Participatory Culture and You: Does A Fandom Ruin a Show or Character?

Fandom.

It is an entertaining, reassuring, annoying, downright scary part of loving a piece of art. Yes, this art does include television shows. I’m convinced we are seeing a manifestation of Andy Warhol’s art in reality shows. That is for another essay though.

Anyway….

Fans are there to celebrate the highs and the lows.  You develop friendships that go beyond just talking about the show. You find your creative center. You can overanalyze and criticize the show and not be considered ‘weird’ for doing so.  You can swap theories and inside jokes. Fandom becomes this community of sorts. A place to stop by when the real world is getting too rough.

It’s another version of the ‘third place.’

That is a lot of fun. Until it’s not.

Which leads me to the question that has been populating my fandom riddled brain.

Does Fandom Ruin the Enjoyment of a Show/Character?

This reminds me of an academic writer named, Henry Jenkins and his theory of participatory culture.  I used to read him in graduate school and I loved what he found out.  In case you are wondering what participatory culture is, “…an opposite concept to consumer culture — in other words a culture in which private individuals do not act as consumers only, but also as contributors or producers.” (Jenkins).  It is the way we went from being passive in how we enjoyed our art to be more active producers. It depends on where we affiliate ourselves (Tumblr/twitter/message boards), how we express ourselves (fan videos/fanfiction/Meta-analysis), how we work together to solve problems tasks (special events that are by the fans for the fans), and how we shape what we see while enjoying our art (reviews/podcasts).

It’s how we contribute in our participatory cultures that have us enjoying the art on a deeper level. That includes a few more ideas that came out of studying participatory culture. Jenkins came up with a phrase called, textual poachers from his 1992 book, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Textual poachers are:

How fans construct their own culture by appropriating and remixing—”poaching”—content from mass culture. Through this “poaching”, the fans carried out such creative cultural activities as rethinking personal identity issues such as gender and sexuality; writing stories to shift focus onto a media “story world’s” secondary characters; producing content to expand of the timelines of a story world; or filling in missing scenes in the story world’s official narratives order to better satisfy the fan community. (Jenkins; 1992)

Whew. That was just me nerding out (Look Ma, that graduate degree came in handy) but what does this all mean towards my question? What shows have some of the strongest and largest fanbases that stretch generations and have recently turned to the internet to join forces with others?

If you guess soap operas, you are right!

Soap Operas have fans that have grown through the years through the generations that watch.  This is very true for two soaps I love, Emmerdale and The Young and the Restless. One from the United Kingdom and another from America. Two different worlds, same participatory culture, and textual poaching.

I’m going to compare these two soaps I enjoy. Emmerdale and The Young and the Restless.

Emmerdale Fandom (As I See It)

Emmerdale has a powerful fandom. The fans are protective and opinioned which makes for a fun time.  Not kidding. Having so many different feelings and views gives you more to talk and think about. There are more people to talk to about theories, favorite characters and even how we feel about certain writers.  The fanfiction and fanart are heavily available for any character you want (even the characters who are long gone). The meta is outstanding and people knowing the histories of every family is aplenty. You can always ask a question and get an answer.

People are taking the art in front of them and putting their own spin on it, poaching it if you will.

With that said, poaching the material and making it our own is when things get messy. Head canons become fact for people. Shipping outside the norm becomes a sore spot for the fandom. Some even think the poaching goes too far. Some want to participate but feel left out of the well-established groups already formed. Some even take those discussions we have and take it too far letting opinions upset or get them.

How people shape and view the characters or a storyline on the soap can affect how others see a storyline or character.  While you think, ‘I’m not that easily swayed’ you would be surprised how strong group think gets while everyone is in their little online worlds.  Fractured fanbases make it hard to participate in this fandom and still be respected for the contribution. It comes in waves and right now, we are surfing on a fractured wave.

