©2020 Canadian Journal of Communication 45(2), 221–240 doi: 10.22230/cjc.2020v45n2a3559
Stuart R. Poyntz & Frédérik Lesage, Simon Fraser University
Stuart R. Poyntz is Director of the Community Engaged Research initiative and Associate Professor in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Frédérik Lesage is Associate Professor in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University. Email: email@example.com.
Background This article tackles the concern that meaningful collective experiences of large-scale media events are no longer possible because contemporary hybrid digital media systems disrupt the temporal coordinating function, or formatting, traditionally performed by broadcast media.
Analysis Drawing from media events literature, this article puts forward a conception of caring time to show that while the means for sharing the temporality of media events have changed, these events also remain a telling site for collective experience. The authors detail an empirical case study to support their argument.
Conclusion and implications Careful analysis of the Tragically Hip’s Man Machine Poem event shows how the CBC used social media to manage temporal proxemics for the concert in a way that called national publics into being.
Keywords Media events; Digital mediatization; Public broadcasting; Temporality; Twitter
Contexte Dans l’article qui suit nous aborderons la question suivante: est-il possible que les événements médiatiques de grande envergure n’ont plus la même dimension d’expérience collective parce que les systèmes hybrides de médias numériques contemporains perturbent la fonction de coordination temporelle, ou mise en forme, traditionnellement assurée par les médias de radiodiffusion?
Analyse En se basant sur des cadres conceptuels développés pour la recherche dans le domaine des événements médiatiques, nous avancerons une conception d’un temps de soins pour montrer que, si les moyens de partager la temporalité des événements médiatiques ont changé, ces événements également révélateurs sont d’expériences collectives.
Conclusion et implications Par le moyen d’une analyse d’un concert de rock diffusé en direct par la Canadian Broadcasting Corportation (CBC) en 2016, nous démontrerons comment la CBC fait l’utilisation des média sociaux pour gérer la proxémie temporelle du concert en tant qu’événement médiatique en réseau.
Mots clés Évenements médiatiques; Médiatization digitale; Diffusion publique; Temporalité; Twitter
Few social phenomena, including the experience of liveness itself, now happen without mediatization. In a real way, liveness is now fashioned through networks and our daily interaction with hashtags, push notifications, and memes (Chun, 2017). Digital media are among the care structures of ordinary experience, part of the totality of involvements that organize our being in the world (Scannell, 2014). This is not to ignore other forces and conditions that shape our lives but digital mediation now patterns our experiences, with the result that in highly developed, wealthy societies the time of the world (time as social form) is increasingly configured through computational processes that can become disjointed from the time of experience (Mitchell & Hansen 2010). Social media platforms and mobile technologies tether users to digital networks in ways that rescript identity, work, leisure, and private and public life. In the process, the time of the world is becoming enmeshed in the technicity of digital networks.
Among traditions that have addressed the mediatization of everyday life, concern for “media events” has been especially alive to the way ceremonial contests, conquests, and coronations can constitute social solidarities and contribute to national imaginaries through mediated experience. In a pioneering work by Danial Dayan and Elihu Katz (1992), ceremonial television was key for configuring collective gatherings because television rituals afforded a time and space for social solidarities and conflicts to be expressed in relation to a central symbolic event (Couldry & Hepp, 2016; Couldry, Hepp, & Krotz, 2009; Kjeldsen, 2016; Silverstone, 1999). Thereby, the time of the world was mediatized but in a manner that enabled collective forms of shared experience to emerge.
In contemporary hybrid digital media systems, built upon interactions between old and new media logics (Chadwick, 2017), generating a collective shared time through media events is much more complex. We are now living in a time when social media seems to produce multiple temporalities (Barker, 2017) and forms of media witnessing from below (Frosh & Pinchevski, 2018) that disrupt the coordinating function of ritualized television events (Couldry & Hepp, 2018; Goldfarb, 2018; Sonnevend, 2018). Rather than media events orchestrated by national broadcasters, we are left with fragmented, localized, and often divergent experiences that lack what narrative theory calls, “focalization” (Bal, 1997, p. 142; Frosh & Pinchevski, 2018). The role of media events in constituting shared experiences of time is thereby diminished. Instead of calling together collectivities and national publics, events coordinated by networked media can produce distributed configurations and a complex weave of temporalities that contribute to a crisis of solidarity and a diminution of the role of broadcasters in formatting shared, collective time. The media spectacle of American President Donald Trump’s habitual use of Twitter to call out his base, while disdaining the mainstream media and alienating larger, diverse publics, has only served to reinforce a sense that traditional media and diverse national publics are under threat.
We are want to underestimate the challenges of collective solidarity today; nonetheless, this article suggests that while digital media can complicate the temporal formatting embedded in media events, this need not annul the coordinating function of national broadcasters in formatting media events and shared time for the nation. When digital media is integrated into the way national broadcasters care for media events, social media objects such as hashtags can be used to produce modes of temporal formatting that enable dispersed yet integrated modes of participation. The “televisual synchronous unfolding” (Frosh & Pinchevski, 2018, p. 136) of events common to earlier media systems is thus replaced by events coordinated around networked convergence. Social media adds complexity to ceremonial events, in other words, but networked events can in turn orient social media use to a shared horizon of expectation by tethering key affordances, including the capacity for sharing with hashtags, to the event. The result is a change in the ontology of media events, but not a negation of the role of the event or national broadcasters in producing normative figurations for the nation (Couldry & Hepp, 2018).
