Jennifer Blaylock (2019) receives The Katherine Singer Kovács Award
February 22, 2023
Film and Media PhD alum, Jennifer Blaylock, received the The Katherine Singer Kovács Essay Award for ‘Who wants a BlackBerry these days?’
Honoring the memory of USC professor Katherine Singer Kovács, this award is given to an outstanding book published in the field of cinema and media studies. Blaylock’s essay was published in Screen, Volume 62, Issue 2, Summer 2021, Pages 156–172.
Read an excerpt below:
In this essay I draw on the discourse about BlackBerry in BlackBerry Babes to unpack global trends in mobile telephony, and to critique the history of a media discourse that projects African new media use as the delayed, shoddy sequel to a series of media inventions originating in the western world. I expand contemporary debates about media seriality to argue that seriality is the narrative form of capitalism. Like the new models of the BlackBerry phones the girls fetishize, the BlackBerry Babes serial becomes a means of reinforcing both the phones and the Nigerian video industry as evidence of equal participation within global capitalism, while still expressing cynicism towards the potential of social and economic mobility that these screen technologies seem to offer. I address the global ambiguities of the new media fetish as they are expressed in BlackBerry Babes, hovering between disenchantment and the continuing desire for the techno-utopian promise of the new.
After the disappointing unveiling of the BlackBerry tablet PlayBook in April 2011, and the global three-day Research in Motion (RIM) system failure in October 2011, the popularity of the Canadian company that brought the world the so-called ‘CrackBerry’ was in decline with little promise of recovery. Much to the disappointment of BlackBerry customers, RIM’s answer to the iPad had been plagued with functionality issues. When the PlayBook tablet was released on 19 April 2011 it did not have native e-mail: for users to access their e-mail on both devices they were required to download a bridge app to link their BlackBerry email to the PlayBook. Furthermore, since the PlayBook and BlackBerry used different operating systems, the apps that BlackBerry users enjoyed on their phones would not function on the PlayBook. Several months later, customer dissatisfaction was exacerbated when BlackBerry’s global internet service went down for three days. Offended customers took to Twitter with the mutinous ‘DearBlackBerry’ hashtag to vent their frustrations.
By 2012 The New York Times had declared that BlackBerry, once a symbol of wealth and power for executives in the USA, was now the ‘black sheep’ of smartphones. US BlackBerry users were reportedly so ashamed of their phones that they were hiding them under more fashionable Apple products during business meetings. They were described as stuck in the Stone Age with those other obstinate luddites who still used AOL and Myspace. BlackBerry appeared to be an artefact from another era destined for the museum, the media archaeology classroom, or Facebook headquarters Empathy Labs.