Addicted to Passion

Performances of Fan Audiencehood in Italian Networked Publics [pdf]

1) Introduction

In the last decade, the Internet has evolved from a text based to a multimedia and visual communication technology [Nakamura 2007]. It was also during this time that the Web reached a broad public and that social media as web forum, blog, Social Network Site and Video Sharing Site became popular among youth. The current youth generation is therefore growing up in a networked public culture [Ito 2008] where the relationship between author/audience and the boundaries between private/public [Lange 2008] should be described not as a dichotomy but as a complex fractal shape [Appadurai 1996]. Those technological and social changes are affecting the way youth consume media products, construct their individual biography and participate in the peer cultures. In fact social media are public and semi-public spaces that youth use to keep in contact with friends (hanging out), experiment new form of learning and self-expression (messing around) and connect with like-minded people in interest-driven networks (geeking out) [Ito et al 2008].

2) Participation in Networked Publics

The participation in the networked public culture require a strategic self presentation [Robinson 2007, Stern 2008] that allow youth to maintain the presence in the online social realm [Baron 2007] and exercise self-control and self-discovery [Hinduja 2008]. Therefore youth use Social Network Site [boyd & Ellison 2007] to socialize with their peers [boyd 2007, Livingstone 2008], increase their social capital and augment their self-esteem [Ellison et al 2007]. Thus hanging out practices in the networked publics are part of the everyday communication between peers already known in the local community. However youth with a particular interest can use social media to find specialized information and built relationship with fellow geeks. It is the case of fans, media consumers with an intense engagement with a particular celebrity, program or genre, that share their passion with like minded people participating in the construction of audience communities of practice [Baym 2000, Jenkins 2006]. In particular, since the birth of Internet, fans create Usenet newsgroup and mailing list to discuss, pool perspectives and share knowledge, performing their fan audiencehood for a public of lurkers [Hills 2002]. However the recent socio-technical changes affected the form of the online fandom that evolved from a site-based community to a networked collectivism organized around one or multiple texts and distributed throughout a variety of online and offline sites [Baym 2007].

3) Ethnographic research on Italian television fandom

In this paper I will describe the methodology and the first results of an ethnographic research on Italian television fandom. The aim of this research is to explore the individual and collective dimensions of the youth participation in the Italian mediascape. I’ve decided to focus on the fandom related to the American television serial because of the relevance of this media genre for the Italian young generation, in particular for the people who were adolescent in the 1990s [Scaglioni 2006].

During an explorative research on Italian television fandom I‘ve observed the emergence of a networked collectivism of amateur experts [Baym 2008] that performs their competence and their passion publishing tertiary texts as fansite (web portal, forum, blog and SNS), fanart (video remix, userbar, avatar, wallpaper, …), fanfiction and fansubs. In order to study the individual and collective performances in the fractal social space of the media cultures, I’ve decided to combine a multi-sited participant-observation with the content analyses of the texts published by fans during their participation in the networked publics (personal profiles, online conversation and tertiary text). Due to the complex structure of the networked collectivism I chose to focus on the most entrepreneurs fan groups, finally identifying the ::Italian Subs Addicted:: community as case study to explore (i) the emergence of specialized interest group in the networked publics and (ii) the role of the fandom in the individual biography of youth.

4) itasiani: a collective performance of fandom

ITASA is the biggest Italian community of fansubbing: a demanding and time-consuming social practice that involve a team of amateur experts in the collaborative translation of English subtitles. The main site of the community is a web portal[1] with a forum. It was created in the 2005 by a team of subbers with the aim of sharing the subs and discussing about the serials with the users. During the last three years around the portal has been growing a community of more than 120.000 users and a staff of more than 200 people that translate and manage the subtitle (Senior, Subber, Subber Junior, Syncher, Publisher), administrate the web portal (Admin) and moderate the forum (Moderator). The staff product not only the fansubs of 250 serials, anime and movies, but also a television program (SpoilerTV) and a magazine (ITASA Magazine). The staff formally distinguish itself from the users, which can became subber just after a strict selection. This is to maintain the quality of their media products and differentiate themselves from other Italian fan groups and from the professional translators, which have less subcultural capital.

