February 5, 2009
Gossip Girl and the Value of Snark (Part I)

Our work at C3 has focused a lot lately on online video platforms as recent blog posts indicate. We also think a lot about fans and the communities they create. But we rarely examine how these two things relate--probably because in most cases they don't. The discussion boards on most streaming video sites are relative ghost towns while hoards of television fans congregate in online spaces that don't stream content (like Television Without Pity ). What can producers, networks, and advertisers learn about their audiences from these online spaces? A particularly rich example of an active non-network fan site lives at New York Magazine's website and is dedicated to none other than The Greatest Show of Our Time: Gossip Girl.

Every Tuesday morning, readers eagerly await Jessica Pressler and Chris Rovzar's snarky recaps of Monday night's Gossip Girl episode. Pressler and Rovzar, both senior editors at New York Magazine, don't simply recount what happened in each episodes; instead, they frame the episode's events within a point system that rewards "real" aspects of the show and deducts for "fake" aspects of the show. Of course, "real" and "fake" are relative terms here since Gossip Girl is about 20-something actors playing impossibly rich New York high school students. "Reality points" are typically given to parts of the show that make it enjoyable-- like sharp dialogue, consistent character development, engaging plot lines, good clothes, and fan wish fulfillment. Here's a sample "reality point" from a recent episode: "We love how in the GossipGirl.com title card the picture entitled "Yale or Bust!" had Blair and Serena hugging one another. Nice, writers: because "New Haven or Enormous Rack!" would have just been too explicit. Plus 2."

Conversely, "unreality points" are given for inconsistent behavior, contrived plots, bad hair, bad clothes, and things that are too improbable even for Gossip Girl--like a scene from a recent episode where first-year teacher lives in a huge, tastefully furnished Manhattan apartment with no roommates. At the end of each recap, the points are tallied and if there are more "reality points" than "unreality points," the episode is considered a success.

This recap format is not only funny and engaging, but it also gives readers an easy framework for adding their voices to the discussion--most of the comments on New York Magazine's recaps adhere to the point system and often mimic Pressler and Rovzar's sarcastic tone. These weekly recaps fit into a larger Gossip Girl presence on New York Magazine's site, which also includes news about the show, spoilers, and gossip about cast members. New York based Gawker.com has a similar devotion to Gossip Girl. The site does a weekly recap and even allows readers to search for real-world sightings of Gossip Girl actors through "Gawker Stalker."



Great points, Sheila, and this is likewise a good focus on how traditional journalism and online communities intersect in today's media world. The line that has blurred between "official columnists" and prominent critics on fan boards and blogs in ways that I find exciting, and that some "traditional columnists" are pretty miffed about. Nevertheless, the style of this column demonstrates, to me, ways that the fan review style has greatly impacted how media critics write and do their jobs.

Also, quick note: the "unreality points" reminds me of what DC Comics' Paul Levitz discussed at the original FoE about sincere and insincere mistakes...In short, fans can forgive little errors in continuity (especially in immersive story worlds such as the DC Universe, where the continuity stretches for decades), but the "insincere mistakes" big and small greatly distract from the reality the show has created and break that "implicit contract" C3 Alum Alec Austin has written about.

On February 8, 2009 at 11:21 PM, Mary Walker Author Profile Page said:

Hi Sheila -- sidebar comment to your main post -- and you may know all the below info but fwiw -- the lack of overlap between video sites and fandom sites seems IMO to be driven by two things:

1) the fannish community/conversation is taking place elsewhere (ie not on the vid site). Vids (like other fan images, though rather less than fanfic) are secondary to the overall fannish conversation, and so the vids & images are usually hosted elsewhere (the images I tend to see are usually on hosted on Photobucket or Deviant Art, the vids on YouTube or Imeem) and linked from the discussion forum.

2) vids in particular are getting hard hit by takedown orders these days. While there seem to be an increasing number of fan vidders (perhaps due to the increasing affordability and power of video editing software) -- the vidders lament that their stuff rarely stays up for long.

Most copyright owners of the visual content and/or the music (since most fanvids are music vids) seem to have put processes in place to monitor the online video sites and flag fanvids as violations. Since the vids invariably get yanked, nobody wants to leave comments on the vid site, since you'll just lose the comments along with the vid posting.

It's too bad, since most of the vids (the ones I see at least) seem innocuous enough....certainly less "transgressive" than some of the fanfic. Leaving the vids up seems like a reasonable way to encourage/tolerate one's fanbase...