In this volume, we speak to the making of publics. One of the ways that publics are made is through research, where the researcher defines the inclusion and exclusion of different individuals and groups when creating their sample. Audience research makes publics in two ways: the researcher defines the target population, and from within that population, individuals come together to identify as audience members. This necessarily complicates the process of determining how different audiences engage with different types of media products, as the views, behaviours and responses of those who are either excluded by the researcher, or who exclude themselves, are not represented in the research process. An ongoing issue in primary qualitative research, engaging with members of an audience — however nebulous or fractured that audience might be — without inconveniencing the participants of the research process has been facilitated in recent decades by access to online forums, discussion boards and social media streams, where collected views and behaviours can be studied ‘in the wild’. Although these spaces are used by only a fraction of the viewers of any particular film, television show or concert, the ability for researchers to make a ‘public’ of these viewers gives us new ways to engage with audience research.
In this chapter, I present the preliminary results of an investigation into the way audience members of fictional television shows engage with actors and characters via Twitter. I propose that Twitter use by audience members makes visible an everyday practice that has yet to be fully acknowledged by research — that is, the way that we hold both the actor and the character in our heads while watching television, simultaneously acknowledging the ‘realness’ of both. To illustrate this proposal, I am using data collected during the first broadcast of the television drama Love Child, Season Two, on the Channel Nine network in Australia.
This project was designed to test a personal observation of Twitter user behaviour during the final season of True Blood (HBO). While following the live tweets of fans during the broadcast of the show in the United States, I realised that Twitter users were not only tagging the characters’ official Twitter feeds1, but often the actors’ personal Twitter handles as well.
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