Jonathan Gray, author of Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts, was interviewed by Henry Jenkins, author of Convergence Culture, on Henry’s blog.
Jonathan, you are a highly prolific writer who has published books on a broad range of topics. What do you see as the unifying theme(s) running through your work?
One of my key interests lies in how audiences operationalize media, or, in simpler terms, how meaning is created between items of media and their audiences. More specifically, I’m intrigued with how meaning for something can be created outside of that thing itself. Thus my first book was about how parody aims to “hijack” the meanings of various other genres, recontextualizing how we make sense of them. And the recent book, Show Sold Separately, is about how all those things that surround a film or television show, from DVD bonus materials to ad campaigns, merchandise to fan-created texts, actually play a key role in creating meaning. Satire TV, meanwhile, was in one sense a book about how politics and the news come to make sense in entertainment television. Television Entertainment was a little different, but is most clearly indicative of another central and intersecting strand of my work, which involves exploring the social, cultural, and political uses of media entertainment.
One of your primary contributions to the space of fan studies has been to focus attention on “nonfans” and “antifans.” Why have these groups been neglected in audience research for so long? How do they relate to older categories like negotiated and oppositional readers? And what do they add to our understanding of fan culture?
Functionally, fans tend to be easier to study, at least from a cultural studies, qualitative perspective. When one is going to spend a portion of one’s life sitting down and chatting with people about their media consumption, or reading their postings online, it’s understandable that one would gravitate towards those audiences who are most literate about their subject, and most excited. “Snowball” sampling tends to pick up more fans too, since they can often be keen to be interviewed. Theoretically, a lot of qualitative audience research was motivated in part by a desire to show media consumers as not so hopelessly lost in the system as some suggest, and thus it was rhetorically important to make that case with fans.