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Dana Chinn, Media Analytics Strategist, Named Director of the Lear Center's Media Impact Project

Chinn225.jpgDana Chinn, a longtime faculty member at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, with more than two decades of experience researching and teaching analytics for content- and mission-based organizations, has been named Director of the Lear Center's Media Impact Project (MIP).

"Dana brings to MIP her incredible passion for reading the digital tea leaves, hunting for the kinds of insights that help media organizations reach target audiences efficiently and optimize impact," said Lear Center Managing Director and Director of Research Johanna Blakley.

MIP is a joint project with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering that strives to accelerate measurement thinking and open source tool development in order to explore, validate and share applied solutions for measuring impact. Read the full press release.


DigiArt75.jpgMuseum-quality digital art...coming soon to a screen in your home. more>>

A new UPenn Annenberg Public Policy Center study reveals a stunning truth about the effect of TV violence on viewers: Americans' fear of crime is statistically related to the level of violence portrayed on primetime TV, and not particularly to real world crime stats. Good job, TV! Now take another look at the Lear Center's research on the primetime war on terror. more>>

Who appear to be the new kings of Twitter, social media strategy and branding? ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, currently terrorizing large swaths of the Middle East. They've even built their own app. Where's the fail whale when you really need him? more>>

The jury is still out on the relationship between violent video games and real world violence ...but that may be about to change. A new study due later this summer finds that areas of teens' brains linked to empathy become muted by violent images when exposed to them over long periods of time. Another study, from Canada's Brock University, found that children who played violent video games for significant lengths of time were not as morally mature as other children their age. more>>

Fashion flip: designers have long been thrilled to get their clothes into movies (think Ralph Lauren and Annie Hall), but now a filmmaker is preparing to market the clothes from his new film directly to customers. Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) hopes viewers of his James Bond spoof Kingsman: The Secret Service will admire the Savile Row look of the suits in the movie enough to pay Gucci-level dollars. more>>

Who can protect Los Angeles from the next big earthquake? How about this woman? And revisit the Lear Center's study about the first Great Shakeout, a mass earthquake drill which has since become an annual event. And just in case, remember it's duck, cover, and hold!

A new UPenn Annenberg Public Policy Center and Pew Research Center study shows that regular viewers of the Colbert Report during the 2012 election were better educated about campaign finance law after the "Citizens United" decision than viewers of traditional news shows. Read it and weep....or laugh.

Care for an artistic interpretation of what climate change might feel like? You're welcome!

More blurring of the line between real life and entertainment: Thai protesters angry at the recent military coup are borrowing a three-fingered salute from the science-fiction hit The Hunger Games to express their resistance. Military leaders are monitoring the movement closely.

What's the relationship between science and telling ourselves stories? Closer than you think. Read this terrific article from Nautilus. about the long, complex link between scientific progress and stories we make up.

OrgChart1955.jpgWe're awash in big data now, even as we try to clearly visualize it graphically. Perhaps a look at old data visulizations can inspire us. Take a look at this absolutely beautiful Erie Railroad organizational chart from 1855. Wow.

Much Ado About Moocs...a short two years after educators and techies embraced Massive Online Open Courses as the gateway to a new golden, egalitarian age of higher education, the cursor seems to be stuck, blinking, on the screen: a new study shows that only half of those who registered for a course ever watched a lecture, and then only 4 percent completed the courses. And a joint San Jose State University-Udacity experiment has failed completely. This NYTimes article explains the reboot.

There's a new tool in the struggle to get action on climate change on everyone's agenda: insurance company actuarial tables. more>>

There's no link between exposure to media violence and actual violent behavior, right? Not so fast. A new meta-analysis of 217 studies published between 1957 and 1990 suggests that exposure to media violence is a risk factor for violent behavior, much in the same way that second-hand smoke is a risk factor for cancer. more>>

Did you ever think chocolate could be entertaining, and compellingly so? Watch what some clever Germans have devised. more>>

Fox News seems to have discovered the science behind making people distrust science. A new study explains how. more>>

Do you tweet during television shows? A new study analyzes the interesting connections between Twitter and TV. more>>

Can puffs of air be the next big thing in online entertainment interactivity? Disney Research thinks so and their new tool, Aireal, is pretty dazzling. more>>

Are you still just playing Grand Theft Auto on your Kinect? Take a gander at what a dance company and engineering firm in France have been doing with the gaming device. more>>

Since the NSA leaks were revealed, "meta data" has been all the buzz. Find out what it means and what it looks like here.

