Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cultural Commodification: Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras

Some cultural events such as parades, galas, and festivals which often have quite historic or political origins and have taken place for a number of years (sometimes Centuries) have been capitalized upon by entrepreneurs, and as a result, whilst maintaining a historic significance have become largely commercial undertakings. This is an example of the commodification of culture as highlighted by (Long, 2007).

Social groups often partake in celebrations and displays that are unique to their own traditions and evolution, some celebrations and displays attract spectators from the wider community, who are keen to witness something that may be considered a spectacle by them, some people travel long distances solely to witness or experience these events, as such they become tourist attractions.

An example of this in action is the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which despite it’s name is not held on or around Shrove Tuesday like many other Mardi Gras events in the world are. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras began as a political demonstration in 1978 to highlight homosexuality (which was illegal in the Australian state of New South Wales at the time), and to protest against the persecution of those who were homosexual. Over the years the annual demonstration grew from being an organised march into a parade along a set route, with the addition of themes, costumes, music, theater, and dance - the 2009 theme is Nations United. As the event became more elaborate it began to attract non-gay spectators, as well as it’s traditional gay support. In 1988, Tourism New South Wales sponsored an economic impact statement of the event (Marsh and Levy, 1988) in recognition of the fact that the gay travel market was a lucrative one, with the average spend per capita being significantly higher than the average tourist spend (Waitt and Markwell, 2006). Economically the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras benefited the region as a whole with accommodation and support services being in high demand during this period. By the mid 1990s, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was an established event on the cities entertainment calendar, and was / still is used by marketers to attract tourists to the city - long may it continue!


Annual Meeting of the Law and Society Association. 2007. Berlin, (2007) Outsourcing culture: the role of the diaspora in the commodification. Long, D. Amherst, The Law and Society Association.

Marsh, I. & Levy, S. (1998) Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras: Economic Impact Statement 1988. Sydney, Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Ltd.

Waitt, G. and Markwell, K. (2006) Gay tourism culture and context. Philadelphia, Haworth Press.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Nobody really knows exactly how many advertising messages we are exposed to each day. An interrogation of several respected business journals, asking this very question for US Citizens revealed a number of studies that gave answers ranging from 247 to 3,000. Either way there are a lot.

In an increasingly competitive society, advertising has taken on many forms in order to remain a step ahead of the competition. Many sellers and advertisers are now using entertainment in order to capture the attention of an audience and get their message across – this is sellertainment. A definition of which is ‘entertainment that is designed to sell a product, belief or ideal with the specific intention of increasing take-up amongst the audience’. Sellertainment can be found in a number of guises, some of the more commonly experienced forms of sellertainment are as follows:

· Printed sellertainment: brochures; leaflets; flyers; posters; and adverts in printed media.
· Sellertainment events: industry / trade shows; political rallies; sales parties.
· Media broadcast sellertainment: television and radio advertising; television ‘shopping’ channels.
· Online sellertainment: adverts; pop-ups; banners; and company websites.

Printed sellertainment is relatively commonplace, many magazines and newspapers are loaded (and heavily subsidised) by numerous full page and smaller adverts within them – including the use of ‘advertorials’ – adverts that are disguised as interest stories to get readers interested in the product, belief or ideal being sold.

Posters can be found in numerous locations, large billboards are often displayed by road sides so as to attract the attention of the occupants of passing vehicles. Flyers and leaflets can be found in many places, often pushed through letterboxes as ‘junk mail’ or distributed by hand to passers by, in student cities these are particularly used to advertise club nights.

From fashion shows to the The British International Motor Show, sellertainment events are commonplace. At the ‘World Travel Market’ (currently being held at ExCel in London), countries from around the world showcase themselves to potential buyers, including tour operators, students, and trade body representatives. In order to have appeal to passing potential customers, stands need to be eye catching, and often use entertaining promotional methods such as cultural crafts and artworks, musical performances, traditional costumes, gastronomic delights; dance displays; and many different types of ‘giveaways’. The images below highlight some specific examples of this, from this year’s World Travel Market.

