Fans, Translation, and Cultural Flow

My favorite band, Madrugada, has released a new record. It’s an emotionally-loaded time for them and their fans: their guitarist, whose contribution to their sound cannot be replaced, passed away last summer, just a month after most of this record had been recorded. The surviving members returned to the studio, finished the record, and have just released it to fawning reviews.

As a fan, I find myself tremendously moved by the music and eager to consume anything that will enhance its experience for me.

The challenge is that Madrugada are Norwegian, and the only media covering them are Norwegian. I don’t speak Norwegian.

But on their fan forum, fans are dutifully and rapidly translating article after article into English so their international fan base can be as informed as they are. While it may be fun for some of these people to get to practice their English skills (which, I might add, are humblingly good), their effort is extremely generous — the rest of us have nothing to offer in return but gratitude.

These translating fans are making critical contributions to extending Madrugada beyond Norwegian borders. On their MySpace page, part of a new entry reads:

And thanks to you Madrugada are charting on iTunes stores: 1 Norway and Greece, 20 Sweden, 23 Germany, 34 Switzerland, 44 Netherlands. Considering it is the fans who know as there has been no radio or press outside Norway.

Against this backdrop, I was interested to see Henry Jenkins’s report on a conversation he had with a journalist in Shangai:

She notes that some of the amateur media fan groups in China can translate as many as twenty television shows a week, suggesting how Prison Break fits within larger patterns of cultural practice. She noted that the technical languages used on contemporary procedurals such as CSI and the slang used on many American programs posed particular difficulties for Chinese translators, who had mastered textbook English but had less exposure to more specialized argots.

Add translation to the list of fascinating ways fans are reshaping global entertainment flows and global entertainment flows are reshaping fans.

Does CBS get it?

First they go and buy, and have the sense to leave it in London with the current crew still in charge, and now their CBS Interactive president, Quincy Smith, is talking major sense about how CBS tv and the web ought to get along, as seen in a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. In the article he discusses their internet strategy, and it hits all the points I have consistently argued for: respect for the audience, giving the audience ways to spread the word themselves, giving them little bonuses for engaging your shows via the web, and encouraging discussion about you to flourish wherever it may.

The idea is to let their online material be promiscuous: Instead of limiting their shows and other online video to, the network is letting them couple with any website that people might visit.

“CBS is all about open, nonexclusive, multiple partnerships,” said Quincy Smith, president of CBS Interactive.


“The key lesson from Silicon Valley is respect for the audience,” said Jonathan Barzilay, senior vice president and general manager of entertainment at CBS Interactive.

But the approach also includes that “Swingtown” element: CBS offers software to let fans of shows such as “Jericho” get production updates, photos, exclusive video and insider commentary, then post them on blogs and social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.


He also is moving away from earlier strategies designed to bring people to, such as the Innertube online service, which offers full streams of prime-time shows, clips and Web-only videos.

With the Audience Network, Smith’s strategy could be described more as “outertube.” The idea is to send CBS shows to other websites where people are already hanging out, to ensure that viewers don’t have to go far to find them.


That’s one reason why CBS is spreading its programming to other websites. For its “Big Brother 8″ reality show this summer, CBS offered photos, participants’ diaries, show recaps and full episodes on its website. But it also created software, known as a widget, to let fans post those things on their own blogs, computer desktops or Facebook and MySpace pages.

The network says that about 25% of the interaction with that programming happened somewhere other than


Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff said CBS’ new approach recognized that TV shows are social — fans talk about shows, so the key for networks is to make sure that conversation happens on their websites.

“It takes an awful lot of humility to recognize that it’s better to distribute the stuff off your site than to try to attract people to it,” Bernoff said. “That means if the viewer community wants to talk about it somewhere else, let them take it somewhere else.”

This represents pretty much the exact opposite of what the NFL is doing. It’s great to see mucky-mucks in a big media conglomerate recognizing that their role is to give the audience what they want and let the fans work their magic with each other rather than trapping eyeballs and trying to control everything themselves. Media do best when fans get talking. The internet lets that thrive as never before, and the smart media companies are those that figure out how to facilitate talk, wherever it may be.

Hooray for Charitable Fans!

I’ve been known to rant before about people assuming that others who spend time online being enthusiastic about a TV show can’t possibly also be active forces for good in the world (see the Slashdot reaction to the Jericho fans’ efforts to save the show). Fans are quite capable of doing both, and I got to see a very nice example of it live and in person this weekend.


Fandom-Rocks is a fan site set up by three fans of the TV show Supernatural with the sole aim of organizing the show’s fans to raise money for charity. The show centers on two brothers who are from Lawrence, Kansas. So when they voted on 2 charities to choose as recipients of their first fund drives, they chose one in Lawrence. That the fans have chosen to give money to my community — a place none of them lives — is really moving. On Sunday, Dana Stodgel, one of the 3 site founders, drove from Champaign Illinois to Lawrence (a dreadfully boring drive, let me tell you!) to present the Lawrence Community Shelter with a check for just over $1000 raised by about 70 people in 11 countries (click for a newspaper article that also features a video interview with Dana).

