Dissertation Series: Chapter 2: The Power of Convergence in Fan Communities

Of all the theorists explored so far, none have provided a complete vision or explanation for how and why participatory and convergence culture has become so important in shaping society in the Internet age. For this reason the work of Henry Jenkins stands out as being by far the most complete body of work in the fields of both convergence and participatory culture. Jenkins has been working for twenty- years, writing and exploring convergence and participatory culture. With his first

book in Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture (Jenkins, 1992), Jenkins began looking at how fans congregate together to form communities with common interests and how fan communities influence the decision making of media companies.

Over time the issues the Star Trek fan community were concerned about have changed, subgroups of fans within the Star Trek fan community demanded that social issues be confronted. Mirroring the debates within society at large a group called

‘Gaylaxians’ wished to highlight the position of gay rights in the Star Trek TV series. The group felt having gay and lesbian characters included in Star Trek: The Next Generation (year and producer) would support character development. ‘Gaylaxians’ wanted the issue to be addressed by Star Trek because they saw other TV series at the time including openly homosexual characters for the first time, as Jenkins



We expected Star Trek to do it because we expected more of Star Trek than other series”, one fan explained. They (Star Trek Fans) found other series—LA Law, Heartbeat, Thirtysomething, Quantum Leap, Northern Exposure, Days of Our Lives, Roseanne—opening up new possibilities for homosexual characters on network television, while their program could only hint around the possibility that there might be some other forms of Viagra sexuality out there (Jenkins, 2006b, p. 95).



When the writers failed to live up to the expectations of the Gaylaxians, the group launched a campaign to have their views addressed. Once again an active and engaged audience was able to influence the stance of the creative team in charge of the series, changing their position. And by the fifth series of the next generation the Gaylaxians finally got what they were looking for, before the series started the studio issued a statement: ‘In the fifth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, viewers will see


more of shipboard life in some episodes, which will, among other things, include gay crewmembers in day-to-day circumstances’ (ibid, p.100). By coming together and acting as a united group fan communities are able to influence change for both niche interests and also the larger community. Due to its large popularity the Star Trek fan culture is able to influence decisions. The impact of Star Trek is difficult to overstate, in one notable example, the pressure exerted by fans of the series resulted in one of

NASA’s Space Shuttles being named after the iconic ship from the series Enterprise1


even US President Obama has on occasion greeted people with the Star Trek Vulcan hand gesture2. Star Trek has evolved into something far more than just a television series. For the show to gain this level of popularity and cultural significance requires it to have a very different relationship with the viewing audience over other more

typical shows of the time period. The series has evolved by not being fixed to just one media type or chained to the singular medium of television.  As Jenkins (Jenkins,

2006b) notes, the relationship between the audience and the content can undergo evolution if the content doesn’t have a fixed type. If the content can transcend one media type and become more fluid new possibilities emerge:


The relationship between readers, institutions, and texts is not fixed but fluid. That relationship changes over time, constantly shifting in relation to the ever-changing balance of power between these competing forces (Jenkins, 2006b, p. 112).


If seemingly specific and singular media is able spread across different platforms, how does this influence translate for audiences?



2.1 Demands of modern Audiences


As new technologies and media resources have emerged, the delivery of media content on offer has become faster and more convenient. These new delivery systems give consumers new ways to watch, listen and read content over the Internet.  Jenkins raises an important point about easy access to lots of different types of media on the internet, through services like Netflix and Spotify. This trend of centralizing disparate

media is an emerging phenomenon as Jenkins observes, ‘economic trends favoring the


1 For further information visit

[Accessed 02/04/2013]

2 For a detailed account of President Obama’s ‘Vulcan’ hand gesture visit: [Accessed 02/04/2013] [Accessed 02/04/2013]


horizontally integrated media conglomerates encourage the flow of images, ideas, and narratives across multiple media channels’ (Jenkins, 2006b, p. 136).


Despite these new, easier ways to access the content, this has not stopped large media conglomerates from centralizing copyrighted content. Television networks, music labels, Book publishers, Print based news media, film studios and videogames publishing companies and developers, are all becoming centralized. According to (Chalaby, 2000) the mainstream American TV Networks have become heavily influenced by large entertainment company takeovers such as those by Disney and Time Warner. An interesting twist however, is the main delivery system for the media companies that have also empowered fans to start networking together on a greater level than ever before. On the Internet, fans can network to create what Pierre Levy calls ‘collective intelligence’, as Jenkins emphasizes:

As citizens more fully realize the potentials of the new media environment. Rejecting technological or economic determinism, Levy sees contemporary society as caught in a transitional moment, the outcome of which is still unknown, but which has enormous potentials for transforming existing structures of knowledge and power (Jenkins, 2006b, p. 136).


