Twitter fanfic as ‘Improvised Fan Simulation’

I just wanted to share a nugget from one of the articles Inger-Lise and I are producing from our research on fans who tweet as characters from The West Wing. One of the key discussions we had throughout the project was around defining the activity: is it role play? Fan fic? Something else? The term we came up with that best describes it is ‘improvised fan simulation’. We use that term to recognise that this a performance, and that Twitter mediates that performance in an ephemeral way:

For us as researchers, the fragmentation makes it very problematic to establish the boundaries of participants’ collective output. We are looking at a hypernarrative based on multiple texts that include individual tweets, the timelines of individual tweeters, and wider conversations that sprawl across different users and can only be artificially contained through mechanisms such as hash tag labels or the list @joshualyman/colleagues that we used as the starting point for our data collection. Moreover, timelines continue to change, as old tweets disappear from the readily accessible public stream and new ones are added, which further problematizes the idea of narrative openings and closures. Thus, while the output of this fan practice does share certain characteristics with more traditional fanfic, these textual forms also differ in important ways. Most significantly, perhaps, Twitter’s emphasis on brief utterances positioned within a wider, ongoing dialogue here facilitates the creation of a sprawling hypernarrative based on the simulation of TWW characters.

We’re hoping to bring this project to its season finale soon, but in the meantime find out what happened previously on The West Wing on Twitter.

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: