Media Fandom: Power and Identity Formation

In contrast to the personal webpage and blog, the discussion board forum is rather limiting in terms of user creativity. Bravo TV’s discussion board, for example, is a platform entirely generated by Bravo. Users’ greatest contributions to the forum are the comments they post to the page, and even these comments are monitored and censored to fit the ideals of the Bravo network – although, in my last practicum post, I discussed the difficulties in maintaining this censorship. And, despite the fact that users are able to “create” a profile for themselves (again, something that is entirely constructed by Bravo), I found that very rarely are these profiles filled in or completed. How, then, does a particular user form his/her identity on such a medium? An identity is formed through self-representation.

To remind those of you who may have forgotten, self-representation is the idea of “writing the self into being,” for which a user’s identity is constructed by what he or she says, shows, and shares. While a user’s profile picture featuring a Boston Terrier may suggest that he or she is a dog owner or an animal lover – or the mere presence of a profile picture may suggest he or she is an invested, avid user. My own profile picture is a picture of pink ballet slippers. I chose this picture because I’m dancer, and I love the color pink.

However, I was most interested in one’s construction of identity via the comments posted to the discussion board(s), as it is this impromptu construction which poses the greatest opportunity for misinterpretation.

Below is a comment posted to the Bravo TV discussion board for its original series “Flipping Out.”

Here, edwardc‘s use of the phrase “us gays” constructs his identity as a gay man, and while I have most likely not misinterpreted this text, there are others within his post that may have led me to impose a set of attitudes or values on him, ones which he may not, in actuality, possess. He states, “[Jeff Lewis’] values are not in line with mainstream gay America.” This declaration suggests, to me, that edwardc fancies himself a part of the mainstream and, also, that he views all type-A, anal retentive, 40+ year-old, yet-to-settle gay men as working against today’s gay community. And, this post also insinuates other members of the mainstream gay America share these same opinions.

I may have completely misinterpreted this entire post. edwardc may, in fact, be a woman; I’ve just assumed the user’s maleness because I think that Edward is a male’s first name.

As another example, in2wishinu posted the following picture to “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” season 4 discussion board over the Thanksgiving weekend:

Despite the fact that posting this picture violates the terms and conditions of Bravo TV’s discussion board forum, as it off topic and disgresses from conversation about the show, it suggests that in2wishinu is family oriented, religious, and African-American. However, this particular user may fit only two, one, or none of those descriptions (although, I highly doubt he/she fits none of them).

My own posts to the discussion board, particularly this one to the “Mad Fashion” board, perhaps, reveals that I think it’s perposterous for a significant other to approve of his or her partner’s choice of dress (among many other choices). However, discussion board members may not get this same impression.

It’s interesting how very much of a person’s identity can be constructed through a few of their own sentences/posted commentes and, yet, also very interesting that our perceptions of this identity can be entirely misguided and incorrect. Online, perhaps more so than in the “real world,” one’s identity is constructed just as much by others as it is constructed by oneself.

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