A Formula 1 car helps to sell Abu Dhabi

A band helps to sell Tanzania

Traditional crafts and the 2010 world cup help to sell South Africa

In the recent US elections, the political campaigning cost both parties over $1bn, much of which was spent on large scale rallies where both Republican and Democrat parties attempted to ‘sell’ themselves to the US electorate, both candidates and their Vice Presidents spoke to thousands of people, and in doing so became entertainers themselves to their audiences. On a much smaller scale, ‘home sales parties’ such as Tupperware, Pampered Chef, Virgin Vie, and Ann Summers parties (which all have the broadest appeal to women) are held in a person’s home. With the use of a kit / starter pack or instructions, the ‘host’ typically has to prepare by buying food and drinks for their invited guests. When the party is held, an organisational representative arrives to demonstrate products, as well as organising tasks and games. The idea of the party is that the audience will be tempted to commit themselves to buying a product or products there and then. The host, for their involvement gets a small percentage of the sales revenue – often in the form of ‘points’ which is typically traded for products from the promoting company.

By far the most obvious form of Sellertainment to many people, is that which is broadcast through the media – particularly television. Television adverts or commercials have been in existence since 1941, when the first TV advert was aired in the USA. Television adverts have proved to be good sources of revenue generation for channel operators, but not always popular with viewers. Devices such as TiVo are now available that can record programmes without the adverts – this is of course of concern to many broadcaster stakeholders who do not want to see advertising revenue cut because of this.

The availability of cable / satellite and digital television has lead to the segmentation of channels with many solely providing specialist content – this includes ‘shopping’ channels that are entirely made up of advertising content such as QVC and Bid TV. These channels allow viewers to buy products as they are being advertised in a seemingly live environment by chatty hosts who often ‘play act’ or demonstrate these products to the viewing public. Some shopping channels ‘share’ their frequency with other channels that may only broadcast at certain times of day, allowing shopping channels to take up unused broadcasting capacity.

The internet is host to many forms of advertising, the websites of organisations that are trying to sell a product, belief or ideal to visitors is an example of sellertainment, as are online banner ads, pop ups and other adverts placed upon screens. The use of Flash and dynamic html often allows adverts to run at video quality without taking too long to load. Some websites make viewers watch an advert before allowing them to proceed to the part of the site that the viewer actually wanted to see.

Like it or not, sellertainment is here to stay and will most likely grow for the foreseeable future in our consumer-driven commercial society (excuse the pun). Entertainment Weekly publisher Scott Donaton has written an excellent book called ‘Madison and Vine: Why the Entertainment & Advertising Industries Must Converge to Survive’, which covers this subject area in much greater depth.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Leeds Entertainment Industry Leads!

This is a significant and exciting time for the Leeds entertainment industry with five recent major advances in the cities entertainment provision. Firstly the Leeds City Museum opened it’s doors to the public in September, it is free to enter and features variable exhibitions, displays, interactive games, video displays, shop and café, and is situated in Millennium Square, one of the cities entertainment hubs.

Secondly Clarence Dock, an area of redeveloped former brown belt land by the River Aire, saw the opening of the 50,000 square foot Alea Casino and Entertainment complex on the 11th October, to accompany the already in existence Royal Armouries, and exclusive bars / restaurants which inhabit the Clarence Dock area. The Alea complex comprises of restaurants, bars, private dining room, private cinema and of course the casino. At the same time, a number of exclusive shopping outlets also opened, seemingly in defiance of the credit crunch – even this was turned into a 'sellertainment' entertainment spectacle with a fashion show hosted by ‘How to Look Good Naked’ presenter Gok Wan.

Thirdly, the newly opened Leeds Academy – currently Leeds largest live music venue opened its doors to the public in October, with an opening night performance by The Kaiser Chiefs. The Academy is a £3m redevelopment of the formerly Luminar Leisure owned Creation nightclub, which before that was the Town and Country Club. The building itself is Grade 1 listed, and has an entertainment industry pedigree, it began life as the ‘Coliseum’ where it played host to music hall, circus and variety in the early twentieth century, before becoming a cinema, then a bingo hall and social club, and even a television studio. It now has a capacity of 2,300 in the main concert area, with a smaller room holding 400 people for smaller bands. The venue is owned by Academy Music Group Ltd.

Fourthly, the second phase of redevelopment of The Leeds Grand Theatre is finally drawing to a conclusion. Last week I was lucky enough to be part of a student group who were the first members of the public to witness the newly created Howard Assembly Room, which is a stunning oval space, with wooden floor and walls that are designed specifically to balance acoustics, how the room will be used specifically, has yet to be confirmed, but it certainly seems like a versatile space, slightly reminiscent of the Sage in Gateshead. The Howard Assembly Room used to be called the Assembly Rooms and had for a number of years been left as vacant storage space within the theatre, but prior to this had operated as the Plaza Cinema from the early 20th Century until 1978 (sometimes showing ‘risqué’ films to gentlemen clientele).

