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Popular Media Cultures explores the relationship between audiences and media texts, their paratexts and interconnected ephemera. Authors focus on the cultural work done by media audiences, how they engage with social media and how convergence culture impacts on the strategies and activities of popular media fans.



Introduction: Fans and Paratexts

Introduction: Fans and Paratexts

The first step towards a wider consideration of popular media cultures surrounding music, comics, film, television and the Internet, and the relationship between fans and their object of fandom, is to acknowledge the prominent position of what Jonathan Gray (2010) calls media “paratexts” as opposed to the centrality of specific films or television series as the “text”. Indeed, we are now accustomed in fan studies to stating that the productivity of fans and their related fan practices represents an appropriate and worthy text to study just as much as the media text to which they are related or inspired by. So, rather than studying Star Trek as cult text, we might study fan-produced videos on YouTube as important texts of fan activity that carry inherent meaning and significance in and of themselves. Or, for example, Star Wars carries with it meaning within and outside the narrative — from an analysis of its mythic story structure using the work of Joseph Campbell, to studies of its fans who actively engage in their own meaning-making by dressing up, making videos and writing fan fiction. However, the peripheral texts — those associated with the commercialisation of the franchise, such as the lunchboxes, toys, video games and websites — are so much a part of the meaning-making process that they become texts to study in their own right.
Lincoln Geraghty

Writing in the Margins


1. “We Put the Media in (Anti)social Media”: Channel 4’s Youth Audiences, Unofficial Archives and the Promotion of Second-Screen Viewing

Fans, and the agency of media audiences, are a longstanding cultural phenomenon. Their increased visibility and the everydayness of fan practice and user production, on the other hand, are relatively recent and have been propagated by the empowering function and disseminating power of online spaces and social media. These groups and audiences have long been recognised and often ill-served by UK broadcasting. However, in the case of Channel 4, a publisher-broadcaster with the remit to represent minorities and niche audiences while championing innovation and experimental content, minority audiences (particularly youthful ones) have historically been catered for in a variety of ways, often through the use of bespoke stranding strategies created within its schedules, catering for these neglected groups (and fans) while fulfilling its remit.
Michael O’Neill

2. Television Fandom in the Age of Narrowcasting: The Politics of Proximity in Regional Scripted Reality Dramas The Only Way Is Essex and Made in Chelsea

It takes exactly one hour — and 25 stops — to travel from the edges of London’s eastern urban sprawl in Loughton, Essex, to the heart of affluent Chelsea to the south west of the capital’s centre on the Central and District lines. What connects these two neighbourhoods in the vast reaches of Greater London, however, is more than a painfully long tube ride: they have both become locations associated with the genre of regional scripted reality drama (RSRD) that has enjoyed growing popularity in the UK since 2010 in the wake of the success and import of MTV’s Los Angeles based The Hills (2006–2010). Loughton, alongside its neighbouring areas of Buckhurst Hill and Brentwood, serves as the setting for ITV2’s The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE), which premiered in October 2010. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in turn, alongside further central London locations, is home to E4’s Made in Chelsea (MiC), first seen on UK screens in May 2011 on the heels of TOWIE’s original success. Both shows, in line with their Spiritus rector, MTV’s The Real World and The Hills — and in the tradition of much reality television — are part of a hybrid genre category that draws alongside documentary traditions on television drama and in particular serial teen and high-school drama, as well as soap operas and telenovelas. The shows feature a cast that largely compromises twentysomethings with the occasional addition of younger and older members of their families, such as parents, grandparents, siblings or cousins.
Cornel Sandvoss, Kelly Youngs, Joanne Hobbs

