From co-optation to commission: A diachronic perspective on the development of fannish literacy through Teen Wolf's Tumblr promotional campaigns

Lesley Autumn Willard

University of Texas, Austin, Texas, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Historically, fan scholars have focused on conducting deep dives into singular cases and revealing trends by comparing cross sections of those cases. While there is undeniable value in conducting close analyses of such instances, the reliance on this method can limit our assessment of long-running trends. By supplementing—or, more productively, combining—specific case studies with diachronic perspectives, we can better situate, contextualize, and trace emerging trends like the evolution of fan/producer dynamics. To model this approach, I analyze 4 years' worth of fan-targeted promotional campaigns on the official Teen Wolf (2011–) Tumblr. The activities—fannish and/or promotional—of all participants in a shared ecological system like Tumblr are significant. They continuously construct, deconstruct, nuance, and challenge the ever-evolving context of fandom and fan/producer dynamics. Supplementing a close analysis of one of Teen Wolf's recent promotional campaigns—the commissioned #TeenWolfExhibit—with a diachronic perspective addresses the ever-evolving ecology of media fandom and traces the evolution of MTV's fannish literacy from 2011 to 2015. The #TeenWolfExhibit reproduces and reflects all the promotional successes, failures, and course corrections that predate it.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan art; Fan contests; Fan professionalization; Fan/producer dynamics; Fandom; Gift economy

Willard, Lesley Autumn. 2017. "From Co-optation to Commission: A Diachronic Perspective on the Development of Fannish Literacy through Teen Wolf's Tumblr Promotional Campaigns." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 25.

1. Introduction

[1.1] On June 25, 2015, the fans, actors, producers, and the off-air creative or promotional team for MTV's Teen Wolf (2011–) congregated for an unprecedented celebration: a public gallery exhibition of commissioned fan art to hype the show's upcoming fifth season. The exhibition was publicized online, held in a professional gallery space, and attended by a mix of fans and industry professionals. In conceptualization, promotion, and execution, the exhibition blended and blurred boundaries between industry and audience, promotion and celebration, and fine and fan art. While Teen Wolf's postproduction team has openly collected and displayed fan art in-house for years, this event marks MTV's off-air creative team's first foray into the commission and public exhibition of fan art (Twp2013 2014). This event, dubbed #TeenWolfExhibit by the show's official Tumblr account and marketing materials, demonstrates the development of one cult television show's (and, by extension, one network's) strategies to appropriate, monetize, and professionalize fannish modes of production and engagement. If taken as a singular case of industry attempting to contain, sanitize, and legitimize fan art, it is an interesting but not necessarily novel example of increasingly shrewd industrial co-optation. However, when viewed as the culmination of 4 years' worth of MTV's fandom research and development on Tumblr, it becomes indicative of industry's ever-evolving grasp of fannish literacy. Rather than merely appropriating fan works or imitating fannish modes of production, the Teen Wolf promotional team has gradually learned—by trial and flame—to mimic their fandom's sense of community and reciprocity.

[1.2] Historically, fan scholars have focused on conducting deep dives into singular cases and revealing trends by comparing such case studies (Jenkins 1992; Scott 2009; Felschow 2010). While scholars like Matt Hills (2005) have studied the cyclicality and temporal fluctuations of fan engagement, few have conducted longitudinal or diachronic studies on fan/producer dynamics. Paul Booth argues against this approach, explaining, "Rather than looking at or defining fan/industry relations at all, we can only hope to investigate specific sites and moments of interaction. Call it the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle applied to fan studies: We can never know the relationship if we look for it; but we can identify moments when it's happened" (2015, 5).

[1.3] Further substantiating the difficulties inherent in studying broad shifts in fan/industry relations, Ruth Deller notes that "few studies observe online fan communities over several years, compare multiple platforms or explore technological changes" (2014, 239). Fewer still consider industry's involvement in or development of these shifts. While Deller's own longitudinal study catalogs and compares changes between two groups of music fans over a decade, it primarily considers the shifts in fan activities, perceptions, and communal formations. Similarly, Harrington and Bielby's work on life course and fandom focuses on "self-unfolding-across-time and fan-object-unfolding-across-time," not industrial dynamics unfolding across time (2010, 443).

[1.4] This work is vital for theorizing fan engagement across time, space, and life stages, but fans are not the only actors aging and developing with the digital fan ecology. With the mainstreaming of fandom and the move to public platforms like Tumblr, fans and fan practices are more visible and more accessible than ever before (Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 2007). In addition to an influx of new fans, that visibility also leads to an influx of industrial agents in fan spaces. To address the contemporary fan ecology, we must interrogate the role of these industrial agents and track fan/producer shifts over time, and within and across texts, fandoms, industries, and platforms.

2. Theoretical approach

[2.1] If there is one research conceit with which most fan scholars could agree, it is that temporality matters. Timing and context play key roles in production and reception, acceptance, and rejection. By supplementing—or, more productively, combining—specific case studies with diachronic perspectives, we can better situate, contextualize, and trace emerging trends in dynamic relationships like those between fans and producers. This integrated approach allows scholars to address the ever-evolving ecology of media fandom. Tisha Turk and Joshua Johnson (2012) demonstrate the advantages of the use of an ecological model in fan studies, noting that such a model addresses the positions, actions, and interactions of all actors in an ecosystem. As this model tracks affiliations and impacts over time, it allows for a more holistic, representative form of analysis that could be used to supplement current research methods. What makes this model so compelling, however, are the numerous critical threads embedded within it: connection, movement, spatiality, and temporality. Here I intend to pull on that last thread to highlight the significance of temporality in fan studies and argue for a diachronic approach that can supplement, provide nuance to, and contextualize case studies.

