X Factor viewers: debate on an internet forum
The talent show The X Factor, which ran for the ﬁrst time in the spring of 2008, has been hugely successful in Denmark, just like in other countries (cf. for example Hill 2007). The X Factor was broadcast by the Danish public-service channel DR1 and had an average share of 56.3 per cent and extremely high ratings, rising steadily from 1.3 million to as many as 2 million viewers during the ﬁnale, out of a population of 5.5 million people. Ratings were as high or even higher than the most popular programmes – the nationally produced drama series which usually top the ranking list – and it was covered extensively and debated avidly not only in the tabloids but in all media and on countless blogs and debate sites. An analysis of viewer attendance (from the ﬁrst programme through the third live show) shows on average that more women than men watched the programme. Older viewers watched markedly less than average, even though this demographic group watches considerably more television. Among females, the age group 3-10 (Target Afﬁnity 133.3 per cent), 21-30 (Target Afﬁnity 136.9 per cent) and 31-40 (Target Afﬁnity 139.7 per cent) were overrepresented. So, core viewers were between 31 and 40 years old, and in particular women of 21-40 years old; even girls below 10 watch The X Factor. In this chapter I am going to discuss the debate on DR1’s own X Factor
site – a large debate site but only one of the hundreds of sites where the show was discussed. I want to outline what kinds of debates are taking place and discuss the kind of relationship between the writers/viewers and the programme that the debate both constructs and represents. How can we understand the writers’ affective attachment to the programme and in what ways is the programme shaping the communal activities on the site? Hence, I want to take critical issue with Jenkins’ (2006) ideas of participation. One difﬁculty with Jenkins’ book is that he doesn’t really deﬁne what he means by participation, except that it is a usually communal consumer/viewer
activity which is signiﬁcant to contemporary digital culture and has the web as its preferred meeting place; it is a kind of social interaction and a sign of the ‘empowered consumer’ (Jenkins 2006: 169), ‘more open-ended, less under the control of media producers and more under the control of media consumers’ (ibid.: 133) he contends, and, ﬁnally, it is ‘a good thing’ (ibid.: 248). Towards the end of Convergence Culture, Jenkins asks whether he is granting too much power to these communities (ibid.: 246). However, as his point is that the particular fan communities he has been studying since Textual Poachers (1992) have become a common part of popular culture in the age of media convergence, his question is rhetorical; the internet is a ‘vehicle for collective problem solving’ and ‘public deliberation’ ( Jenkins 2006: 169). But looking at the debate on the Danish X Factor site I want to point out that questions of interactivity and participation are more complicated than that. Of course voting is a participatory strategy. And there are recurrent manifestations of an awareness of being part of a community on the site. Nevertheless, the question remains: What actually is the relationship between the programme and the debate forum and what kind of discussion takes place? Are debates on the site public deliberations, as Jenkins has it, or are they rather – and merely – affective opinion exclamations? What kind of participation are we talking about?