For instance, I’m heavily involved with the Robron fandom. The current storyline and split have caused a fracture that always happens when a soap couple ends things. Except, this time, there seems to be a war going on. In fact, I found that I’m starting to hate Aaron when I know I don’t hate him. Not for a minute. However, being constantly shouted down for pointing out faults, not understanding someone’s head canon or letting troll take over the fandom space makes the character harder to love. Which, for the lack of a better word, sucks. I think I can argue that a lot of people feel that way.

The Young and the Restless Fandom (As I See It)

The Young and the Restless. The fandom has a smaller social media presence but still as loud and opinioned as the Emmerdale fans. One could argue there is less textual poaching in this fandom. There isn’t as many theories or meta.  There is participation through reviewing and using social media to talk about the soap.  People know their character histories and are well-versed on showrunners and producers. Less on the writers.

With that said, things can be angry fast.  Usually around the showrunner. The biggest drama isn’t always who should be paired with who but who is running the show and if they are doing a good enough job.  That starts the showrunner wars.  We are in the middle of another changeover, and the fans are arguing over who should be picked next. It is less about what is happening on screen (it’s there) but what happens off screen that effects the fandom and how they participate within the fandom.

The ship wars are never bad. The storylines are usually mocked and tolerated. It is the fighting about behind the scenes drama that does me in.  I really don’t want to care about the showrunner. I don’t care who is running the writers room. I just want to see my favorite characters every day at noon dealing with the craziest of problems. I want to see who gets thrown down a volcano not who said what to whoever in the dressing room last week.

What was the Point of That?

What was the point of comparing the two fandoms and shows? There are two different fandom and two distinct ways they participate in their shows.  Emmerdale is intense about what is happening on screen while The Young and the Restless is passionate about the behind the scenes that what happens on screen.

Which brings me back to the original question. I’ll remind you. Does fandom change how you feel about a show/character?

I believe it depends on how intense the fandom can be.  Emmerdale has an active, intense young fandom out there. Opinions are shared and misheard, and people take those meta/fanfiction/gifs and love or hate them.  Fights happen easier and the longer you stay in that world participating, the easier it can get to feel like what others feel like (group think sneaks in again as well as wanting to agree, so you don’t have to fight with someone anymore). It makes it hard to enjoy a character or show on your own terms.

The Young and the Restless has an older fandom that tends to stick to discussing or reviewing the show than getting deep into the meta/fanfictions/gif making.  They don’t textual poach but there is a culture of participation that can affect how you see things but easier to walk away from seeing as things never get that intense over what is happening on screen.

So, yes, I think a fandom can ruin a show or character, but only if you stay too long and stay unhappy.  Meaning, this can all be fixed by walking away for a while. Watching the show and its characters on your own terms. Get a better footing before jumping back into that culture of participation and the groups that form.  It is easier to do that with The Young and the Restless seeing as it isn’t as intense and the participation is small (I have walked away too. For a year and it was the best decision. I can watch the show with clearer eyes now).

Emmerdale is harder to walk away from. The show itself has been one of best things I stumbled upon in a long time. It’s a different look at how soap operas could be running, and the fans are passionate and lots of fun. That fun can turn on you fast though when a story doesn’t go the way the fanbase wants, and their poaching of the material doesn’t help lessen the blow. People arguing can get old and hard to ignore. Like I said, I should walk away but I can’t. I’m too rooted here now. I have met many smart, talented and fun people in this fandom.  I love the fanfiction. I love the gifs. I love the jokes and I love how people try to make the best of a bad situation. Even though things are rough and people are getting more and more cynical, I see hope there. A positive that is on the horizon. It’s just rough to see it for long right now.

So, how do I fix this feeling? Tell me below or Tweet/Tumblr me @AmandaJ718. I’m very interested in getting opinions on this. Until next time, I’ll see you around in Overthinking World. It lives next to Denial World and Theory Land (THEORIES DON’T GET A WORLD?).  If you got that reference, you get a cookie and a trip to St. Olaf. Enjoy.

Advertisements