[2.2] Turk and Johnson's (2012) approach builds on Marilyn Cooper's ecological model of writing, which explicitly references temporality. "An important characteristic of ecological systems," Cooper notes, "is that they are inherently dynamic; though their structures and contents can be specified at a given moment, in real time they are constantly changing" (1986, 368). This dynamism is compromised when individual incidences and sites of fan/producer interaction are isolated for analysis. Without a diachronic perspective, our interpretive paradigm is unsuited to scrutinizing the adaptive elements of the fan/producer dynamic: the factors that precipitate these cases, the consequences that result from them, and the course corrections that then precipitate the next iteration. By foregrounding temporality through an ecological model, we can reconstruct these elements—in chronological order, over an extended period of time—and trace the provenance and progression of trends and processes.

[2.3] While there is undeniable value in conducting close analyses of "specific sites and moments of interaction," reliance on this approach can limit our assessment of long-running trends, especially in relation to the evolution of fan/producer dynamics (Booth 2015, 5). Notably, a focus on isolated incidences can undercut the significance of temporality, historicity, and chronology. One way to address this deficiency is to supplement these analyses with diachronic research models. Combining the traditional case study with a diachronic perspective, an integrated approach benefits from both models: the depth and specificity of close analysis obtain further nuance by the breadth and dynamism of a diachronic perspective.

[2.4] As I aim to demonstrate here, this approach allows fan scholars to better address generational shifts and memetic dispersions, as well as the development of literacies. It renders visible the ways in which producers learn from and develop alongside fans, as well as the larger technological, political, socioeconomic, and cultural shifts at play. While these aspects can surely be glimpsed in synchronic incidences like specific fan-targeted promotional campaigns, they are better situated and exemplified in integrated analyses that consider the progression therein.

3. Methodology

[3.1] Teen Wolf's Tumblr was created on March 29, 2011, and this study concluded on November 1, 2015, a time frame that necessitates sifting through over 4 years' worth of data. To contextualize Teen Wolf's current fan-targeted promotional campaigns, I scanned, analyzed, categorized, and chronologized the entirety of their Tumblr, spanning upwards of 400 pages and 4,000 posts. While the sheer amount of data can be intimidating, the process is as valuable as it is time intensive. All posts on the official Tumblr—original or reblogged—that addressed fan practices and/or fan works directly in the text, content, or tags fell within the scope of this study. This selection includes a cross section of topics, such as posts of fan art and GIF sets, references to fan practices, and acknowledgments of fan-run charity efforts, in addition to solicitations of fan engagement for polls or contests. While not all of the relevant posts are directly addressed in this study, they nevertheless collectively inform and contextualize my analysis of #TeenWolfExhibit. By reviewing the entirety of their Tumblr campaigns, I can construct a time-lapse view of sorts—a working timeline that illustrates both the evolution of their promotional approaches and the development of their fannish literacy through trial and error, success and failure. Teen Wolf is a particularly generative test case for an integrated approach, as it clearly shows how industry is able to develop fannish literacy over time and mobilize that literacy to great effect.

[3.2] As an active contributor to the Teen Wolf Tumblr fandom since early 2011, I have had the opportunity to watch much of this evolution unfold in real time—an opportunity that many scholars share. Since fan scholars are often embedded within our respective fandoms in the long term, we can mobilize our positioning to reconstruct contexts and develop comprehensive perspectives (Hills 2002; Hellekson and Busse 2006; Ford 2014). That perspective has proved invaluable in evaluating how Teen Wolf's promotional team has learned to hail fans and mimic fannish modes of production and engagement in progressively more thoughtful and sophisticated ways.

4. The curious case of Teen Wolf's Tumblr

[4.1] Teen Wolf serves as a particularly robust case study for diachronic assessment, as the producers have a long history of engaging fans and appropriating their modes of production and engagement for promotional purposes. The majority of this engagement has operated on or through their official Tumblr account. As De Kosnik et al. (2015) explain, "When a fan platform is rising in popularity at the same time that a media text is rising in popularity, this co-occurrence can create a hot scene for fan activity." While Tumblr was introduced in 2007, it took a few years for the platform to become the de facto hub for online fandom. The official Teen Wolf Tumblr, created in March 2011, was ideally timed to take advantage of Tumblr's growing popularity with media fandom. Through their official Tumblr and promotional campaigns like #TeenWolfExhibit, MTV's off-air creative team invites fans to contribute to a corporate ecology that is limited, canonical, and affirmational in scope. However, as the corporate ecology co-opts the fan ecology, there is slippage between the two that results in a complication of these binaries. Essentially, fans' transformative practices—adaptive and unsanctioned by definition—are reconfigured and repurposed to promote a canonical, industrially sanctioned version of the show (obsession_inc 2009). What was once deemed a transformative mode of engagement is instead often rendered affirmational in tone through this industrial co-optation, while the gift/commercial economies and fan/producer dynamics are continuously renegotiated and increasingly intermingled.

