Designing for Collaborative Crossmedia Creation

Open Access: http://muep.mah.se/handle/2043/11442

Löwgren, J. (2010). Designing for collaborative crossmedia creation. In Drotner, K., Schrøder, K. (eds.) Digital content creation: Perceptions, practices & perspectives, pp. 15–35. New York: Peter Lang.

INTRODUCTION – In the Fall of 2004, Swedish producer and dj Eric Prydz released the song Call On Me featuring Steve Winwood re-recording a sample from his 1982 hit Valerie. The song made it to the top of the charts throughout Europe, partly thanks to the video that Huse Monfaradi directed to go with the song.

The video features an aerobics class of women performing more or less pornographic gym routines in 80s-inspired and more or less pornographic outfits. There is a hint of a storyline in the video, suggesting a romance between the gym instructor and the sole man in the group. (In order to get the most out of this introduction, it might be worthwhile to watch the video before reading further. At the time of writing, a search for »Call On Me Eric Prydz« on Youtube produces the desired result.)

The video was exceptionally successful in terms of public demand – it was the most downloaded music video of all time in Australia, it won the mobile equivalent of a gold record in 2005, and it formed the basis for a feature-length dvd called Pump It Up where the dancers from Call On Me performed aerobics routines to popular dance music songs.

It was also highly controversial due to its sexually explicit content – which lead to the production of a censored version for daytime screenings – and its pornographic, somewhat Neanderthal gender perspective.

Like more or less everybody else in the Western world, people involved in various forms of amateur crossmedia production noticed the controversy around the Call On Me video and some of them decided to take a stand in the ensuing debate. What is interesting for our purposes here is that they did so in the form of mashups: satirical audio-video montages using references to the original video but subverting it in various ways.

There were literally hundreds of Call On Me ripoffs, parodies and mashups published on video sites such as Youtube and Google Video from 2005 and onwards. Some were sophisticated, others crude; some were pure audio/video remixes, others featured new recorded material. The majority of them were designed as disapproving comments on the sexism and antiquated gender perspective of the original video.

For instance, there are several examples of gender swap where a group of men and a lone woman perform the aerobics routine from the original video in order to highlight the mono-gendered nature of the sexually suggestive motions and outfits in the original.

A more refined twist is illustrated in the Call On Me/Brokeback Mountain mashup credited to »Director: Dan Colon« where the storyline is subverted into a lesbian romance between the gym instructor and one of the girls in the group.

And the list goes on, ranging from scatological audio additions to high-school performance remakes. A more exhaustive case study on the Call On Me mashups can be found in (Löwgren, 2007).

Choosing the Call On Me example to introduce this chapter was quite arbitrary – there are numerous examples of satirical mashups circulating on the Internet – but the choice of satirical mashups was highly deliberate. As many observers have noted, we live in a time where the means for media production are more evenly distributed than ever before. Everybody with a personal computer and an Internet connection have the necessary tools to create and communicate expressions of their ideas, also in media channels that only a decade ago were reserved for corporations and institutions.

What we are talking about is the phenomenon of debating a sexist music video by creating a mashed-up video and distributing it in the very forum where the original video has its main circulation. The debate grows when more people add comments and their own mashups, forming a social structure that is transient in its current topical focus but reasonably persistent in its underlying values. We may call it a structure of collaborative crossmedia creation.

The phenomenon and structures of collaborative crossmedia creation are arguably growing in importance, both as meaningful social practices engaging millions of people and as topics that deserve analytical treatment because they can teach us things about the new media in society. For this author, being a designer of digital products and services, collaborative crossmedia creation represents an emerging social practice to design for. Can my fellow designers and myself contribute positively to collaborative crossmedia creation and how it is practiced? Can we facilitate its introduction into new contexts? And how do we have to design to approach those goals?

The rest of this chapter is devoted to such questions. After a discussion of the key differences between designing for collaborative crossmedia creation and more conventional design situations, I introduce three examples of designing for collaborative crossmedia creation. They address situations that are quite different in demographic as well as sociocultural terms, yet the designer-experiences are reasonably coherent and certainly relevant beyond the individual cases. After a brief excursion into the more general question of what motivates people to participate in participatory media, the chapter closes with a summary of the key elements in a strategy of designing for collaborative crossmedia creation.