All media theory makes assumptions about the nature of the media audience. In some cases, those assumptions emerge through introspection or through reading audiences as if they were products of formal and ideological structures of texts or through borrowing models from psychology or... Audience research seeks to directly engage with empirical audiences in order to better factor their experiences and perspectives into its accounts. In my opinion, what is important about audience research is not necessarily its ability to arrive at some truth, since it still reads the audience through some theoretical framework which makes some aspects visible but may blind us to others, but it opens up a dialogue between researchers and audiences and, if done well, forces us to be more accountable for the claims that we make about media consumption and interpretation.

I offered an overview of the methods and theoretical models surrounding audience research, at least as they are applied to cinema, in "Reception Theory and Audience Research: The Mystery of the Vampire's Kiss", which appeared in Christine Gledhill and Linda Williams (eds.), Reinventing Film Theory. Here, I use Thelma and Louise as a case study for examining how audience researches have looked at aspects of the text, contexts of reception, and interpretive communities to map the reception process, and end with some ideas about how what we learn from fan communities might inform academic criticism.

Anyone who wants to better understand my own approach to audience research might start with two lengthy published conversations, one with Taylor Harrison, which first appeared in Enterprise Zones, and the other with Matt Hills, which was published in Intensities. Across these two conversations, I try to contextualize my fan studies research and deal with the academic and personal stakes in researching the audience. The Intensities dialogue represents an exchange between two generations of fan researchers on such topics as the impact of media convergence on fan culture, the relationship between fandom and academia, the problematic analogy between fandom and religion, the value of psychoanalysis for discussing fan cultures, and the challenges of writing about and documenting the affective dimensions of fandom.

I have been an active television and cult media fan for more than two decades, well before I entered academic life. When I first began studying media in graduate school, I was enormously frustrated with academic representations of media consumption, because their vision of isolated, passive, and ideologically vulnerable consumers were so at odds with my highly social, engaged, empowered, and creative experiences as a fan. I often joke that I got tired of being told to get a life and decided to write a book instead. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture was that book -- an attempt to map fandom as an interpretive and creative community actively appropriating the content of television for its own pleasures. My work drew heavily on ideas from Michel DeCerteau's The Practice of Everyday Life and was informed by my mentor, John Fiske, whose ideas about media audiences are best represented in his book, Television Culture. Nothing prepared me for the response to Textual Poachers either within the academy, where it is still widely taught more than a decade after its original publication, within fandom itself, where passages of the book routinely surface as signature lines on e-mail, or in journalism, where the book has helped to reshape the ways reporters cover the fan community. I am now in negotiations with Routledge to develop an expanded and updated new addition of the book to deal with the ways that fandom has changed over the past decade as a result of networked computing and media convergence.

"Interactive Audiences?, which will first appear in xx, maps some of those changes and suggests some new directions in my own thinking about fandom. Here, I draw on Pierre Levy's Collective Intelligence to describe the links between affect, knowledge, and community in a media environment that has facilitated new kinds of interactions between fans, producers, and texts and where industry operates on an assumption of an active and potentially collaborative consumer.
"The Poachers and the Stormtroopers: Popular Culture in the Digital Age", which first appeared on Red Rock Eater News and more recently has been expanded and translated into French for publication in xx, offered another take on the changing status of fans, exploring contradictory responses to fan culture from a media industry eager to absorb aspects of fan aesthetics but uncomfortable with the image of a grassroots community of cultural producers whose use of its intellectual property can not be adequately policed. The issue of fandom and intellectual property law also surfaces in "Digital Land Grab," which was published in Technology Review.

In my "Foreward" to Kurt Lancaster's Interacting With Babylon 5, I explore what performance studies might contribute to our understanding of this new fan culture, looking at the ways that media producers are creating new spaces for fans to interact with and participate within the fictional worlds of their programs. "Fandom, the New Identity Politics," which appeared in Harpers, explores the political dimensions of contemporary fan culture, drawing parallels between fan politics and debates among queer activists, and urging us to think in new ways about what might be described as categories of cultural preference. Both of these essays deal with the issue of people dressing up and performing the parts of fictional characters, albeit from very different theoretical perspectives.