[4.2] Millennial-focused networks like MTV and cult genre shows like Teen Wolf are often embroiled in these boundary renegotiations. Their promotional practices generally veer into the nebulous realms of transmedia extension, audience participation, and fan co-optation (Hellekson 2009; Lothian 2009; Jenkins, Ford, and Green 2013; Hills 2014; Jones 2014). To use Jenkins's definition, MTV (generally) and Teen Wolf (specifically) are collaborationists: via their official Tumblr, they experiment "with new approaches that see fans as important collaborators in the production of content and as grassroots intermediaries helping to promote the franchise" (2006, 138). Grant McCracken, a noted industry consultant, advocates a more participatory approach to promotional practices and audience engagement. He says, "Corporations must decide whether they are, literally, in or out. Will they make themselves an island or will they enter the mix? Making themselves an island may have certain short-term financial benefits, but the long-term costs can be substantial" (McCracken in Jenkins 2006, 137–38). The promotional team behind Teen Wolf has taken this advice to heart: from the beginning of their show in 2011, they have been an active, and to an extent guiding, presence within the Teen Wolf Tumblr fandom. While they are hardly the first to do so, Teen Wolf's promotional team is notable for its early adoption of Tumblr as well as its iterative, adaptive, and mimetic approach to fannish modes of production and engagement.

[4.3] The Teen Wolf Tumblr's trajectory mirrors well-established and studied trends in fandom, progressing from co-optation to containment to commission (Jenkins 2006; Scott 2009; Felschow 2010; Stein 2011; Jenkins, Ford, and Green 2013; Jones 2014; Booth 2015; Busse 2015). However, the linearity of this progression is articulated and emphasized by an integrated analysis, supplementing and contextualizing a synchronic case study with a diachronic perspective. By situating the #TeenWolfExhibit within the larger framework of Teen Wolf's Tumblr promotional campaigns, the linear progression of these emerging trends illustrates industry's development of fannish literacy. From each phase (co-optation, containment, and commission), industry is able to learn invaluable lessons about the most productive and organic ways in which to engage their various fandoms. Rupturing that linearity to assess each incident separately disarticulates that adaptive process; conversely, reconstructing the temporal context highlights it.

[4.4] From 2011 to 2013, the Teen Wolf Tumblr co-opted fannish modes of production with a number of fan fic and fan art contests. By 2014, they progressed to containment, attempting to redirect fan engagement from Tumblr to an industrially controlled third-party site, MTV's Collective. The most recent stage, beginning in late 2014 and continuing through 2015, marked a move toward legitimizing fan works through commission and exhibition. This evolution demonstrates shifts from denigration to legitimization, from exploitation to professionalization—trends that may not be as evident in case studies alone. To analyze the most recent stage—commission—without understanding the progression of these trends would be to divorce the examples from their context. The synchronic approach, generative as it may be, risks negating the importance of chronology and temporality, while rendering invisible the industry's ongoing development of fannish literacy.

[4.5] To address those limitations, I contextualize one of Teen Wolf's recent promotional campaigns—the commissioned #TeenWolfExhibit—within the larger tapestry of Teen Wolf's official presence on Tumblr and their fan-targeted promotional campaigns. This integrated approach will couch an exceptional case study within a diachronic framework, texturing each component with insights garnered from 4 years' worth of MTV's research and development on and within their Tumblr fandom. Diachronic analyses are accretive; similarly, this approach reveals that the case study is cumulative: the #TeenWolfExhibit reproduces and reflects all the successes, failures, and course corrections that predate it. To make these implicit connections explicit and to demonstrate the value of an integrated approach, I use the #TeenWolfExhibit as a lens to bring into focus and denaturalize the evolution of MTV's fannish literacy on Tumblr.

5. #TeenWolfExhibit

[5.1] During the 10-month break between seasons 4 and 5, the promotional team behind MTV's Teen Wolf developed a new marketing tactic. Led by Jim deBarros, MTV's vice president of Off-Air Creative, they reached out to well-known Teen Wolf fan artists (eight women and one man) and commissioned them to create fan art promoting the upcoming season. The resulting works were displayed—though not sold—at a June 2015 exhibition in New York City as well as shared with the fandom via the official Tumblr. They also solicited unpaid submissions from Tumblr fans for informal display at the same event. This campaign, tagged as the #TeenWolfExhibit, was promoted through a plethora of social media outlets but was hosted by the official Tumblr.

[5.2] Jenkins explains that industry's entrée into fannish spaces and modes is facilitated and expedited by the very infrastructure that fans developed for their own creation and circulation practices. The most effective way for industry to engage fans through this infrastructure is by "creating a space where they can make their own creative contributions, and recognizing the best work that emerges" (2006, 173). The #TeenWolfExhibit exemplifies this tactic: while the official Tumblr serves as a digital space to showcase the creative contributions of fans, the official gallery exhibition is a physical space that—by definition—confers recognition upon their carefully curated collection of the "best" works.

[5.3] The campaign had five components, each of which bears the influence of previous promotional successes and failures on Tumblr. These components, analyzed in chronological order, are the commission, invitation, advertisement, exhibition, and circulation of the fan-made artworks. Analyzed in concert and in conversation, they represent a diachronic accumulation of the tried and tested strategies that the Teen Wolf promotional team honed on Tumblr between 2011 and 2015.

6. Commission

[6.1] Though the #TeenWolfExhibit included both commissioned and solicited fan works, Teen Wolf's promotional team first contracted fan artists to create the paid promotional materials. Some of these artists had participated in previous promotional campaigns. Swann Smith, a professional artist, was previously contracted by Teen Wolf's off-air creative department to develop a bestiary for the fictional Argent family. The bestiary—a fan art compilation of all the monsters relevant to the show's mythology—has been featured in the show, but it was originally commissioned as a limited-edition collector's item for fans; 8,500 copies were gifted to fans at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con (Smith 2015a). Jessica Short, another previously contracted fan artist, won the #TWCreatureFeature contest in 2015.

