Second assignment for my communications class this summer: create a blog post analyzing some aspect of mass media using the theories discussed in class.
Here's what I came up with. More meaningful posts to come later on in life.
You can see the posts of other class members at our class blog.
Each of us has a passion. My friends all proudly declare their loves for all aspects of life: marching band, stress-relieving runs, puppet-building, food, and medical technology. Our passions tend to be those things in which we are active participants. We find a place of belonging with other people who share those same interests. We then tend to create a community with these people where that interest can be discussed, experienced, and analyzed without judgement. Today, there is a new kind of community rising based upon media interests: the internet fandom.
The Urban Dictionary defines a fandom as, “The community that surrounds a TV show, movie, book, etc.” The most common fandoms I have noticed include: Sherlock, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Supernatural, Hunger Games, My Little Pony, Star Wars, Merlin, Avengers, Mean Girls, just about anything Disney, Twilight, the list goes on.
The difference, however, between the casual fan and the member of a fandom of any of these groups comes down to the application of what mass communication researchers define as the uses-and-gratifications media theory. This research examines why audiences use media and what they do with it, rather than what the media does to them.
The active fandom member will seek out and create new media to describe their feelings, or “feels” in the fandom world, for their particular book, movie, TV show, and so on. The passive fandom member, such as myself, will quietly stalk, like, and share this audience-created media for hours to validate his or her own belonging to the community.
Most people are not excluded to just a single fandom. For example, one may love Harry Potter, Sherlock and Star Wars and still be actively involved in media surrounding both groups. In fact, some people have created their own kind of “media convergence” by bringing multiple fandoms together through what they create, share, and repost.
These media artifacts can be memes, cosplay (elaborate costumes of beloved characters), gifs, merchandise, YouTube videos, fan fiction, and many, many Tumblr posts. Outlets for sharing these kinds of media include Pinterest, Tumblr (it’s always Tumblr’s fault), Buzzfeed, Comic Con, blogs, and just about any other kind of social media available.
This brings up the question: what do these media artifacts reflect about our society?
Reading through the list of fandoms above, chances are you recognized several of the books, movies, and TV shows listed. You also most likely want to go look up the ones you don’t know as much about to see why you be sucked into yet another fandom. I grew up without reading or watching “Harry Potter”, and in my little world, that was perfectly acceptable. However, once I arrived at BYU campus, I quickly discovered that little knowledge of such an important topic was just an inadmissible error in my life that needed to be remedied as quickly as possible. Today, I find myself a part of the “Harry Potter” fandom, with all the “feels” that a member of this community experiences from the original books and movies.
One could argue that as a “produser,” or someone who both uses and produces media, audience members create these new pieces of media based on the original piece to help with the emotional highs and lows of being a dedicated member of a fandom. This could be an effect of the messages encoded by the original media creators: the author, script-writer, director, or actor. The creators want to elicit emotional appeals in whatever messages the media sends to the audience. However, within a fandom, the audience often will decode these emotional appeals to a more extreme level than the original creator may have intended.
This could work both ways. Seeing the gifs, memes, posts, and merchandise fandom members create, the original authors of the media message may revisit plot lines, dialogue, and other aspects to continue to provide the content that the audience continually uses. For example, members of Tumblr regularly complain of the television writer and producer, Steven Moffat, for continually placing characters in stressful, deadly, emotional situations. However, these situations are also the focus of most of fandom media. Steven Moffat may choose to decode the messages from fandoms as an indication to continue creating these highly-irritating cliff hanger moments.
Ultimately, the rise of the internet fandom leads us to question what kinds of media are most important in our daily lives. Becoming more actively involved in a fandom requires us to analyze where we spend our time. Some will argue that even though none of this is real, it doesn’t matter if these shows and movies become a focal point of mental and physical energy. The decision comes to each of us to decide if we will let this become a lifestyle or stay a merely entertaining piece of media.