Yukata!Batch Goes Global

In December 2012, Benedict Cumberbatch arrived in Japan from the UK several hours after filmmaker J.J. Abrams and actor Chris Pine had arrived from Los Angeles to take part in a preliminary press junket for the summer 2013 release of Star Trek Into Darkness. Apparently unbeknownst to Cumberbatch, as well as to a Japanese mass media always on the lookout for the next big thing, roughly 500 fans – overwhelmingly female – were waiting for him on his arrival at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, the information about his flight number and arrival funneled through Sherlock and Cumberbatch-related websites that had, in turn, received it from Paramount Japan. Where Chris Pine had garnered some fleeting recognition from the many fans who had already begun gathering earlier in the day to see Cumberbatch, Cumberbatch himself received an enthusiastic welcome and attempted to respond in kind, shaking hands and acknowledging as many of his fans as possible as he was ushered to the door.

This outpouring of interest in the heretofore all-but-unknown Cumberbatch generated considerable attention within the Japanese mass media. Prior to his arrival in Japan, Cumberbatch had only been featured in one Japanese publication, Hayakawa Mystery, in a special issue focusing on BBC’s Sherlock in preparation for a New Year’s broadcast of series 2. However, the enthusiastic turnout at the airport caught the attention of magazine editors who were then faced with slowly declining interest in, and not insignificant backlash against, South Korean stars and shows – the fandom of which had sustained them for nearly a decade. In Cumberbatch they had a non-Asian star – one of the only outside a Hollywood context to generate this degree of popularity in nearly twenty years – who brought with him that nation-based pedigree that has been a constant of foreign star promotion since at least the late 1980s and the first ‘heritage film’-fuelled British star boom. Soon, magazine articles based on the interviews Cumberbatch conducted during his visit proliferated in the Japanese press, each proclaiming him a quintessential ‘English gentleman’ and, in turn, helping to spur what would, by the latter half of 2013, become a full-blown British male star boom.

By the time of Cumberbatch’s second Japanese junket, conducted a month before the Japanese August premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness, he had become a full-fledged phenomenon, less on the basis of his anticipated role in the reboot of an American TV show that, in Japan, had little more than niche popularity, than on his starring turn in BBC’s Sherlock, which had only begun airing in Japan in late 2011, and then in a late-night slot on national broadcaster NHK’s premium satellite channel. Which is to say, Cumberbatch’s Japanese fandom was itself quite niche, but it was also part of a broader global fandom that enjoyed momentum primarily online, and it was for this reason that on this second trip, spearheaded by the careful dissemination of information by Paramount Japan, Cumberbatch was greeted by 1000 fans. The degree of ‘fan service’ he provided at the airport, which after his December junket had been favorably compared to that of such fan service luminaries as Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio, was scaled back somewhat; however, he did take the time to stop and talk to the gathered crowd, satisfying even those who had been waiting in place since as early as 3 am that morning.

Moreover, in anticipation of broad interest in Cumberbatch’s visit to Japan, his arrival was streamed live online on a feed available not only to Japanese fans unable to be at the airport, but to overseas fans as well. Indeed, the entire junket played out online in real time over the course of the next four days, ultimately giving global fans insight into the ways that celebrity fandom plays out in Japan and influencing fannish activity spurred by the visit in ways that reveal the increased porousness – both cultural and fannish – of transcultural fandom in the age of social media. Continue reading

Advertisements

Renaissance or Otherwise?: Broadchurch, ITV’s Re-Branding and Imagined Audiences

by Ross P. Garner, Cardiff University.

N.B. This article contains spoilers.