This transitional moment come at a time when the Internet was becoming more powerful, due to the deployment of broadband and high-speed networks. While fan communities were already generating collaborative networks for sharing information, opinions and ideas, the internet has opened niche groups to new frontiers that were until this point limited by physical barriers. Japanese Anime is one example of an active and fan base convergence, participating together online, to create a large fan community, this type of expansion and increased cultural visibility is driven by the Internet, Jenkins has argued that, ‘Japanese fans collaborate with American

consumers to ensure the underground circulation of these cultural products and to


explain cultural references, genre traditions, and production histories’ (ibid, p. 141).




This exchange of information opens up new opportunities for learning new language skills and helps new members gain a better understanding of the wider world of Anime. Anime fans driven by the desire to understand the original content coming from Japanii. As the fan communities move and converge on the Internet, new social patterns become possible. Instead of being limited to being with friends and neighbors in the physical world, fan communities can network with other like-minded


individuals with far greater scope and speed compared to anything the real world has to offer. Furthermore, when fans from across many different backgrounds come together, these fans start participating together to shape and create content for the community they become part of: ‘Now, fans may interact daily, if not hourly, online. Geographically isolated fans can feel much more connected to the fan community and home-ridden fans enjoy a new level of acceptance’ (Jenkins, 2006b, p. 142).

As fan communities expand and grow by making use of the tools available to them online, legal issues may start to limit their creative potential. The issue of copyright being a primary example of these conflicts caused by having active fans creating content about the culture of the television shows and films they watch. Media companies then are faced with a difficult choice in deciding how to address this issue. On the one hand there is the commercial element that wishes to ensure no money is being made from fan activities. Conflicting with this is the desire to allow the audience to remain engaged and active with the content, this helps prolong the lifespan of films, books, comics and videogames and increases the awareness of the content in the public domain, at little cost to the media company. One company that has been praised for its stance on copyright is videogames developer and publisher Valve. Valve has made changes to their video game TF2 to encourage players and fans of the game to contribute to the game directly. Valve provided the tools for the

community to contribute user-generated content into Mann Co.iii an in-game store to


expand on the original content that the game first included. Moore observes the significance of this:

Games developers have typically resisted such individualization, limiting players to preconfigured uniforms in order to maximize standardization in the highly competitive gaming environment. The addition of hats in TF2 has attracted new players, reinvigorated veterans and invited significant contribution in the form of user-generated content (Moore, 2011, p. 1-14).


Results of this convergence of crossover and hybrid cultures forming, occurs as individual fans move between different fan communities and bring their opinions. These views and creative vision to shape new outcomes for content generation in new groups. Content creation may not be limited to just one media type, fans may use different social media platforms to play, create and share content they’ve created with different nationalities and interest groups.


2.2 New ways to Share on the Internet


Sharing content online has led to the development of websites such as Facebook and Twitter. Social media websites have in turn become platforms on which fans share content, and by making use of social media fan communities, gain new opportunities to attract members and become more mainstream as Hanna Rohm Crittenden has



Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Digg, SCVNGR, YouTube, and numerous others have begun to revolutionize the state of marketing, advertising, and promotions. These social media have transformed the Internet from a platform for information, to a platform for influence (Crittenden, 2011 p. 265-273).


As powerful as Facebook and Twitter are, they are only as useful as information that is being distributed through them. Fan communities now use picture sharing websites like Instagram or Pinterest to share images. Then there is the video focused social media sites such as Viddy, and blogging social media sites such as Tumblr. Each of these smaller networks is not like Facebook and Twitter, the networks are more focused on niche groups, to achieve this the social networks use their own unique design or theme. Instagram for example uses customised photographic filters to style images taken with Smartphone cameras which encourages a wider populist community, this point is further emphasized by Jenkins, he writes:


As social media has facilitated audience behaviours that were once considered niche or fringe to become commonplace and mainstream, innovative producers (such as Kim Moses) and marketers (such as Campfire) have established new relationships with their audiences using practices that were once only considered for the fans of cult media (Jenkins, 2013 p. 148).