This is the culmination of a £30.5 million redevelopment plan that has also seen: the stalls re-seated with wider chairs for wider bottoms, and more leg room in-between rows (leading to a slight reduction in capacity); an enlargement of the opera pit; the creation of Opera North’s new Opera Centre; new rehearsal spaces; a sandblasted exterior; new roof; new exterior lighting; and the installation of air conditioning. The Grand Theatre was designed by James Robinson Watson and celebrates its 130th birthday in a fortnights time on the 18th November.

Finally and fifthly, the long awaited Leeds Arena development has officially been given the green light to be built on the former Leeds Met ‘Brunswick’ site and a Council Owned plot of land near Claypit Lane Leeds. The area, behind the Grosvenor Casino, and near the Merrion Centre is ideally located for public transport, and should aid regeneration of the area including the ‘old’ part of the Merrion Centre. Images of the site are featured below.

Above and below the site of the new Leeds Arena

Leeds Initiative have stated that the preferred operator will be SMG who currently operate the MEN Arena in Manchester, the Metro Radio Arena, the Journal Tyne Theatre in Newcastle and the Odyssey in Belfast. The site which is an excellent location for proximity to the city centre, will include a 12,500 seat covered entertainment arena, finally putting Leeds on the ‘large scale’ entertainment tour schedule. Rival Northern cities Sheffield, Hull and Manchester already have their own Entertainment Arena’s, and have consistently managed to attract bands to their cities, to the detriment of the Leeds live entertainment scene. This will eclipse the Leeds Academy in terms of size, but hopefully will not have a significant impact on other live entertainment venues within Leeds – just as Oceana unfortunately did on the local nightclub sector when it opened. This must of course be a concern to some smaller venue operators in the city. The choice of location for this site has proved controversial, land adjacent to Elland Road (below) and another near city centre location were both earmarked for the Arena – though the site that the council has chosen is by far the most suitable, and should facilitate the Arena’s success.

The Elland Road site that will now not be used
Unfortunately it isn’t all good news, the announcement was also made last week that the historic Joshua Tetley Brewery is to close in 2011 with the loss of 170 jobs. Tough market conditions have been blamed for the closure. The Brewery land which is geographically close to the Clarence Dock complex as well as Holbeck Urban Village – the cities new ‘creative cluster’ will no doubt be considered as the location for further new mixed usage developments (once the economy has got back to normal), as the city will continue to grow, and along with that the demand for more recreation spaces. Some interesting historic information about the area can be found here.

Friday, November 07, 2008


Naturtainment is a term for spectacles and phenomena that occur in the natural world, which can engage or captivate an audience. There is often a high degree of novelty in naturtainment, in the sense that what the audience experience is something that they rarely get to witness. Naturtainment is not controlled or managed by man, naturtainment spectacles and phenomena are controlled entirely by events in the natural world, and consequently naturtainment is not a part of the entertainment industry.

However, many naturtainment sites are recognised as being visitor attractions, and subsequently have had educational facilities built, such as visitor centres or observation platforms. The intention of these is usually to help audiences interpret and understand the naturtainment that they are witnessing. Some common examples of naturtainment attractions where interprative educational facilities can often be found include: coastlines; canyons and gorges; caves & caverns; cliffs & crags; forests & woodland; geological / rock formations; glaciers; geothermal; lakes & rivers; mountains & volcanoes; nature reserves; parklands & national parks; and waterfalls.

Safaris are guided naturtainment tours which are most common in large eco-sensitive areas that are largely unspoiled by man, and where natural flora and fauna flourish. Consequently Safaris usually take place in less developed countries (particularly African countries). Safaris often involve an audience of people travelling in vehicle(s) along with experienced guide(s) who are there to share their knowledge of the local environment, particularly its plants and animals. The major attraction of safaris is the ability to witness animals in their own natural environment. Some safaris form the basis of holidays, and can last a number of days. Whilst naturtainment as a phenomenon is not a part of the entertainment industry, it's commodification for the purposes of educating an audience is, and a subsidiary of the edutainment sector.

The video below highlights naturtainment in action.