[6.2] In this AT&T-sponsored competition, fans were asked to develop and design a monster to appear in the upcoming season. As with most contests involving development of creative materials, all copyrights were immediately forfeit. This was explicitly stated in the official rules through an unfortunate turn of legalistic phrase: "Sponsor shall have the right to exploit the Entry in perpetuity worldwide in any and all media (whether now known or hereafter invented)" ( As Kristina Busse observes, "Fan campaigns and contests…always seem to offload all the risks to the fan creator while reserving all the rights to the property owner" (2015, 112). In the case of #TeenWolfExhibit, MTV—as the client—again assumed the exclusive rights to each commissioned piece, but they compensated the artists for their labor (Short 2015).

[6.3] This marks a change in Teen Wolf's modus operandi concerning fannish promotional campaigns. Previously, they held fan contests (art in 2011, fic in 2012) that violated the tenets of a gift economy as fans submitted their entries without compensation or acknowledgment. Their lukewarm reception is indicative of fandom's indifference toward asymmetrical attempts at engagement. With the shift from appropriation to commission, however, the Teen Wolf promotional team demonstrates an awareness of these concerns and of the importance of reciprocity in fandom. Indeed, this commission-for-exhibition model is reminiscent of the tradition of fan commissions, in which fans request works in exchange for similar works or minimal compensation. While some of these fan commissions are exchanged privately, most are shared communally in a manifestation of fandom's gift economy. By commissioning fan works and then sharing them via the exhibition, the promotional team is demonstrating both a calculated move away from appropriative contests and a growing knowledge of prevalent fan practices and social norms.

[6.4] While the commission model and its professional framing as client and artist (rather than industry and fan) risk divesting the exchange of its attendant fannish affiliation, it also implies a rare recognition and valuation of fan work as labor. It also explicitly professionalizes the fans and monetizes their work. Though not all commissioned artists were chosen for their previous experiences with the show's fan promotions, they were all chosen with an eye toward professionalization. In addition to selecting artists representing a variety of styles and media, Teen Wolf's promotional team sought out fan artists "who were pursuing a professional career in art" (Delhagen 2015). In keeping with the reframed client-artist dynamic, each fan was given a creative brief to guide their creations. As explained by deBarros and corroborated by four of the artists, they were each given specific guidelines for the artwork: color preferences, style guides, broad plotlines, and season taglines (Delhagen 2015; Indy 2015; Short 2015; Smith 2015b; Swezey 2015). These guidelines dictated not only form and tone, but also content.

[6.5] All of the characters, pairings, and situations depicted in the resulting fan works are canonical. Noncanonical or fanonical content is contained by way of exclusion. By leveraging their power to select the artists and specify the types of work created, industry is able to create a corporate ecology that precludes the feminist, queer, and racialized politics endemic to fandom, especially as seen on Tumblr. Karen Hellekson illustrates this uneasy relationship: "Commodification squeezes and constrains because it serves the interests of a third party; fans comply as a term of use" (2015, 130). Fan art is a traditionally fan-directed, transformative mode of engagement. When created in a corporate ecology, like the #TeenWolfExhibit commissions, the artwork's transformative potential is neutralized and rendered largely affirmational (Stork 2014). While the commission-for-exhibition model demonstrates a progressive evolution of Teen Wolf's fannish literacy and promotional strategies, the presence of industrial guidelines blurs the boundaries between transformative and affirmational, as well as commission and containment.

7. Invitation

[7.1] After the off-air creative team commissioned the promotional works, Teen Wolf's promotional team took to Tumblr to promote the upcoming event. On June 19, 2015, they posted an invitation for the upcoming gallery exhibition (figure 1). The temporality of the invitation is interesting. By posting it 10 days before the start of the new season, the invitation itself became a promotional paratext for season 5, especially in relation to the solicited, informally displayed pieces (Gray 2010). Even if the invitation cycled through a Tumblr user's aggregated feed with no context and no follow-up in the days preceding the exhibit and premiere, its clear branding (the show's stylized title as well as the image of the titular character) hyped the show on a superficial level. The short time frame between invitation and exhibition narrowed the time frame for fans to react negatively to the solicitation of unpaid fan art. Previously, their contests gave fans a few weeks' notice to create and/or submit their works. The promotional team also demonstrated their understanding of Tumblr's affordances by providing the invitation in a JPG format. On Tumblr, an image is easier to share and reblog than a text post, though less searchable. To mitigate the decreased search functionality, the invitation promoted the desired hashtag for the campaign: #TeenWolfExhibit. This tag branding, first used with the #TWCreatureFeature contest, allowed them to easily track submissions and metrics for this campaign. It also allowed their promotional team to keep tabs on one small corner of the ever-evolving tagging conventions used by Teen Wolf's Tumblr fandom.