If all you've got in your paintbox are pixels, can you still be an artist? The exhibit "Into the Pixel" offers some interesting answers. more>>

A mobile game that explores Jewish cultural history? Who knew? Check out Jewish Time Jump: New York and discover how augmented reality, GPS and rich source material can put you in New York City a century ago, immersed in the world of Jewish immigration and the women's and labor movements. more>>

Are celebrities now the canaries in the coal mine, alerting us to the imminent death of American culture and democracy? Author and journalist George Packer (The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America) thinks so and regards the current crop, ascending as most Americans stare at a growing abyss of economic inequality, as particularly craven: people, who've become personas, then brands, then empires. more>>

What's the latest tool for historians and other archival researchers? It's probably in your hand: your smartphone. more>>

After reading Angelina Jolie's moving and brave NYT op-ed about her recent prophylactic double mastectomy due to her possessing the BRCA1 gene, watch TV writer Jessica Queller tell her own BRCA cancer story at a Hollywood, Health & Society event.


IJPC's Joe Saltzman at National Press Club

NatPressClub.jpgJoe Saltzman, Director of the Lear Center's Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture Project, has been invited to speak at the National Press Club on November 13, 2014. He'll present on "The Image of the Washington Journalist in Movies and Television." Joe will start his 47th consecutive year teaching at USC this Fall. Fight on, Joe!

Marty Kaplan Interview: Elaine Stritch

ElaineStritch.jpgLear Center Director Marty Kaplan shared this gem from his radio show days: a stinging, deliciously funny interview with entertainment legend Elaine Stritch, who died July 17th. Listen here. RIP.

Kaplan Wins 2014 L.A. Press Club Journalism Award

Lear Center director Marty Kaplan, grabbed his third L.A. Press Club journalism honor at the 56th annual awards ceremony, presented June 29th at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel.

Kaplan tied for First Place for Entertainment Reviews/Criticism/Columns for a daily or weekly newspaper with a circulation over 50,000 for his columns in the Jewish Journal.

Judges noted that his columns featured "a clear, companionable voice" and "time and again, provide unexpected perspectives and a wealth of historical and cultural context."

TED Radio Hour: Johanna Blakley

TedRadio.jpg Listen here!

Lear Center Managing Director Johanna Blakley is featured on the next TED Radio Hour - with value-added clips about her TEDx fashion and copyright talk - airing on NPR beginning June 27th. Los Angeles listeners can hear the segment on June 28th on KPCC from 2-3PM and on June 29th on KCRW from 10-11AM. Follow her on Twitter @mojojohanna

Apogee 2014: Think Again -- Johanna Blakley

Lear Center Managing Director Johanna Blakley gave the keynote address for the Think Again Conclave, a featured event at the 32nd annual edition of APOGEE, a technical extravaganza including over 6000 students, 100 colleges, and 80 technical events. The Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) in Pilani, India, hosts the country's biggest technical festival, which has featured talks by Nobel Laureates, CERN scientists, inventors, politicians and social activists from around the globe. Blakley presented her research on "The Social Impact of Social Media," with a focus on the current dynamics in India, where the exchange of ideas and information through virtual communities and networks has assumed unprecedented significance in the past few years.

More "Songs in the Key of Los Angeles"

SKLAsmall.jpgFrom the "Bells of San Gabriel" to the "San Fernando Valley," answer "The Call of the West" and rediscover Songs in the Key of Los Angeles, a partnership between SongFest, LA Opera, and The Library Foundation of Los Angeles. Drawing on music from the Southern California Sheet Music Collection at LA Central Library and featured in the book Songs in the Key of Los Angeles by Popular Music Project Director, Josh Kun, these FREE recitals offer a singular portrait of Los Angeles history and culture rendered in music, featuring artists from SongFest and LA Opera.