Dana and her two cohorts, Rebecca Mawhinney and Brande Ruiz were inspired by fans of the Joss Whedon shows who’ve raised thousands of dollars for Equality Now, Whedon’s charity of choice. The Supernatural fans wanted their giving to follow the fans’ directive rather than the producers’. Though the Supernatural producers are aware of their efforts, they have not responded (though I’m told they are very nice to their online fans, even inviting bloggers to their set at their expense).

I have known Loring Henderson, who runs this shelter for the homeless, for a couple of years. He is the kind of person who radiates enlightenment. He is calm, centered, grounded, amiable, and phenomenally giving of spirit. I once heard him say that when he was a child he saw a movie where a person was serving food in a soup kitchen and he knew right then and there that was what he wanted to do with his life. He asked me to come along because I had some clue what the heck a fan site was. To see how he shone when he said that out of the blue this ‘fan club’ had contacted him to say they were donating such a large sum was a beautiful beautiful thing. And it will be even more beautiful when he puts it to good use.

I just met Dana this weekend. She’s got a degree in Civil Engineering and works in IT at the University of Illinois. She seemed great. Here she is with Loring, who bought a nice new shirt for the occasion:


Fandom Rocks fans have voted on the recipients of the next round of fund raising to come, and the Lawrence Humane Society is one of the winners. My cat, Lola, who spent her early kittenhood there, and I thank them in advance.

Lola the Comfortable

I think it would be really cool if someday, Dana and the others expanded their wonderfully-named site so that any group of fans could raise money through it for the charity of their choice. But if they stick with Supernatural fans, that’s pretty awesome too.

See here for a story about boxing fans organizing for charity.

Jericho Fans Win

stan herd crop art

You’ve surely heard about the protest. The peanuts. The venom. And now… the victory!

June 6, 2007

To the Fans of Jericho:


Over the past few weeks you have put forth an impressive and probably unprecedented display of passion in support of a prime time television series. You got our attention; your emails and collective voice have been heard.

As a result, CBS has ordered seven episodes of “Jericho” for mid-season next year. In success, there is the potential for more. But, for there to be more “Jericho,” we will need more viewers.

A loyal and passionate community has clearly formed around the show. But that community needs to grow. It needs to grow on the CBS Television Network, as well as on the many digital platforms where we make the show available.

We will count on you to rally around the show, to recruit new viewers with the same grass-roots energy, intensity and volume you have displayed in recent weeks.

At this time, I cannot tell you the specific date or time period that “Jericho” will return to our schedule. However, in the interim, we are working on several initiatives to help introduce the show to new audiences. This includes re-broadcasting “Jericho” on CBS this summer, streaming episodes and clips from these episodes across the CBS Audience Network (online), releasing the first season DVD on September 25 and continuing the story of Jericho in the digital world until the new episodes return. We will let you know specifics when we have them so you can pass them on.

On behalf of everyone at CBS, thank you for expressing your support of “Jericho” in such an extraordinary manner. Your protest was creative, sustained and very thoughtful and respectful in tone. You made a difference.


Nina Tassler

President, CBS Entertainment

Great to see fans organize and get what they want. And good to see that even when he blocks their emails, ultimately Les Moonves, CBS CEO, knows he serves the fans rather than the other way around (let’s hope this proves true for users as well!).

Of course, these fans have done CBS a tremendous service in publicizing and raising interest in Jericho, and I think Tassler is absolutely fair in asking them to keep on doing that.

Here’s Stan Herd’s original sketch for the crop art seen above and used as the opening shot:

stan herd sketch

Hating fans for loving TV

<rant>A quick followup to yesterday’s post about the fan campaign to save the canceled TV show Jericho. The campaign got Slashdotted. There are TONS of comments. And what do they say? Things like:

It’s a TV show. Get over it. They cancelled Firefly, now Jericho is gone. As an alternative, these people should consider:

1) Going to the gym
2) Taking a loved one out to dinner
3) Taking up art
4) Relaxing with friends over the internet
5) Fixing some of those pesky things around the house
6) Getting a dog for companionship instead of a television
7) Volunteering for experiments on drugs to treat obsessive compulsive disorder
8) Going for a walk in the woods and experiencing nature
9) Getting a tan

There are so many other things to do in life that worry about a man soap opera.


Wow. Thousands of Americans are dying in a foreign war that by all accounts we are not doing well in, and the opposition party is much less concerned with fixing the problem than making political hay. Our health care system is a shambles. A major American city is also still in shambles more than a year after an enormous natural disaster.

After all that, what makes Americans stand up and say “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” but a canceled television show.

My fellow citizens, and all you others, I fear that this may be a grave sign of the failure of the American Experiment.

I’m ok with the comments that say “Jericho went downhill half way through the first episode” or make critiques of the show to argue that its cancellation was ok. Criticizing the show’s quality is fair game.

But this kind of criticizing the fan to get-a-life response is so patronizing and misguided. It assumes that people who campaign to save a show don’t care about or do anything else. As though fighting for a TV show cannot possibly be done by a person who also fights to stop wars, or to clean their house, or to have loving relationships with people around them. As though it takes 16 hours a day every day to ship some peanuts to CBS.

I know. Stereotyping fans as pathetic losers with no lives is an old one and it’s not going anywhere, but, you know, it’s so logically and empirically flawed. And what do the people who espouse it get out of it? They’re way superior because they… fight against fan campaigns by posting comments on Slashdot? Wow. Way to be an activist!