Monday, April 24, 2017

Core Post 5 - OpenTV

OpenTV is a welcome attempt at disrupting hegemonic media practices by offering a platform for marginalized artists to represent their experiences and communities through artistic endeavors. The common theme running through this week’s articles is that the mentality assumed by the major media conglomerates is that the Internet is a fundamentally commercial medium, so seeing this kind of initiative (undertaken by a younger member of the academy, no less) provides some hope for the Internet’s democratic potential.

With OpenTV taking the initiative to create space for underrepresented identities, it is also interesting to recognize similar attempts by more mainstream media entities – notably Amazon Prime, with Transparent, and Netflix, with Orange is the New Black. What we see here are two very different approaches to representation: one DIY, one professional; one open to numerous artistic modes, one beholden to traditional narrative structures (even as they are modified and disrupted by the streaming model). Ultimately, whatever gains in representation are made by the streaming services are somewhat undercut by the fact that their programming strategies are not fundamentally committed to political acts of representation. As we rightly celebrate the emergence of non-hegemonic narratives in mainstream media and celebrate their industry awards, which in turn allow for greater exposure of these sorely-needed narratives, we should also continually recognize the work that remains to be done, both within these texts and in texts that are not produced. In the final analysis, profit remains the primary motivation here. On the other hand, OpenTV presents its mission openly, even supplying a manifesto:


A beta platform for original series about independent arts and artists

Open to artists who identify as queer, trans, and cis-women and persons of color

Open to diverse communities left out of mainstream film and television production

Open to diverse forms of art, from dance and poetry to stand-up and drag

Open to diverse forms of storytelling from comedy to music video, drama to reality television

Open to diverse strategies for showcasing art and television

Open to promoting work already released online or offline”

And yet, OpenTV does have nearly the reach enjoyed by Netflix and Amazon Prime. As we ruminate on these tensions between corporate TV online and democratic online media, the question of scope and reach seems significant.

1 comment:

  1. Isaac, great post. I think you bring up an important point in terms of audience/reach. As someone who mostly writes on and engages with minor/independent/”fringe” cultural texts outside of popular/mainstream culture, I’ve had to grapple with this question in many different ways. And, I am sure many of us who do cultural studies work also find ourselves wrestling with versions of this question.

    As an initial response, I think the value of OpenTV is first and foremost a space of production. Its platform allows new, progressive shows to be made that otherwise would not find traction in the “mainstream.” Although the reception/distribution of these shows is a concern of platforms like OpenTV, I would also say that this is where cultural commentators (critics, academics, bloggers, etc.) also have a large part. The struggle for a larger reach/”relevancy” is perhaps a slow process that requires patience and effort from multiple corners of the culture industry.

    Put differently, I’ve always struggled with question of audience “reach” because it, at least for me, installs a normalizing logic that foregrounds the cultural and social rubrics that is currently in circulation. But this is also a weakness of cultural studies approaches that puts a stronger emphasis on what’s on the screen vs. how content is currently distributed and consumed in the here and now.