Week 6, Cult TV – Question Two

2. What role does Hills (2004) suggest fans play in the construction of cult TV? How is new media now central to this? Discuss with examples.

Hills suggests that with the constant development of new media, fans are able to play more important roles concerning the construction of cult TV. New media plays a more crucial role nowadays as it allows fans to feel more connected to something that they feel passionate about and this is evident in the roles fans played in relation to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other cult TV shows.

In Hills’ (2004) text, it was suggested that cult TV has a special relationship between the fans and viewers and the show itself, the media also plays an important role in that relationship (pg. 517). For example,  when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was airing on TV in the early 2000s, there would be time gaps between the dates each episode would air on TV. Those time gaps allowed fans of the show to have the opportunity to make up fan theories and predict what would possibly happen next in the show. (Hills, 2004, pg 518). There would be numerous ways for fans to talk about their favourite TV shows, there would be fan meetings and fan magazines just to name a few, available for that kind of discussion. Also, since technology and modern-day media were still in the early stages of developments during that time, for Buffy the Vampire Slayer in particular, “… fan-talk is the more significant mode of engagement here, rather than fan fiction” (Hills, 2004, pg 518). However, as media developed through the years, a lot of changes occurred in the way fans would participate and get themselves involved with cult TV fandoms as well as fandoms in general.

One small change which occurred, that relates to new media is that now, streaming platforms such as Netflix, release all the episodes of a show all in one go. A controversial example of this can be seen in the show 13 Reasons Why. By releasing everything all at once that opportunity to predict what happens in the next episode does not happen anymore. In 13 Reason Why’s, since the whole season is released at the same time, writers, producers, directors etc. get zero opportunity to hear any feedback from their target audience. That means that when they do finally hear about what the public thinks of their show, it may already be too late. For example, 13 Reason Why was heavily criticised for not having any trigger warnings since the show portrayed a lot of sensitive topics. As a result, a lot of viewers have had serious mental health issues since they had watched something extremely traumatic. But, due to the large outcry for no trigger warnings, the second season of the show did have those warnings, so though media has changed, the fan’s voices are still being heard. 

Another change which occurred was that there is a new wave of feminists craving a change in the way characters are portrayed in TV shows. Buffy was a character which “challenges the forces of gender stereotyping… Buffy kicks butt – and viewers rejoice… Clearly Buffy engages the social forces…” (Wilcox & Lavery, 2002, pg xviii). However, opinions and feminist views are something which is always changing to meet the needs of the current social and political standards of the time. So, while Buffy as a character can be considered as a feminist icon, it is very limited to the period the show aired in.

Another important change which also relates to new media is that a lot of the fan discussions went online and thus created an online participatory culture for fandoms. New media gives the public access to information as well as equip them with the ability to provide and create information. Additionally, new media allows people to communicate with a wider range of people at a more expansive reach. Henry Jenkins (2010) stated that with the help of new media, fans can have space online where they can communicate their opinions and creations within a fandom and mobilize their skills towards causes they care about (at 2:23min and at 17:20). Example of this can be seen with the fans of Game of Thrones. With the extreme popularity of the show and the books it is based on, fans have made their love for the show known on new media. There are numerous fan theories available on blogs, images of cosplay can be found on Instagram and fanfiction which are written by fans on websites such as fanfiction.net – where there are over 8,000 published! So, evidently, it can be said that with the help of new media, fans can be more involved in the construction of all kinds of fandoms including cult TV shows.

Hills, M. (2004). Defining Cult TV; Texts, inter-texts and fan audiences. In The Television Studies Reader (pp. 509-523).

TEDxNYED – Henry Jenkins – 03/06/10 [Video]. (2010, April 13). Retrieved August 24, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFCLKa0XRlw&feature=youtu.be

Wilcox, R & Lavery, D. (2002). Introduction. In Fighting  the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (pp xvii – xxix).

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