- "We Shouldn't Have to Trend to Make You Listen":Queer Fan Hashtag Campaigns as Production Interventions
if media is often approached through one or more of the lenses of production, text, and audience, then queerness can be present at any of these points. This examination of queer fan hashtag campaigns is at the intersection of all three: how production is a site of contestation by queer audiences advocating for queer texts. The campaigns we have studied for this article—#LexaDeservedBetter, #LGBTFansDeserveBetter, #PousseyDeservedBetter, #BlackLGBTDeserveToBe, and LGBTQ FANS DESERVE RESPECT—seek to intervene in production processes through both advocacy and fans' command of the very platforms that industry uses to measure audience engagement. In what follows, we first situate queer fan hashtag campaigns in the context of contemporary media production and as an evolution from older forms of fan campaigning. We follow this context with a description of our method, analytics-qualified qualitative analysis, which allows examining large data sets—in this case from Twitter—qualitatively. We then describe three key features of queer fan hashtag campaigns: how they harness affordances and industrial values, what they contend is wrong in industrial practice, and what they articulate as a better way. We end with a consideration of the limitations of such campaigns—in particular, the investment in whiteness that troubles their calls for queer solidarity. Ultimately, we show that queer fan hashtag campaigns are strategic interventions meant to alter both representational and structural television production processes by leveraging the importance of audience feedback in a connected viewing environment.
"Dang, Back at It Again": Precedents and Background for Contemporary Fan Campaigns
Though large-scale fan campaigns to put pressure on industry date back at least to the letterwriting effort that secured Star Trek's second season in 1967–68, what we are calling queer fan hashtag campaigns are new. They are, in fact, new for each of their constituent parts—new because the cultural position of LGBTQ+ people has changed, new because fandom social norms have changed, new because technology has changed, and new because industry itself has changed.
Queer fan hashtag campaigns respond to shifts in industrial practice that have increased the value of fans, social media, and fans on [End Page 85] social media. Fans are increasingly seen as integral to industry strategy (Ballinger; Busse; Russo). Audience social media activity is both directly measured by Nielsen's Social Content Ratings and collected and analyzed as feedback within industry organizations. Mark Andrejevic points out that audiences, like reality TV stars, are called to the work of being watched (iSpy) and asked to actively make their preferences knowable and visible (Andrejevic, "Watching Television" and "The Work")—whether for the purpose of garnering a placebo effect and siphoning off discontent, increasing engagement and affective attachment, or actually offloading some part of market research onto fans. Fan engagement also facilitates the promotion of industry products (Baird Stribling; De Kosnik; Jenkins, "Joss Whedon"; Leaver), as when Fox ran "the Biggest Gleek Challenge on Facebook, offering a prize to the fan who most frequently and vigorously discussed [Glee] in their Facebook profile" (Stork, sec. 2.6). However, each of these practices is double-edged. Recruiting feedback—sincerely or not—means your audience tells you what they think, sometimes at scale. The cultivation of "promotional labor" (Stanfill, Orienting Fandom) means fans can withhold that labor when angry or even anti-promote by spreading word of perceived malfeasance. Indeed, given that one fundamental aspect of social media analytics is "valuing users according to their ability to engage with other users and make them endorse and retransmit their communications" (Arvidsson and Bonini 165), the most valuable fans/users are also the most dangerous should they turn on you.
Technological change has also enabled queer fan hashtag campaigns. As the proliferating measurement of audiences discussed previously indicates, social media platforms allow audiences to react and know industry is paying attention in some way (even if the precise contours of "paying attention" are relatively unclear). Twitter's partnership with Nielsen on the Twitter TV Ratings (now the more expansive Social Content Ratings) and Nielsen's research exploring the relationship of social TV activity to...