At left, black-and-white image of torso of Tyler Posey as the titular Teen Wolf, his body turning into drips that evoke blood. Image credit: Carina Tous, Brooklyn, New York. At right, MTV's logo (in yellow, the only spot of color) appears above the following centered text: TEEN WOLF FAN ART EXHIBIT. MTV and Teen Wolf Executive Producer Jeff Davis cordinally invite you to the grand opening of the Teen Wolf Fan Art Exhibit, showcasing a collection of works from Teen Wolf fans across the globe. JOIN JEFF DAVIS & TYLER POSEY THURSDAY, JUNE 25TH, AT THE ART DIRECTORS CLUB FROM 6-8PM. The exhibit will remain open on weekdays from June 25-July 2 for your viewing pleasure. Want to Be Involved? Apart from the works commissioned, the Grand Opening will feature a slideshow showcasing art work submitted by fans. If you'd like your work to be showcased in our slideshow, submit your art via Tumblr using #TeenWolfExhibit. ADC / 106 WEST 29TH STREET, NEW YORK, NY 10001. TEL: 212-643-1440. Space is limited. Entrance will be granted on a first come first served basis.

Figure 1. MTV Teen Wolf's fan art exhibit announcement and invitation, June 2015. [View larger image.]

[7.2] To entice fans to share and reblog the invitation, they included one of the commissioned art pieces on the left side. While this work illustrates the kind of art and the level of skill to be celebrated in the exhibit, it also promotes one of the VIP guests: the titular teen wolf, Scott McCall, played by Tyler Posey. Together with the textual elements, the artwork invites attendees to "join Jeff Davis and Tyler Posey." In addition to the attendees and the artists, the kickoff of the exhibition boasts attendance from show runners (Davis), actors (Posey), and executive producers (both), as well as press and promotional team members. Notably, neither the art nor the artists are pitched as the main draw. For one night, the boundaries that separate these constituencies were renegotiated to the point of nonexistence. As Bertha Chin explains, "The rise of social media…incited the media industry to engage with their core audiences more creatively in order to maintain the loyalty and interest of the consumers," allowing "media industry professionals…and fans to co-exist within the same symbolic space" (2013, 88). However, like fan conventions, this event relocates these interactions from symbolic to physical spaces.

[7.3] At the celebratory kickoff, all attendees were able to intermingle and interact among elevated fan art at the Art Directors Club. Though increased interaction between fans and producers is hardly novel in an era of integrated marketing, social media, and fan conventions, the move to a physical space is relatively new one for Teen Wolf. The creative team has attended a fair number of fan conventions and awards shows, but the team has rarely interacted with fans in such close and formal quarters. As Larsen and Zubernis explain, this momentary relaxation of barriers brings "fans and creators together in a carnival atmosphere that challenges accepted boundaries between fan and producer" (2012, 21). However, unlike conventions, where performers are "presented to the fans under highly ritualized conditions," the professional gallery exhibition presents fans and fan practices under highly ritualized conditions (22). In so doing, the #TeenWolfExhibit is not just attempting to normalize and sanction (selected) fannish modes of engagement and artwork; the event also attempts to normalize and sanction (selected) fans. Controlling fandom—especially the fluid and amorphous Tumblr fandom—is impossible. However, by dint of their institutional power, industry can set the stage, select the actors, and determine the rituals needed to perform a sanctioned and sanctified mimicry of fandom.

[7.4] The influence of previous Tumblr campaigns is most obvious in the invitation's language. The invitation uses expressly formal vernacular, befitting the opening of a formal art exhibit. Here, fans are "cordially invited" to "the grand opening" of a fan art exhibition, which in itself implies a demonstration of notable and considerable artistic skill. The exhibit, "showcasing a collection of works," would open on June 25, 2015, for their "viewing pleasure." Typically, the language used on the Tumblr displays a studied informality: the promotional team has attempted to cultivate a fannish persona that utilizes fan lingo and exemplifies the informal "feels" culture of Tumblr (see Stein 2015). John Caldwell notes that this practice is widespread, as "corporate employees—operating as stealthy lurkers and identity poseurs—actively masquerade along online fandoms and audiences" (2011, 298). As such, the reversal in tone is telling. Through its rhetoric, Teen Wolf's promotional team is performing an elevation of fans and their works that has been heretofore lacking: instead of the typically affected informality, this formality implies and performs their recognition of and respect for not just the art but also the artists. This shift in tone is a marked correction of previous impropriety, especially in comparison to the occasionally dismissive address of Teen Wolf's show runner and executive producer, Jeff Davis (note 1).

[7.5] The invitation also instructs fans to use the designated hashtag (deployed to brand, consolidate, and measure entries) when submitting fan art for a slideshow at the grand opening. The most telling and contradictory linguistic move, however, is the foregrounding of fannish identities. While the people who created the fan works were framed as artists during the commission process, their fannish identity is prioritized by the invitation's language: "a collection of works from Teen Wolf fans across the globe." The discursive shift from artist/client to fan/producer is certainly understandable when promoting a self-proclaimed "fan art exhibit," but, intentionally or unintentionally, it shifts the balance of power in the producer's favor.

8. Advertisement

[8.1] Approximately 4 days after the invitation was posted on Tumblr, MTV began showing the commissioned fan art on their billboard in New York City's Times Square (figures 2 and 3). The fan works were displayed, night and day, for the week leading up to the premiere of season 5. The visibility of these commissioned works cross-promoted both their imminent exhibition and the upcoming premiere. The results of Teen Wolf's various promotional campaigns were on a gradual trajectory toward visibility over the preceding 4 years, a trend that has mirrored the mainstreaming of fans and fandom. Early fan art contest submissions were only shared on the official Tumblr, while the winning submission from the #TWCreatureFeature contest was incorporated into the show for all fans and viewers to see—though, notably, it was not marked as a fan contribution. The #TeenWolfExhibit is the culmination of this push toward visibility: fan art does not get much more visible than being projected, in lights, on the side of a New York City skyscraper, not to mention the subsequent exhibition in a public venue. It is worth noting, though, that this visibility is simultaneously local and spreadable, contextualized and decontextualized. Images of the fan art projected in Times Square were posted and circulated within Tumblr fandom, retaining their context while expanding their visibility both online and in real life. In Times Square, however, the population of New York City viewed the fan works out of context—except for the blatant "fan art" label affixed to the bottom right side of each piece.