If we define media content as being spreadable as Jenkins sees it, then itis the speed at which content is shared and moved across social media platforms over short periods

of time that has enabled the objects to gain popularity and become viral. On YouTube recently there are threads to support this idea, phenomenon’s like PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ and most recently Baauer’s‘Harlem Shake’ have amassed very large following in a very short period of time. At the time of writing, the number of people who have seen Gangnam Style stands at 1,471,630,742, iv while the Harlem Shake has


Social media and the Internet has also increased the speed at which media content becomes something more meaningful than circulation or viewing figures alone, and some cases, part of modern western culture itself. The best example of this transition is disucussed in chapter one is Star Trek, it is now so ingrained within western culture that everyone from US presidents to space agencies have been influenced by the

series in some way, shape or form. Star Trek is a good example of how a television series can become a cultural object due to human and technological interaction occurring over a period of time. TF2 may not be as large as Star Trek in terms of popularity, but within the community generated by the game it has still inspired counterculture videos on YouTube, and also soundboards based on the characters, participatory and convergence culture has as I have discussed led to the fans directly contributing in the videogame itself. This then asks a question of what we might define as being a meaningful level of audience engagement with content, what makes it worthwhile for media companies to create and produce new TV shows and movies? In the Internet age, can traditional TV production companies still make use of the Nielsen rankings system as a reliable guide to audience engagement with the content they produce, and is this type of audience engagement evaluation still relevant? Moreover official ratings systems cannot account for unofficial viewing practices

such as Torrent users, this point is not lost on Jenkins:


If all these viewers [torrent users and Nielsen viewers] were counted equally, some cancelled or soon-to-be-cancelled series would become television-network hits. Heroes, for example, had 6,580,000 illegal downloads for a single episode, as compared to 5,900,000 legal viewers (the Nielsen number the show was hovering around at that time). Meanwhile, a hit such as Lost had 6,310,000 illegal views per episode, in addition to its 11,050,000 legal viewers (Jenkins, 2013 p. 113).


(Jenkins, 2006a, p. 94) explores the trans-media world of Matrix films (1999-2003) how, from franchise of films, led a variety of different new media types have been createdvi. With the new possibilities provided by new interactive technologies such as connected televisions and modern Smart-phones. The participation of consumers using these devices is a key component in convergence culture:

Allowing consumers to interact with media under controlled circumstances is one thing; allowing them to participate in the production and distribution of cultural

goods on their own terms and something else altogether (Jenkins, 2006a, p. 131 -169)


If we are to describe this idea using the terms used in Actor Network Theory, it is possible to see the presence of a human and nonhuman actor. Convergence culture is not limited to just cultural objects. The effects of convergence is also felt in the


political arena where candidates standing for election now use the web to raise campaign funds and spread political awareness in the community. During the 2008 election, Barack Obama used social media to great effect. Television networks also used social media outlets such as YouTube to directly engage with the candidates. The very first interactive video debates were held in this campaign. They were so successful that they have been the blueprint for similar campaigns seen in the Irish elections of 2010 and again US presidential elections of 2012. By providing interactive tools to allow the American electorate to participate with the candidates a greater level of audience engagement has been achieved than previously possible.


Depending on the nature and the need of the fan community, each member of a community produces content based on a certain consensus. This allows marginalized groups in society to alter the media content to their needs, which can also be seen as a form of empowerment. But fans exert pressure on media to change, finding new ways to mediate between the original content and their own interpretation of what the content should be. The gap in between these two provides a space for imagination and creativity to grow and prosper.


As previously discussed this is demonstrated best by increasing fan made productions of content due to new media technologies opening up the boundaries between content producers, distributors, and users and fan communities. Jenkins makes it clear that the production of media content is undergoing a moment of revolution. This has always been contended, but it is only visible now that the Internet has allowed fan communities to become more mainstream in popular culture. Jenkins makes it very clear that it is all about meaning, the interaction with any form of medium, especially when it is for entertainment purposes.

To understand the effects on a particular medium, Jenkins argues that we should focus on the side where meaning is produced, and what audience participation does to change the medium. In Chapter three, I will explore this by looking at the video game (TF2) and how it has changed over time by the audience (players) taking part in the creative process of making content for the game.