To support this argument, this article examines a networked media event linked to the Canadian band the Tragically Hip and its final Man Machine Poem concert held in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, on August 20, 2016. The Hip (as the members are known colloquially) is a legendary group in the English Canadian music industry, having produced a string of award-winning rock ’n’ roll albums filled with fictionalized and historic accounts and musings about the country and its people. The Hip’s final Man Machine Poem concert was broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in a special commercial-free presentation carried live on radio and television across the country and streamed online through the CBC’s website, apps, Twitter feed, YouTube channel, and Facebook page. It marked the band’s final tour concert due to the very public terminal illness of lead singer Gord Downie. It is estimated the event reached a third of the country, 11.7 million people (Canadian Press, 2016), on the night of the broadcast, and it is used here to examine how digital modes of communication can be integrated into the care structures of media events in ways that call national publics into being.
This analysis is primarily concerned with the way temporal proxemics formatted the Man Machine Poem event through social media. Temporal proxemics refers to the combination of resources and practices used by broadcasters to manage how time is experienced during a media event (for example, the instant replay in televised sporting events). Social media is now among the utilities broadcasters engage to build narratives for media events. This article traces the movement of one hashtag—#CBCTheHip—to investigate how it was used to produce temporal formatting to focus attention. The aim is to capture a series of moments in time to suggest the complexity of liveness or “eventfulness” associated with the Man Machine Poem event in order to demonstrate how digital mediation can be integrated into a process of networked convergence. Temporal proxemics are integral to the care structures that make media events possible. This article shows how the hashtag functioned to shape the eventfulness of this occasion, and highlights that while the structuring capacity of national broadcasters is diminished today, they can still play a formative role in configuring the shared time of the nation.
Amid the flux and tumult of life in the early decades of the twentieth century, Walter Benjamin maintained that historical experience was no longer possible (Benjamin, 1986, 1999). The forces of capital, speed, and technological and political change had so compromised people’s capacity to grasp their time that only a search for fragments remained to cull meaning and orient thinking for possible futures. National public broadcasting emerged in this context in the U.K., Canada, and elsewhere, and as David Cardiff and Paddy Scannell (1987, 1991) recount, their effect was to synthesize fragments of culture and experience, to bring national cultures into being. In Canada, the CBC’s 1936 mandate charged the broadcaster with the work of reflecting and configuring the nation. Through three revisions of the Broadcasting Act (1958, 1968, and 1991), this role has continued. In doing this work, the CBC and other national broadcasters have shaped the development of a new kind of public, “the general public, a public commensurate at times with the whole of society” (Scannell, 2014, p. 186).
Today, a mix of broadcast, online, and social media are common features of our shared world. They provide the lens through which people around the world appear to each other, the resources and conditions through which we work, play, and imagine possible futures. While their form and function are changing, media events continue to be key arrangements in this hybrid media system, “one of the principal spatial and temporal forms that symbolic power takes in the world-systems of complex national societies” (Couldry & Hepp, 2018, p. 116). Yet, threats to the economic viability of broadcasting institutions, including national public broadcasters, challenge the future constitution of media events. Waves of media concentration and technological change have produced new vertical structural alignments within national media industries, which have led to a move away from traditional terrestrial television stations and a transformation in how, when, and by whom news and media events are produced. “[T]he proliferation of media flows,” has further destabilized both “national media systems’ ability to secure national attention to mediated events and the exclusive control of states over the media resources of their territories” (Couldry & Hepp, 2018, p. 115). The CBC has been especially challenged by these circumstances, particularly as conventional television viewing has continued to decline and internet television and other digital platforms have replaced conventional services (Ménard, 2016). Cuts to federal funding amounting to $390 million between 2009 and 2015 have further compromised the CBC’s ability to engage contemporary audiences (Ménard, 2016). The upshot of this is that while media events may remain key symbolic assemblages through which worldliness—how we appear together—is manifest, the role of the CBC in constituting a common reality effect for the nation is under duress.
Media events tell us how time and space are formatted in a global media age. Media events produce temporal formatting through care structures that render experiences in specific ways. Care structure is Paddy Scannell’s (2014) term for the system of resources that format social reality and render “things as things-for-use” (p. 23). Scannell develops this concept through a rereading of Division One of Martin Heidegger’s (1978) Being and Time. At the most general level, care structures refer to the forms and fabric of the Umwelt, the roundabout-me world through which we are called to be and rendered into the particular people we are. Media arrangements produce meaningful and often beneficial care structures—codes and practices, technological affordances and relationships—that pattern daily life and allow us to do the things we wish to do. Care structures configure our habits and are the scaffolding underlying our expectations that our media will work for us, each and every day, how and when we need it. They include the mundane—for instance, we assume our mobile phones will turn on every morning, we assume battery power or electricity will be “there” for this purpose, and we behave as though the networks that bring us the news of the day will simply be “live.” But care structures also include the technologically complex system of networks, applications, accounts, commodities, and so on that allow our media to perform when and how we need them. In this way, care structures organize our experience of space and time and are literally the infrastructures through which we live and accomplish the ends we aim to achieve.
The nation is among those care structures that define modern experience. “Nations are the most universally legitimate, and seemingly natural, political units of our time” (Mackay, 2005, p. 17). As a consequence, for some, national identity is “modernity’s fundamental identity” (Greenfeld, 1996, pp. 10–11). Yet, the modern nation—both inside and outside the West—has always been “sustained in part by the production and circulation of media and by the linked improvement of other material things and bodies (i.e., transportation)” (Couldry & Hepp, 2017, p. 87; see also Anderson, 1983). Media resources weave together place and imagination and in this way, perform the work of caring for the nation (Skey, 2014). In Benjamin Anderson’s (1991) influential (and much debated) formulation, nations are conceived as “imagined political communit[ies]” (p. 6) in which newspapers and novels create a shared “we,” a “horizontal comradeship” (p. 7) across the nation. Historically, national television and radio have contributed to this process, especially in the midst of crises, by producing common time, even across vast national spaces. In this way, broadcasters have long played a key role in formatting temporal relationships to create shared time for the nation. But that role is cast in doubt as the prospects for common, shared time are compromised by changes in national media systems, including the acceleration and intensification of digitally mediated networked communication.
