19 February 2011

"Converging Cultures: Film, Fiction and Celebrity"

Please join us for the next session in our "The Uses of Literature" series, where we'll be joined by James Annesley of Newcastle University's School of Literature, Language and Linguistics.

More than just a description of technological changes that are working alongside the increasing integration of media businesses, convergence is a social process that works on our cultural consumption at the same time as it affects the aesthetics of the culture we consume. Films are increasingly resembling video games, literary texts are merging with other forms of media on Ipad and Kindle.

Beyond these technological, industrial and sociological changes, there is also, this paper argues, evidence of increasing convergence in creative practice. The self-reflexive quality of Bret Ellis’ recent fiction and Spike Jonze’s films, for example, not only illustrates the ways in which convergence works to blur and undermine familiar aesthetic categories, but does so in terms that offer important insight into the boundary-less creative gene pool that provides a context for cultural production in a converged mediascape. Focussing on the functioning of celebrity in their work (particularly Ellis’ portraits of himself as the celebrity author, and the games Jonze plays with John Malkovich and Christopher Walken), the argument is that convergence is not only affecting the kinds of material that writers are filmmakers are producing and changing the ways in which their cultural production is financed, disseminated and consumed, but is at the same time transforming the ways in which they are making their work. Jonze in particular seems to have very clear sense that the perceived divisions between music, advertising, cinema and television have as little meaning for his creative practice as they do for media businesses and consumers. Even as "Being John Malkovich" encourages us to reconsider our expectations about the aesthetics of film in a converging culture, it also helps us understand the extent to which it, like many other contemporary cultural artefacts, is the product of a creative practice that is itself convergent.

James Annesley is Senior Lecturer in American Literature at Newcastle University with research interests including American literature, contemporary literature and culture, globalization, consumer society and lifestyle. His publications include Fictions of Globalisation: Consumption, the Market and the Contemporary American Novel (London: Continuum, 2006), Blank Fiction: Consumerism, Culture and the Contemporary American Novel (London: Pluto: 1998).

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