It occurs to me that I probably wrote my slightly silly previous post on The Big Bang Theory because it speaks to a pet obsession of mine: the relationship between public representation and private identity. So, I found this post by MIT grad student Xiaochang Li very relevant, as it touches on the relationship between (not-so) mass culture and the identity of those who watch/read it.
In her post, she marks out a difference between audiences – e.g. ‘a working class audience’, ‘an Asian-American audience’ – and what she terms ‘audienceship’, which Li argues “steers us away from the audience as a category of person and towards audience as a sort of situation that describes particular sets of practices and engagements with texts and cultural materials”. That’s clever and useful, particularly given the increasingly multiple identities of global consumers of media.
Put it slightly trite terms, it’s not that ‘different people’ watch The Big Bang Theory but that individuals become different people when they watch that show – just not ‘actually’. It speaks to the idea that we engage with culture in specific moments and, though identity never stops informing who we are, each time we do, there is a situational and temporal uniqueness at play. And if the difference of new media is that it is participatory, that specificity is useful, particularly as it relates it the idea of citizenship:
But there is, I think, something compelling about that linkage, as new media forms and platforms make audience an increasingly public act, both in terms of visibility and in terms of the public sphere. I’m still sorting through some of these things, but it strikes me that many of the audienceships that I look at — particularly in the fan-driven online circulation of transnational media content — are not only collective imaginaries, but collaborative ones, communities of sentiment that are radically involved in creating, selecting, curating, and distributing the very text and images that shape them.
What is even more interesting to me is that she suggests that if you think about being part of an audience as constituting identity, then audienceships are also “publics”, fluid groups of people who are always potential political subjects when they are engaged with global online media.
It’s good stuff and it’s a good, if unabashedly academic blog. Worth the read.