Social media platforms such as Twitter create new spaces of action that foster novel forms of syntax and practices of circulation and participation that change the nature of our entanglements. Digital media allow more and more people “to access, modify, store, circulate and share media content” (Barney, Coleman, Ross, Sterne, & Tembeck, 2016, p. viii) in ways that have only been available to professionals or a select few in the past. Mobile phones allow for the micro-coordination of private and public activity, which in turn changes how participation in or the witnessing of media unfolds in large-scale symbolic events. No longer are such events the purview of broadcasters alone. Rather, media events are configured through novel conditions of eventfulness that become part of the space and time of large-scale symbolic activities. Lena Kjeldsen’s (2016) work on events-as-participation examines how the spatial configuration of media events changes with live tweeting and other forms of participatory digital media. This article explores the impact related processes have on the temporal formatting of media events.
“Eventfulness” refers here to the way event-status is conferred through the media (Ytreberg, 2009). Historically, this has been the work of broadcasters and the care structures enacted to produce such events. But in the contemporary period, the eventfulness of ritualized media occasions, including the Tragically Hip’s final concert tour, is enacted through temporal formatting made possible by broadcasters, social media, and related digital infrastructures, which allow participation to come from anywhere, anytime (Frosh & Pinchevski, 2018). In this context, the unified temporal formatting of media events can break down. Rather than an experience of heightened shared immediacy, networked media events can appear to undermine the very possibility of creating a shared figural order, a common reality effect. Intensified flows of information stretch the temporal formatting of ritualized events, creating a social world in which the pluralization of temporalities and the complexification of technological systems that coordinate temporalities produce social disruption and a diminution of social solidarity and collective time (Couldry & Hepp, 2017).
Common experiences coordinated through media events have always entailed the participation of multiple publics (Dayan & Katz, 1992). National radio and television facilitated such constellations throughout the twentieth century by extending the universe of public discourse across diverse national communities, literally making (broadcast) space by soliciting (and thereby entitling) previously excluded voices to be heard and authority to be domesticated and calibrated in new ways (Scannell, 1989). The results hardly produced equity. But, the legacy of national public media has been to de-traditionalize authority by bringing a plurality of bodies and voices into view. This, in turn, has helped to weave new national imaginaries composed of communities accustomed to seeing and hearing multiple publics participate in the public sphere. In Canada, these and other forces have been wed to a cultural politics of national identity that, since at least the 1970s, has foregrounded difference, pluralism, and tolerance as core features of Canada’s self-image (Mackay, 2005). The nation has never been comprised of a singular imaginary. “A settler colony with official policies of multiculturalism and bilingualism, Canada has an official national culture which is not ‘homogeneous in its whiteness’ but rather replete with images of Aboriginal people and people of colour” (Mackay, 2005, p. 20). The dark history of entanglement between settler communities and Indigneous Peoples in Canada, not to mention histories of racial exclusion and inequity in the country, give pause to any celebration of the cultural politics of difference in Canada. Nonetheless, the work of constructing a fractured, contested, and even defensive Canadian identity continues, and media events are a central form through which a variety of publics continue to gather, sometimes to contest the taken-for-granted realities that shape our lives (Goldfarb, 2018). As social media threatens to enmesh experience in the technicity of digital networks, however, the question arises as to whether the complex solidarities associated with a “general, national public” make sense at all today?
This issue is investigated by examining how the CBC used a hashtag to help care for time during the Tragically Hip’s final Man Machine Poem concert held in Kingston, Ontario, in August 2016. The CBC broadcast the event in a special commercial-free presentation carried live on radio and television across the country and streamed online through the CBC’s website, apps, Twitter feed, YouTube channel, and Facebook page. This event is used to examine how social media can be integrated into the temporal formatting of networked media events using key affordances, including shareabililty through a Twitter hashtag, to stitch audiences to key moments that configure the horizon of expectations of the event. This work is engaged through a hermeneutics of care that examines how broadcast and social media are combined to secure relations between the local and the national to configure the shared time of the nation.
This section identifies and develops the analytical tools required for the investigation of the temporal dimension of live media events by focusing on the difference between happenings and occasions, as well as how broadcasters create proxemics of moments that pattern and produce the integrated infrastructures that become the media event.
A happening is a media event that cannot be predicted, while an occasion is an event that is intentionally constructed by humans. An example that illustrates the difference between the two is Princess Diana’s untimely death on August 31, 1997, and her subsequent funeral on September 6 of that year (Moores, 2012; Silverstone, 1999; Turnock, 2000). The distinction between both types of media events can be used to describe a transition that took place from broadcasts about Diana’s death as a news happening to broadcasts of her funeral as a more formal, traditional occasion. But this typology of media events only goes so far toward providing the conceptual tools to capture how we experience the temporality of networked media events as a form of liveness in the present moment.