On Monday 22nd April, ITV’s serialized crime drama Broadchurch (2013) concluded with a ratings high of over 9 million viewers . The series, which focused around the investigation of the murder of eleven-year-old Danny Latimer (Oskar McNamara) and its after-effects upon a small, tightly-knit and (on the surface) idyllic seaside town in the English county of Dorset, has gripped audiences and been seen as evidence of a renaissance for the UK’s main commercially-funded broadcaster. As John Plunkett of The Guardian observes, the channel has “not necessarily [been] …known to viewers as the home of edgy (or edge-of-your-seat) thrills” in recent years. Instead ITV1’s recent branding as ‘The Brighter Side’ – utilizing stark juxtapositions between golden light and darkness in its idents – could have been rephrased as ‘The Lighter Side’ given the centrality of entertainment shows such as The X-Factor (2004- ) and Britain’s Got Talent (2007- ) to its recent public image. However, since January of this year, the channel has undergone a major re-brand. The ‘1’ has been dropped from its name and a chameleonic new logo that changes colour in response to the perceived tone of the accompanying programme has been introduced with the aim of reasserting the channel’s centrality within British television culture. Broadchurch has been central to this re-branding campaign by occupying a prime position within the channel’s trailers for 2013 drama. As this blog-post invites such indulgences, Broadchurch’s publicity strategies regularly piqued my interest through making intertextual connections with some of my existing fan interests: utilizing electro-pop star Ellie Goulding’s ‘Explosions’ as audio-accompaniment to trailers and overtly referencing key dialogue from Twin Peaks (1990-1) within billboard adverts (see below) put Broadchurch firmly on my cultural radar (and that’s before we get onto the show’s plethora of ex-Doctor Who (2005- ) talent both on- and off-screen). However, despite acknowledging David Lynch’s TV masterpiece in episode two (searching young Danny’s bedroom unearthed – as Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) found in Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) safety deposit box –  cocaine and a large sum of money), Broadchurch overlooked direct and sustained appeals to ‘cult’ audiences.

IMG_5357-1024x768

Broadchurch‘s side-stepping of red drapes and dancing dwarves nevertheless provides an entry point for critically assessing both the series and, due to its centrality within the campaign, ITV’s wider re-branding. This is because, in line with both industrial data concerning gendered viewing trends within British television and cultural discourses concerning wide-reaching or ‘mainstream’ appeal (see Jancovich and Hunt 2004), Broadchurch clearly imagines women as its primary target audience. Despite David Tennant’s leading man status, the series’ core is undeniably mothers. Olivia Colman’s DS Ellie Millar and Jodie Whittaker’s Beth Latimer provide the dramatic centre as, whilst the former experiences gradual estrangement from her previous intimate understanding of the town’s inhabitants, the latter portrays the adjustment to losing a child with significant aplomb. When this narrative  focus is recognized, alongside how Pauline Quirke’s Susan Wright moves slowly from periphery to centre and eventual exit across the eight episodes, it’s clear that issues of motherhood provide the programme with its central focus. With respect to the channel’s re-branding, then, occupying an integral position within British TV culture seems to here involve recourse to pre-existing gendered understandings of what ‘mainstream’ appeal means within a UK commercial context. This should not be taken as a gripe, though. In fact, recognizing this production constraint allows for complaints directed towards how Broadchurch resolved its central enigma to be rethought. Whilst some (not all) reviewers criticized the series for revealing the murderer too soon – and so relinquishing the programme’s tension too early – this narrative strategy makes sense given the centrality of female audiences to ITV and its imagining of ‘mainstream’ appeal. Revealing the murderer within the first half of the final episode allowed Broadchurch to remain focused on its female characters as DC Millar’s coming to terms with her husband’s deviance, and attempts at re-building bridges with the community, occupy the foreground.

