For years, researchers have studied television audiences and viewing preferences. Advertisers, commercial broadcasters and even government policy makers care about audiences as they are the individuals who will bring profit to the industry. These ‘commodity audiences’ are reflected via ratings as they “reflect neither mass taste nor the taste of an intellectual elite” (Jenkins, 2013). Ratings give a small representation of the actual audience, making them only an indicator for companies using television as a way to make money.
But what about Fandoms?
Many television culture researchers have attempted to trace the emergence of an organized media fan culture, to the late 1960s efforts “to pressure NBC in returning Star Trek to the air” (Jenkins, 2013). In 1969, the show was cancelled after a lack of popularity shown in the ratings. The ratings only give a small representation of the actual audience, and perhaps this meant that the fans were excluded. However, reruns were then aired in over 150 domestic and 60 international markets, helping Star Trek develop a fan base greater than its popularity in the original run. As a result of large fan gatherings and conventions in support of the series between 1967 and 1972, the franchise was revived and is still thriving today.
Fandoms are stereotyped as cultural others – “as obsessive, freakish, hysterical, infantile & regressive social subjects” (Hill, 2007). Fans are often seen as ‘textual poachers’ who find pleasure in aspects of the text that are not necessarily valued by producers or those with institutional training. Pop cultures take on fandom has typically been one of distaste and critique, with fans’ emotional attachments to media texts and celebrities being viewed as “irrational” (Jenkins, 2013).
Yet despite all of this, fandoms have become an incredibly important tool for many television programs. Many producers have “employed fans as a base of support in their own power struggles with network executives” (Hill, 2007), in order to keep their programs on the air. Other producers have gone down the path of transmedia storytelling, providing extra content for fans, such as trailers, behind-the-scenes footage or webisodes in order to gain a larger fan following and to keep fans interested. At the end of the day, the fans enable programs to continue running as they are the ones that bring in capital for producers.
First being aired on May 31, 2000 on CBS, Survivor is an example of a “TV Phenomenon that sparked a multilayered convergence of media-based fan activity” (Taddeo and Dvorak, 2010). The reality television program follows a group of strangers, or celebrities, in an isolated location where they must provide food, water, fire and shelter for themselves, whilst also competing in challenges to stay on the island, in order to win the million-dollar prize. Viewers clamored to be part of the “Survivor experience through fan sites, discussion boards, mediated videos posted on YouTube, and a host of other online participatory” (ibid.). Survivor also has behind-the-scenes footage and other exclusive content, that fans are able to access via a website, promoting the concept of transmedia storytelling. It is also important to note that Survivor produced two seasons of ‘Survivor – Fans vs. Favourites’, created for fans who believed they could out-survive original contestants of the show. This suggests that producers took note of the conversations being had by fans stating that they could ‘do it better’, and thus created the program as a way of saying ‘prove it’.
It could be said that fandoms are a problem for so called ‘legitimate culture’, as they perhaps, muddy the boundaries of mass culture texts that otherwise wouldn’t be considered so highly. However, fandoms also enable important theory and criticism surrounding texts. Often their interpretations and evaluations go unheard despite the fact that they provide legitimate, negotiated ideas that may not necessarily be commonly represented. They also allow for an understanding of their own relationships to texts.
Whilst some people view fandoms to be full of individuals who are “obsessive” or “freakish”, we must consider the fact that they allow for a revival of particular popular culture texts, especially in the case of Star Trek. They enable texts to be interpreted in a deeper, more meaningful way and often become a tool for more enriching studies into the cultures surrounding television productions.
Jenkins, H. (2013). Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge. (p. 28-33)
Taddeo, J. and Dvorak, K. (2010). The tube has spoken. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. (p. i-v)
Hill, A. (2005). Reality TV. London: Routledge. (p. 3-37).
Wikipedia, (2015). Survivor: Caramoan. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survivor:_Caramoan [Accessed 22 Oct. 2015].
Wikipedia, (2015). Star Trek. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek [Accessed 22 Oct. 2015].
Wikipedia, (2015). Star Trek fandom. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek_fandom [Accessed 22 Oct. 2015].