Thursday, June 12, 1:30pm
Hollenbeck Palms
, 573 S Boyle Ave, Los Angeles, 90033

Thursday, June 12, 7:00pm
Brand Art & Music Library
, 1601 W Mountain St, Glendale, 91201

Friday, June 13, 2:00pm
The Huntington Library
, Loggia, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, 91108

Blakley @ NEA: Measuring Cultural Engagement Amid Confounding Variables: A Reality Check

NEALogo115.jpgThe Lear Center's Johanna Blakley will present during a panel titled, "The challenge of encompassing new media-and technology-driven forms of participation" at this two-day symposium to bring together leading researchers and practitioners to conduct a "reality check" on the landscape of cultural participation metrics.

The goals of the event are to probe our assumptions about how and why we measure public involvement in arts and culture, to confront any orthodoxies in how cultural participation is reported, and to chart a path toward more durable and meaningful measurement. Finally, the symposium will identify pressing research questions and opportunities for standardizing certain data fields across international boundaries.

Blakley will talk about the Lear Center's recent work in media metrics, its Food, Inc. research and the newly launched Media Impact Project.

If Norman Lear at 92 Is What 92 Is, I'll Have What He's Having

Marty Kaplan

Lear125.jpgIt is not widely known that Norman Lear and I have the same mother.

Norman once called his mother in Bridgeport, Conn., and said, "Mother, I just got this call. The Television Academy is forming a Hall of Fame. And the first inductees are going to be General Sarnoff and Edward R. Murrow and William Paley and Milton Berle and Paddy Chayefsky and Lucille Ball -- and me."

There was about a two-second beat, and she said, "Listen, if that's what they want to do, who am I to say?"

My brother and I once sent our parents a silver bowl from Tiffany's, engraved, "For our Mom and Dad on their Silver Wedding Anniversary. With Love from David and Martin." We didn't hear anything, so I called.

"Mom, did a package come for you and Dad?"

"Yes, son, it did."

"I hope you like it. Jill helped us pick it out."

Jill was my college roommate's girlfriend, who lived in New York. I didn't know from Tiffany silver bowls, except that this was the best present my brother and I could think of to make them feel special. I had asked Jill, who did know from such things, to go to Tiffany's and tell me the classiest bowl we could afford.

"Do you like it, Mom?"

There was about a two-second beat, and she said, "Listen, I'm sure Jill's parents would know how to appreciate it."

When I heard Norman tell that story about his mother, I was thrilled to find out I'm not the only kid who grew up thinking that sado-narcissism is normal motherly love. My father, unlike Norman's, did not go to jail. But when Norman tells how a 9-year old feels when his father is sent to prison for three years for fraud, those feelings are mine.

Over the past few weeks, for many hours a day, aloud, Norman has been telling painful, hilarious stories about our (OK, his) mother and father, and about many others in his life, from Frank Sinatra and Mary Hartman to Jerry Falwell and Maya Angelou. He's just finished recording the audio version of his autobiography, which is coming out in October. Its title is "Even This I Get to Experience," a sentiment he's considered engraving on his tombstone.

A guy who'd say that is a guy who doesn't forget to savor life. Norman turns 92 on Sunday, and today he's as creative, smart, busy and passionate as ever. If that's what 92 looks like - and 94, too, which is what the inexhaustible Deborah Szekely turned in May - then I'll have what they're having.

Whether you read or listen to it, you will love Norman Lear's book. It's beautiful writing, rich and raw. He's a gifted storyteller, and he's led a helluva life. I know: You'd expect me to say something like that. So full disclosure: I love Norman Lear. (For a second opinion: Kirkus -- the publishing industry's pre-publication tip sheet -- also loves him; they just gave him a starred review, the best they can award, calling the book "engrossing and entertaining," a "bighearted, richly detailed chronicle of comedy, commitment and a long life lived fully.")

Some people, however, do not love Norman Lear. His liberalism and iconoclasm long ago made him a bête noire of the right: Richard Nixon put him on his enemies list. Today he makes Rush Limbaugh and Fox News sputter and rant. (He often listens to Rush in the car, one master entertainer sizing up another's shtick.)