Color image of Times Square at night showing the MTV logo and the words TEEN WOLF TWO-NIGHT PREMIERE TOMORROW. An image of a screaming white man colorized purple-pink appears in a square below this header, with, in the lower right-hand corner, a yellow banner that reads FAN ART. Image is credited to Carlos Rodriguez, Madrid, Spain.

Figure 2. Image of Teen Wolf fan art displayed in New York City's Times Square (night), June 2015. [View larger image.]

Color image of Times Square during the day showing the MTV logo and the words TEEN WOLF TWO-NIGHT PREMIERE MONDAY. An image of a white woman with long brown hair appears in a square below this header, with, in the lower right-hand corner, a yellow banner that reads FAN ART. Image is credited to Elizabeth Sweezey, Pompton Plains, NJ.

Figure 3. Image of Teen Wolf fan art displayed in New York City's Times Square (day), June 2015. [View larger image.]

[8.2] As figures 2 and 3 illustrate, this "fan art" label is literally and figuratively intrusive, effectively othering the art by highlighting its origin. By indiscreetly tagging fan art as such, the promotional team is at once differentiating the fannish works from the professional key art and performing community through the embracing of fans. As noted with the reversal between artist/client and fan/producer dynamics, industry alternately uses "fan" as an enticement, an endorsement, and, here, as a qualifier. While the exhibition of these works through official channels (Tumblr, the art venue, billboards) grants fans a modicum of industrial legitimization, it ultimately benefits the industry. The promotional team is simultaneously rewarding and encouraging future participation in these Tumblr-based promotional campaigns while branding Teen Wolf (and by extension MTV) as a collaborationist property able to gain traction in a hypermediated culture.

9. Exhibition

[9.1] The overall exhibition, including both the grand opening and the week-long display, is a relentless exercise in industrial legitimization of fan works and fannish modes of engagement. Originally scheduled to run from June 25 to July 2, 2015, it was later extended until July 16, 2015. The grand opening occurred just 4 days before the season 5 premiere. Like the invitation, the event itself became a promotional paratext for the upcoming season. The exhibition was hosted by MTV and the Art Directors Club, and was held at ADC's New York studio. ADC, a well-regarded venue, is an exceedingly appropriate choice for an exhibition of promotional art. The club was founded in 1920 by Louis Pedlar to "ensure that advertising was judged by the same stringent standards as fine art" ( Both ADC and MTV share a vested interest in the viability and visibility of promotional art. More of this art was on display at the grand opening than at any other time, as the solicited fan art submissions were also displayed via slideshow. Though these additional fan works were not created according to MTV's creative brief, they were selected with the same canonical and affirmational guidelines in mind.

[9.2] As noted in the invitation, the guest list comprised a variety of stakeholders: fans, artists, actors, show runners, producers, press, and promotional team members. However, rather than the art on display, the main attraction of the celebratory event was the question-and-answer session with Tyler Posey and Jeff Davis, shifting attention toward those with industrial authority. In fact, upon entering the venue, attendees encountered a framing quote from show runner Jeff Davis (note 2) (figure 4). On this plaque, he simultaneously commends the artists for their fannish affection, legitimizes their "works of art," and reifies his industrial authority:

[9.3] It's one thing to watch a tv show and enjoy it as an hour of entertainment. It's quite another thing to be so inspired by it that you go off and create your own works of art. More than glowing reviews or ratings, these incredible pieces of artwork might be the greatest compliment fans can give the creators and artists behind their favorite show. It inspires us. It makes us want to do better. It makes us proud that maybe we've done a few things right. And most of all, it makes us want to keep inspiring you.

[9.4] While clearly trying to frame the event respectfully, Davis emphasizes the centrality and authenticity of the show in relation to the derivative works it inspired. Despite their intermingling and their incorporation of fans, the Teen Wolf creative and promotional teams shore up their position of authority. By legitimizing the fan art in the #TeenWolfExhibit, they demonstrate their singular ability to confer that endorsement. Industry may truly value fandom and fan art, but there is no mistaking that the imbalance of power in the industry/fandom dynamic is always in industry's favor. Laura Felschow elaborates: "Producers have exercised control over online fans by inviting them to the party before they can crash it" (2010, ¶4.4). With the exhibit's symbolic acknowledgment of fans, MTV is encouraging continued consumption and participation while also attempting to foster goodwill with an often fractious fandom.

An exhibition sign in black and white, with the only color being yellow behind the MTV logo at the top of the image. The sign reads, in centered italic text: TEEN WOLF FAN ART EXHIBIT. It's one thing to watch a tv show and enjoy it as an hour of entertainment. It's quite another thing to be so inspired by it that you go off and create your own works of art. More than glowing reviews or ratings, these incredible pieces of artwork might be the greatest compliment fans can give the creators and artists behind their favorite show. It inspires us. It makes us want to do better. It makes us proud that maybe we've done a few things right. And most of all, it makes us want to keep inspiring you. JEFF DAVIS, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER.

