In part fulfilment of the requirement for the award of M.A. in Film and Television Studies, 2010.
This dissertation examines the effects of the breakdown of the conventions and functions within traditional narrative that separate the audience from the text and the producers. I am particularly interested in the effects as they pertain to the fandom. Interaction through social networking websites and fan conventions has helped to create a sense of intimacy and collaboration between fans and producers. I will examine the possible repercussions of this, including ethical issues of privacy and power.
I primarily approach this through a case study of the television series Supernatural and its online fandom. The story of Supernatural broadly centres on two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester who fight ghosts, werewolves, vampires and various other paranormal creatures together. In this dissertation I examine the close relationship that fans of the series have with the producers. I also look particularly at the representations of the fans and the producers within the Supernatural text and how this correlates with the close fan/producer relationship that exists outside of the text. This is achieved via a combination of a textual analysis of a number of Supernatural episodes and a document analysis of existing interviews, videos, DVD extras and fan comments. Through this research I have found a disparity in fan representations relating to gender. I have also identified a number of positive and negative potential effects of a close fan/producer relationship.
This topic came up in class in relation to HBO series The Sopranos. There were a number of interesting questions raised such as whether the portrayal of any female agency is progressive and if a reductive stereotype like women who manipulate men to suit their own ends can be seen as progressive. The most interesting question was ‘ Can a narrative be feminist without any feminist characters?’
Friday Night Lights: A Feminist Narrative?
I don’t watch the Sopranos but I believe it is possible for a narrative to be feminist without having any feminist characters. Of the shows I watch, one of the best for portraying a feminist ethic is Friday Night Lights. This is a show that follows the trials and tribulations of life in a small Texas town. Ostensibly a show about the local high school American Football team, Friday Night Lights was initially marketed at a male audience but changed tactics early in its run when it became obvious that women were equally interested in the show. The head writer and executive producer of the show is Jason Katims. Katims’ previous work includes Roswell and My So-called Life, the latter of which was a teen drama from the mid-nineties that, although short-lived, received critical acclaim for the sensitive way in which it dealt with many social issues like child abuse and drug use.
The female representations in Friday Night Lights over its run so far have been particularly good and the narrative never shies away from sensitive or controversial topics. The most recent season dealt with a storyline about teen pregnancy and abortion and it tackled the issue head-on without sugar-coating it. The story showed that there were no easy options available for the young girl, Becky, who was pregnant, and that she would have to make the decision herself.
This show tackles controversial topics like abortion.
The mirroring of her situation with that of her mother’s was very effective. Her mother had been very young when Becky was born and seemed to harbour some resentment towards her daughter for this. Equally interesting and unexpected was the genuine loss that the teenaged father of the child was portrayed as experiencing when he was told that Becky had decided to have an abortion since this is not a point of view that TV drama often tends to explore. Overall this was just one of a series of issues that this programme successfully portrayed in a sensitive and realistic way.
The Wire was originally pitched to HBO as an anti-cop drama that would invert the usual types of police procedurals and shed a light on the other side of the cop story- the criminalised underclass that were so often played as two dimensional background and antagonist figures. In making The Wire, David Simon strove to shed a light on the marginalised and overlooked class that were caught in between the murderers and drug dealers and the cops that sought to lock them up.
The Wire deals with many of the realities faced by the underclass and marginalised living in big cities in the US and elsewhere. It shows these social problems in a gritty and original light and pulls no punches when dealing with topics like police or political corruption. The Mayor of Baltimore was understandably not very happy with the way the city was portrayed in the show as he felt that it would bring negative attention to the city but in many ways Baltimore is the ideal choice of setting for the show.
The city is ideal considering its liminal position within the US. It is a city but it is still small and condensed enough that the cops and the criminals and the politicians and the public are co-existing side by side. This allows the show to deal with an expansive horizontal and vertical integration of narrative threads that might not be possible in a more sprawling urban setting. Additionally, Baltimore inhabits a geographical space near the Mason-Dixon Line in the United States – a boundary that signifies a cultural and political division between the Northern and Southern states. Baltimore’s status as a liminal city and the way that the narrative deals with many different aspects of the urban society gives the show an immediate sense of identification whereby the viewer can immediately recognise aspects of the city as being the same as their own city.
Similar to the way that Baltimore is made so identifiable by its liminal qualities, the most enduring characters on the show are also those that are caught in the middle of the civic versus criminal struggle of The Wire. Is it any wonder that in a show where everything is portrayed in shades of grey, rather than black and white, the characters that seem the most enduring and resonant are the ones who inhabit the liminal space between the criminal underclass and the law enforcement who tackle it?
Omar is non-traditional. He doesn’t dress fancy, he doesn’t wear jewelry, he doesn’t drive fancy cars, he doesn’t live in a fancy place, he’s openly gay, he doesn’t use drugs, he doesn’t sell drugs – this motherfucka doesn’t even curse. He stands up for what he believes in. He lets you know the game. Michael K. Williams
Omar: The moral centre of The Wire
If Baltimore is the ultimate liminal city then gun-toting stick-up artist Omar Little is the ultimate liminal character. Omar may be the moral centre of the show but he functions outside the social and capital systems that most of the other characters operate within. He is one of the only characters who makes a point of not using profanity. Bubbles, the homeless drug addict that Detective Greigs uses for information, similarly lives outside the system and this character also avoids the preferred mode of communication by most characters in the show – swearing up a storm. This is best illustrated in a scene from season one, episode 4 when McNulty and Bunk, while investigating a murder scene, communicate entirely by using variants of the word ‘fuck’.