In addition, it is helpful to draw on Scannell (2014) (drawing on Heidegger) who defines the temporality of the live broadcast as moments. By this he points to:
the situational now I am in …, time in motion, time in passing. …In ordinary time, we are absorbed in the moment without noticing it, without experiencing it. (p. 41)
Using this notion, Scannell (2014) observes that audiences feel that they are in events by being drawn into the moments created by media care structures. Broadcasters draw audiences in by stitching moments together to form a narrative through what Scannell (2014) calls “proxemics.” Proxemics are the resources used in the management of live events. Proxemics are “communicative and experiential effects produced by microphones and cameras” (p. 101) for radio and television. They are constituted through the interdependent dimensions of space and time. As such, media as care structures not only double the spatial dimension of an event (Moores, 2004) but also its temporality by generating a narrative of events as they happen.
Broadcasters care for a moment’s significance through proxemics that manage time. While the significance of individual moments in different events varies greatly, how broadcasters manage time through techniques such as formatted narrative routines shapes the texture of an experience, affording it significance and meaning. This is especially relevant in the case of media occasions since they must be, by their very nature, affectively managed in time by investing them “with an ontology of expectations which are both prospective and retrospective, part of the historicality of any situation; its before-and-after” (Scannell, 2014, p. 155).
Broadcasters use techniques such as instant replay to craft a media event’s narrative parameters, including its pacing and intensity. Think, for instance, of a goal in soccer. Instant replay is used to recast a live goal from a happening to an occasion by fashioning an extended narrative about the power and greatness of the goal. In this way, Scannell’s (2014) conception of the temporality of media events entails a kind of Ricoeurian foundation in which experiences of time are inextricably tied to narrative (Ricoeur, 1984).
A hybrid participatory media system represents a challenge to the above description of proxemics because it can no longer be assumed that a broadcast constitutes a complete narration of the live moment. The multiplicity of media platforms surrounding the live coverage of an event means that the care structures that draw an audience in are no longer constituted by a single broadcaster or media narrative. Kjeldsen (2016) has already tackled some of the implications of this situation through her notion of event-as-participation, which is intended to designate the vertical and horizontal spatial conditions that shape media liveness. The following case study extends this idea by investigating how the CBC used digital media to produce temporal proxemics for a live event. This analysis aims to suggest something about the character of liveness within the reality complex we face today, including how media events orient the patterning of digital media affordances in a process of networked convergence.
The examination of the broadcast of the Tragically Hip’s final Man Machine Poem concert begins with an overview of the timeline and development of this event into an occasion. On May 24, 2016, a message appeared on the Tragically Hip’s website publicly revealing that Gord Downie, the band’s lead singer, had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. This same Web post announced a plan to organize one last concert tour across Canada. The concert dates were announced the following day. The tour included ten of the largest English-speaking cities in the country with the final concert scheduled to take place on August 20, 2016, in the band’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario (Langlois, Downie, Fay & Barker, 2016). The announcement garnered a great deal of national attention from Canadian media and from fans on social media, and would lead to a documentary film called Long Time Running(Baichwal & de Pencier, 2017), which offers a behind-the-scenes look at the band’s experience over the summer of 2016.
It is through the Man Machine Poem tour’s extended transition from happening to occasion that an opening was created for the CBC as Canada’s public broadcaster to play a pivotal role in the unfolding of the event, beyond simply covering it as news. On June 17, 2016, Jennifer Dettman (quoted in La Rose, 2016), CBC’s executive director of unscripted content, publicly announced that the CBC would broadcast the final Kingston concert live to the entire nation:
We want to make sure that all Canadians had access to this concert on whatever platform they should desire. We’re really putting on what we call a national celebration for this band. (para. 5)
Similar to other large-scale contemporary media events, it is difficult if not impossible to separate the significance of the events from the significance of the broadcaster’s involvement in these events. There is little doubt, for instance, that the CBC’s decision to broadcast the final concert live in so many formats gave even more symbolic weight to the occasion. As Canada’s public broadcaster, the CBC staked a claim to the concert’s significance as a national media event—but how the CBC cared for the event was not limited to its traditional role as a broadcaster. The mandate of providing “access to this concert on whatever platform they [the audience] should desire” explicitly framed the event as inherently part of a hybrid media system. In setting itself this objective, the CBC engaged with a complex entanglement of temporal structures that included those of traditional media such as radio and television as well as of newer social media. Properly caring for the occasion, therefore, did not only entail providing access to the live broadcast of the concert through multiple platforms but also involved generating social media participation. Generating social media participation over the course of the nearly three-month period spanning from the CBC’s announcement that it would broadcast the live event all the way to the live broadcast itself was inherently part of the prospective and retrospective elements of the occasion’s horizon of expectation. As the following sections will demonstrate, the CBC enacted a different kind of temporal proxemics to generate such participation. Using a social media hashtag, a proxemics of sharibility linked to three different moments produced a specific form of liveness associated with the event. As evidenced below, rather than fragmenting the event, such proxemics enabled a temporality of collective experience to unfold around the event via networked convergence.
The following analysis focuses on how the CBC and its audience used a hashtag to manage moments leading up to, during, and following the live concert in Kingston. In today’s hybrid media system, social media platforms such as Twitter are a crucial component of how broadcasters build narratives for media events. Twitter’s history as a commercial digital platform suggests that part of its success is due to its “potential for interoperability and frictionless sharing across platforms” (Van Dijck, 2013, p. 72). José Van Dijck (2013) argues that Twitter has been effective in weaving “its idiosyncratic microsyntax into the fabric of sociality: hashtags, RTs, and @replies” (p. 72) are now a central part of online experiences everywhere. By successfully embedding itself into the fabric of digital mediation on the Web and elsewhere, Twitter has taken-on an “image as a common utensil for ordinary users” (pp. 72–73). This utility status was integral to the role Twitter played in the context of CBC’s Tragically Hip broadcast.