Figure 4. Image of signage at the Teen Wolf fan art exhibit at the ADC Gallery, June 2015. [View larger image.]

[9.5] Beyond the grand opening, the #TeenWolfExhibit embodies two threads that run throughout their promotional strategies: collection and exhibition. The works displayed in Times Square and in the ADC gallery were selected from a pool of commissioned works, carefully chosen for their artistic skill and adherence to canon. As the invitation clearly proclaims, they are presenting "a collection of works from Teen Wolf fans across the globe." The explicit reference to a "collection" and the curatorial process it implies is a refinement of previous failures to collect and contain fan art. In June 2014, Teen Wolf's promotional team bundled a fan art compilation booklet with the DVDs. These works—a collection of contest submissions—were used without consent from or compensation to their creators. Three days after the DVDs were released, the Teen Wolf promotional team launched an MTV-controlled fan archive called The Collective (figure 5). Despite attempts to frame it as a venue for the collection and exhibition of fan works, The Collective was a transparent move to enclose and contain fan practices—a move that echoes previous attempts to professionalize and/or monetize fan works.

Color screenshot of Web site, with five images, each labeled with a category in a blue box inset in the bottom left of the image. Top: banner image of the cast. Label: random. Text underneath: Welcome To The Collective! Here's How To Get Started. Four images appear underneath in 2 rows. Top row: left, color image of the titular character gazing into the eyes of a brown-haired white woman. Category: music & poetry. Text underneath: A Boy And His Banshee. Right, black-and-white drawing of the titular character with 'The Brave Hero' handwritten in cursive to the right. Category: art. Text underneath: You're My Hero, Stiles! Bottom row: left, image of two posed white Barbie-style dolls (a woman wearing a pink ball gown carring a red purse, arm extended toward the man, and a white man wearing a gray suit, arms extended up as he gazes down, as if in supplication). A big PLAY symbol indicates that this is a video. Category: random. Text underneath: A Dramatization And Recap Of A 'Promise To The Dead.' Right: hand-drawn cartoon-style color image of the titular hero being kissed by a red-haired woman, which appears to surprise him; to the right are handwritten partial words: 'I READ...THAT HOLDING...BREATH...A PANIC...WHEN I... YOU HELD...' Label: art. Text underneath: One Effective Way To Stop A Panic Attack.

Figure 5. Screenshot of MTV's The Collective Web site, June 2014. [View larger image.]

[9.6] One of those previous attempts, FanLib, demonstrates the industrial desire for control over fan platforms as well as the importance of timing with such attempts. FanLib, a for-profit, multifandom fan fic archive, was created in 2007 by industrial agents. The Web site, a transparent money grab, was defunct by 2008. It was highly criticized, in large part because of its draconian terms and conditions: once fans submitted their work, they forfeited their rights to their work yet retained the risk of copyright infringement (Hellekson 2009; De Kosnik 2009; Scott 2009; Busse 2015). However, timing played a key role in its failure. FanLib was introduced nearly simultaneously with the extensive and invasive issues around industrial censorship and containment highlighted by LiveJournal's so-called Strikethrough debacle (Busse 2015). In 2007, LiveJournal—one of the main loci of online fannish activity before Tumblr—deleted hundreds of journals and communities on the basis of claims of rape, incest, and underage pornography in fan works, despite the relative privacy afforded by age restrictions, password protections, and locked communities. Six years after fandom effectively shut down FanLib's attempt at enclosure and control, Teen Wolf fans—already incensed by the appropriative fan art booklets—followed suit with MTV's The Collective.

[9.7] An abject failure, The Collective was shut down within the year amid vociferous criticism. Shieldsexual (2014), one of the many fans who advocated for the site to be dismantled, articulates the reaction of many fans: "[Moving] fandom into an area where they have more control…[and] you don't hold the rights to your work…is totally gross and inappropriate on their part. They aren't the first ones to try this bullshit either, they're just cloaking it in different words." Indeed, as Louisa Stein has shown, ABC Family has created similar industry-controlled fan spaces. These spaces complicate "traditional perceptions of authorship, but at the same time…potentially [contain] and [limit] authorship to that which is encouraged by or allowed by the official interface," the official terms of use, and/or the official party line (2011, 133). Like FanLib, MTV's The Collective was an ill-advised and poorly timed power grab.

[9.8] Unlike the creators of FanLib, however, Teen Wolf's promotional team learned a valuable lesson amid the wreckage of their archive: the exploitation of fan labor, regardless of legalities, is as ineffective as it is impolitic. Participation in a shared ecological system like Tumblr necessitates a degree of reciprocity. As Christopher Kelty argues, in digital spaces and in the new media landscape, "participation is now a two-way street" (2013, 23). Modes of containment, like FanLib or The Collective, violate the expectation of reciprocity and thus the tenets of a participatory culture. By rupturing the unspoken rules that structure fandom's gift economy, promotional teams are effectively disincentivizing the participation they need and disrespecting the fandom they are attempting to integrate. However, by initiating and acknowledging that breach of conduct, Teen Wolf's promotional team was subsequently able to correct their course.