The Wire represents business and politics at its very worst and it is the characters that live outside the system that shine the brightest light on the shady mechanics of Capitalism.
In the same way as The War Game (1965), The Day After (1983) and Threads (1984) encapsulated the public zeitgeist and political landscape in the era of the Cold War, a new strain of fiction has emerged in the US since 2001 that draws on the post 9/11 climate of paranoia and fear. In July 2009 Brian Stelter published a piece in The New York Times entitled ‘It’s Doomsday Once Again. Are We Having Fun Yet?’. In this article reality show producer Thom Beers cites post 9/11 anxiety and economic woes as the key reasons for a recent spate of post-catastrophe fiction. The September 11 attacks created a public anxiety and paranoia around terrorism and domestic threats and the resulting ‘War on Terror’ and hunt for weapons of mass destruction raised public levels of nuclear fear. This fear has resulted in films like I am Legend (2007) and Cloverfield (2008), novels like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) and TV shows like CBS’s Jericho (2006-2008).
There have been a number of TV shows that have dealt with this theme in various ways – Battlestar Galactica, Lost and Flash Forward are some that come to mind – and despite the fact that the pilot of 24 was made before the September attacks in 2001 it is often cited as the definitive post-9/11 zeitgeist show. However I believe that Jericho is the most clearly defined as a TV programme that deals with this fear head-on. Where 24 focuses on preventing catastrophes like nuclear attacks from happening, Jericho deals with what might happen to society if such an attack occurred.
Jericho is about the situation that the residents of a small Kansas town face in the aftermath of a nuclear attack on the USA. The premise of the show is that 23 American cities have been destroyed in a nuclear attack. The town of Jericho is 150 miles away from the nearest attack in Denver but the resulting mushroom cloud is clearly visible on the horizon. Despite being out of range of most of the fallout from the blasts, the residents of Jericho face more and more problems as the story progresses as electricity, communications and political control quickly break down.
The show works because it has a very human element, it pays attention to the little details of life and relationships are as important as the overarching plot. Many of the characters are morally ambiguous or their arc takes them from one place to another in an organic way through the story. Themes like love, friendship and family are given as much emphasis as stories about dealing with lack of fuel, food or medical resources and the struggle to retain social order. This gives the show heart. Despite interference in the early part of season one by the network, who felt that the premise was too grim for audiences, Jericho really comes into its own in the latter part of the first season as it explores the effects of obliterated infrastructure and the gradual fear and social decay and survival instincts that leads to neighbours turning against each other.
Promotional postcard for the second season of Jericho
The parallels to the Bush administration of the day are easy to draw and became even more blatant in the second season. A dubiously elected president taking orders from a Cheney-like character can easily be read as a representation of George W. Bush. Private companies with controversial links to the US government like Haliburton and private armies like Blackwater are represented on the show by the shady Jennings & Rall Corporation and its military subsidiary Ravenwood. The parallels continue as the newly formed government make plans to retaliate against North Korea and Iran without any proof that this is where the attacks came from as a rebuke of Bush Doctrine’s policies of pre-emption and Military primacy.
Unfortunately a long mid-season hiatus during its first season, followed by the return of Jericho at a different timeslot in competition with the hugely popular American Idol, resulted in a severe drop in ratings from which the show never fully recovered. Originally cancelled after one season, fans of the show bombarded the CBS network offices with over 45,000 pounds of peanuts and successfully ensured a second season of seven episodes. Even though the show’s run could not be extended any further than this the seven additional episodes did allow for all of the loose plot threads to be tied up before the end.
Just, Natascha. 2009. Measuring media concentration and diversity: new approaches and instruments in Europe and the US. In Media, Culture & Society. 31, pp97 – 117.
In this 2009 paper Natascha Just explains the various methods in place for measuring media concentration and diversity within Europe and the US. She also discusses the difficulties faced in implementing such regulatory measures. Just goes into some detail on the various systems that are currently in place in a number of different western countries and points out the arguments for and against these systems but she does not provide much guidance on which methods she would prefer to see standardised. I found the article very dense and at times difficult to understand, but I felt that the core of the author’s argument is that a satisfactory system for measuring the amount of control any single company or individual interest has on public opinion does not yet exist.
One of the major problems affecting media regulation is its inherent conflict with free trade laws. The current climate of increasingly transnational trade, where much emphasis is put on the free global movement of goods and services, poses a threat to media regulation. Powerful organisations like the World Trade Organisation are in place to safeguard a free marketplace, but concepts like media regulation directly conflict with their ethos. At the other end of this spectrum of global media governance is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), an organization that attempts to justify media regulation. (Puppis, 2008, pp. 406). This ethos conflict comes about because the media is essentially serving two conflicting roles in society: an economic role and a cultural role. As a commodity, the media is entitled to a competitive market, but the media should also be treated as a tool for the formation of public opinion.
Hi, I'm Irene. I am a PhD student at University of Bath. My research is related to narrative and ideology in online groups. I have an Honours Degree in Communications and Creative Multimedia from Dundalk Institute of Technology and a Masters Degree in Film and Television Studies from Dublin City University. My interests consist of Technology, Communication, Gaming, Fandom, Film and Television or some combination thereof.