3. “A Reason to Live”: Utopia and Social Change in Star Trek Fan Letters

Henry Jenkins uses Michel de Certeau’s term “textual poaching” to describe how fans rewrite Star Trek television shows and movies in order to produce their own narratives, which they then share among each other in the form of novels and music.1 Constance Penley has also analysed artwork produced by these fans, and Heather Joseph-Witham has looked at their costume-making.2 These studies have brought critical attention to what might have seemed to be an overdone and outdated subject, and have highlighted how important Star Trek fan culture is to the fields of media and reception studies. Yet their work is limited by its exclusive focus on those more marginal fans who are producers of new texts rather than more “ordinary” fans who consume the original text but do not write stories and filk music (a term used to describe science fiction folk singing), dress up or manipulate video material. 3 The Star Trek movies and television shows play an important role in the emotional and affective lives of American fans. Therefore in this chapter I want to investigate the ways in which fans actually talk about the show and their engagement with it.4 Specifically, given the long-running nature of the series, I want to address the differential character and historically shifting contexts of audience reception as found in Star Trek correspondence.
Lincoln Geraghty

Reading between the Lines


4. Victims and Villains: Psychological Themes, Male Stars and Horror Films in the 1940s

Although Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr are seen as the key horror stars of the 1940s, along with lesser figures such as Lionel Atwill and George Zucco, the period was one in which the horror film was not limited to the low-budget productions of Universal, Columbia and others but, on the contrary, one in which many horror films were “dressed in full Class ‘A’ paraphernalia, including million dollar budgets and big name casts” (Stanley, 1944: X3). Consequently, a number of romantic male leads became closely associated with the genre — stars such as Ray Milland, Joseph Cotton, Cary Grant and George Sanders. If these stars are hardly remembered in this way today, this is largely because many of their key horror films are no longer associated with the genre, although they were understood as horror films at the time of their original release. For example, the figure of the gangster and the spy were no strangers to the horror film during the 1940s, and many films that would commonly be understood as thrillers today were clearly seen as horror films at the time (Jancovich, 2009b).
Mark Jancovich

5. “I Want to Do Bad Things with You”: The Television Horror Title Sequence

An extreme close-up of a mosquito perched on a human arm followed by a jump cut to a close-up of the arm as a hand comes down and swats the mosquito; red splatters of blood twist and swirl in fluid patterns against a pristine white background; an underwater close-up of a catfish as the camera cranes up above the water to reveal a swamp, accompanied by the opening guitar riffs to J ace Everitt’s now iconic “I Want to Do Bad Things”. These are the distinct and gripping opening images in the title sequences for Dexter (2006–2013), Hannibal (2013-present) and True Blood (2008–2014). Completely different in tone and style, each of these shots, along with their distinct musical accompaniments, is designed to hook the audience and draw them into the television series, whether through the shock of Dexter’s mosquito swat, the hypnotic quality of the blood red swirls or the seductiveness of Everitt’s unsettling musical rhythms. These three sequences also introduce the audience to three completely different approaches to television horror. The opening title sequence, an area that has only recently come under scholarly scrutiny, serves as an entryway into the narrative. For such examples of television horror, however, it also serves to establish a series of expectations about the programme’s approach to the genre. The aim of this chapter is therefore to consider the role of the title sequence within contemporary television production contexts, but more importantly to examine how it serves to establish generic expectations for each series’ new aesthetic approach to the construction of horror.
Stacey Abbott

6. Cannibal Holocaust: The Paratextual (Re)construction of History

Cannibal Holocaust (1980), as a filmic text, is inseparable from the numerous discourses and dialogues that construct its cinematic history. Inherently controversial, the film’s extreme content instigated various scandals which have irrevocably impacted its understanding within the wider film discourse. Thus the text harbours numerous meanings, personas and characteristics while maintaining a series of externally acting reference points entrenched within differing social memoires. It is therefore impossible to fully understand Cannibal Holocaust without navigating and assessing these externally circulating agendas because they perform an important role in defining the film’s cultural image.
Simon Hobbs

