Session 5.1: Audience
Heather Elliott (University of Toledo), Mary Karcher (Wayne State University), Erin Karper (Niagara University)
Heather Elliott, University of Toledo: “Please Read and Review: Investigating the Dynamics of Audience in Online Fan Fiction Publication.”
Heather Elliott began this session with a discussion of audience in fan fiction (which she called a form of “self sponsored” writing, similar to blogs). She specifically looked at the website Fanfiction.net, and how various writers dealt with receiving feedback and audience interaction. She noted that the relationship between fanfiction authors and their audience is a special one that doesn’t occur in many places where text is published.
First of all, the author and audience have what she called a “pre-existing contract of sympathy.” Belonging to the same fanbase means that the rules of a given fandom (or even a giving “pairing”) will control, to one extent or another, the interaction of author and reader. The author knows what the readers are more or less looking for, and knows that if she posts the story will find a sympathetic reader who is already part of the fanbase. (whether they comment or not). I believe this is more “true” in some fandoms than others. The Harry Potter fandom is very welcoming to new authors—with all of the common fannish mistakes that new authors make—while the seaQuest DSV fandom on fanfiction.net is not as welcoming to newcomer mistakes, which means it may be more difficult for a new writer to find that sympathy that they are seeking. Still, any of these fandoms might be more friendly places to be read than a publisher’s slush pile.
She also noted that the set up of the website allows for instantaneous feedback. Indeed, if a story is up for more than a couple days without receiving feedback it may never do so. The power of the audience to give this sort of immediate support and feedback has lead to a “phenomenon of liking” wherein the author writes and posts in part to be “liked” by their own audience of fans. This part of self sponsored writing is certainly related to blogging—don’t most bloggers write to be read and gain a certain amount of popularity? Yet, despite that the writing is done for the same purpose, only a few bloggers receive the same sort of results. This is, I believe because blogs have never been guaranteed that same ear of sympathy as fans have, and in less than sympathetic communities of fans a lot of the flaming that bloggers experience is present.
Mary Karcher, Wayne State University: “Snakes on a Plane: Lessons to be Learned from an Online Sssssssensation.”
Mary Karcher’s presentation centered around the online phenomenon of Snakes on a Plane, a movie that had an audience and fans before it was ever made that wanted to be intimately involved in its making. I remember the beginning of this craze myself, when suddenly all of my friends who identify themselves online as “Rockabilly” or “Punk” began filling their profiles and LiveJournal icons with quotes that contained instances of “Motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane.” Mary reviewed the history of fan influence on this movie (focusing on the internet) and noted instances, in particular, where New Line listened to the audience and made changes to the move appropriately.
For example, a fan photograph of a snake on a model airplane was eventually used as inspiration for the official movie poster. Fans that insisted that Samuel Jackson utter the “Motherfucker” line sent the crew back into production for several days. Most notably, the director originally wanted to change the title of the movie to something less kitschy, and when fans and Samuel L. Jackson both disagreed, the title was eventually kept.
Mary believes that Snakes on a Plane created a space for discussion that is rare online, but even rarer in our classrooms. It encouraged community participation and creativity in a way that classrooms generally fail to do. She believed that this creativity happened because New Line was willing to “let go” and not have rigid control over the production of the movie anymore.
She likened this to something that we could allow to happen in our own classrooms—we could be more hands off, we could encourage a community/student driven syllabus. We could begin with tools familiar to the students and expand into those that are, perhaps, not even familiar to us. She called this the “perfect storm” environment, and though it’s one difficult to create, she believes that we have the potential to do it, especially when our students are some of the very people who are creating web texts online in these sorts of “storms” already.
Erin Karper: Niagara University. “Theorizing Audience Awareness in Web-Based Self-Presentation.”
Erin Karper began her presentation with assumptions about audience online: that people don’t think about it often enough, that only the intended audience will see it, that people from “real life” won’t find it, and that online troubles would be abated if only people would realize that everyone can see what they put online. Her first example was an eerie echo of a student example that Scott DeWitt showed in his video presentation. Here, students were making videos, again, that showed drastic amounts of illegal activity including underage drinking and drug use. She also presented other examples: a teenager angry that her mother read her “friends only” LiveJournal postings, a PSA that the internet is a dangerous place for children and teens, and from these examples, she began to extrapolate a theory that these common beliefs about audience online are just too simplified.
Most web users that rely upon trust filtering (friends only postings, log ins, etc.) believe that it does actually protect them from people outside their audience finding their writing. Essentially, people are building assumptions about audience based upon faulty data about the web. They are lead to believe that technological mastery is important—from both their friends and their teachers—and in this need to demonstrate mastery audience is pushed aside. She noted that 52% of bloggers claim to blog for themselves, despite the fact that most blogs also have a public audience. Bloggers believe their content will probably not be indexed by Google, that their anonymity will protect them from unwanted readers, and that they will be protected by being obscure.
She then provided us with examples that this is clearly not the case. The one I was most familiar with was Dooce.com—Heather Armstrong was fired from her job for blogging about it, but now makes a generous profit off her blog anyway. Despite that fact, very few other bloggers fired for similar online problems have been so lucky.
She concluded by reinstating the idea that it’s not audience un-awareness that makes people careless about what they post online. They may simply want to show mastery of a new tool (putting picture clips to music) and when they realize that the material is inappropriate, may not want to go back and edit it. Erin Smith, in the Video session from Friday, noted that some software makes it very difficult to revise work, which might be another reason posters to the internet are less likely to consider or reconsider audience. Erin finished by noting that we have to take these ideas into effect when discussing audience online with our students.
Erin’s presentation can be found online at: [[http://purple.niagara.edu/ekarper/research/cw2007/index.html