Subjacent Culture, Orthogonal Community: An Ethnographic Analysis of an On-Line Buffy the Vampire Slayer Fan Community
Caughey, John L
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This dissertation presents an ethnographic analysis of the community of fans of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer whose members frequented the online linear posting board known as The Bronze. Buffy originally aired from 1997 until 2003, but the community that formed at the official Buffy fan site in 1997 continues on in real life and on line, having survived the end of Buffy and the closure of all three of its official posting boards. This study uses an interdisciplinary combination of textual analysis and ethnographic techniques (interviews, participant observation, autoethnography, cyberethnography) to ascertain the importance, relevance, and meaning of The Bronze community to its members, known as Bronzers. I argue that the nature of the linear posting board allowed Bronzers to form a unique and long-lived community by using The Bronze in creative and imaginative ways. In particular, language--to some degree appropriated from Buffy--was used by Bronzers to write a better world for themselves on line. Hence, the community is built on (and maintained by) language that is used in an unusually postmodern manner. As a group, Bronzers tend to be highly educated, literary, and artistic. To Bronzers, much of Buffy's appeal was its emotional realism and imaginative depth. Unusually for television, these elements were combined with strong female leading roles, a cast of bookish and somewhat countercultural characters, and a foregrounding of emotionality and interpersonal relationships. Bronzers were drawn to these aspects of Buffy--which formed its "gothic aesthetic"--and in turn created their own somewhat countercultural community, one that came to reflect their own close ties and emotional attachments. I argue that The Bronze community exists subjacent to mainstream cultural formations, and orthogonal to real life communities. Using this framework, a number of implications emerge for computer-mediated communication in general, including an explanation for the prevalence of hostility in online communication. Furthermore, when situated in its broader context, The Bronze can be seen as a meager palliative to the damaging effects of contemporary post-industrial capitalism, one that nonetheless illumines the brightly stultifying commonplaces that lead people to seek shelter in dimly-lit imagined spaces.