The collective identity of the itasiani (as they define themselves) emerges during the ongoing interaction between the staff and the users on the forum and on other online platforms where they publish official material and create groups or collective profiles (La3tv[2], Qoob[3] and Facebook[4]). The itasiani ironically perform themselves as a generational audiencehood of addicted that, growing up watching tv serials, acquired not only the dependence to the media but also the subcultural capital for a competent analysis and the passion that motivate them to produce tertiary text.

During the participant-observation on the forum of ITASA I’ve observed the emergence of special interest subgroups that sometimes evolve in tight relationships maintained throw different channels as offline meetings an online interactions. In particular I’ve identified the subgroup The L addicted, a single-fandom group that emerge around the tv serial The L word, and the Itasian Family, a multi-fandom group that emerge on a discussion thread created as a Role Play Game.

5) Future Work

In my future work I will address the second dimension of the study, that is the role of the fandom in the individual biography of youth. I will therefore comparatively analyze the online performances with the biographical interview that I will conduct with the most participative members of ITASA.

6) References

Appadurai, A. (1996) Modernity At Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Baron, N.S. (2007) My Best Day: Presentation of Self and Social Manipulation in Facebook and IM. Paper presented at Internet Research 8.0. Vancouver, British Columbia October 17-20, 2007. http://www.american.edu/tesol/My%20Best%20Day.pdf

Baym, N. K. (2000). Tune in, Log on: Soap, fandom, and online community. Tousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Baym, N. K. (2007). The new shape of online community: The example of Swedish independent music fandom. First Monday, 12 (8).

Baym, N. K. and Burnett, R. (2008 ) Amateur experts: International fan labor in Swedish independent music. Paper Prepared for Internet Research, 9.0, Copenhagen, Denmark. October, 2008. http://www.onlinefandom.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/amateurexperts.pdf

boyd, d. (2007) Why youth (heart) social network sites. The role of networked publics in teenage social life. In Buckingham D. (a cura di) Identity. MacArthur Foundation. http://www.danah.org/papers/WhyYouthHeart.pdf.

boyd, d., Ellison, N. (2007) Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. In Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), Art. 11. Disponibile come documento elettronico all’indirizzo http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/boyd.ellison.html.

Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007) The benefits of Facebook “friends:” Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. In Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4), Art. 1. http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol12/issue4/ellison.html.

Hills, M. (2002) Fan Cultures. London: Routledge.

Hinduja, S. Patchin, J.W. (2008 ) Personal information of adolescents on the Internet: A quantitative content analysis of MySpace. Journal of Adolescence 31, 125–146.

Ito, M. (2008 ) Networked Publics: Introduction. In Kazys Varnelis (ed), Networked Publics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. http://www.itofisher.com/mito/ito.netpublics.pdf

Ito, M., Horst, H., Bittanti, M., boyd, d., Herr-Stephenson, B., Lange, P. G., Pascoe, C.J. and Robinson, L. (2008 ) Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning, November 2008.

Jenkins, H. (2006) Fans, Blogger, and Gamers. Exploring Participatory Cultures. New York: New York Univesity.

Lange, P.G. (2008 ) Publicly Private and Privately Public: Social Networking on YouTube. In Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13, 361-380.

Livingstone, S. (2008 ) Taking risky opportunities in youthful content creation: teenagers’ use of social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression. In New Media & Society 10(3): 393-411.

Nakamura, L. (2007) Digitizing Race. Visual Cultures of the Internet. University Of Minnesota Press.

Robinson, L. (2007) The cyberself: the self-ing project goes online, symbolic interaction in the digital age. In New Media & Society 9(1), 93-110.

Scaglioni, M. (2006) Tv di culto. La serialità televisiva americana e il suo fandom. Milano: Vita e Pensiero.

Stern, S. (2008 ) Producing Sites, Exploring Identities: Youth Online Authorship. In Buckingham D. (ed.) Youth, Identity, and Digital Media. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 95-117.


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