It’s Okay to Talk to Your TV

John Jannarone’s article, “When Twitter Fans Steer TV” instantly reminded me of a fraise my friends and I use, the “mirror”.  Whenever an act is made that reflects positively or negatively on a person’s true self and character, we advise them to consult a figurative mirror. By doing so they can better understand how they come across to others. Often the person being mirrored is offended by the accusation, but the purpose of the mirror is just to point out the observation for their self-awareness and motivate change. When among supportive friends it turns into a sort of game, but Jannarone suggests that active users of Twitter have turned what I call mirroring into a part of the social network lifestyle. He calls these specific members of the digital community, the “Twitterati”, and they mirror broadcast media. The Twitterati are dedicated followers for not just individual people but even their favorite television shows. However, Twitterati are less focused on social politeness and more so on aiding producers with maintaining a script and plot that best pleases them as the audience.

In Jannarone’s example of the Vampire Diaries, the Twitterati are a unique niche culture of followers with a passion for the supernatural. Twitter allows the Vampire Diaries’ audience to come together as a community and join in conversation to discuss the powers and limitations of vampires, as if they were professionals with accomplished field research. When a situation had arisen in which a vampire named Katherine’s inability to enter a house uninvited was possibly overlooked, the Twitterati took it amongst them selves to mirror the writers and producers with the hopes that the mistake would be corrected. For half of the third season Twitter followers harassed Vampire Diaries Twitter handle until finally an episode aired which explained the house was previously owned by vampires and thus any vampire could come and go as they pleased, satisfying vampire lore.

Jannarone points out there is no correlation between the volume of social media comments and the size of the audience, so why should the producers listen to the Tweets? As a Vampire Diaries viewer myself, I am still going to be tuning in October 11th even though I begged the writers to kill off Alana too many seasons ago. The one positive remark towards the Twitterati’s frequent mirror that Jannarone draws to the reader’s attention comes from a quote by Matt Corman, a creator and executive producer for “Covert Affairs”. “Fans who watch the show can become grass-roots organizers for the show, ” Corman says. “In politics they say don’t ignore your base.” Showing that Jannarone believes it is important to keep the followers support without actually caring for their commentary. I guess when CW says that their shows are “TV to talk about,” Jannarone would argue they don’t actual want to know what you have to say.

Even though Jannarone’s article is evidence toward the interactive experience social media has become, his interview with Brad Falchuk of Glee only further sets the tone to a feeling of general insignificance towards the Twitterati community. “Mr. Falchuk says he would prefer viewers keep focused on his show while it airs, rather than posting comments simultaneously,” says Jannarone. However Falchuk and Jannarone are disregarding the enhancement Live Tweeting has brought to television watching. Why else would “Comments posted on Twitter and other social-media websites about television shows have exploded in the past year, to 75.5 million in July from 8.8 million a year earlier”? Even if it is a lot of the same people doing the tweeting, a benefit aside from strengthening the fan base is to help make the shows better. Perhaps Falchuk does not realize all he could learn from live Tweets. Writers can better learn how the audience will react to different events and situations as they are accruing. They can see what makes their audience laugh, what makes them sad, and most importantly what makes them come back next week for a new episode. As Boyd and Ellison would bring to attention, this is the amount of “rich sources of naturalistic behavioral data” they talk about in their work, “Social Network Sites: Deffinition, History, and Scholarship”. I’m not saying the Twitterati should have control of the show, but by listening to what they have to say and making the few changes here and there to cater to their desires and questions could absolutely help boost ratings.

This influence on the television watching experience is a perfect example of what Nancy Baym refers to as social shaping: how we as a society influence technology but also develop with it. Television watching is becoming influenced by the co-production between what Twitter allows users to do and what users want to use it for. Baym says, “People, technologies, and institutions all have power to influence the development of technology.” If Falchuk was a better businessman he would be less nostalgic and more focused on how he can cater to his audience because they are literally tweeting the answer. Michael Wesch, creator of “An Anthropological Introduction to Youtube” would probably suggest a little “participant observation” to every writer and producer too skeptical of the Twitterati empowerment. They will realize that these members of the Twitterati are not simply blogging to themselves are talking to the unknown with the hopes that someone will hear. They are actually looking to influence change.

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