What does it mean to say a text is within, or representative of, a transitional state? Is such a position even possible given we must always choose a point of fixity from which to proceed in our analysis?
Popular culture, and the media through which it is transmitted, is arguably always in transition. Claims about the death or rebirth of particular forms of art, entertainment or culture are often made during times of technological transition, and are certainly no less audible in the digital age.
Henry Jenkins and David Thornburn argue in their introduction to Rethinking Media Change that in the ‘current moment of conceptual uncertainty and technological transition, there is an urgent need for a pragmatic, historically informed perspective that maps a sensible middle ground between the euphoria and panic surrounding new media’ (2003, 2). Much scholarship in the field of media change focuses on its contextual aspects (how different forms, modes and practices either liberate, denigrate or affect popular culture), or else delve into the complexities of industrial and technological attributes of the shift towards media convergence. Tim Dwyer’s book, Media Convergence (2010) is a recent example of scholarship, which, while insightful, tends to focus on what political, economic or social effects emergence from the changes that convergence brings.
In Convergence Culture (2006), however, Jenkins criticizes what he terms the ‘Black Box Fallacy,’ a concept used in many discussions of convergence and the media change associated with it. This fallacy is based on the proposition that sooner or later, all media will be streamlined into one black box in the living room. ‘Part of what makes the black box concept a fallacy is that it reduces media change to technological change and strips aside the cultural levels’ (14-15).
We are in agreement with Jenkins here, but to compliment explorations of the broader technological and cultural implications of changing media in popular culture, our aim is to concentrate primarily on the textual. Though the textual is obviously part of the cultural level of analysis, this special issue examines how different transitions are expressed, represented or formalized through the textuality (or textualities) of popular culture. Doing so broadens discussion of media change, transition and convergence, while also maintaining a solid focus for analysis.
Most of these papers derived from the “Pockets of Change: Cultural Adaptations and Transitions” conference, held in 2009 at the University of Queensland. We have been intentionally liberal with our definition of “transitions in popular culture” in order to bring out a diversity of papers which explore the textual effects and forms of transition that are often overlooked. Though completely unintended editorially, most of these papers are in the field of film studies, with one of them focused on television. This should come as no surprise since film and television, despite their changing modes of delivery, are still very much the dominant textual form of popular entertainment.
Turkish remakes of Hollywood films may present an unexpected starting point to the issue, but Can Yalcinkaya’s work incisively interrogates the transcultural attributes of Yeşilçam cinema, also revealing, through close attention to the textual, how Turkey itself responded to the transitions and Westernisation brought on by the twentieth century.
Elliott Logan examines how certain character, narrative and formal “types” cross between the two related, but temporally and technologically distant films, and how this can and does shape audience engagement and empathy.
We then investigate the theme of transition in a more representational manner in Samantha Fordham’s work on Indigenous youth in Australian film. Fordham looks at the ways in which the placelessness of youth and Indigenous identities are reflected in the intertextuality on display in the films Beneath Clouds and Samson and Delilah.
The middle of this issue strays happily into queer territory, beginning with Matthew Sini exploring the movement of New Queer Cinema of the 1990s in a new light. He contends that, in addition to being a defiant and independent cinema by and for queers, it also reveals and undermines the contingent nature of film genres and categories through a tendency that he terms ‘transgenre.’
Joanna McIntyre then reads the iconic Australian film, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert as a transition point in the representation of non-normative sexualities and gender identities, but she also charts what led up to this point, including discussion of the sissy and other transgender identities in Australian cinema.
Penny Spirou’s work delves into the changing depictions of the composer Cole Porter, with a focus on the ways in which his music and the codes of the musical biopic genre have intersected to comment on his life, his music and his sexuality.
Angie Knaggs offers some insights into the theme through an analysis of television, in particular, the popular television show, Prison Break. Knaggs looks at the program through the lens of televisual space, applying Foucault’s concept of heterotopias to the shifting spatialities that are represented in the program.
Rounding off the issue is Nicole Choolun looks at film characters in “smart film,” specifically the distantiation effects that multiple casting of a single character can have on audience expectations.
Popular culture is in transition, and arguably always has been. With this special issue of Refractory, we have endeavoured to explore the possibilities of transition through the texts of popular culture rather than through the modes of delivery, however we acknowledge that this field of study could not possibly be reduced to one issue of a journal. Herein, we offer what we hope will be some insights into transition as represented through the dominant forms of popular culture and perhaps suggest avenues for further scholarship.
Dwyer, Tim. 2010. Media Convergence. Berkshire: Open University Press.
Jenkins, Henry and Thornburn, David. 2003. Rethinking Media Change: the Aesthetics of Transition. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.