A starting point

So our last little discussion about the material from LOST got me thinking, and that ended up becoming the seed for a research plan.

What if there’s a demonstrable relationship between the growth of online fan-based communities and the level of plot sophistication which serialized television dramas can sustain? Have we achieved the point where television shows can in effect rely on the supportive documentation of wikis and fan sites and community message forums discussing the popular conceptions from the shows involved? In a culture where the phrase “Google it.” has been added to the dictionary, I’m inclined to think yes, but to approach this as a topic for research… there’s many steps to take between the germ of the idea and the generation of the paper.

And it starts by firing up our trusty Zotero interface and going to town on the popular web to start trying to find out what has already been done or said around the topic.  What’s out there first is always the best place to start, but getting to that place certainly requires effort.

So today I did a brief lunchtime at work search on Technorati. I searched for ‘serial television’, and the top blog result was the blog of Henry Jenkins, co-founder of the MIT Comparative Media Studies program. With a post about Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives.

Since I’m already over on my lunch break, I’ll cut this way short. Yes, Virginia, there is an entire sub-field of interactive communications which is already branching out into the various ways that different media are converging (beyond just the ‘put it all in one box/one remote’ aspect of convergence).  But the wicked cool thing (this is MIT we’re talking about, Bostonian colloquialisms allowed) is that in the well-written post on Vast Narratives are links, names, and notables, as well as relevant subject matter.

Academic hole-in-0ne. First search term. First search engine. First result on the search. Credible academic resource with hyperlinks to others within the field AND references to textual materials on the same subject.

Research was odd enough in school. I’m actually looking forward to working on this outside of the walls of the ivory tower, to try and see just how far the net alone can bring me.


2 Responses to “A starting point”

  1. Alex H. Says:

    Lots of interesting questions wrapped up in that:

    1. Yours: Do “support communities” allow for more intricate narratives, less “chunking” of episodes? BSG and Lost are the prime examples, although there are others. I think the resigning of Dollhouse probably adds another layer to this–obsessive fan communities seem to be under-represented by the Nielsen numbers because these folks are more likely to DVR or Hulu their viewing.

    2. Is their a new aesthetic for television, brought about by a cognitive attitude toward media that requires more complexity. This is the Steven Johnson article.

    3. Maybe life is more complex, and so this is reflected in our distractions. That is, the narratives of the 80s (when we were engaged in a battle with the Evil Empire, and greed was good), extended to our entertainment. Today’s narratives (not clear who the good guys and bad guys are–and they seem to regularly change place, there are multiple existential threats, we lack a uniform moral narrative, we change work and family contexts more frequently) is reflected in our television programming.

    You might also be interested in this paper by @jmittell:


  2. Adam Pacio Says:

    Hey Alex, thanks for the great next steps. I wasn’t ignoring your comment, but it ended up in my spam filter for some reason. While cleaning it out today I noticed your reply. Now I’ll have to revisit this topic once I get myself through the current article series I’m writing (Demystifying the Interactive Process).

    And good points all and sundry above. Maybe I’ll have time to do the research offline.

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