Piracy, Immaterial Labour, the Franchise Event

Jon has written an interesting post on the relation between piracy and digital production. It has sent me off thinking about another one of my back-burner papers on configuring popular culture purely in terms of the Deleuzian event as a way to circumvent neo-Platonic conceptions of media production (representation, etc) and the cultural economy of enthusiasm (a.k.a. fandom). It is based on the rough and raw paper I wrote last year while in Sweden on movie sequels. Christian and I discussed turning it into a joint paper when he was up from Melbourne but I think so far we might have been too busy to give it the time that it deserves. Perhaps this piracy angle could serve as a catalyst. Pirates are always exciting.


Anyway, I was interested in the period between movies in a film series (ie a film and its sequel). Instead of the film being a straightforward commodity I thought about it as an ‘event’ in the Deleuzian sense. The film itself is not an event, but is merely another actualisation of the pure event which subsists in the actualisation. Other examples of the event being actualised are in comics, tv shows, fast food franchise happy meal deals, interviews with people, computer games, books, and so on. I did not view the movie as being produced as much as the desire/enthusiasm of the audience being captured.

The blockbuster was born with Jaws in the sense that the movie-event was saturation marketed (actualised) across a number of media networks through advertising, but it is with Star Wars that the true event of popular culture emerges. Star Wars is a ‘total event’; it is not just a movie, but a range of toys, clothes, comics, books, computer games, and so on. What ‘Star Wars’ captures is the enthusiasm of fans for the Star Wars franchise.

Indeed, I just realised that the perfect term to describe what I am discussing is the ‘franchise event’ or maybe ‘cultural franchise event’. What is actualised in every example of ‘Star Wars’ is another dimension of the Star Wars ‘franchise event’. Awesome. Like a Macca’s franchise, ‘Star Wars’ is differentially repeated. All Macca’s are the same, but they are also different from each other. In both examples — Macca’s and Star Wars — the commodity exchanged is primarily the product of immaterial labour. Macca’s have had to diversify their product range to become properly post-Fordist. Instead of the mass-standard of Fordist mass consumption, Macca’s now have the standard-variation of post-Fordism. The second parallel is that both have a serial form. The Macca’s franchise contains a serial form of difference, while the cultural franchise event (think the Matrix franchise – game, movies, books, etc) has a serial form that does not involve the Fordist return of the same as per mass production, but the return of a standardised variation for the saturation of differentiated markets.

(Macca’s! Lunchtime. haha…)

I was interested in the period between movies (initial example and sequel) as it can serve as a clear example of the complex ways excitement is produced about a forthcoming film. I was interested in the temporality of the between film process in terms of anticipation and expectation. Both terms are used to describe a relation of futurity, however I located anticipation more in the body and affections and expectation in terms of a calculus of cultural logic that referenced and (re)produced a model-event.

What troubles any simple Fordist conception of mass-consumption is the labour of fans to produce fan-texts that ‘fit in’ a film franchise. Again the best example is Star Wars. I once read that George Lucas liked fans making fan-texts. So he should. Fan-texts are not commodoties but the product of consumption that is productive; the immaterial labour of the enthusiast. The fan-texts produce surplus value, but a surplus value baked into commodities produced by the ‘owners’ of the franchise (ie for Lucas’ actualisations of the Star Wars franchise). Fan-texts are another actualisation of the cultural franchise event.

In this sense, like the immaterial labour of computer game modders, fan-based actualisation of the cultural franchise event can be imagined as a form of piracy within post-Fordist economies. The difference is that it is not a commodity that is stolen through alternative circuits of exchange, but it is the immaterial labour of production that is stolen through alternative distributions of labour. Why shouldn’t people who work in the movie industry get pissed off when fans actualise the cultural franchise event through alternative means of production (primarily enabled through the democratisation of media technologies)? Lucas has been very smart to continue to feed the fans just enough ‘variation’ to fuel their enthusiasm… What is at stake is not a commodity that has surplus value ‘baked’ into it, but the limits of ownership over the cultural franchise event and, as Negri and Hardt say in Empire, the passage from the virtual to the actual.

What gets fans grumpy now is not the ‘return of the same’ that plagues Fordist modes of mass-production/consumption, but the forced ‘return of the variation’ that plagues post-Fordist production of the cultural franchise event. Again Star Wars is a classic example of this in two ways: The fact the three prequel films were made, but also the way they were made as the plots were obviously constructed to allow for maximum tie-in with other actualisations of the total cultural franchise event (games, meals, etc).

The limit of enthusiasm’s capture is ‘play’. Kids playing with toys and replicating scenes from the movie or, indeed, imagining their own ‘scenes’ are the purest form of the immaterial labour of the enthusiast. There is no object produced as the labour is perfectly virtuosic; yet, the cultural franchise event is differentially repeated through the imagination of the child (or adult!!). Hurrah!