Big News: Benedict Cumberbatch & Justin Bieber
Big News in the rumour mill of mass media culture is Justin Bieber’s unconfirmed role in the Star Trek Into Darkness movie. While everyone has been concentrating on Benedict Cumberbatch’s character in the movie, no one has yet said anything about this piece of marketing hype. All Cumberbatch has said is ” that he is not Khan”.
Justin Bieber was heard to say ” baby, baby”, possibly referring to his supposed role as genetically modified youth, which would tie in to the Khan hypothesis and the movie trailer Star Trek Into Darkness references the Cumberbatch character talking to concerned parents about their child.
It is difficult to know what to make of this Justin Bieber Star Trek connection. The Grey Cup half-time show demonstrated that celebrity poularity does not guarantee effective marketing or broadening of target audience. ( See: Grey Cup Boos , The Risk of Celebrity Worship & Get Justin Bieber in Your Classroom to Teach Media Literacy ) Time will tell if this marketing ploy will have a positive or negative effect, perhaps the intent is to generate public interest and keep the names of the celebrities and the movie in the headlines.
The passage of time and Mass Media, both in generated content and format, is part of the controversies surrounding both the Star Trek franchise and Bieber-mania. In both cases, we have different age demographics with varied perceptions of the content and the delivery of that content. Depending on one’s age and gender, Justin Bieber’s fame/celebrity status seems justified or out of proportion. Bieber’s success came through very effective use of social media to reach the intended target audience. Social media solidified and maintains this success, but at a price. The content can not change/ evolve in style, form or information. Success hardens, like amber, to trap the celebrity.
Furthermore, the community that embraces this content does not welcome change or criticism. Those who observe the content and the community from the outside will make comparisons to other teen & tween idols of the past. They will be less impressed by the Bieber’s career ( the message is not directed at them & it will seem less unique or special) and they will find the fan fervour an antagonizing barrier.
We see a similar problem with the Star Trek franchise. The franchise grew out of a beloved television series. Attempts to re-imagine and convey the message of the show in the form of a feature length movie has had mixed results. Change the medium, change the message. Not all the films have been equally successful. The most recent attempt uses the trope of time travel triggering an alternate sequence of events to reboot the series. The original characters are re-imagined with new actors. The reality of Star Trek is constructed using present day cinema technology. Inevitably, various demographic groups will either be accepting or rejecting this version.
This brings us to the concept of what I call Necro-media. Necro-media refers to past forms of mass media and media content. Necro-media is often rediscovered by a new generation. This generation may embrace it in its original form, (lovers of Old Time Radio, silent films, or original pulp/fictional detectives) or they re-purpose the medium, (those who take up Alternative Photographic processes or attempt to emulate them using digital darkroom methods).
The accompanying visuals fit into this latter example. The first image, Big News, suggests an aged photograph of times past. The subject are bundled newspapers & flyers, a print medium that some say is reaching the end of its days. The second image, Yesterday’s Print,makes use of an aged newspaper texture in combination of two book covers, Peter the Great by Nia Brown Baker (1943) & Dave Dawson at Singapore by R. Sidney Bowen (1942). Both works and writers were popular at their time ,writing for a early teen audience, combining accurate information with fanciful youthful adventure and a set values, beliefs and ideologies that today make them forms of Necro-media.
In Advanced Vaudeville – Bieber Shakes Harper the lost theatrical entertainment of vaudeville, child labour of the early 1900’s, Cab Calloway’s iconic face, contrast Bieber and Prime Minister Harper shaking hands when the youth was presented with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, designed “to honour significant contributions and achievements by Canadians.” Unfortunately his backwards cap and overalls were seen by some as disrespectful to the honour. Others thought that he was simply not deserving of the honour. What was the media message being sent out by the Prime Minister of Canada? What would Cab Calloway, famous for his signature style of dress think of the white teenager’s attempt at clean urban grundge ? For that matter, what of the children of 1910 in their working clothes , how might they respond to this ? Perhaps Vaudeville has not died. Like other Necro-media it has just resurfaced in a new form.
In a way, both the Star Trek brand and Bieber brand, are Necro-media. The first is much loved television series that been reborn in the 21st century in the evolving medium of cinema. Justin Bieber is part of a long line of popular singers, going back to Rudy Vallée, whose popularity was first spread by the dominant forms of Mass Media at the time, records (1928) and radio and movies (1929).
“Vallée also became what was perhaps the first complete example of the 20th century mass mediapop star. Flappers mobbed him wherever he went. His live appearances were usually sold out, and even if his singing could hardly be heard in those venues not yet equipped with the new electronic microphones, his screaming female fans went home happy if they had caught sight of his lips through the opening of the trademark megaphone he sang through. A brief caricature of him in the Fleischer Brothers‘ color Betty Boop theatrical short cartoon from 1934 Poor Cinderella depicts him singing through a megaphone .”
Necro-media and an application of Media analysis helps us put the Bieber Star Trek rumour in context. I hope to further explore the topic of Necro-media, both through visual creations and analysis of mass media events, real & imagined. Enjoy the day.