Dis/locating Audiences: transnational media, collaborative imaginaries, and the online circulation of East Asian TV drama
By Xiaochang Li | March 25, 2009
I’ve been a somewhat inconsistent updater since I started this blog and this is due almost entirely to the research vortex that has consumed my life, which is more commonly known as my MIT master’s thesis. As some of you may (or may not) know, a significant portion of my energies right now are devoted to project that looks at the circulation of Japanese and Korean dramas through fan-organized (and frequently unauthorized) channels as a way to talk about trends in globalization, the transnational movement of media, and emergent forms of audienceship and participatory practice.
I will be presenting some of the work very soon, both at a CMS internal review, and at Media in Transition 6. While a lot of the work may be a little too involved and theoretical to be of immediate use to most, I’m putting the abstract here in case anyone is interested.
It is commonly accepted that media and communication technologies play one of the most pivotal roles in the complex system of practices and developments broadly termed “globalization.” Similarly, the increasing speed, volume, and scale of transnational circulation has been one of the most dramatic shifts in the media landscape, creating what Appadurai has dubbed global “mediascapes” that are reshaping the way we understand audiences and cultural formation. While the rise of massive global commercial media enterprises lead to renewed vigor around discussions of the dominance of the “West” upon the “Rest,” the increasing portability, transmitability, and reproducibility of media has helped to generate a grassroots globalization often discussed in terms of diasporic media audiences and all the ways, formal and informal, authorized and unauthorized, that migrant populations circulate and engage with media from the “homeland,” create deterritorialized social imaginaries that transcend national boundaries and form complex hybrid cultural identities.
However, with the emergence of internet technologies and increasing participatory audience practices online, these mediascapes have now become networked. Increasingly, individuals are radically participating and collaborating in the selection, (re)production, and circulation of texts and images that shape the very social imaginaries they inhabit, making them not only collective, but collaborative, and opening the space up to greater range of motivations and practice that can no longer be sufficiently described using old models of diaspora or imperialism. How the increased visibility and complexity of transnational media flows and the audience practices around them complicate the models of diaspora and globalism. What new (hybrid) models emerge when we take into consideration the interplay between diasporic communities and fan communities and how do the circulation and consumption practices afforded by new media technologies inform, and can in turn be informed by, the conditions of diasporic media audienceship?
In examining the flourishing online fandom around the circulation of East Asian television drama, we may begin to address some of these questions. While more traditional channels of distribution targeting diasporic audiences are floundering, the popularity of these dramas through unauthorized fan networks has grown exponentially. Rather than filtering content based on a strictly diasporic audience target, these communities are formed around the content itself rather than a pre-determined motivation and are involved in every step of the distribution process, from subtitling and selecting content to the speed or torrent downloads and promotion. Within this space, a diverse range of audience conditions and practice — diasporic populations, fans, pop cosmopolitans — come into contact with one another simultaneously shape the types of content available which, in turn, shape the “community of sentiment” they inhabit. What results is a mash of hybrids that, rather than signaling a sort of unproblematic fusion, maintains the productive tensions and contentions, creating more amorphous, conflicted, complex systems of identity and community formation.
My purpose is not to undermine the significance of historical conditions in relation to media and cultural consumption, nor to replace discourses of diaspora and media globalization, but rather to ask how other models of participation and fandom might intervene and aid in describing audience practices that do not so neatly fit within any pregiven category or single axis of identity. From there we may begin to map some of complex social, technological, and textual entanglements of cultural negotiation in an increasingly global media age.