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Extended Reading Notes: Lovemarks, Television Without Pity, and Love as Antagonism in Convergence Cultures

Okay, I have a confession. I’m still really upset that Television Without Pity got shut down. And it’s a possibility that this entire post may be my attempt to work through that rage and justify its strength and continuation using theory. Even so, I’m going to do it anyway.

I was recently re-reading (at the suggestion of Daniel Powell) Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture. In it, he notes the prevalence of what are called “affective economics” (61), a set of marketing strategies dedicated to understanding and manipulating consumer emotion. It’s not that the technique is entirely new, of course, just that an emphasis on affect and the creation of brands as “lovemarks” (70) has become absolutely central to many forms of media, particularly those with large digitally mediated fanbases.

What does this have to do with Television Without Pity shutting down? Perhaps quite a bit. While the period Jenkins describes is marked by several instances of “adversarial” (70) contests engaged in by both producers and consumers of content (as in the case of Survivor spoiler communities), we might read the shutdown of snark-based Television Without Pity as part of a broader attempt to harmonize affective responses to media. And I don’t think it’s the only one—we might read Pottermore, a Rowling-controlled Harry Potter fanspace in much the same way. Likewise, the integration of controlled social media within the context of many mainstream television shows (including, of all spaces, shows like The Voice and Dateline) speaks to a desire to both engage with and regulate the affective conditions of digital responses to media.

These wonderful spaces of snark and critique still exist, of course. But NBC Universal’s shutdown of TWoP, justified with the argument that the site doesn’t generate enough revenue (despite the fact that, as Morgan Fahey pointed out, they still pay to own and operate the Space Jam website), rings a bit false. What this suggests to me more than anything is an attempt to re-define the ‘love’ in ‘lovemarks’ as a love that exists entirely without antagonism, which many of us might not call love at all. This seems, on top of all the other things that are troubling and weird about it, like spectacularly bad marketing.

So perhaps, in a weird way, this is something to celebrate? If corporately owned forms of media are no longer comfortable accommodating these adversarial forms of love, after all, then alternative spaces of engagement become even more critical sites of love, antagonism and politics.

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