Textual Poachers has often been read as a book about Star Trek fans. Perhaps this is because my very first essay on fan fiction, "Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten", which first appeared in Studies in Mass Communication, dealt with Star Trek as its primary case study. In fact, Textual Poachers dealt with the female fanzine community, which cuts across many different media products. It was not intended either as a study of Star Trek fans per se nor a totalizing account of fandom, but a specific case study of a fan community. To make this point, I followed up Textual Poachers with a book that did deal with Star Trek fans, Science Fiction Audiences: Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Their Followers, which I co-authored with John Tulloch. In my sections of the book, I tried to demonstrate the ways three different fan communities -- male MIT students, female fanzine writers, and the members of a queer fan club -- interacted with Star Trek. Each group took something different from their encounter with the series, depending on, among other things, their understandings of science fiction as a genre, their existing interests and fantasies, and their forms of social interaction and cultural production. Of the case studies in the book, "Out of the Closet and Into the Universe: Queers and Star Trek" has been the most widely reprinted and the most influential. It is an example of what John Hartley calls "Intervention Analysis" in which the academic researcher joins forces with the media audience for an activist purpose. In this case, I wanted to lend my support to a letter-writing campaign which wanted to see a gay, lesbian, or bisexual character included on the television program as a reflection of its historic commitment to the acceptance of diversity.

Shaping Science Fiction Audiences was the idea that fandom constituted an interpretive community or, more accurately, communities. Interpretive communities are social groups which share similar intellectual resources and patterns of making meaning. With interpretive communities, meanings are debated and over time, some loose consensus emerges. There is, of course, never total agreement, but there appears to be some agreement about what kinds of disagreements can be tolerated and which ones throw you beyond the parameters of a particular group. Interpretive communities become especially visible in net discourse when they collide with each other, producing flame wars. Flame wars occur on fan lists, I argue, where the core assumptions which are taken for granted by individual participants are too much at odds with each other to be tolerated, forcing them to be dealt with in more explicit and often more impassioned ways.

Through the years, I have developed a number of case studies of specific fandoms that might be read as interpretive communities, trying to offer detailed accounts of the process of their interpretive activities and how their interpretations of specific programs fit within the larger context of their lives. For example, in "It's Not a Fairy Tale Any More!: Gender, Genre, Beauty and the Beast," which first appeared in the Journal of the University Film and Video Association and later in Textual Poachers, I examine a group of female fans of Beauty and the Beast, suggesting how they drew on the program's balance of romance and action-adventure to work through contradictions and uncertainties about the place of femininity in an era where women are assuming more and more professional responsibility. I demonstrated the place of genre in shaping both their evaluations of individual episodes and their expectations about where the series was likely to take them and then discuss the fragmentation and reinvention of their community when the producers "retooled" the series in an effort to attract more male viewers.

By contrast, "Do You Enjoy Making The Rest of Us Feel Stupid?:, the Trickster Author and Viewer Mastery," which appeared in David Lavery's Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks, dealt with the predominantly male fans on an early internet discussion list which was preoccupied with the challenge of determining who killed Laura Palmer and had constructed a vivid image of David Lynch as a "tricky" author to justify their own intensive reading of the series. Here, again, notions of genre plays a significant role, since they tended to fold the soap opera aspects of the series into their reading of it as a mystery, using the challenge of solving the crime to justify their speculations about interpersonal relationships.

