Saturday, February 13, 2016

Are We All Poachers Now? (Core Post)

After reading Jenkins and Andrejevic this week, I got to thinking about how our understanding of fan culture has dramatically changed in the past 30 years and how its pervasive on most online spaces. What was once the area of a small group of viewers for a TV show who mostly wrote newsletters, fanzines, and books is now something we can't really avoid if we're connected to just about any social media platform and many other major news and information websites. While I imagine Jenkins' piece was once an outlier in terms of subject matter, we now find 50 Shades of Grey (books or movies) or the millennial feminist comic book commentary site, which frequently pops up in my Twitter and Facebook feeds through my friends liking or posting their articles. It seems hard to avoid paratextual material online.

When Fox recently announced an upcoming Rocky Horror Picture Show: Live production, several sites set out with "who would you cast?" articles and listicles. It has become rather standard that online entertainment stories end with some form of "let us know what you think about this topic," as a means of getting readers, who may be fans or sardonic spectators, to engage with the material. While it is likely the producers of the show did not pay much attention to these comments, the efforts to engage readers on the site (to get more money from advertisers) and have them come back for more later, has made most people who engage with these platforms "'poachers' of textual material"(Jenkins, 472).

Strangely a site like the Huffington Post or The Guardian (US) still accepts hundreds of articles a day from unpaid writers, frequently looking to kick start their journalistic careers. These sites are quite different in perception from TV Without Pity—which was always seen as a place for fans or those who would mock the shows... or mock the fans of shows—as they seem to be more "legitimate" (and probably lead, in part, to the end of TWoP a few years ago). The work that was commonly found on TWoP has now spread to just about any site with a stable of unpaid writers—so might write a story about the cars in Better Call Saul, even though the car site is not really in the business of watching TV.

Furthermore, it seems the "slashing" of fiction that Jenkins investigates (Kirk/Spock) has bled into pop culture in a way he might not have been able to predict when he wrote about it. It's quite a common concept when watching any show to join two unexpected characters. For instance, a friend of mine is obsessed with Luke's "unseen private life," as she calls it, on Gilmore Girls and all the other characters he is romancing, including Kirk and Emily Gilmore. She is not so much trying to express something about herself through the elements of the show, but ironically engage with material she loves. This is not at all mean to diminish traditional queer K/S readings of media that fans might have, but to take that language and help her love the show too.

I also wonder if some of this play has trickled down to other areas of media. With live musicals becoming such a big part of TV programming, it seems networks are thrilled to have people engage with the shows as camp while they watch them live. (I won't get into Sharknado here.) Aaron Tveit, who's 32 but looks like he's 42, seemed like a particularly old Danny Zuko in Fox's recent Grease: Live and I had several friends making the same joke about how he didn't look like a high school boy. While this doesn't get into the detail of many Star Trek fan narratives, the immediacy of the comments—and that one friend said the actor was actually Zuko's dad who was going back to school like Billy Madison—pointed in the same direction.

It seems like in this post-TWoP world everyone is able to watch a show, comment on it, keep track of thousands of details, share opinions, and even interact with some of the creators (by tweeting at them) and that this is a much more democratic version of the older models. There is much more interaction and analysis available today than there has ever been. While there is something amazing about a group of devoted fans writing their own versions of unseen scenes, I think there's much more ability to enjoy a show for a wide range of reasons today than there used to be.


  1. Aaron, I really enjoyed your post. I agree that contemporary media is, in many ways, defined by a form of convergence and interactivity that means that we are all on some level engaged in the kind of 'poaching' and paratextual readings Jenkins and Andrejevic write about; the examples of The Guardian and The Huffington Post are especially interesting to me, as they indicate a certain (democratic) collapse of journalistic culture into fan culture (if fan culture can be most broadly defined as a personal, 'unprofessional' engagement with a text explored in a public/shared forum).

    Both Jenkins and Morse last week cite Michel de Certeau in thinking about the structures of public life, and in reading this week's articles as well as your analysis I was reminded of this passage, from de Certeau's 'Walking in the City': "these practitioners [walkers] make use of spaces that cannot be seen...the paths that correspond in this intertwining, unrecognized poems in which each body is an element signed by many others, elude legibility...the networks of these moving, intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces: in relation to representations, it remains daily and indefinitely other” (de Certeau 93).

    The idea of the unseen space and the decentralized text, which in the passage above describes the relation of the city to its (mobile) inhabitant, is interesting both in terms of the ‘unseen’ lives of TV characters like Luke and our own use of mobile technologies to bring our media closer to us as we collectively excavate them of a single or concrete legibility.

    (de Certeau, Michel, trans. Steven Rendall. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.)

  2. Aaron, I like your title a lot, and it does remind me of the definition that Jenkins offers in his article. He defines “poaching” as “an impertinent raid on the literary preserve that takes away only those things that seem useful or pleasurable to the reader.” (471) He states that the current definition of a “fan” is not someone who enjoy readings the specific book or watching the particular program over and over again, but someone who “translating the viewing into some type of cultural activist, by sharing feeling and thoughts about the program content with friends, by joining a community of other fans who share common interest. “ (473) In another word, we are all some sorts of the fan under; we are all either creating the related- materials or consuming. We are all stepping into the “participatory culture” from the “spectator culture.” I like the part you mentioned how the network made platforms for the audience to “poach” those textual materials. So instead saying that we are all poachers, one could argue that we are all providers/consumers.