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° Rubrique About The World

ABOUT The World ...  

Par Claude Chastagner, professeur d'anglais à l'Université Paul Valéry à Montpellier.

   Fan Power Battling for power on the Internet 

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If popular culture results in part from the appropriation of media-originated culture, the founders and users of files-sharing sites could be considered genuine creators of popular culture, and as such, genuine rebels since appropriating media-culture would entail clashes with the dominant culture. Indeed, the mere exchange or duplication of sounds or images is already a breach in the contract between the entertainment industry and consumers since copyright laws stipulate that buying music or images is not tantamount to owning them; the price paid only entails the right to use them privately. 
Furthermore, the images and sounds are often modified and distorted on numerous "fanfic" sites through parodic, satirical or pornographic variations and sequels, in clear opposition to what the dominant media culture can accept. Interestingly, European and American youths display on this issue a marked difference. Both the users and creators of the sites are mostly Americans, which can only be partly accounted for by the larger number of computers in the United States and the greater familiarity of its youth with technology. 
If these sites do represent an appropriation by the young of media culture, their origin and zone of expansion must logically be the country where most of this culture is produced. Whatever the excitement generated by American mass culture in Europe, it remains in these countries an outsider product, competing with indigenous cultural forms, so that the need for reappropriation is not felt with the same urgency.

  How profound are these changes, though? Have we really entered "the age of the consumer", as some (e.g., Hilary Rosen) would have it? And if so, with what consequences? What does the newly acquired power of young consumers consist of? How are they going to use it and to what end? My argument is that it is a mistake to consider these sites as a form of resistance, or their users as the spearhead of a revolt against corporate America. Their rebellious aura is in great part triggered by a mere nostalgic association with the mythical, glamorous subversiveness of the 1960s. "The money economy is immoral, based totally on power and manipulation, offending the natural exchange between human beings. 
Capitalism is stealing": Jerry Rubin's words would find little echo on today's campuses (43). If a flock of Fannings and Greenes seem to disrupt the system and introduce disorder into the otherwise smooth functioning of the culture industry, they also appear as young entrepreneurs eager to capitalize on their mediatic fame. 

  They may be difficult to distinguish from the ordinary users of their sites, living the same life, eating the same food, playing the same games, wearing the same clothes, yet their sudden fame has turned them into aspiring capitalists; and "a hip capitalist remains a pig capitalist", to quote Rubin again (44). Even if the latest project of Gnutella's founder, Justin Frankelis, is to strip ads out of AOL Instant Messenger, most entrepreneurs are moving in the opposite direction. 

Thus, last October, Napster signed a comfortable deal with Bertelsmann, and Scour is also about to reach an agreement with the industry. As Ian Clark put it, "it stands to reason that the political definition [of the sites] may fade, just as much of the Net's initial idealism gave way to commercial practises and became a mainstream medium, no longer a 'guerilla technology'", which Gen Kan of Gnutella confirms when describing the goals of his site: "this is not an effort to avoid corporate influence but to oversee it"10. 

What is particularly interesting is how these young men have been turned into symbols of revolt, how what are simply consumer-friendly sites are presented as the most subversive technology of the decade. This is extremely revealing of our society's need for archetypal, polarized clashes. Regular doses of ideologically enhanced issues, particularly of the small-versus-big type, are required to restore social cohesion through cathartic struggles. Because unlike the previous systems of production, the world of the New Economy is not ruled by a specific class with vested interests, polarization has become more problematic, hence the resort to artificially sustained oppositions. Typically, the postmodern causes of our rebellions have become consumption and the businesses that provide it.

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° Rubrique About The World