A third case study, "Going Bonkers!: Children, Play and Pee-Wee," first published in Camera Obscura and later reprinted in Constance Penley and Sharon Willis's Male Trouble, dealt with children as media consumers, suggesting that children do not so much watch television as play with it. Here, I draw on children's play, stories, and artwork to reveil their attempts to work through the ambiguities surrounding Pee-Wee Herman's man-child persona, seeing this as part of a larger process of exploring what it means to gain maturity at a time when they were making a transition from the home to kindergarten.

One of my more significant contributions to audience research has been to shift attention from fans as meaning producers towards fans as cultural producers, who transform the act of consumption into various forms of creative expression. Textual Poachers describes the art world of fandom in some detail. Other essays, written at the same time or subsequently, look more closely at specific forms of fan creation. "If I Speak With Your Sound: Fan Music, Textual Proximity and Liminal Identification", which appeared in Camera Obscura and "Strangers No More, We Sing: Filking and the Social Construction of the Science Fiction Fan Community," which appeared in Lisa Lewis's The Adoring Audience, dealt with filk, a genre of fan-generated folk music. In the first essay, I used filk as a means of complicating our understanding of fan identification with series characters as well as exploring how fans used filk songs to express their ambivalent feelings about their own experiences as media consumers. In the second essay, I compared filk to traditional folk culture, stressing its community building functions.

In "Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars?: Parody and Appropriation in an Age of Cultural Convergence," which will appear in Bart Cheever and Nick Constant's d-film, I examine fan contributions to the digital cinema movement. Here, I try to reconcile claims made about media convergence within a political economy framework with claims made about participatory culture within a cultural studies framework, seeing Star Wars as both the defining example of the new transmedia corporate franchise and as the catalyst for an enormous amount of grassroots cultural production. In one of my Technology Review columns, "The Director Next Door," I offer some additional thoughts about digital cinema as an alternative distribution venue for amateur and independent filmmakers.

In "Before the Holodeck: Tracing Star Trek Through Digital Media," co-authored with Janet Murray and published in Greg Smith's On a Silver Platter: CD-ROMs and the Promises of a New Technology, I use what we know about fandom as an interpretive and creative community to assess the kinds of interactivity on offer in Star Trek computer and video games. What we learned was that those aspects of the series which had sustained the interests and participation of female consumers were systematically stripped aside in order to develop games that more perfectly satisfied the interests of the game industry's predominantly male demographic.

Most of the work referenced here draws on various forms of ethnographic research to map the activities of contemporary media consumers. The challenges of documenting historical media audiences are somewhat more daunting. Two of my essays can be thought to deal directly with historical media audiences and they adopt very different techniques for reconstructing those viewers. In "Shall We Make It for New York or For Distribution?: Eddie Cantor, Whoopee, and Regional Resistance to the Talkies," I draw on trade press reports and industry surveys to reconstruct a history of hinterland resistance to certain genres -- especially the musical -- which had emerged as Hollywood made the transition to talking pictures. I argued that the early talkie period exaggerated the importance of northeastern cities, which were among the first to have theaters wired for sound, where-as the solidification of sound cinema restored the power of hinterland markets and forced a rejection of strategies that had seemed promising only a year earlier. I documented the repositioning of Jewish comedian Eddie Cantor in response to those shifting market pressures.

In "Same Bat Channel, Different Bat Times: Mass Culture and Popular Memory," which I co-authored with Lynn Spigel for William Uricchio and Roberta Pearson's The Many Lives of the Batman, we tried to construct the "popular memory" of the 1960s cult television series through focal group interviews of people who recalled watching the program as children. Here, we combined research into the contemporary reception of the series with oral history techniques, reading recent responses as illustrating the processes by which personal and collective experiences are transformed and mythologized through memory.

My thinking about fandom has been tremendously influenced by Thomas McLaughlin's Street Smarts and... McLaughlin challenges our conception of theory production as an exclusively academic activity, forcing us to reflect on the place of theory-making in a range of other sectors, including fandom. Everyday people develop theories to explain their own relationships to media and these theories can be as sophisticated on their own terms as those produced within the scholarly community. He challenges us to engage more openly with theoretical dialogue with these vernacular theorists. I have taken up his challenge in two different published works.

