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“It’s always an imagined audience”

August 23, 2011

So last lecture we spoke about tastes and fans and ways of imagining audiences and the terms used when talking about audiences. I’m going to attribute the above quote to Brian, as I haven’t cited anyone else in my notes, and I think it is a particularly good quote. Audiences are imagined by advertisers, commercial broadcasters, producers and the like before a show is even put to air, and said show is designed to appeal to a certain audience’ tastes. There are a number of terms that are generally used/thought of when talking about audiences, including the word fans. I’ll come back to that dreaded word in a second though. First, I’m going to remind myself how perceptions of audiences have changed throughout the years.

People used to believe that audiences were quite a passive bunch, believing whatever they’d see on TV, and that TV had this dangerous, persuasive power. The media effects theory was in full swing, and audiences were in serious ‘danger’ of being ‘brainwashed’. The Bobo dolls experiment was seen as proof of this. You know, show a kid a violent(ish) film, stick it in a room with a bat and a bobo doll, it will attack the doll? Sounds totally legitimate.

Of course, this couldn’t last forever (well, maybe it could have, but didn’t). In the 1980’s, reception studies were conducted, looking into how audiences read or made sense of television, and it turns out they were a lot smarter than originally given credit for. Audiences were pronounced to be active.

Now, what I’m talking about here is probably about as simplified as all this can get. Audiences had a certain complexity about their viewing schedule. Yes, they’d tune in to their favourite shows, but all according to their tastes, and even then they could pick things apart if they wanted, critique it and praise it.

Now I get back to fans. As pointed out in the lecture, the actual word ‘fan’ carries a certain stigma – an hysterical, over-enthusiastic person who is scarily obsessive about their show. Maybe for some people, that is true (Justin Bieber fans, for example, or Twilight fans, the really hardcore ones you see on TV and the internet, scare the bejeezus out of me) but in a lot of cases, maybe this is an unfair label to stick on someone (I’m sure not all Twilight fans would run up to Robert Pattinson and ask him to bite their necks). The group who are most traditionally seen to put the ‘fan’ into ‘fanatic’ however, are the group known as Trekkies. Star Trek fans. What other fanbase have had a documentary made about them?

I like Star Trek. It’s probably one of my favourite franchises. I know the stereotypical fan that you see depicted in popular culture (such as below) exist, but I’m not one of them. And I love it when I see things like that Family Guy clip, or there was a similar take off in Futurama. I can laugh at these caricatures, and I find it hilarious.

Now, I myself have actually been subject to a little of the ridicule that comes from being a Star Trek fan from one of my friends. I would like to point out first and foremost that I have not, and never will, dress up in the uniform and wear a pair of pointed ears. If, and that is a big if, I were to attend a convention, it would be to possibly meet an actor such as Patrick Stewart, who is an amazing talent without Star Trek on his resume. However, because I love the series and movies, I am a nerd, my friend laughs, and she delights in telling me Star Trek sucks whenever I chance to mention it. This is coming from someone who never bothered to sit down and watch a single episode, nor will she even watch the J.J  Abrams adaptation of 2009, which is a great film and does not require any kind of knowledge of the Star Trek universe.

Am I sounding bitter? I don’t really mean to, but sometimes I can’t help getting annoyed and will often try to defend Trek.  This is where it comes down to taste – its what helps us form part of our ‘social identity’ (lecture again, but I agree totally). For instance, I’d define myself as a sci-fi fan, because I like Star Trek, Doctor Who and Star Wars. But sometimes, people will discriminate, in a way, against others because of their taste. My friend does it to me, and I do it to her as well (I try not to, but I can’t help it). She hates those three shows I just mentioned, and she also doesn’t share my love for Jane Austen. I try to argue the point by saying she hasn’t watched those shows/movies, and has only read one Austen, but she’s very stubborn. For myself, I can’t understand why she finds Rob Schneider movies funny and gasp in horror over the fact that she can’t stand my beloved Jane. In other points though, our tastes are quite similar. We both love Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, and find Monty Python hilarious. We’ve learnt to be quite cautious when suggesting new shows or books to each other!

As you may have seen above, I’m developing quite a bad outlook on fans of Bieber and Twilight. I’m trying to remind myself that some people probably quite innocently enjoy Biebers music or Stephanie Meyers books. There was even a time when I thought the Twilight saga wasn’t a bad read. Then I read them a second time and quickly decided never to look at them again.  Taste discrimination is everywhere. When it comes to TV or any kind of culture though, its difficult or unfair to say what is good and what is bad, especially in such a subjective and individual field.

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