inditex. The topics of fashion and Zara are lenses through which we can analyze and discuss cultural identity and globalization. The Pieterse reading in particular brought up topics relevant to the discussion of Zara: global marketing (p. 9), the idea of a “borderless world” (p.10), the unevenness of globalization (p.13), and regional cultural trends and their effects on global trends (p22-23).

Turning back to the article on Zara, there are several points about Zara and their type of fashion that are interesting to consider in a discussion about globalization; for example,  the speed at which Zara produces and distributes new items (clothes may be gone from the store within two weeks) and the fact that these items are sold at nearly 6,000 stores all over the world. Perhaps even more fascinating is the data on trends and consumption habits that Inditex has, by virtue of their business model (“fast fashion”); they are essentially the same in similar neighborhoods in big cities all over the world. There is less difference across borders; the fashion they produce is global:

“‘Actually, the customer is more or less the same in New York and Istanbul,’ she said. ‘There are differences,    like Brazilian girls like more brilliant colors, whereas in Paris they use more black. But in general when you find a fashion trend, it’s global.’ Earlier, Echevarría told me that neighborhoods share trends more than countries do. For example, the store on Fifth Avenue in Midtown New York ‘is more similar to the store in Ginza, Tokyo, which is an elegant area that’s also touristic,’ he said. ‘And SoHo is closer to Shibuya, which is very trendy and young. Brooklyn now is a wildly trendy place to go, while Midtown — well, no New Yorker is actually shopping on Fifth Avenue now.’ The buyers there are suburban tourists, he meant.”

The fact that these preferences vary from neighborhood to neighborhood on a local scale, but have similarities to neighborhoods in other countries presents an interesting paradox. Furthermore, the fact that Zara is known for making “fast fashion,” essentially copying high fashion designers and producing and selling clothes and accessories on a global, mass scale brings up questions related to our readings from last week. Are these Zara designs remixes because they are given new meaning by the context in which they are sold and presented to consumers (faster and at lower prices)? Are they plagiarizing in some way?


 Works Cited

Hansen, Suzy. “How Zara Grew Into the World’s Largest Fashion Retailer.” New York Times Magazine 9 Nov. 2012: n. pag. 9 Nov. 2012. Web. 18 Jan. 2014. <>.

Pieterse, Jan Nederveen. Globalization and Culture: Global Mélange. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009. Print.


Thoughts on Lethem and Lessig

Layan Jawdat

I will focus my comments here on two of the readings we had for class this week: “The Ecstasy of Influence” by Jonathan Lethem, and Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, by Lawrence Lessig.

The point that both authors make, which stood out most to me, has to do with audiences and interpretation. Both Lethem and Lessig make compelling arguments vis-à-vis audience interpretation and interaction with works of art, and assert that we should no longer see audiences simply as passive consumers. Lethem states: “artists and their surrogates who fall into the trap of seeking recompense for every possible second use end up attacking their own best audience members for the crime of exalting and enshrining their work.” This type of re-interpretation of artistic works that resonate with audience members, which Lethem described, is well-illustrated by Lessig’s description of the legal copyright issues around the Candice Breitz art exhibit of John Lennon fans singing his work. Breitz explains that she is interested in the “dimension of personal translation.” Lessig explains the current state of the world, in spite of Breitz’s efforts, characterized by ignoring audience interpretations: “We live in world infused with commercial culture, yet we rarely see how it touches us, and how we process it as it touches us” (Lessig 7).

This idea of highlighting, rather than ignoring the way consumer, audiences and fans understand and process works of art and culture, in whatever form they might take, really resonated with me, and reminded me of Stuart Hall’s work “Encoding, Decoding,” which maintains that although one message may be encoded in a TV show, that does not necessitate audience interpretations of that message as it was encoded. Audiences– instead of being passively fed messages– according to Hall, interpret and decode messages differently. This is also related to concepts of artistic inspiration that Lessig and Lethem both talk about, which functions similarly to language: it is part of the “public commons” (Lethem). The commons of art and culture are closest to that of language, according to Lethem: “altered by every contributor, expanded by even the most passive user. That a language is a commons doesn’t mean that the community owns it; rather it belongs between people, possessed by no one, not even by society as a whole.”

The fact that new meanings are created by rearranging placements, de-contextualizing, or interpreting as different individuals is exciting—even with the same resources, or cultural history and memory, each person can interpret, create and re-create differently. It also, however gets confusing. Copyright issues seem so clear when presented in these readings; of course artists shouldn’t be so litigious and possessive with work that in the first place didn’t appear out of thin air. However, and perhaps this is a criticism of Lessig more than Lethem, copyright seems a bit more complicated than the way it is presented. For example, when is it appropriate to draw the line between copying and translation, or interpretation? The relatively recent news that the actor Shia LeBeouf plagiarized the work of author Daniel Clowes by lifting the screenplay for his short film apparently directly from Clowes’s book is an interesting contemporary example of the issue of plagiarism and artistic appropriation. The story can be found here (, and I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this (perhaps in class on Tuesday).


Works Cited

Duke, Alan. “Shia LaBeouf Offers Cloudy Plagiarism Apology.” CNN. Cable News Network, 03 Jan. 2014. Web. 17 Jan. 2014.

Stuart Hall, “Encoding, Decoding,”

Jonathan Lethem, “The Ecstasy of Influence,” Harpers Magazine, Feb. 2007.

Lawrence Lessig, Remix (Intro and Chap. 1). Pdf version, from The Internet Archive (