Living With the Media Industry City

The Florida Project, Baker, 2017 (Image courtesy The Hollywood Reporter)
In this introduction to the second round, Lawrence Webb asks the contributors to consider media industries and the cities they generate from the perspective of those cities' citizens and users
[Ed. note: this post is part of a Roundtable discussion on “Relocation, Media Industries, and City Branding.” For more background on the discussion and to view other posts in the series, see here.]

In the second round, I’d like contributors to consider the perspectives of citizens and workers. How have dynamics of entrepreneurialism, city branding and relocation affected inhabitants of the city and those who work in media industries? Similarly, we might also consider ‘unofficial’ images and narratives of the city that might contest or counter the ‘official’ viewpoint as encapsulated by many of the objects discussed in the first round.

Helena and Erik make a valuable point about the ambivalent political position of city governments, which are often called on to play potentially irreconcilable roles – as agents of competition and economic growth on the one hand, and as champions of values such as diversity, equality, and sustainability on the other. To revisit the Amazon case briefly, Richard Florida has recently called for mayors of shortlisted cities to take a collective stand against corporate subsidies, and to consider how the relations between corporations and cities might be reconfigured for the public good. With this in mind, to what extent do you see potential for city governments to operate as progressive agents for change?

I’d also like to pose some questions about the balance between the general and the specific in these case studies, both in terms of cities and media. The four cities under discussion (Los Angeles, Montreal, Orlando, and Gothenburg) occupy quite distinctive places within regional, national and global networks, but the case studies also describe familiar patterns that cut across cities of different sizes with varying positions in the global economy. What is specific about each city, and what kind of insights can we draw from thinking about these cases comparatively? We might also ask a similar question about media industries: how do the spatial dynamics of television differ from video games, for example?

There are many interesting interconnections between all four posts, which you may want to explore in your second-round responses, but I’m going to divide them into two pairs here: Myles and Theo are both concerned with the evolving relationship between a specific media industry and a particular city, whereas Alex and Helena/Erik explore the use of promotional media to project an idealized image of a city or development zone.

In Theo’s post, he suggests that the official narratives produced by the city and the games industry often mask the precarious, ‘flexibly unstable’ position of labor. Theo and Myles, it would be interesting for both of you to pursue this line of analysis. What impact has this era of ‘mobile production’ had on workers in the television and video games industries, both above and below the line?

We might also consider the similarities and divergences between LA and Montreal. Theo, I’m interested in your argument that the specificity of Montreal and the hipsterism of Griffintown have now been supplanted by a globalized, placeless image of the industry. Could you say more about this dynamic between the local and the global in the video games industry? Of the four cities under discussion in the roundtable, LA ranks the highest in the conventional global city hierarchy and is the most influential media center, and as Myles says, it retains significant attractions for producers. One index of LA’s enduring status – and a nice irony – is that the streaming services, widely thought of as industry disruptors, have recently been investing in historic studio real estate, with Netflix moving into the old Warner Bros. studio on Sunset Boulevard, and Amazon Studios occupying the historic Culver Studios. Myles, to what extent is place specificity important to television, whether we think of the location of studio spaces and network HQs, or the aesthetic and narrative functions of diegetic setting?

Helena and Erik, it would be great to hear a little more about the specificities of Gothenburg. Like other postindustrial European cities such as Liverpool, it has a strong left-wing legacy. How does that play into the evolving identity of the city in the present? And to what extent are ideas of the ‘old’ Gothenburg folded into the rhetoric of the ‘new’ one? I’m also struck by the similarity between Disney’s notion of ‘imagineering’ and the phrase ‘enchantment engineering’, which Helena uses in her work on Älvstaden. Golden Oak and Gothenburg seem very distant from each other, but perhaps there are similarities in terms of the mediated process of urban placemaking and the blurring of the lines between citizen and consumer that Alex describes?

Golden Oak is also ‘post-political’ in the sense that it offers a vision of the citizen as consumer-fan that seems to bypass the urban realm as political sphere. Alex, could you tell us more about how Golden Oak intersects with the wider urban area of Orlando and its evolving identity? In this regard, your discussion also made me think of Sean Baker’s film The Florida Project, which offers an alternative view of what everyday life might be like on the periphery of Disney World for the people who are excluded from the prosperity of areas like Golden Oak. Are there other competing images and narratives that exist in counterpoint to Disney’s utopian vision? 

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