From Spoiler to Fan Activist


7. From Angel to Much Ado: Cross-Textual Catharsis, Kinesthetic Empathy and Whedonverse Fandom

“Don’t give people what they want, give them what they need,” media auteur Joss Whedon has famously stated (Whedon in Robinson, 2011: 31). To fans of his many texts — from television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) to web series Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008), from graphic novel Fray (2003) to film Serenity (2005) — his principle of offering them what is necessary rather than what is desired has become a justification for emotionally destroying them by “killing” beloved characters, such as Buffs Joyce Summers and Serenity’s Hoban “Wash” Washburne, among others. Like real life, these character losses can be profoundly affective for viewers and take months or years for them to recover from. In some cases, gaping emotional wounds remain open for a fan’s lifetime. Unlike real life, the death of a character does not usually mean the death of an actor. As a result, it is striking that some fans have read across two of Whedon’s texts — one an original creation, one an adaptation — to create their own sense of catharsis and narrative resolution in the aftermath of two major characters’ deaths on the Buffy spin-off Angel (1999–2004), characters played by the same actors. To examine this occasion of cross-textual catharsis, I first provide a context for the relationship between Angel characters Winifred Burkle, played by Amy Acker, and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, played by Alexis Denisof.
Tanya R. Cochran

8. Location, Location, Location: Citizen-Fan Journalists’ “Set Reporting” and Info-War in the Digital Age

Recent work on popular media cultures has emphasised the growth in “film-induced tourism”, both on-location and off-location — that is, at theme parks (see Beeton, 2005). However, such work has typically focused on practices of fan pilgrimage, which follow on from the broadcast and consumption of specific media texts (see Hills, 2002). This approach is resolutely “post-textual” in terms of seeking to consider how some audiences re-enact favoured media images (see Kim, 2010), and thus it misses the significance of pre-textual audience engagements with popular media (Gray, 2010: 120), such as the advice for fans given above. In the case of pre-textual interactions with media space, fans enjoy following details of filming in miniscule detail, as well as staking out and visiting locations while filming is in progress, along with following reports and images of this filming disseminated online via social media and forums. Fans of popular media are thus no longer just reactive to official news of film and television franchises. Instead,
Matt Hills

9. Sherlock Holmes, the De Facto Franchise

In May 2012 The Guinness Book of World Records announced that
Having been depicted on screen 254 times… Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective, has been awarded a world record for the most portrayed literary human character in film & TV…Through a combination of films, television series, dramas and documentaries, Sherlock’s appearances beat the character of Shakespeare’s Hamlet by 48 portrayals to claim the record.
(see “Sherlock Holmes Awarded Title”, 2012)
Roberta Pearson

10. “Cultural Acupuncture”: Fan Activism and the Harry Potter Alliance

Written two decades apart, these statements by Fiske and Slack illustrate shifts in how fan activity connects the popular imagination and real-world politics. Both claim that fandom’s “sense of solidarity… [and] shared resistance” empowers individuals to make decisive steps towards collective action. Fiske sees fandom as an informal set of everyday practices and personal identities, while Slack describes organisations with institutional ties to NGOs. In Fiske’s view, participants’ fantasies shape how they see themselves and the world, while Slack describes a conscious rhetorical strategy mapping fictional content worlds onto
Henry Jenkins

Afterword: Studying Media with and without Paratexts

In my 2010 book Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts, I argue that we need to examine paratexts more, not as some odd exercise in completionism, whereby we could then proclaim triumphantly that we’d studied everything, even the “outskirts” of a text, but rather because paratexts are regularly constitutive, central and absolutely important. They are, in short, part of the text. Thus to ignore them and yet still feel comfortable about making a declaration regarding a text’s meaning, impact, power, effects or value would be an act akin to reading only the third and fourth chapters of a book and feeling that this suffices for a full analysis. Undoubtedly we can still engage in analysis with only part of the text in front of us. Indeed, it is a rare day when an analyst ever has access to the whole text, and we are instead always forced to analyse with only some of the picture. However, paratexts are as valuable a source of information about a text, and as important a site for the generation of text, as is the work itself. If we want to know about a text’s place in the world, after all, asking the work alone is as limiting as it would be to study a person’s legacy by consulting only that person. Texts can cast long shadows over society, and the sociocultural examination of textuality should be as much or more a process of sketching out these shadows, and hence of the text’s interaction with its environment, as it should be a process of studying the work itself.
Jonathan Gray


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