In "Voices from the Combat Zone: Game Grrlz Talk Back," with appeared in From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games, co-edited with Justine Cassell, I reprinted essays about gender and computer games which first appeared on a range of fan websites. Here, the self-proclaimed "game grrls" offered a significant critique of the ideological assumptions shaping the "girls game" movement, challenging us to rethink academic assumptions about what women want from games.

In "The Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking: Selections from Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows," which was co-edited with Cynthia Jenkins and Shoshanna Green and appeared in Cheryl Harris and Alison Alexander's Theorizing Fandom: Fans, Subculture and Identity, we introduced academic readers to various attempts by slash fans to theorize slash writing. Here, the three editors were active participants in an APA, an amateur publication, which regularly discussed slash and its relationship to other forms of sexual representation and we reprinted our own fannish contributions to the APA alongside other contributions.

My interest in media audiences has led me in recent years to become more outspoken in advocating the development of media literacy resources for our schools. To some degree, this activism has been inspired by my disgust at the easy fit between media effects research (which often ascribes little or no agency to consumers) and the kinds of moral panic generated by cultural warriors in Washington and elsewhere. My own research has shown media audiences to be active, critical, constantly testing media discourse against their own perceptions of the world, constantly reworking or appropriating it for their own uses. I had stayed away from media literacy education because most of it has been developed with the goal of shaping student's tastes and operates on the assumption that media is doing bad things to us. I wanted to rethink media literacy as a set of skills which includes both reading and writing, consuming and producing media texts. It needs to start with a keen awareness of children's existing uses of new media technologies and the place of popular culture in the formation of their personal and subcultural identities. This research should then shape classroom activities that help to encourage creative and ethically responsible uses of media technologies. I am currently in the process of developing a research team, along with Justine Cassell, Mitchell Resnick, and Sherry Turkle, which would research children as media users and get that information out to concerned policy-makers, teachers, school administrators, psychologists, and others.

The shifts in my thinking about media literacy education can be traced across several of my essays. "Empowering Children in the Digital Age: Towards a Radical Media Pedagogy", which was published in Radical Teachers, discusses my skepticism about the myth of childhood innocence underlying much media literacy education and proposes a more radical approach which empowers children to critique and rewrite media texts.

The Columbine Massacre and the moral panic that followed forced me to pay greater attention to this issue, as might be suggested by my testimony before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee and my essay, "Professor Jenkins Goes to Washington" which was written in response to that experience.

I wrote two essays, "Lessons From Littleton: What Congress Doesn't Want to Hear About Youth and Media", which appeared in Independent School, and "The Uses and Abuses of Popular Culture: Raising Children in the Digital Age", which appeared in The College Board Review. Both countered widespread claims that media violence had inspired the recent wave of school shootings, drawing on insights from audience research to offer a more complex account of the place of violent entertainment in the lives of contemporary teens.

As part of a school outreach effort, we produced a study guide for teachers to use to discuss contemporary media developments with their students. In addition, I engaged in debates with moral reformer David Grossman and conversations with journalist Jon Katz about Columbine and media violence.

In response to requests that I provide some model for how parents can develop better communication with their children about popular culture, I wrote "The Monsters Next Door: A Father-Son Conversation about Buffy, Moral Panic and Generational Differences" as a dialogic essay with my son about one of our favorite television shows, using it as an entry point into thinking about the psychological and social roots of moral panic and generational conflict.

I also developed a talk which sought to explain to journalists, parents groups, librarians, and civil liberties organizations how teens were currently making use of web technologies, "It's The Only Thing I Have Complete Control Over: Teen's Use of the Web," which also inspired one of my Technology Review columns, "The Kids Are Alright Online."

These activities suggest the potential value of audience research for framing policy debates about media literacy education and youth access to digital technologies.

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