But Norman's book, like his life, is as patriotic as the Fourth of July. Who knew that he flew more than 50 bombing missions in World War II? For "I Love Liberty," a 1982 two-hour ABC special, he got Barry Goldwater, John Wayne and Jane Fonda onto the same stage. In 2011, Nancy Reagan asked him to accompany her to the Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Library. He bought a copy of the Declaration of Independence made the night of July 4, 1776. He thought people shouldn't have to travel to see their country's birth certificate -- it should travel to see them -- so he put it on a nine-year tour to all 50 states. He loves America, he has often said, like his grandfather -- who regularly wrote letters to the White House beginning "My dearest darling Mr. President" -- loved Roosevelt. (In the book, he says that letter story is actually about someone else's grandfather, and cops to appropriating it.)

Though I spoke to Norman on the phone a couple of times when I worked in the Carter White House, I first met him in the flesh at a big black tie New Year's Eve party at the home of Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee and his wife, writer Sally Quinn. I was at the party solo. At midnight, as everyone kissed and toasted 1984, I found myself standing next to Norman, who seemed to be the only other person who had come alone. Without a word between us, to the singing of "Auld Lang Syne," we fell into each other's arms. Norman kissed me on the lips. I wiped a tear from my cheek. We hugged. He looked deep into my eyes for a two-second beat, and he said, "Listen, I don't want to hurt you, but you know this can't go on." (OK, I cop to adding that "listen.")

I didn't know three things at that moment. One was that just a few hours earlier, at my Mondale campaign desk, I had met for the first time the future mother of my children. Another was that Norman would become my blood brother and soul mate. The third was that he was as miserably sad that New Year's Eve as he'd ever been in his life. I was oblivious of that until I read his pages about his marriage to Frances Lear. In the manuscript, when he wrote about that night, I wasn't even in the story.

Kierkegaard said, "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards." Norman's book captures the bittersweet comedy of hindsight insight, the way life forces us to revise the running Story of Me we're always telling ourselves in order to make its twists and turns keep making sense. We're lucky Mr. Lear waited to write the Book of Norman until he had so much life to understand backwards.

I can't wait to find out what he's figured out when he's 120.

Cross posted from the Jewish Journal.

Please Manipulate Me

Marty Kaplan

FBMark295.jpgWhat do you call it when media try to manipulate your feelings without first asking for informed consent?


Example: The average Facebook user sees only 20 percent of the 1,500 stories per day that could have shown up in their news feed. The posts you receive are determined by algorithms whose bottom line is Facebook's bottom line. The company is constantly adjusting all kinds of dials, quietly looking for the optimal mix to make us spend more of our time and money on Facebook. Of course the more we're on Facebook, the more information they have about us to fine-tune their formulas for picking ads to show us. That's their business model: We create and give Facebook, for free, the content they use and the data they mine to hold our attention, which Facebook in turn sells to advertisers.

Those are the terms of service that everyone, without reading, clicks "I Agree to" - and not just for Facebook. We make comparable mindless contracts all the time with Gmail, Yahoo, Twitter, Amazon, Siri, Yelp, Pandora and tons of other apps, retailers and advertiser-supported news and entertainment. If you're online, if you use a smartphone, you're an experimental subject in proprietary research studies of how best to target, engage and monetize you. They're always testing content, design, headlines, graphics, prices, promotions, profiling tools, you name it, and you've opted in whether you realize it or not.

Many of these experiments hinge on our feelings, because much of what makes us come, stay, buy, like, share, comment and come back is emotional, not rational. So it should surprise no one that Facebook wants to know what makes its users happier. But when they acknowledged last month that they had tested - on 700,000 people, for one week - whether increasing the fraction of upbeat posts in their news feeds made them feel more upbeat (it did), a firestorm broke out.

The charge: People are being treated like guinea pigs without their consent. Unaccountable corporations are secretly manipulating our emotions. This is the slippery slope to "Brave New World."