It is of note that some broadcasting research examines Twitter’s role as a “second screen” for live tweeting as a way for audiences to supplement ongoing broadcasts (see Elmer, 2013; Graves, McDonald, & Goggins, 2016; Kjeldsen, 2016). This practice, however, is only one of the many ways in which Twitter is now used as an integral part of caring for media events. As the analysis below shows, there were certainly differences in how social media, television, and radio were combined as care structures of liveness for the Tragically Hip tour. But, the problem with relegating social media to a second-screen status is that it suggests a hierarchical order that subsumes social media’s role to a mediatization of the media. Only considering the “live tweeting” element of Twitter limits our understanding of mediated time to synchronic communication, rather than allowing for the more complex temporality that proxemics make apparent. This more complex constellation was integral to the experience of the Tragically Hip event.
Having noted such, this study treats the number of tweets related to the event differently as compared to previous research. Works by, among others, Axel Bruns, Brenda Moon, Avjit Paul, and Felix Münch (2016) and Zizi Papacharissi (2012) draw attention to how Twitter is used in everyday cultural contexts. But the manner in which they approach the selection of tweets and proceed to their analyses emphasizes a quantitative approach over the more phenomenological approach advanced here. The analysis that follows is not premised on tracking the lifespan of a hashtag based on whether it trended at the time of the events; nor does the analysis set out to determine the number of URLs embedded in tweets or to compare the number of original tweets to retweets; nor is it premised on the attribution of the importance of tweets given the number of times they were shared.
Instead, this research focuses on one Twitter hashtag—#CBCTheHip—which was followed to investigate how it patterned the liveness of the Man Machine Poem event in the midst of the continual contextual that renders time in motion, time in passing. Two samples of tweets were collected and analyzed for this research using Twitter’s search feature. The first sample consisted of 253 tweets posted with the hashtag between July 23 and August 10, 2016. These tweets were posted by 118 unique accounts; 86 were posted by official CBC accounts (e.g., @CBC, @CBCMusic, or @CBCRadio2). The second sample consisted of 5,217 tweets collected between August 20 and August 22, 2016; 134 were posted by official CBC accounts. In the second sample, 3,318 unique accounts were identified. Each sample was printed and analyzed. A first analytical pass consisted of identifying moments related to the event (moments A, B, and C, discussed below) and temporal proxemic themes such as “reminding” and “retrospective gratitude for the CBC” (see below for further discussion). A second pass involved hand coding the tweets using the themes developed in the first pass. Each tweet was coded for any of the relevant themes. Any tweets that did not fall into any of the thematic categories were left blank. It is important to specify that the three moments identified in the analysis overlapped in the samples and did not correspond to specific timestamps or to a chronological order. This is part of the flux and pulse that can be interpreted as symptomatic of the lived experience of the event. For example, there was considerable overlap between late moment B tweets and early moment C tweets. It is also important to stress that the three moments that emerged from the analysis and their related themes do not exhaust the possible care structures in place. For example, a spatial proxemic theme around where people were watching the concert emerged in the second sample (552 tweets fell in this thematic category). The focus of this article, however, is the main moments and temporal proxemic themes that emerged from the data.
The scope of the investigation encompassed the introduction and use of the #CBCTheHip hashtag, spanning the period from the end of July 2016 until the days following the Kingston concert on August 20, 2016. This timeframe made it possible to examine how meanings emerged through the use of the hashtag. The focus on one hashtag may have impaired the study’s ability to conduct an exhaustive examination of the moments related to the event, since its coverage extended to multiple media, including radio, television, and social media. This complex entanglement meant that #CBCTheHip on Twitter afforded a partial view of the occasion. It was nonetheless essential because it marked the event as a media occasion; it was part of the CBC’s production of the event, which included the free live broadcast of the final concert. Moreover, while any phenomenological approach is necessarily partial, this particular hashtag afforded a unique opportunity to examine how elements of the Man Machine Poem event were located in place and time. In a similar way to Robert Turnock’s (2000) analysis of media diaries for his investigation into the mediatization of the death of Princess Diana, this study did not set out to determine the extent to which the sample of analyzed tweets represented the larger population of tweets for the event. The goal was rather to conduct a phenomenological investigation to understand how the hashtag was used to produce temporal formatting, much as Scannell (2014) uses instant replays to look at the temporal formatting of televised sporting events. In this way, the interest is in hashtags as technological parataxis. By composing tweets with hashtags, tweeters inserted themselves into the performance of talk and affective relations linked to the event. In the specific case of #CBCTheHip, tweeters became part of a care structure for an occasion, sharing their thoughts, feelings, and impressions before, during, and after the concert.
Having noted this, the key difference between Twitter hashtags and instant replays in live broadcasts is how they weave composition and performance together. Twitter is essentially designed to enable and constrain how text and multimedia content are made “shareable.” Similar to other social media platforms, Twitter is designed with “an architectural feature of networked structures [that encourage] sharing rather than withholding information” (Papacharissi, 2012, p. 1992). These sharing affordances can therefore be understood as structures of care for liveness. By tweeting #CBCTheHip, the CBC and its audience performed the prospective and retrospective moments that configured the horizons of expectations of the event. This complicated how time was formatted for the event but, importantly, not in a manner that compromised the experience of togetherness associated with the occasion.
