Skam has always been made in service to its audience.
In the beginning, this was an abstract statement: Skam existed as a way of fulfilling the public service mission of NRK, specifically aimed at younger viewers. It was a fictionalized glimpse of what it was like to live as a Norwegian teenager circa 2015, grounded in realism and focused on reaching teens on the platforms where they spend their time while also interrogating—but not demonizing—how those platforms are shaping their experiences.
But once the show began airing, its audience left the realm of abstraction. They became real viewers, drawn to Skam for any number of reasons: whether it was the commitment to realism, the ability to relate to the characters, investment in relationships, or obsession with the transmedia release schedule that keeps you constantly on edge waiting for the next piece of the story, Skam became a hit, first in Norway and then in countries around the world thanks to the work of fan translators and the wonders of streaming video and Google Drive. Suddenly, a show designed as a service to Norwegian teenagers generally defined became a service to an expanding global audience, a diverse and complex fanbase with expectations distinct from the public service mandate at the core of the project.
In this transition, “service” starts to shift in meaning. There is “public service,” where the show began, but there is also “fan service,” as well as the need to “serve” the story being told, and the characters brought to life over the course of the series. Suddenly, as Skam entered what was announced as its final season, it was being made in service of all of these ideas, forced to balance competing—or at the very least overlapping—goals in the process.
I’ve written a lot about Skam’s fourth season: I predicted some of the challenges facing the show’s attempt to find resolution, I broke down how the season struggled with plot but succeeded with character, and I spent the past week reviewing the shifting POV structure as the final clips were released. But although I offered some thoughts on “Dear Sana,” the finale clip released yesterday, its final moments represent something more than just a connective thread to the clips that came in the final week, or even the final season. It was an effort to clearly state the central themes of Skam, which have been consistent from the beginning of the series but manifest here with a new twist: this time, they aren’t just an abstract idea deployed to serve a mandate, but rather an explicit idea that the finale deploys not just as a tribute to the story and its characters, but as a targeted message to its fanbase—and not necessarily just the love letter you might expect.
Exactly a year ago today, I wrote a piece about the experience of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter where I explored the meanings of “following” a Kickstarter campaign as it reaches its goal, arguing for that twelve-hour period as a key space of meaning for fans of the franchise. I framed that experience as the queue for an amusement park ride, but the metaphor had one problem: in this context, what constitutes the ride?
Kickstarting Veronica Mars: A Moment in a Movement – Antenna: Responses to Media and Culture
“As with some theme park rides, the line between the queue and the ride will be blurry in this case: does the ride begin when the Kickstarter reaches its goal? Or when the film is released next year? Or when the film goes into production this summer (since viewers were supporting not the project being released but rather the project existing at all)?”
Around the same time, I was invited by Bertha Chin and Bethan Jones to participate in a dialogue regarding the Veronica Mars Kickstarter, crowdfunding, and fan labor for Transformative Works and Cultures. Within that conversation, which took place in the weeks following the campaign’s success, fellow panelist Luke Pebler rightfully highlights the way uncertainty framed any and all conversation surrounding the Kickstarter around that time.
Veronica Mars Kickstarter and crowd funding – Transformative Works and Cultures
“A recurrent theme in these discussions seems to be, how will it all look once it’s over and the thing kickstarted is complete and released? Will backers ultimately be happy? Will producers be happy? Will it all have been worth it? It’s going to be an excruciatingly long wait to find out, in many cases.”
Ignoring for a moment the subtle irony that we had to wait almost as long for our conversation to be published as Veronica Mars fans had to wait for an entire movie to be funded, produced, and distributed (and Transformative Works and Cultures is fast by academic standards, and should be lauded for its belief in open access publication so I can link non-scholars reading this post to the conversation in question), the uncertainty evident in both my and Luke’s commentary has been the greatest takeaway from the Veronica Mars Kickstarter experience. Until the film was released yesterday, the Kickstarter existed in this state of receptive limbo, and even after the film’s release the questions of value and fan agency discussed in our conversation remain fluid as Warner Bros. struggles to manage digital distribution controversy.
