Aymar “AJ” Christian is a doctoral student in communications at the Annenburg School at the University of Pennsylvania. His writings have appeared in prominient national publications such as The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek. Christian’s blog, Televisuals, ‘investigates visual culture and media industries in the age of convergence – from film, television, and web video.”
PRIDEINDEX:What would you like visitors to take away from Televisuals?
AYMAR: Most visitors to my blog find it through a search engine, meaning when they arrive they don’t know what to expect. For me, I hope if they come looking for some quick information, they’ll stay and read to learn something new.
Two important parts of the site are the lists I keep of black and gay/lesbian web series. There’s an enormous amount of independent production on the web, many of it quite good, but it’s so hard to find. A large chunk of my visitors come to the site looking for programming they can’t get on television or in film, and I hope they find what they’re looking for. The most popular page on the blog is by far the list of gay/lesbian web series — it’s been #1 nearly every day for over a year.
PI: Tell us about the circumstances that lead to its founding?
AJ: I started out a newspaper reporter, but came to graduate school searching for my own voice. I knew I’d wanted to blog but couldn’t pinpoint the topic. Televisual started out with a different name – Atom Culture – and the goal was talk about the ways new media was changing culture. But I realized the web doesn’t exist in a vacuum: TV, film, advertising, etc. are all linked with digital technologies. I changed the name to Televisual to capture the growing interconnectedness of visual media. I’ve been blogging consistently for about two years now.
PI: The list of original web series that you follow on your site is outstanding. How do you decide what to cover?
AJ: I try to list as many web series as possible. The focus of the lists are scripted web series; I did that to keep it under control (bringing in “reality” programming would mean I’d have to cover talk shows and vlogs, of which there are too many to list). I also think producing a scripted series is much more challenging, and I want to honor those who try.
In the beginning, I listed everything I could find. These days, I only include series with at least a few episodes completed, or ones that have a base level of production value: the standards for video on the web are rising, and I don’t want visitors to the site to waste their time. The point is to curate, to be a guide.
PI: How do you politely turn down offers from bloggers who include sites with subject matter deemed too controversial?
AJ: I’ve never really seen anything too controversial. In general I find most people online are trying to get the widest possible audience in a given niche, and so stay away from the truly profane. The most controversial series I’ve written about is probably YouTube’s Mr. Pregnant, but he was so popular he couldn’t be ignored.
PI: Your site has a listing of Black and Gay themed series, why was it important to include series?
AJ: Black people watch more TV than any other racial group, and LGBT people have for decades been concerned about how they are represented in media (it’s the reason for GLAAD’s existence, and why blogs like AfterElton and AfterEllen are so popular).
Because we are so vigilant about media representation, we’ve really taken to web series production: it has allowed us to tell stories with a level of freedom mostly unseen in mainstream film and television. We’ve been here before: queer filmmakers created some of the most popular avant-garde films of the nineties, likewise for black filmmakers starting in the seventies, and some of the most successful sitcoms ever have boasted all-black casts. Web series are just another way for outsiders and minorities to argue for their importance in the media market.
PI: Have you considered writing a book about pop culture? Why or Why not?
AJ: I’ll hopefully have a book about the market for web video in the next few years. It would likely be with an academic press, but hopefully I can make it accessible for a slightly broader audience. Books are still important, even if they’re increasingly less popular. They are a way for us to assess our cultural history.
PI: What projects are you currently working on?
AJ: I’ve done a lot of side projects in the past – museum curatorial work, freelance writing, film production – but for the next year I’ll be taking it easy. This summer I might start a new website devoted to curating web series, and it’s possible I’ll be producing and marketing an indie web series later this year, but those plans are still up in the air.
PI: Name at least 3 artists that have most affected your creative style?
AJ: What a question! There are so many people I admire, I find it hard to pinpoint just three. Right now, the people I most desire to emulate are those academics who are both scholars and public artists and intellectuals. If I had to name three (there are dozens), I’d say Henry Jenkins, who has been a tremendous force bridging industry and the academy around issues of new media; Katherine Sender, my mentor at Penn who produces documentaries alongside her scholarship; and E. Patrick Johnson, who manages to be as accomplished an artist as he is a thinker. But that’s just scratching the surface!
PI: What do you like to do when you’re not blogging?
AJ: I’m an avid TV and film viewer. It changes from year-to-year which one I’m more focused on. Recently it’s been television: I probably watch over two dozen series a year, with many more I see more or less sporadically. In many ways television is outpacing cinema in telling stories about society. In the last few months I’ve been delving into British TV: check out what e4 is doing, as they’re besting us with youth programming (which is why MTV keeps buying their shows).
I should also say, believe it or not, blogging is a pastime for me.
PI: Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
AJ: That is a good question! I’m trying to be as open-minded as I can about the future. I’m still young enough to have a few options. Certainly I’ll keep writing, either as a scholar, a blogger and/or journalist. Beyond that, I’ll be taking opportunities as they come. “When in doubt, say ‘yes’” is my motto.
Check out the webseries at Televisuals at http://blog.ajchristian.org