Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Lessons from a Death Threat, Perhaps Misapplied

Posted by Sean Hull on February 5, 2017

While reading the four assigned pieces for Tuesday, February 7, I found myself disturbed, and the source of this disturbance was the implied attitude of pragmatic tolerance coming from media producers in relation to fan interaction with their products. In “Co-creative Expertise in Gaming Cultures”, reference is made to Sony’s clarification on the nature of copyright-infringing user-made content for LittleBigPlanet due to community backlash, and in “Interrogating “Free” Fan Labor”, the ability of fan labor to increase the value of existing media properties is portrayed as an asset to the rights holders. Lastly, in “The Value of Customer Recommendations”, customer reviews are primarily advocated for not as a means of allowing consumers to better each other’s consumption experiences, but as a more effective means for companies to gather data and sell products.

This disturbs me due to the potential similarities to consumer relations as depicted in Spreadable Media’s “Comcast Must Die” segment, which described the tendency of Comcast to provide quality customer service based on the risk of backlash, instead of on principle or out of some legal standard. Are the fan communities mentioned in the above articles only tolerated for their value, and perhaps only respected for their potential danger?

Admittedly, there are differences between Comcast and the entertainment media producers from the aforementioned articles: whereas internet service is arguably an essential utility, forcing individuals to take whatever options are available, in the case of the entertainment industry, producers must be more careful to please their audiences, as non-essential services are by their definition easier to do without, and can thus be boycotted without insurmountable negative impact on the life of the boycotter.

Even with this in mind, my concerns are not allayed, as it still supposes that for a media producer to respect fan communities, those communities must be great enough of an asset —or large enough of a backlash threat— to be worthy of tolerating. With the legal gray areas described in “Interrogating “Free” Fan Labor” potentially subject to all sorts of change as promises of “deregulation” mount in the Republican-led USA, how much bargaining power can the fan communities which exist in this legal limbo really expect to have? Though “Interrogating “Free” Fan Labor” looks at such things through a positive lens, I still fear for those niche content creators and fan communities, those without significant visibility or influence.


One Response to “Lessons from a Death Threat, Perhaps Misapplied”

  1. Drake Kizer said

    I can certainly appreciate the validity of your concerns about companies treating their customers in a very dismissive manner. It really is quite appalling that it seems like most media companies don’t handle their customers with respect. Companies don’t care for users until they complain or generate content that could be advantageous to the media producers. As you said, it really seems like most consumers are “only tolerated for their value” and “respected for their potential danger”, and that statement is seriously insightful and carries a lot of weight.

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