The following sections examine this process more closely, to unpack how #CBCTheHip worked as a formatted narrative routine—a digitally designed parataxis—that rendered shareability into a condition of liveness integral to, but not disruptive of, the event. It is clear the public broadcaster prioritized shareability as an affordance of the event. This is illustrated by how the hashtag’s temporal trajectory unfolded in relation to the event as three key moments: Moment A, which describes how the hashtag was introduced to the public and how the CBC used it to build shared anticipation for the occasion; Moment B, which relates to how the hashtag was used during the live broadcast as a means for the broadcaster, the artists, and the audience to share talk during the occasion; and, in Moment C, wherein the hashtag enabled the sharing of retrospective talk that produced a pattern of interdependencies that would be decisive in shaping the occasion’s significance.
Part of Scannell’s (2014) work on proxemics as the modulation of distances in social interaction entails an analysis of “how to talk” on television and radio. Television and radio broadcasters, he argues, produce effects of spatial and temporal proximity between the speaker and the viewer for live events by creating the conditions of everyday talk. While Twitter hashtags mediated talk, they did not format liveness as informal conversation in the Anglo-Saxon tradition Scannell (2014) describes in Television and the Meaning of “Live.”Rather, the hashtags served as a space of convergence:
Although lacking a physical space, hashtags become highly accessible sites of culture and meaning as threaded, open streams of findable discourse. Hashtags can be seen as the textual equivalent of a casual hangout where people converge on the same topic to share and advertise their interest. (Graves et al., 2016, p. 298)
Missing in an analogy such as “casual hangout,” however, is the temporal dimension of hashtags. An essential dimension of how #CBCTheHip served as a hangout for talk was to anticipate the event—using it to prime oneself and others for the occasion. Of the tweets analyzed in this study, for instance, people consistently shared excitement for the concert. Two significant ways were identified in which the hashtag served more specific anticipatory purposes: reminding and planning.
On July 23, 2016, the CBC used its @CBC Twitter account to announce it had created a website that provided “a tour across Canada through the lyrics of the #TragicallyHip.” The website interactively displayed the deep links between the band’s lyrics and the geography and history of Canada. Included in the announcement was the first use of the hashtag #CBCTheHip.
The hashtag served obvious cross-promotional purposes, but by using it to drive traffic between websites, radio, television, and elsewhere, the CBC engaged in a kind of educational campaign, reminding people of who the Tragically Hip were and why they were such a significant part of Canadian culture. But this use also marshalled audiences to the horizon of expectations gathering around the event. An early example of how the hashtag served this role was evident in the way CBC radio announcer Rich Terfry actively used #CBCTheHip early on in his CBC Radio 2 Drive program.
On August 9, 2016, @CBCR2Drive (the program’s official Twitter account; 31 of the 253 tweets collected were from this account) began using #CBCTheHip as part of its “#hipcheck” musical review of the band’s past albums. Over the course of the weeks leading up to the final concert, the program worked in chronological order through the band’s catalogue of songs. This “daily listening party” built expectation for the concert and reminded people of what they loved about the band, while also providing an introduction to the band for those who were unfamiliar with it. Radio talk of this sort contoured the eventfulness of the tour and is part of a more traditional role played by national broadcasters in constructing media events. Similar to Terfry, various CBC radio and television hosts created live events that anticipated the arrival of the concert, including celebrity interviews about the band and related anecdotes. This talk afforded the audience the opportunity to develop a closer rapport with the band—getting to know the “behind the scenes” aspects of the songs, the musicians, and some of the celebrities who also happened to be fans.
The tweets themselves were no substitute for the radio broadcasts; however, in the lived conditions of a hybrid media environment, they worked to punctuate each moment into a prospective performance of the occasion—binding moments taking place on different media platforms by sharing them through the hashtag. In this way, #CBCTheHip wove together an everyday circulation of nostalgic information and emotional resonance. Ninety-four of the tweets collected in this sample fell into this thematic category, including, for instance:
What’s your FAV song off @thehipdotcom’s album, Road Apples? Use the hashtag #CBCTheHip and let us know![musical notes emoji]. (@CBCMusic, 2016a)
A second way in which the hashtag was used prospectively was to plan for the occasion—to compose and perform information about how and where people would participate in the concert. Across a vast geography in Canada and abroad, the question of where to take in the final concert was not self-evident. Twitter, in combination with mobile phones, was thus deployed to provide the “microcoordination” (Ling, 2004, p. 70) of everyday life. This coordination entailed multiplying the personal places that doubled as spaces for viewing the event in a way that also speculated on the significance and meaning of the event itself. The hashtag formatted time in preparation for the spaces of the occasion. A total of 184 of the tweets collected in this sample were coded for this theme. Further, the hashtag’s potential as, “findable discourse,” became a useful resource for people to anticipate where they planned to be. A public conversation unfolded about where things would take place prior to and during the event. On a very basic level, the CBC solicited information sharing in the anticipation of the concert through the hashtag—a kind of digital “mark your calendar.”
Just a few days left to plan! You’ll need this, too: bit.ly/2b9zFvX #loveCBC #cbcthehip. (CBC, 2016b)
Having established how #CBCTheHip was part of CBC’s effort to gather and manage anticipation of the live broadcast in Moment A, the analysis now turns to the concert itself. While it is important to recognize live tweeting as a significant practice for being in the moment of an event, it is also important to avoid characterizing Twitter as playing a purely secondary role to live radio and television broadcasts. This section shows how live tweeting the event was not only an addition to “being in the moment” of the concert but was in fact essential to generating the occasion’s constituent narratives by formatting composition and performance.