So what else is new? Neil Postman first warned us about Amusing Ourselves to Death - the name of his book - in 1984, before the Web was spun. But that didn't stop entertainment, which is exquisitely attuned to the marketplace, from making its long march through our institutions. Today, politics is all about unaccountable corporations manipulating our emotions; they're constantly testing and targeting their paid messages to voters, none of whom are asked for informed consent. The news industry is all about the audience, and much of its content has long been driven by the primal power of danger, sex and novelty to trap our attention, but there's no clamor for shows and sites to warn us we're lab chimps.

John Kenneth Galbraith called advertising "the management of specific demand." Ads tell us stories, which are all variants of: If you buy this, you'll be happy. Their words and images were tested on audiences even before Don Draper was a boy, and now digital analytics gives marketers new attention management techniques to use on us. Today, every tweet, every YouTube or blog post aspires to be viral, and when that happens, no one complains that some cat or cute kid or Kardashian has used Orwellian mind-control to manipulate our mood.

I'll give the Facebook freakout this: University partners did the research using Facebook's data, and the academic vetting process could have gone the other way and nixed the project. But even if that had happened, Facebook could still have conducted this experiment, just as they and Google and plenty of other companies no doubt continue to adjust algorithms, run randomized trials of content and design (known as A/B tests) and discover the many economic, political and cultural micro-tribes we consumers belong to. Academic committees called Institutional Review Boards rule on what professors can do to research subjects, but informed consent in Silicon Valley is basically what someone can get away with, which is what's been true for commerce, politics and the content industries since at least the 1980s.

In fact, ever since people first gathered around the fire, storytellers have perfected their skills by studying the data in their audiences' eyes. Today, we may think that our media savvy and B.S. detectors protect us from being played like piccolos, but people have always believed that thinking could reliably prevent their emotions from running away with them, and they've always been wrong. Neuroscience now shows what happens: Our emotions are faster than our reason, which we then use to reverse engineer some rationalization for our actions.

Is there any way to protect people from the hidden persuaders, as Vance Packard called an earlier era's desire wizards? After all, the arts and technologies of manipulation are only going to get more powerful. Consumer protection is only going to grow weaker. Mass education's ability to turn out critical thinkers is hardly going to spike upward. The best plan Plato could come up with to protect future leaders from being enslaved by their appetites was to exile the most powerful manipulators of his time - the poets, who whipped crowds into frenzies with their artifice and illusions.

But banishment is an authoritarian solution. More speech, not less, is the democratic answer to assaults on freedom and agency. Open-source research, with methods and tools freely available, can serve the public interest. (We're up to that at the Norman Lear Center's Media Impact Project.) And the place where countervailing speech really wants to get heard is in the media, whose industrial success, like Facebook's, depends on monetizing our attention. I've seen a lot of stories about Facebook fiddling with the happiness of our feeds. The irony is that I encountered all of them on media whose owners are just as determined to push my buttons as Mark Zuckerberg.

Crossposted from the Jewish Journal.

Participant Media's Impact Index

Johanna Blakley

TPIlogo.jpgThe New York Times devoted significant ink this week to The Participant Index (TPI), an effort by Participant Media to quantify and compare the relative social impact of films, TV shows and online video. The article also mentioned the Lear Center's $4.2 million Media Impact Project, which has consulted on the development of TPI.

Participant approached the Lear Center because of its academic expertise in measuring the impact of educational messages embedded in entertainment content. The Center's Hollywood, Health & Society program has partnered with the CDC for the last 14 years to look at how health storylines in popular TV shows affect viewers' knowledge, attitudes and behavior. The survey component of TPI includes a combination of questions that have become standard in entertainment education evaluation: the "transportation scale" identifies the type of emotional involvement that the entertainment content triggered and the outcome questions indicate what real-world actions a subject has taken after exposure to the content. TPI combines these two measures to create a score for each piece of video content in the study.

In a separate research project, Participant Media asked the Lear Center to evaluate the impact of three of their films: the documentaries Food, Inc. and Waiting for Superman, and Steven Soderbergh's feature film, Contagion. The Lear Center adapted propensity score matching techniques used in clinical research to address the key problem of "selection bias" among movie viewers: only certain people choose to see certain films, making it very difficult for researchers to expose people randomly to a movie and to determine the actual impact of the film. A propensity score methodology - not used in TPI so far - enables researchers to create a detailed profile of likely viewers of a film, and to compare very similar viewers who saw the film with those who did not. Unlike typical survey research, this method allows researchers to construct something similar to a classic study design where individuals are randomly assigned to a treatment group and a control group.

