Organization as a popular text?
What exactly are the major differences between a fan culture participating around a popular text on the one hand, and fan cultures based around brands or organizations on the other hand? This question I was studying in my Thesis I wrote for my Bachelor in the direction of new media and digital cultures. A Thesis in which I researched the way online fan cultures of popular texts live and breath. I analyzed them and compared them to online communities based around organizations.
Although the research was set-up in a broad way, as soon as I started writing my Thesis it became clear that I had to narrowed it even more in the direction of a particular online fan culture. It was the non-profit organization Bits if Freedom which brought me what I needed; a more specific fan culture which mainly participated online. It was this fan-culture which needed to be compared with the fan cultures of popular texts like the Matrix, American Idol and Survivor. These fan cultures were broadly discussed by Henry Jenkins definitive book about participatory cultures titled Convergence Culture; where old and new media collide. This book became the fundamental piece of work for my Bachelor Thesis.
During this research I discovered a pattern within the way fan cultures affected the text itself. There were mainly three different aspects. First, the fan cultures seems to be all highly active. In fact they participated within the popular tekst. Fans and consumers participated bottom-up and affected in this way the populair text. The more traditional roles between producer and consumer end up more vague by the arise of these co-creators. Jenkins sees this for example when the producer uses the consumers feedback to improve a television program. According to this example, consumers become literal co-creators by participating within the text. The importance for producers to manage fan cultures information in a proper way is the second property of the online fan cultures based around popular texts. All discussed fan cultures were strictly managed top-down by the producers of these popular texts. The third and final property is the presence of collective intelligence within these fan cultures. This term was coined by Piere Lévy in his book: Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s emerging world in cyberspace. This way of sharing knowledge changed the way fans interpret the text, whereby they affected the popular text itself.
This said and outlined the fans profile, it became easier for me to compare these texts with the fan culture based around Bits of Freedom. By interviewing the communication manager of Bits of Freedom, I found out the online fan culture of this organization was based on sharing knowledge which made it a knowledge community. In line with the fan cultures around popular texts, Bits of freedom’s fans influenced this non-profit organization. They for example helped the organization with research, sharing information en PR-activities. Same as the producers of popular texts, Bits of Freedom tries to manages these fans in a kind of same way by stimulating activity. This for Bits of Freedom seems to be the most fundamental part. Without their participatory fans, they couldn’t fully functioning.
At the first sight the differences between the fancultures seems to be small. However looking further I found something flashy. There actually were some major differences between these fancultures. These diffrences had something to do with the relation between fans versus producer and fans versus organization. Whereby fans of Bits of Freedom and the organization itself persue the same goal, this common goal seems absent in the relation between consumer and producers of populair texts. Fans and producers have two diffrent goals; profit maximization on the one hand and interpretation of the text for the fans on the other. This instead of the common goal at Bits of Freedom and their fans; a fight for internet freedom. Because of this presence common goal I doubted the use of the term ‘fans’ for Bits of Freedom’s followers. This is why I suggest to speak about fellow freedom fighters, supporters or even followers rather than to speak about fans.