Composition plays a more prominent role in a concert than in other sorts of live events. In the case of the final Man Machine Poem concert, the songs had all been written and played beforehand. The concert itself had in fact been staged nine times prior to the final show. The weight of the occasion—the significance of this performance and live broadcast—was that it was the band’s final concert. Properly caring for the occasion thus meant treating it with a certain kind of solemnity without dampening the concert atmosphere. One of the ways the CBC achieved this significance was to leave out any narration over the live broadcast. CBC presenters were involved in a carefully orchestrated live introduction and follow-up to the concert, but the live broadcast of the concert itself did not include any commentary. The CBC’s decision allowed the band’s performance to take centre stage in the broadcast, both literally and figuratively.
One CBC voice that persisted throughout the concert, however, was the official CBC Twitter account (95 tweets in the second sample came from @CBC, 17 from @CBCMusic, and 19 from other official CBC accounts). It did not provide direct commentary but continued to tweet responses to and from fans. As perceived through Twitter, the CBC account represented only one of the many accounts tweeting during the concert. Through this move, the CBC ceded the conversation to fans who shared their reactions of being in the moment of the concert on social media platforms such as Twitter. In this way a broadcast event ceded ground to an event-as-participation, one where the horizontal exchange among users of #CBCTheHip was as consequential to the event as any vertical communication from the broadcaster (124 tweets in the sample explicitly pointed out this choice).
High five to @CBC for no commentating or commercials during the @thehipdotcom concert. (Finley, 2016)
Twitter user @CBC (2016c) replied, “The Hip kind of speak for themselves! #cbcthehip.”
Audience commentary principally consisted of emotional responses to specific moments when the band started to play a certain song or when the band returned for one of their many encores. A popular technique involved quoting certain lyrics from the songs. The meanings of these reactions were heavily invested with the awareness that this would be the last time these songs would be performed live. While tweets did not necessarily appear in real time, they nevertheless performed the liveness of the event. A total of 1,216 of the tweets in the second sample referenced an emotional response to the concert, and 1,055 tweets quoted a song title, lyric, or statement by the band. Below is an example that combined both themes:
I held it in all night, but then they played Sacred, my fave. [heart emoji, crying emoji, heart emoji] “It’s been a pleasure doing business with you.” #CBCTheHip. (Driscoll, 2016)
A second example was the general reaction to Gord Downie’s brief speech between songs in which he praised Justin Trudeau, at the time the recently elected Canadian prime minister who attended the concert, for his position on First Nations issues (179 of the tweets in the sample referenced this theme).
“He cares about the people up north, who we were trained our entire lives to ignore.” Gord praises Trudeau, gives him a mandate. #CBCTheHip. (Sklar, 2016)
These two examples of being in the moment of the concert show how the hashtag afforded audience members the temporary opportunity to weave composition and performance together in the moment of the concert in a way that oriented attention and cared for the event’s horizon of expectations. In his phenomenological account of being in London on the day of Princess Diana’s funeral, Roger Silverstone (1999) highlighted the degree to which millions of people, even those who were not viewing the broadcast of the event but were simply walking down the streets of the city, were part of performing the occasion. For Silverstone, participating in this mediated event produced a heterogeneous mix that blurred the distinction between the audience and the performer, between the personal and the public. But the texture of this mediated event lacked an important component:
We might want … to think of our participation in the funeral not as a shared and committing moment, but as a performance without responsibility; a sharing of private grief without public mourning. A ritual that is out of time: the last gasp of a communion without a god or indeed, pace Durkheim, without society. (Silverstone 1999, p. 75)
In contrast to Silverstone’s lament, the two examples of being in the moment of the concert with #CBCTheHip show how the hashtag in fact afforded audience members the temporary opportunity to interweave composition and performance in the moment of the concert and to share with others the social experience of mourning together. Of course, performing the occasion extended beyond the band to include others, but what was markedly different in this occasion compared to Princess Diana’s funeral was how performativity—by the artists, the audience in the concert arena, the broadcaster, and the audiences listening and viewing through various platforms—was enabled by proxemics that put the event in its place and time in ways that oriented collective sharing and a common reality effect.
A question arising in this process is what kind of order—or common reality effect—an event such as the Man Machine Poem concert creates? What kind of “stable pattern of interdependencies” (Couldry & Hepp, 2017, p. 190) between individuals, groups, and institutions was enabled through an event such as this? As noted at the outset of this article, there is concern that social media produces multiple temporalities and forms of media witnessing from below that disrupt the coordinating function of media events and thus a semblance of order and figuration that extends beyond the local. Yet, in this instance, this kind of disruption did not appear to materialize. A limitation of this study is that it does not trace the trajectories of the legion of Twitter feeds and other modes of digital participation enabled by and responsive to the event. Nonetheless, in tracing the use of #CBCTheHip over time, this article shows how it helped to care for social solidarities by weaving together a proxemics of common time vital for forming a complex national public around the tour event.
To realize these ends, the CBC took care to broadcast the Man Machine Poem event without commercials. As a publicly funded broadcaster, the CBC depends on commercial revenue to fulfil its budget and programming. In this context, media events such as the Summer Olympics—which took place in August 2016 and for which the CBC was the official Canadian broadcaster—are important sources of commercial revenue. Yet, while hosting the Olympics, the CBC announced that it would break its coverage in order to facilitate the live broadcast of the Man Machine Poem concert on any platform, commercial free. This act was in some senses exceptional.