We are excited to see for-profit companies like Participant Media devote significant resources and time to measuring the impact of media. We hope that many others will follow in their path.

Measuring the Impact of Art

Johanna Blakley

gasmaskart.jpgLast week I attended a high-caliber symposium co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the UK's Cultural Value Project. They brought together a dizzying array of researchers (demographers, cognitive scientists, arts policy wonks, "recovering" academics, etc.) to discuss how we ought to measure participation in arts and culture on the local, regional, national and global scale.

"Participation" and "engagement" are key metrics for arts institutions and their funders. But the inquiry often ends right there. I think the vast majority of people in the arts - including artists and administrators - take it as a given that art has a beneficial effect on society. I happen to agree with them. Wholeheartedly. But many powerful people in this world - including those who hold the purse strings - are not necessarily convinced. Funding for the arts is paltry compared to expenditures on science, where, lo and behold, we have a lot of convincing evidence about the importance it holds for humanity.

But when we consider the arts - plays, ballet, opera, sculpture, literature, dance, painting - arts lovers often assume that there are no methods to measure with any precision the beneficial impact on individuals, communities or nations. As I've heard many people say over the years, "it's impossible to measure a change in hearts and minds." (This has been a particularly daunting problem for people in cultural diplomacy, where the instrumental possibilities of art and culture are more often demonstrated through anecdote than rigorous evaluation.)

I think that's one reason you see a focus on measuring the economic impact of art: cultural institutions like museums and performing arts venues often justify their existence by pointing to the tourists they're attracting and the hotel rooms they're filling. Those things are easier to count.

Of course economic impact is important, but I believe we ought to pay serious attention to the profound impact that art can have on humans. We know that art can move us. But what, exactly, does it move us to do?

There are good reasons that arts institutions haven't aggressively pursued this kind of research in the past. One of the biggest obstacles for arts and culture impact research is the issue of taste, or more technically, self-selection bias. You will rarely have a broad nationally representative sample of people who encounter a specific play, opera, concert, museum exhibition, or a book, film or TV show that doesn't have blockbuster status. Harry Potter? Sure. Chimerica? Not so much.

I believe that the kind of research that we've been doing at the Lear Center - especially our recent research measuring the impact of documentary and narrative films - can be used to measure the impact of just about any artistic work - as long as we can find enough people who have encountered it.

One of my concerns about arts and cultural impact research is that we often confuse outputs with outcomes. We count butts in seats and collect turnstile data, but we shrug our shoulders when asked about the consequences of that participation. We may go so far as to find out whether audience members were absorbed by the work, but I would argue that we ought to go one step further and find out whether it affected things like knowledge levels, attitudes and even behavior. Armed with this evidence, we are on firmer ground when we ask for precious resources - particularly public funds - to be spent on the arts. If we can demonstrate the power of culture to educate and enlighten, we should have no shortage of funders who are looking for proven tools to do exactly that.

Video of the event is forthcoming. For some of the blow-by-blow, check out the Twitter hashtag #NEACVP

Imagining the Future of 3D Printing at Fractal

Johanna Blakley

Ever since I started doing research on fashion design and copyright, I've been tracking the progress of 3D printing technology. The disruptive possibilities of this technology are abundantly clear in the fashion sector, and so I was thrilled to receive an invitation to attend fractal, a very unique conference in Medellin Colombia, where a diverse group of experts was asked to facilitate conversations about 3D printing, synthetic biology and other bleeding edge topics.


Hoping to shake-up the typical conference format, the instigators behind fractal - the intrepid Viviana Trujillo and Hernan Ortiz - decided to invite the audience to use "design fiction" to spin stories of the future that would reveal the key social, cultural, political and ethical quandaries that accompany the adoption of new technologies. The facilitators were a fascinating group: Reshma Shetty, an MIT-trained synthetic biologist; acclaimed artist and director Keiichi Matsuda, whose augmented reality installations have been featured at MOMA and the V&A, and Paul Graham Raven, a speculative fiction practitioner who uses narrative to solve engineering problems in the UK.

