Date of Award

2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Communication

First Advisor

John L. Jackson

Abstract

Ang (1991) noted that for media industries, “…television audiences remain extremely difficult to define, attract and keep. The institutions must forever ‘desperately seek the audience’” (p. ix). I contend that just as often, media audiences “desperately” seek the producers and industries that create media content. I argue that focusing on how audiences imagine media industries and the possibilities and limitations for influencing them and the content they produce, is vital to understanding audience/industry interactions and influence. Further, these constructions provide a lens through which to examine the impact of identity and technology on these phenomena. I articulate, deploy and argue for the utility of an “imagined industry” analytic framework meant to demonstrate the concept’s value in revealing nuanced results and implications that reflect the complexities of audience/industry interactions in the digital age. The dissertation examines two audience groups that organize online to influence media industries: the heavily LGBTQ and feminist fan group “Xena Movie Campaign” (XMC), and the Christian-conservative activist group “One Million Moms” (OMM). The project is a comparative case study; methods include historical analysis, participant observation, in-depth interviews, and analysis of online content and trade and popular press. Findings reveal both groups share the following primary “imaginings” of media industries: (1) “the industry is exclusive, insular and motivated by profit,” (2) “the industry is wrong,” and (3) “the industry is risk-averse.” Based on these imaginings (informed by very different ideologies), both groups design and deploy digital tactics to influence media industries. I describe these tactics and industrial responses. I conclude that scholars must look beyond traditional approaches to active audiences. I argue for a focus on social constructions and against a preoccupation with efficacy. Finally, I highlight that the ideologically opposed groups identify as similarly marginalized by their imagined industries, thus demonstrating increased confusion over the location of “center” and “margin” online. I provide a provocation to queer theory that to resist co-optation in the digital age, it must sharply define its goals, tactics and parameters.

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Available to all on Saturday, September 11, 2021

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