Modern fandom: requesting help finding primary sources and some brainstorming

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Ziggy Stardust
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Modern fandom: requesting help finding primary sources and some brainstorming

Post by Ziggy Stardust » 2019-06-06 12:19pm

I apologize to the mods if this topic isn't quite right for the History forum, or if my title is a bit long and vague, but I had a hard time crafting a better one (I will be happy to edit it if someone thinks of a more pithy version).

In short, I am interested in trying to find some particular types of primary sources (I will explain the context shortly). Now, I already know a couple options I can take, e.g. by contacting a research library or through manually scanning existing databases of newspaper archives, but I wanted to reach out to the SDN community for a couple reasons: first, it's possible that some of you intelligent and resourceful folks already know of sources that have compiled or summarized the information I am looking for and thus save me a good deal of time, and second because I am genuinely interested to see what some of your thoughts on my research question is, and what additional ideas may be inspired by a conversation with you all. If nothing else, you may just help me refine my search criteria for when/if I make the effort to go to a research library or archives of some kind.

So, before I tell you what exactly I am trying to find, here's the general context in which I started thinking about this:

Since "Game of Thrones" ended, there has been a lot of discussion about the ending of the show and specifically the negative response to it, and more generally the way the modern audience interacts with the ending of television shows. We even have another thread here on the subject, pondering whether fans have grown more entitled (e.g. the petition hoping to have the last season of "Game of Thrones" rewritten and reshot).

So far as I can tell, this type of reaction is something more or less confined to television series. Obviously there are people who don't like the endings of particular movies or books or other narrative arts, but there does seem to be something unique about the reaction in the case of television shows like "Game of Thrones". I think there are two main factors driving this even before you start appealing to cultural trends like fans being more entitled or anything like that:
  1. The particular serialized nature of a television series. This manifests itself in several important ways. For more traditional series like "Game of Thrones", this means episodes are released on a weekly schedule, which everyone has to wait for and then watches at the same time. The episodes are broken up into seasons, which are released about once a year, which again everyone has to wait for. And the entire narrative is thus stretched intermittently out over the period of several years before it can be resolved. Even with streaming, a season may be released in its entirety at once, or split into halves, without a specific broadcast schedule, but the seasons themselves are still separated by about a year, and most of the viewership and conversation about a new season tends to happen within a relatively short time frame from when the season is first made available, so while slightly more fragmented it usually works out that most people are watching the show at approximately the same time.

    These factors create a very different relationship between the audience and the narrative than is true for other art forms. Movies are pretty much a one-off experience. Even movies that are part of broader series of expanded universes are more highly engineered to be a stand-alone narrative compared to individual episodes of a TV show, which parcel out the narrative beats over a wider period of time. Books, while they take longer to consume as a unit, tend to be more similar to movies in that way. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, there are obviously dedicated fans to movies and books that DO complain about endings and have fervent discussions about the source material. But the modern television audience ratchets this up to 11 (i.e. it's different at least in scale if not in kind). The serialization forces the viewers to wait for narrative pay-off over a much wider period of time, with larger breaks, with essentially nothing to due in the interim EXCEPT discuss the source material, hypothesize, argue, and everything. This methodical pace makes it sting all the more if the pay-off isn't what was expected going in, almost like a sunk cost fallacy.
  2. The internet changing the means of discussion. This has effected pretty much all forms of narrative media, so high tides raise all boats sort of thing, but again seems especially pronounced for television shows. But quite simply the internet has encouraged broader audience participation in discussion in a way that other narrative forms simply do not, and has also to a large extent diminished the influence of professional critics, because for any given media property you can find people who will die on a hill defending or attacking it. The longevity of TV shows (sees number 1) acts as a force multiplier on this.
Now, as the discussions about the above points have become so prevalent, and I have thought about it more, it has made me very curious to look at a historical antecedent, to the extent that it exists. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, serialized novels were one of the most popular narrative art forms (in fact, the late 20th century still had popular serializations with comic books and graphic novels, and you could argue that the internet has led to a resurgence in serialized fiction, both fanfics and otherwise, but for now I want to focus on the approximately 1830-1930 time period). In a way, they could be considered an antecedent of the television series, in that it was a closed narrative arc that was parceled out slowly over a large period of time. They were enormously popular at the time, and there are a lot of arguments as to how it helped democratize literature in general, since it allowed books to be read by a wider audience (at the time, buying a single large hard-bound edition of a novel was relatively expensive, whereas paperback serials were comparatively cheap). Many famous books were actually written as serials (one of the most famous examples being Charles Dickens, who wrote most of his stories as serials). You even had some of the "divide" between "prestige dramas" (Madame Bovary was a serial) and more "pop-corn" fare (The Count of Monte Cristo, or the entire pulp genre), as you see with modern television.

What I would like to do is try to find sources that look at the way people at the time reacted to the endings of such serials when they were released. Now, without the internet having existed the pool of reactions to draw from will be limited entirely to articles written in periodicals, which would give a biased sample, but I think it would still be interesting to look at the degree to which people at the time may or may not have reacted similarly to the endings of narratives to which they'd grown quite attached. It's possible there just isn't enough available primary source material to make a firm conclusion, but I would very much like to try and find some. I'm not quite sure yet what cross-section of works to choose from, but something along the lines of choosing 5 or 10 "prestige" serial novels and 5 or 10 of the most popular / most sold "pulp" serial novels, and compiling some of the written responses to the endings of those.

I'm just not quite sure how to get started with this, without doing something so tedious as looking up the individual release date of the final chapter(s) of such serials, and then manually looking through the archives of various popular periodicals from the time at the days after those release dates to look for any reviews or letters about them. Does anybody have any idea of how I might make this task easier, or of any available resources that may have already compiled something similar? And more generally does anybody have any thoughts or knowledge about the question, or would just be interested in discussing this theme further?

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Re: Modern fandom: requesting help finding primary sources and some brainstorming

Post by madd0ct0r » 2019-06-07 08:45am


What I would like to do is try to find sources that look at the way people at the time reacted to the endings of such serials when they were released.

I think the looking up release dates for a popular list of serials is a good start. Im sure that all that is just a wiki click away once you have a list.

Correspondence is harder. National libraries should be keeping copies of magazines (anything with an isbn number )
National papers have review columns.
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Re: Modern fandom: requesting help finding primary sources and some brainstorming

Post by Vendetta » 2019-06-09 11:38am

The well known example historically is the eight years of public grumbling over the death of Sherlock Holmes which eventually led to it being undone.

So the sources you'd be looking for are issues of The Strand magazine from December 1893 onwards.

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Re: Modern fandom: requesting help finding primary sources and some brainstorming

Post by Elheru Aran » 2019-06-10 09:22am

Fandom is a pretty difficult thing to really pin down until the modern era, more or less, but you're on the right track with serials. If you're up to a lot of Google Translate, you might be able to explore the response to, say, Victor Hugo or Alexandre Dumas, particularly Dumas. Not sure if Verne serialized his work or not.
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Re: Modern fandom: requesting help finding primary sources and some brainstorming

Post by Jub » 2019-06-10 09:27am

Anything serialized in a magazine or newspaper would also likely have at least some write-in responses to the work published. So some serialized works would have a small cross-section of responses published, though depending on the editor involved in selecting which letters get printed there may be some bias involved.

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