Winter Comes Early: Access and HBO Go
May 22nd, 2011
When HBO announced that they would be premiering the seventh episode of Game of Thrones‘ first season on HBO Go immediately following the conclusion of episode six, I was more fascinated than excited.
I think HBO Go is a really interesting initiative that has the potential to play an important role in the future of the channel’s programming. Not only does it offer a new platform in which users can legally access the network’s database almost in its entirety, but it also creates new potential for special features being integrated into the weekly viewing process, and makes the network’s content more readily mobile. When I talked with my cable company to subscribe to HBO earlier today (after having relied solely on screeners to this point), the friendly customer service representative had a whole spiel about HBO Go ready to go, and was clearly using it as a pitch to draw in potential subscribers.
Premiering an episode early is a great way to make users more aware of the service, especially when dealing with the Game of Thrones fanbase who might not normally be HBO subscribers (and who might have only signed up this week, having relied on nefarious methods to this point in the series’ run); if they go to the site to watch episode seven early, they might also check out the pilot for True Blood, and might get hooked enough that they maintain their HBO subscriptions following the Game of Thrones finale.
However, there lies a central concern with HBO Go that makes this kind of initiative somewhat problematic: as a result of the nascent state of the site, a number of cable providers have not been able to strike deals with HBO to feature the service, and since it is tied directly into your cable account this means that a large number of people who are paying for HBO subscriptions do not have access to this sneak preview. While there is clear value from a promotional point of view in an initiative like this one, I do wonder if the way in which it divides the series’ fanbase and potentially bifurcates the conversation surrounding the series doesn’t demonstrate the perils of messing around with serialization in this fashion.
A Televisual Love Letter: HBO’s Game of Thrones
April 3rd, 2011
When I sat down to watch the first six episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones – which HBO subscribers can preview tonight at 9/8c when the first fifteen minutes of the pilot air before the third part of Mildred Pierce (and arrive streaming online shortly after) – I knew that I would be viewing them from a particular perspective.
As someone who has read the first four books in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series – the fifth comes out in July – on multiple occasions, I knew my way around this story. I would not count myself among those who have an encyclopedic knowledge of Westeros, and I’ll readily admit that the density of the books means I often misplace particular story events within my memory, but the fact remains that I am very familiar with the world Martin created and the characters that inhabit it.
Accordingly, I expected my view of the series to be influenced by this perspective: I would know more about these characters than the show would expect me to know, able to fill in details and see foreshadowing that some viewers would not even know was foreshadowing. I would be more excited about seeing things come to life than I would be about seeing things happen, surprised not so much by the events transpiring but by the decisions made in giving those events physical form. However, I also presumed that I would ultimately remain the stoic critic figure, my familiarity with the series presenting less as a “fandom” and more as an extra layer that would contribute to my experience.
So imagine my surprise when my experience became defined by this familiarity, my fairly casual “fandom” transformed into a giddy reverie by the time the credits rolled on the show’s pilot. Game of Thrones is not precisely Martin’s books come to life fully formed, but I would argue that this is a love letter to A Song of Ice and Fire and those who hold it most dear. It does not just stumble its way into bits of foreshadowing: it fully embraces the scale of this narrative from the word go and begins to craft a tale worthy of the source material. It does so not just through strong performances and evocative production design, but also through tapping into the very qualities that made the source material so compelling on a structural level: this is not just an instance of plot and character being spun into a new medium, but rather David Benioff and D.B. Weiss drawing inspiration from a man who knew how to build something.
The result is a rare adaptation which compounds, rather than challenges, our appreciation for the franchise in question. Game of Thrones may not yet be the finest show on television, but it is well on its way to being one of the most rewarding television experiences I’ve ever had, and certainly shows the potential to be found in continuing to explore Martin’s – and now Benioff and Weiss’ – Westeros for many seasons to come.