A bit back, I wrote this entry sticking up for TV. I argued that TV is a morally-neutral medium like any other, and it is how you interact with it, what you choose to watch and how actively you watch it, that makes watching it better or worse than any other use of your leisure time. I have been thinking more about that since I wrote it, and last night I came across something in a book that I thought spoke to my point very well.
In Undead TV: Essays on Buffy the Vampire Slayer there is an essay by Mary Celeste Kearney (a faculty member right here at UT!) about Sarah Michelle Gellar as a teen "cross-over" star and what that means in the late 90s, when the teen market demographic is huge and when a star's presence is not limited to television or movies, but television and movies and the Internet (and music and video games and...). In the essay, Kearney mentions that when the WB started showing Dawson's Creek, they also opened up an online space where viewers were encouraged to go after each episode and fill out private or public diaries about how they felt about the episode, their thoughts, etc. Folks, in my liberal arts education, we called that a reading journal. You know, to encourage active reading? Sure, 90% of those Dawson diaries were probably full of comments like "Dawson iz so hawt! OMG!" but just the fact that kids were logging on and writing anything is a start. After all, do you really think there is nobody who was hooked on Pride & Prejudice because they had Darcy-lust? Come on.
The Dawson diaries are just one example of how the Internet can and has encouraged active participation with television texts. Show based chat rooms, of which there are a surprisingly huge number, are another way people watch shows and then think and write about them (active participation). So are sites like Television Without Pity--reviewing something requires interaction with it. And fan fiction..rewriting the text, using its characters to write new stories, filling in the blanks you don't see--what is that if not active participation?
As I think back, I realize that I was expressly taught, early on, to be an "active" reader. Even before I could read myself, my mom read to me, and she didn't just read to me, or even just read to me and then discuss it with me. She'd read me a chapter (I remember the Little House books as the most clear example of this), then tell me to go act it out, or to act out the part that didn't happen in the book. Sometimes she prompted ("how would this have gone if Laura had made a different decision?") and sometimes by the time the chapter ended I had my own ideas. This became my favorite part of the whole exercise. Later, when I grew out of my sun bonnet phase, I was less likely to act out the parts left out of books and more likely to write them out. There wasn't really a name for it then, at least not one that I knew. Now I'd call it fan fiction. And I'd give it credit for my being able to string words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs. How was this childhood interaction with books any different than what is happening all over the Internet around TV shows?