In addition to telling stories about how homes might be made out of living things and how augmented reality applications will fundamentally change the contours of our self-presentation to the world, we tackled the topic of 3D printing.

3D printing has been around since the 80's - mostly for rapid prototyping - but lately it's become much more affordable and businesses have begun to blossom.

Fashion designers have always existed on the outskirts of the intellectual property frontier, denied the shelter of copyright protection for their designs. Instead of destroying the industry and the creativity that fuels it, it turns out that the lack of copyright protection has fueled the development of a de facto creative commons, where all designers can quote, remix and outright rip-off from the complete history/archives of fashion design. While the music, film and publishing industries still cling to the fading promise of copyright, the luxury fashion industry continues to prosper, and customers continue to benefit from a highly fragmented marketplace, where knock-offs may be purchased for pennies on the dollar.

Continue reading "Imagining the Future of 3D Printing at Fractal" »

11 Things You Didn't Know About Documentary Film Lovers

Johanna Blakley

hotdocs.jpgI was honored to give the Industry Keynote at Hot Docs, a giant documentary film festival in Toronto. I don't know what they put in that water (which was delicious, by the way) but Torontonians love, love LOVE documentaries. They have a 700 seat theater that, year round, shows docs only, and I was completely charmed by its tagline: ESCAPE TO REALITY.

Of all conventional TV and film genres, you could easily argue that documentary is the one that is most self-conscious about its artful manipulation of reality. Since much of my research focuses on the impact of entertainment and media on individuals, communities and society at large, documentaries have proven an especially exciting object of study. (I have a TEDx talk about some of this research.)

In order to prep myself for the fest - which included a whopping 197 documentaries - I thought I'd revisit some survey research that we conducted at the Lear Center on the relationship between political beliefs and entertainment preferences. We discovered in those studies that predictable patterns emerged suggesting that even our escapes from reality - to ballets, tractor pulls, and blockbuster films - were tethered quite tightly to our deeply held beliefs about the world and how it ought to be.

For a nerd like me, this is absolutely fascinating stuff.

Our archive of data - from two large American representative sample surveys, and from a smaller version we conducted in Tunisia after the Arab Spring - includes detailed demographic, ideological and taste information about documentary film fans. Hot Docs gave me an excellent excuse to mine that data.

So here's what we did:

We compared people who expressed a high preference for documentary films to those who expressed very little interest in the genre. We looked at their politics, their demographics and their entertainment preferences and found that the most profound differences were in taste: for instance documentary lovers are

•55% more likely to watch educational programming
•They're almost 40% more likely to watch science and nature programming
Those characteristics accounted for the largest differences between the groups, and they seemed to make a lot of sense: these folks have a pronounced preference for entertainment that informs them about reality.

Preferences about book genres were similarly revealing. When I asked the audience at Hot Docs whether they would make a bee-line to non-fiction or fiction sections in a book store, they overwhelmingly selected non-fiction. So did our survey respondents.

This preference for reality-based entertainment and media was fascinating to me because our research had revealed that the documentary genre was generally preferred by people at the liberal end of the ideological spectrum. Conservatives were more likely to express preferences for entertainment programming that comported with reality: sports and business programming, for instance, with action adventure being the only fictional genre that they were more likely to prefer.

We also found that documentary lovers are about one quarter more likely to enjoy arts programming, which matched their increased likelihood to visit art museums and galleries. But just in case you were thinking that they were getting soft (ahem), they are also more likely to enjoy entertainment that contains political themes, which would seem to indicate that even when doc lovers depart from reality-based genres, they still like to grapple with the ideological issues that define life outside the movie theater or concert hall.

They are also significantly bigger fans of dramas, comedies and blues music. We asked about a dozen different sports and found that doc lovers were more likely to express a preference for baseball, compared to "doc haters."

Demographically, the differences between these groups were far less significant than these difference in taste. But there was one exception: they were less likely to be born again Christians.

Race, income, gender, geography - we looked at all of these factors and found only minor differences between doc lovers and doc haters.

Are you a documentary film lover? Let me know whether this portrait describes you. Either leave a comment here or email me at

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