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Friday, August 27, 2010

TV Fandom and Participatory Media

The International Conference for the Learning Sciences was held here in Chicago this summer. It was my first chance to attend (couldn't quite make it to the Netherlands last time), and I have to say it was the most solid conference I've ever been to. Much higher signal:noise ration than AERA, NARST, SRCD, or NAGC.

One great thing was that the poster sessions were scheduled with no talks to compete and with very tasty food in the room, the combination of which led to higher attendance and, from what I could see, more in-depth conversations than I've seen at other poster sessions. I certainly had more good conversations than usual (as an attendee, not a poster-giver). One person I had the pleasure of meeting was Sean Duncan, a student of Constance Steinkuehler's who is now a professor at Miami University.

He was presenting a poster about video game players (of WOW, Zelda, and Kongregate) posting in online forums. We got to talking about conversations he saw where game developers/designers were interacting with the players online. We had a great discussion about this breaking down of the divide between creator and audience, which is something I've been thinking a lot about with respect to TV shows because I see it in my own fandoms. For example, the executive producers and cast of the show Bones (a show I'm likely to post more about here in the future) often take to Twitter to answer fans' questions, give teasers and semi-spoilers, and post behind-the-scenes photos. It's often unclear how bidirectional this interaction truly is, of course - the power is still in the creators' hands, and they could choose to ignore everything fans say and just use it as one more promotional medium. Or they can, like the creators of Glee, include fandom shout-outs in the episodes (to the delight of some fans and chagrin of others) and otherwise take fan input into account in their creative process.

Overall, this means that kids growing up today are going to see television as a very different medium than it was even when I was growing up in the 80s. Not only is there much more choice now - between DVRs, DVDs, Netflix, Hulu, and a million other ways to watch what you want, when you want it - so that the decision to watch TV is a more active one, a TV show is no longer something to simply sit and watch for one half-hour or hour. You can still do this, but the possibilities for participation before, while, and after you watch an episode are nearly limitless now. Spoiler-hunting, liveblogging, post-episode analysis, recaps, fanfiction, Q&As with creators: all of these and more are a standard part of nearly any TV show fandom. Take a kid who grows up participating in this, and what will their viewing, participation, and even creation habits look like as an adult?

Because one of my dissertation studies involves TV (though not fandom specifically), I've been looking into the literature on this. I've got a long way to go, but one study I'm currently enjoying is by Mark Andrejevic: Watching Television Without Pity: The Productivity of Online Fans. It mostly stays at a descriptive level, like a lot of current writing about this sort of thing. It'd be nice to see people pushing methodology and analysis a bit further, though this stuff is enjoyable. Reading recommendations are welcome!

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