The CBC’s reach and role are currently challenged by shifting markets, technology change, and funding uncertainty. What is more, the CBC’s role in caring for this event was complicated by the fact that the concert was embedded in a complex network of legal and commercial interests, including the ticketing agency, the concert venue, the band, not-for-profit organizations such as cancer research foundations that promoted the event, and, of course, the broadcasting rights on every other platform. Nonetheless, within this intricate system of care structures, the CBC located the publicness of the event in the way it took on the mantle of caretaker for the occasion.
By making the occasion of the final concert available without commercials, the CBC invited a form of participation that aimed to configure inter-relatedness through a networked ceremonial act “beyond the algorithms of marketing” (Goldfarb, 2018, p. 121). It could be argued that in presenting the event in this manner, the CBC secured brand value—if limited immediate financial gain—simply by acting as the caretaker of a ceremony that was clearly popular and of significance to throngs of Tragically Hip fans. In situating the event as a non-commercial spectacle, however, the CBC took on the responsibility of caring for how it would be shared, as a gathering of togetherness linked to a national moment in time. To carry this out, here again #CBCTheHip served a key role.
The hashtag was used to disseminate information about what was and was not allowed for screening the concert in public (that is, no commercial extensions or profit was to be made from such gatherings) and where to find free public screenings throughout Canada. Further, #CBCTheHip also became the site for retrospective talk on Twitter about how the lack of advertisements shaped the occasion’s significance. A theme that emerged in the tweets during the latter portion of the concert, and once it was over, were expressions of gratitude toward the CBC for the way the concert was broadcast. Of the tweets analyzed in the second sample, 958 thanked the CBC for broadcasting the concert.
Commercial free rock concert. Only in Canada. What a way to unite the entire nation. #TragicallyHip #CBCTheHip Thanks @CBC. (Dhaliwal, 2016)
thank you for giving us this. #lovecanada #thehip #cbcthehip. (Costello, 2016)
Without overstating the significance of such expressions, they point to the sense of order and interconnection, the affective entanglement enabled by this event. Part of the “situational now” of the event was the fact that people took in the concert everywhere. The family of one of the authors, for instance, listened to the concert through a car radio on a highway in rural British Columbia during a break from a camping trip in the mountains. Nonetheless, by offering up and caring for the broadcast in a non-commercial form, the significance of the occasion was facilitated without familiar commercial trappings—brand tie-ins, celebrity appearances, and so on—that accompany most contemporary media events. By leaving commercials and commentary out and taking pains to ensure that concert screenings would be free, the CBC helped imbue the occasion with significance as a networked ceremonial act configured around national publicness and acts of being together. This was not without import. In a hybrid media system the balance between private life and the public sphere and between traditional and digital media is unstable and shifting. Political, economic, and technological changes have recalibrated the power and influence of national public broadcasters, casting doubt on their ability to contour key symbolic assemblages that make an experience of general, shared publicness possible. In the face of these tendencies, the CBC used a temporal proxemics of the hashtag, in conjunction with radio, television, and other digital media platforms, to format and care for the Man Machine Poem event. The result was an affective weaving together of the roundabout-me world, the making of a shared occasion and a collective experience of togetherness that feels increasingly uncommon today.
The Tragically Hip has often been described as the pre-eminent band of English Canadian nationalism (Simons, 2017). For more than twenty years it has produced the kind of texts Stuart Hall (1996) might have called a “discursive device” (p. 45) of unity. But as Christopher Simons (2017) argues, the band’s lyrics are hardly the work of the parvenu, one who identifies with the masters or rulers of a given society. Rather, the Hip’s lyrics have long generated a particular “sense of identity and allegiance” (Simons, 2017, p. 190), one that simultaneously settles and unsettles the nation. The band’s songs have participated in the “invention of tradition” (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 1992, p. 9), but never in a manner that has been subservient to a singular vision of national cultural invention. The Hip has contributed to a complex and uncertain national identity in ways that resonate with the contested solidarities that have long been a feature of the struggle over Canadian identity. The CBC has historically been charged with the work of calling forth, constructing, and sharing national imaginaries by offering experiences commensurate “at times with the whole of society” (Scannell, 2014, p. 186). Producing such experiences, however, is profoundly complex today. New structural conditions have shaped global and national media industries, while changing technologies have altered how the experience of mediated space and time unfolds. Social media platforms have been a site of acute anxiety, especially when they seem to enable modes of communication and circulation that foster affective division, shallowness, and cruelty, rather than the complex solidarities associated with a “general, national public.”
In response to this context, the Man Machine Poem event is an important signpost in difficult times. If media events continue to be among the spatial and temporal forms that symbolic power takes in complex national societies, the way media events operate has changed. No longer the result of the coordinating function of traditional media, large-scale media events are inevitably infused by a social media system that follows new protocols and proxemics that mediatize everyday life in novel ways. The fear for many is that this leads to a new “situational now” characterized by social fragmentation and a crisis of solidarity. In the face of these concerns, the import of the Man Machine Poem event is to demonstrate the viability of common time, to show how a series of moments in time can together constitute the ground on which a national public might come into view. The temporality of these moments is not registered in chronological time but in the meaningful temporality of collective experience.
This analysis shows how the digital mediation of liveness not only operates through specific temporal proxemics but how this process operates in a hybrid media system where care for media events is facilitated through a complex motion of networked convergence. It captures the way temporal proxemics can pattern a networked media event to facilitate temporal convergence and an experience of being together. The purpose of this work is to argue that while the ontology of media events continues to change, the media event remains a telling site where the social, political, and cultural centre comes to be. The uniqueness of the Tragically Hip concert tour at one and the same time was to reveal both a new form of media event and the enduring role of media events in weaving together the fabric of national collectivity, even amid sociopolitical, technological, and cultural complexities that temper this very possibility.
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