10 Nov 2009

lessons in media mashups from capt. james t. kirk

Let, us all pay homage to William Shatner - not because he is camp, or funny, or a deceptively good actor. Well, yes, let us admire him for all that but also for a talent for cultural mashups, for his ability to keep moving the Shatner brand forward, so to speak, for almost 50 years.

I am quite sure there are plenty of entertainers in their late 70s schooled in both the last vestiges of vaudeville and classical theater who could pull off a faux poetry reading of an inane Twitter account on late night TV.

But only Star Trek hero and famed overactor Shatner gets that call. This has gotten much play in the past week but is worth reposting. Here is Shatner reading supposed tweets from Levi Johnston, the ex-boyfriend of the daughter of former US vice presidential candidate turned media hound Sarah Palin. He is also the father of Palin's grandchild.

It turned out to be a fake Twitter account, and NBC officially took the clip down, though it is obviously still floating around their system.

So Tonight Show host Conan O'Brien brought Shatner back the next day to read "real" Levi Johnston quotes.

This is funny. The schtick was even funnier over the summer when Shatner did dramatic readings of Sarah Palin's rambling resignation speech and then her Twitter account.

Think about this mashup. You have an aged dramatic TV actor reading a Twitter account of a 19-year-old in the style of the 1960s as well as in the most ancient of literary forms (poetry) - and all on the Tonight Show, a fading but still influential cultural institution in the US.

And they did not roll Shatner out of the mothballs for this either. At the age of 78, he is the star of his own video blogs, currently on YouTube, as well as his own interview show. He does campy yet hip commercials for Priceline.com. He is winning acting awards. He creates more buzz by not appearing in the new Star Trek movie than he would have by slipping into that uniform one more time.

Now I am fairly sure that Shatner did not come up with the Twitter readings or the commercial concept or the vlogs. But he either has really good people or he has an uncanny ability to know when to say yes. Probably both.

He has much to teach us - how to play to our strengths while moving in new directions, how to mix media and formats without diluting our "brand," how to survive in a world where nothing is like it was just 20 years ago.

And to do it all to the beat of a bongo drum.

Nathan Hegedus

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