Twansformative? The Future of Fandom on Twitter

I’d like to share my position paper for this year’s Flow Conference. My roundtable topic is TwitterTube, but I originally submitted to Rethinking the Audience/Producer Relationship, so I’ll also include that abstract below. Unfortunately teaching responsibilities prevent me from arriving in Austin until Thursday evening — apologies in advance to those of you in Thursday workshops!


Once regarded as a microblogging status update platform, Twitter is evolving into an increasingly complex social and mobile media experience. Twitter’s implications for three distinct but interrelated domains in television–industry, celebrity, and fan community–are real, yet unclear. For example, how are the networks strategically using Twitter to encourage fan loyalty, engagement, and viewership? How does the use of Twitter by celebrities represent the next moment in how we produce, consume, and participate in reality television? Also, how are celebrity “tweets” blurring the lines between public persona and private person? Finally, what role is Twitter playing in the transformation of how distinct audiences/publics “watch” television and participate in the virtual water cooler?

In 2007, not long after its launch, Twitter made a splash on the social media scene by providing a deceptively simple interface that allowed for a variety of emergent users. Nothing more than a series of 140-character status updates with no provisions for organizing, filtering, grouping, verifying, or multimedia (to list some common features of competing platforms), Twitter captured imaginations with the idea of a real-time stream of bite-sized information and dovetailed with interest in a more lightweight and mobile internet (in contrast to bloated broadband destinations like Facebook). The site’s developers adopted user-generated behaviors like @replies and #hashtags, and its open API represented a philosophy that invited innovation and extensibility rather than a “walled garden” approach. More recently, however, Twitter has chosen to prioritize new features that simplify and enhance the process of building and maintaining reputation, such as: Verified Accounts (June 2009); Lists (October 2009); the Retweet button (November 2009), which tried to trump established conventions; an ad platform based on Promoted Tweets (April 2010) and Promoted Trending Topics (July 2010); and an official Tweet Button for blogs and websites (August 2010).

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The changes go hand in hand with increasing interest by companies and public figures in mobilizing this new online sensation to promote their visibility and brand, a trend that includes both mass media marketers and a more informal coterie of TV industry insiders. This gradual shift toward accommodating and soliciting corporations and advertisers seems to mirror the trajectory of many social media startups (from LiveJournal to YouTube) as they attempt to begin turning a profit. I’d like to explore its implications for fans and fandom on Twitter. single panel cotinine (cot) home urine test kit online As such, I’m largely setting aside the domain of celebrity from this roundtable’s prompt and focusing on the interactions between industry and fan community. I’d like to propose that the mutually constitutive developments in Twitter’s architecture, cultural zeitgeist, and commercial imperatives privilege affirmative over transformative modes of fandom.

Affirmative and transformative are terms for a widely recognized if coarse distinction between two dominant styles of fan participation (also identified by the telling but problematic fanboy vs. fangirl binary and by Anne Kustritz with the labels “as is” vs. creative fandom). According to fan obsession_inc, “affirmational fandom” is characterized by seeking “the author’s purpose… rules… [and] details” in the “source material” whose producers are “always the last word on their own works” – thus “these are the sanctioned fans.” order zydot ultimate-24 plus starfruit flavor “Transformational fandom,” by contrast, values fanon over canon, appropriation over documentation, and multiple interpretations over hierarchical authority. The transformational practice of “fakers,” or, unauthorized accounts that role-play public figures or fictional characters, has been notable among creative deployments of Twitter. While some of these personas are relatively free-standing caricatures, others congregate in interactive networks based on the ensemble of a TV show or movie.

In comparison to other common platforms utilized in play-by-post RPGs, Twitter is functionally anarchic, since the site’s stripped-down interface lacks provisions for communicating, posting, and archiving in groups. Collaborators who want to organize out-of-character must use (or build) outside websites for this purpose. But in an overarching sense, Twitter’s success is founded on the capacity for simplicity to operate as a feature not a bug, and I experienced firsthand how this principle applies to interactive storytelling when I played a character from Battlestar Galactica on Twitter (largely at the end of season 4.0 and over the following hiatus). zydot ultimate blend wild cherry flavor order While I recruited some friends to portray a subset of characters (joining a handful that already existed), the anonymity of many of the participants was an opportunity for unpredictable and generative intersections between fans with very different contexts and perspectives – all rendered within our alternate universe. At the same time, I struggled with the challenges of tracking and documenting our engagements (my attempts at hacked solutions included favorites, screen-captures, and Yahoo!Pipes).

While Twitter can serve as a nexus for opening up (that is, transforming) television narrative (and even fandom itself), it is equally amenable to closing down (that is, affirming) mass media authorship. This crossroads seems to mirror tension within the corporate ethos of Twitter over whether it aims to be a grassroots or a commercial system. Whether the company can effectively carry out both functions remains to be seen. We might map Twitter accounts tied to TV shows onto a continuum from transformative to affirmative – in the case of Battlestar Galactica: my RP collaborators via LiveJournal > characters written anonymously from other corners of fandom > Big Name Fans like @proggrrl > influential fan sites like @galacticasitrep and @bsgfodder > creative professionals like @JaneEspenson and @bearmccreary > executive/marketing accounts like @Syfy (Craig Engler) and @Syfy_Caprica. price fiber boost (capsules) While Twitter’s creative possibilities will most likely remain viable (more on this in my roundtable presentation), my concern is that practical and ideological attention to authenticity on Twitter will ultimately lend greater legitimacy to fans who wish to consume an authoritative, sanctioned version of the show. Twitter brings affirmative fandom closer to its objects of adoration, and I suggest that we need be aware of how this unprecedented access is intertwined with the dynamics and objectives of the corporate media.

Presentation topic: Overtures by industry to endorse rather than embargo creative fan activity in the form of character role-playing (Mad Men and True Blood).

Rethinking the Audience/Producer Relationship

Given the increased visibility of audiences online, how might we understand the shifts in the relationship between audiences and producers? How have producers’ perceptions of audiences and fans transformed over the past decade? How have audience/producer interactions changed because of fans’ increasing knowledge of and access to a range of producers, from showrunners to writers to performers? As TV and new media scholars enter into dialogue with both producers and fans, how do we negotiate our positions as scholars invested in both sides? Can and should we try to bridge gaps between fan- and producer-created fan engagement?

As the portmanteau “acafan” (meaning a self-identified academic plus fan) suggests, the academic legitimacy of fan studies has gotten a boost from the entertainment industry’s escalating interest in mainstreaming fan engagement. During an industrial transformation that both breaks down and props up the boundary between professional and amateur creatives, both producers and audiences have tuned in to fans’ labors of love. As we debate the consequences of the corporate media’s ever more direct expropriation of fans’ work, we should ask how this conjuncture links to our own work as media scholars. The acafan’s emerging role as interpreter and mediator of the courtship between fans and industry professionals is intertwined with the increasing commodification of both online entertainment and university learning. saliva 6 drug test kit (amp/mamp/coc/opi/thc/pcp) price For both fans and academics, then, visibility and validation seem to go hand in hand with a willingness to inhabit and promote capitalist models and values. In my contribution, I will explore these issues through the nexus of the “Lost” finale, as represented in the discourses of producerly authority, fan discontent, transmedia marketing, and academic scrutiny (prefigured at the 2010 SCMS conference).