Broadchurch-Jodie-Whittaker

Further evidence of female audiences’ centrality to Broadchurch and ITV is identifiable by examining how the enigmas surrounding Tennant’s character are handled. Revealing DI Alec Hardy’s past misdemeanors as his taking the fall for his then-partner’s errors and adultery draws upon associations from romance fiction via the making the character the rejected male figure  who still longs for the woman he loves. Wider questions concerning police incompetence are thus avoided. Not only does Hardy’s characterization align Broadchurch with culturally-feminised genres, though. It also moves the series towards scholarly understandings of the popular. Robin Nelson (2007: 175-6) names as ‘quality popular dramas’ those series which are transmitted on broadcast channels in the UK (the term is, as Nelson notes (ibid: 175), lifted from ITV discourses), work within established TV genres (e.g. the police series in this instance) and move towards a sense-making paradigm for audiences. As Nelson (ibid: 176) states, ‘quality popular’ television “resonates[s] with the need to negotiate with [the external world] but not to open up fundamentally disturbing questions and, ultimately, to reassure through narrative but also ideological closure”. Various textual strategies mobilized by Broadchurch support Nelson’s point: beyond DI Hardy’s opening up, but ultimate avoidance, of questions about police capability, the programme provides ideological closure within dominant sense-making paradigms in two ways. Firstly, the cultural institution of the family is firmly reinstated by Broadchurch’s conclusion. Not only are DI Millar and her children reunited with previously-estranged family members Lucy (Tanya Franks) and Olly (Jonathan Bailey), who provide support through which the family can move forward, but the Latimers remain unified (despite father Mark’s (Andrew Buchan) infidelity) as Beth decides to keep her baby. What’s more, the programme continually restates the Church’s role. The clue, perhaps, is in the series’ title (notions of the church’s ‘broad’ reach being connoted?) but, although questions are raised about Arthur Darvill’s  Rev. Paul Coates, Broadchurch also avoids the topic of paedophile clergymen. Instead, Coates is revealed to be an insomniac and recovering alcoholic who, despite having previously assaulted an overly aggressive child, continually supports the townsfolk in their hour(s) of need. In all of these instances interrogations of conservative social institutions are suggested, but ultimately avoided, as potentially difficult questions are brought in line with dominant perspectives.

DT Broadchurch

All of this perhaps suggests that, despite ITV’s re-brand, nothing much has changed. However, subscribing to this position does Broadchurch a great disservice. The programme’s overall aesthetic of disorientation, constructed through jump cuts, obscure camera angles and off-centre character framing, brilliantly complements the narrative’s themes of individual displacement and altered perspectives. This aesthetic has been used elsewhere to similar effect in recognized examples of ‘quality’ television such as the BBC’s critically-lauded Wallander (2008- ) series and similarly allowed tension and ‘uneasiness’ to accrue whilst watching Broadchurch. These aesthetic strategies also helped to provide Broadchurch with much of its emotional impact. Kristyn Gorton (2006) has convincingly argued that the emotionality of television series can be considered as criteria of aesthetic value and Broadchurch should thus be celebrated accordingly. Whoever thought that something as mundane as a trip to the supermarket undertaken by a grieving mother could be so moving by articulating how everyday experiences had now become strange for Beth and how quotidian items such as cereal packaging can articulate deep feelings of absence and loss? Scenes such as this, as well as perhaps more obvious set pieces such as the death of newsagent Jack Marshall (David Bradley), underline that discussions of ‘quality’ television should not overlook series which provoke audiences with emotional experiences by stimulating sympathy between characters and viewers.

In summary, then, Broadchurch has occupied a central position within ITV’s 2013 re-brand and, although the evidence suggests that this has not coincided with a wider shift in the channel’s understanding of ‘mainstream’ appeal, the programme’s ambition and movement within these constraints certainly make it distinct within the channel’s schedules. If not perhaps the renaissance some have suggested, Broadchurch nevertheless suggests re-invigoration within the channel’s attitude towards TV drama.

Author Bio:

Ross P. Garner is a Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies in the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University. He teaches a variety of undergraduate modules concerning television, textuality and industry and has recently completed his PhD on Nostalgia and Post-2005 British Time Travel Dramas.

Academic References:

Gorton, K. (2006) ‘A Sentimental Journey: Television, Meaning and Emotion’. Journal of British Cinema and Television, 3 (1), pp. 72-81.

Jancovich, M. and Hunt, N. (2004) ‘The Mainstream, Distinction and Cult TV’, in S Gwenllian-Jones and R E Pearson (eds.) Cult Television. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 27-44.

Nelson, R. (2007) State of Play: Contemporary “High-End” TV Drama. Manchester: Manchester University Press.