Previously on the West Wing (on Twitter)

This is a little catch up post about a piece of work that’s been developing over the past 12 months. Back in August 2010 I wrote a post about West Wing fan fiction on Twitter which highlighted a few points of interest, and speculated a little about what might be going on behind the scenes.
I know a little about fandom and fan studies from my undergrad days (I didn’t actually take Matt Hills cult media module back in the day, but apparently he thinks I did – I just did all the readings my house mates brought back from class and picked over the concepts with them endlessly in the pub) but not really enough to take this forward. Enter stage-left my wonderful Birmingham School of Media colleague Inger-Lise Bore, one of our resident TV studies experts who happens to be a dab hand at audience and fan stuff.


We worked up the themes of the blog post into a research project and pitched a conference paper for MeCCCSA’s 2010 conference. This paper – complete with fanboy title ‘What’s Next?’ Carrying on the conversations: The West Wing on twitter” – explored the West Wing twitterverse (sorry, that’s what it seems to be called) mostly as a text. We looked at defining what the practice was (role play? fanfic? something else?). We also looked at how some properties of Twitter make for an interesting hypertext story, for example the way following works on Twitter means that the audience can chose to follow partial aspects of the story: are you a keen Josh & Donna ‘shipper, but don’t care much for politics? Just follow Josh and Donna, but don’t follow Leo and Bartlet. To make this more complicated there are multiple accounts for many characters, so we also looked at how readers and authors of the West Wing on Twitter try to bring order to the story through curation, via Twitter lists.


Moving on post-conference we had a bag full of ideas about what the West Wing on Twitter was all about and we resolved to test these out by trying to interview the authors of the tweets. We were pretty bowled over by the access we were given to this world. In the main the authors welcomed our little intrusion and were very forthcoming about their personal motivations for writing the tweets and about the mechanics of life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue’s online analogue.


So what did we learn? All will be revealed in September when we discuss this part of the work at Transforming Audiences 3 (this time the fanboy title is ‘Let Bartlet be Bartlet’ – I refuse to apologise for this). Needless to say the West Wing twitterverse wasn’t as simple to grasp as our textual analysis suggested, but it was a very, very, interesting journey.


And what’s next? The project is also being written up as a series of articles, and we’re very much against the clock as Inger-Lise has a very important project starting any day soon (she’s off on maternity leave, having just been beaten to the finishing line by Donna Moss). So that’s where we are, all that remains is to thank the West Wing twitterverse for letting us into the corridors of power (where we all talked while we walked) – meet the players here.

By Jon Hickman

Hi, I'm Jon. I teach and research digital culture, social media and new media practice at Birmingham City University. Find out more about me with this lovely CV: Find out about my work at the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research: