The Internet has fostered the growth of an active participatory popular culture, especially among fans of science fiction and fantasy, and this development has brought to the forefront the emotional and intellectual investment that fans make in their favorite narratives.1 This investment often makes for a contentious relationship between the writer/producers who create and control a popular story and the fans who not only consume the official narrative but also use that narrative to foster their own creativity. In this essay, I examine a particular conflict that arose when producers made significant changes to a television program, including the death of a favorite character, in terms of its implications for the relationship between authors and audiences in the age of participatory popular culture. My case study focuses on the Children of Earth mini-series of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) program Torchwood, whose producers made major changes in genre, characterization, and target audience, angering many fans who expressed that anger2 via online social networking sites. In my analysis of this case, I draw on Roland Barthes’ distinction between the work and the text-the commodity and the conceptual field-in order to explore the basis of the conflict that developed between author and audience. In “From Work to Text,” Roland Barthes (1977) recognizes the commodifi-
cation of an author’s creation as a work distinct from the conceptual field of the text:
the work can be seen (in bookshops, in catalogues, in exam syllabuses), the text is a process of demonstration, speaks according to certain rules (or against certain rules); the work can be held in the hand, the text is held in language, only exists in the movement of a discourse (or rather, it is Text for the very reason that it knows itself as text); the Text is not the decomposition of the
work, it is the work that is the imaginary tail of the Text; or again, the Text is experienced only in an act of production.