How have new media phenomena like YouTube changed the way people interact with so-called "old" media? I'm fascinated by the ways in which Internet- and software-savvy people make and re-make meaning out of "what's presented to them" in media such as radio, television, and film. If, for example, a longstanding assumption in television studies has been the originary "encoding" of meaning by the television production apparatus (studios, corporate sponsors, directors and producers), how does the Internet allow users to not just "decode" televisual meaning but alter the terms by which code as such plays out in multiple media? In other words, after the rise of YouTube, is it possible to even speak of an originary moment of encoding that elicits practices of (audience) decoding? Or is it that YouTubers practice modes of encoding themselves -- ones that might be even more potent, durable, "popular," etc., than their small-screen counterparts?
These questions extend the pathbreaking audience-reception work of scholars like Stuart Hall and Henry Jenkins (who, it should be said, is actively pursuing new media inquiries that relate to his earlier scholarship). But there's also a general cultural awareness that things like YouTube are fundamentally challenging the encoding/decoding model of networked communications. "You" (you users of Wikipedia, YouTube, MySpace, etc.), after all, was Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" for 2006. Much has also been made of the fact that the best clips from Comedy Central's The Daily Show enjoy a "life" on YouTube that lasts well past the show's television broadcasts. And who could forget the Samuel L. Jackson vehicle Snakes on a Plane? It's been said that this movie's trailer, which was widely circulated on the Internet and which featured hilariously farcical dialogue about "motherfuckin'" snakes being on "motherfuckin'" planes, was the primary force behind its relative theatrical success.
Part of the mission of The Paperback Museum is to note the sundry social and cultural consequences that flow from unprecedented user "control" over old media "texts." For it cannot be taken for granted that such "control" is in fact "real," available to everyone, or properly "free" from the hierarchical constraints of old media consumption. Wary child of consumer culture that I am, I cannot fully give myself over to the rhetoric of consumer "choice" in certain realms of new media association. What are we "choosing" when we supposedly seize control over how we consume media? Why is making meaning for "ourselves," with the help of new media technology, such a seductive concept in our day and age? Are there ways in which even that act of personalist meaning-making is being commodified and put into the service of what might be called the "hidden hand" of new media regulation?