[9.9] Fresh off the failure of The Collective, the promotional team's framing of the #TeenWolfExhibit appears much more deliberate and corrective. Rather than repeat the same mistakes, they modified their approaches to production, exhibition, and circulation. Instead of exploiting contest and The Collective entries for promotion and profit, they commissioned fan artists from within Tumblr fandom and paid them for their labor. Rather than assuming control over the digital and physical spaces in which the art is displayed, they partnered with a third party to host the event on neutral (even auspicious) ground: the fan art was exhibited in a professional gallery (figure 6), implying value as well as encouraging a slippage between fan and fine art. As much as the previous contests and The Collective were transparent efforts to control and monetize fan art, the #TeenWolfExhibit was just as obviously framed as a formal, professional event to celebrate fan artists and their artwork. The promotional team behind Teen Wolf's Tumblr had learned its lesson through trial and flame, and they wanted fans to know it. Thus, as the pièce de résistance of the #TeenWolfExhibit (and arguably their most fan-literate promotional move to date), they shared all of the commissioned works on Tumblr.

Color image of gallery-style space, with stark white walls and mounted artwork in clear frames affixed to the wall. At left is the placard described in Figure 4.

Figure 6. Teen Wolf fan art installation in the ADC Gallery, June 2015. [View larger image.]

10. Circulation

[10.1] In the time between the grand opening of the exhibition and the start of season 5, the commissioned works were posted on the official Teen Wolf Tumblr so they could circulate freely throughout the fandom. They were also made available on the personal Tumblrs of the various fan artists. At a practical level, this circulation allows the fans who do not live in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to view the fan art, which widens the promotional net for the premiere. At a strategic level, however, the move from controlled exhibition to chaotic circulation acknowledges fans as not "simply consumers of preconstructed messages but as people who are shaping, sharing, reframing, and remixing media content in ways which might not have been previously imagined" (Booth 2015, 2). It also allows the Teen Wolf Tumblr promotional team to mediate and officiate the final act of legitimation, reifying their position of power in the fan/producer dynamic. Indeed, the refrain of validation carries through the Tumblr posts, each of which is tagged as "an official fan-made promo image." While the decision to circulate the commissioned fan art through Tumblr fandom reaffirmed the fan/producer boundaries, it also blurred the distinction between gift and commercial economies.

[10.2] In fact, the entirety of the #TeenWolfExhibit (commission, exhibition, and circulation) renegotiated the boundaries between gift and commercial economies. Traditionally, fandom has operated on a gift economy marked by reciprocity and obligation that at once engender and maintain a cohesive communal structure (Hyde 1983, 66–67). As Karen Hellekson notes, the value of gifts is their ability to establish social ties because they are not (as) meaningful outside of the fannish context (2009, 115). In this context, the capital worth of fan works is replaced by communal value. However romantic that notion, it is worth noting that fandom has also engaged in a gift economy out of necessity. Because of the derivative nature of fan works, copyright and intellectual property laws prohibit creators from benefiting financially from their creations—unless, of course, they can prove that creation to be transformed in a manner of "productive use" (De Kosnik 2009, 122). Or, as this case illustrates, unless the fan artists are operating within an officially sanctioned sandbox. In a commercial economy, however, capital is king, and fan works are often leveraged for monetary worth rather than communal value.

[10.3] Fan studies often harbors a moral dualism in relation to economies (e.g., beloved gift economy, exploitative commercial economy). Hyde's (1983) conception of a gift economy in particular complements the communal ethos of fandom. Tumblr's technological affordances provide a different iteration of this gift economy—gifts are primarily visual in nature and shared through reblogging—but maintain the tenets of community and reciprocity. This iteration also affords industry an opportunity to participate in the gift economy. Rather than co-opting fan labor, removing it from its communal context, and exploiting it in a commercial economy, the Teen Wolf promotional team has clearly learned to mimic those central tenets of community and reciprocity. By posting the commissioned fan art on their official Tumblr, they are effectively preserving their communal context and participating in their fandom's gift economy. In fact, as many fans follow the official Tumblr—to access their steady stream of fan-made GIF sets, if nothing else—the posting of the commissioned fan art allows for a wider circulation than unsanctioned channels could achieve.

[10.4] By circulating within the Tumblr fandom, these commissioned fan works are simultaneously producing commercial and communal capital. As marketing materials, they are generating promotional (and by extension commercial) capital. As expressions of fannish affect, they are gifts circulating freely throughout the community. However, as Suzanne Scott cautions, these gifts are not without strings: they allow industry to "regift a narrowly defined and contained version of fandom to a general audience" (Scott 2009, ¶1.6). Despite its celebratory framing, the #TeenWolfExhibit does contain and sanitize fandom. However, as a course correction from the debacle of The Collective, the Teen Wolf promotional team attempted to minimize the industrial containment somewhat by allowing the artists to post the commissioned art to their personal Tumblrs as well. On the official Tumblr, they also took care to recognize each artist, linking back to their respective Tumblrs. This concerted effort to respect the community and reciprocity characteristics of fandom and its gift economy is indicative of the ways in which the Teen Wolf Tumblr promotional team has developed its fannish literacy over the last 4 years.

11. Conclusion

[11.1] As demonstrated throughout my analysis of Teen Wolf's most recent fan-centric promotional campaign—the commissioned #TeenWolfExhibit—the promotional team's current strategies can be traced back through previous incarnations, successes and failures alike. A diachronic perspective evidences how the Teen Wolf promotional team progressed from the blatant co-optation of contests through the ill-advised containment of The Collective to ultimately arrive at commission. In this new phase, they solicit—rather than misappropriate—fan works and compensate fan artists for their work, an arrangement that recognizes fan labor by way of professionalization and monetization rather than exploitation and domination. While the next phase of their promotional progression remains to be seen, it too will bear the marks of the preceding campaigns and serve as culmination of the lessons learned. Without a thorough, chronological record of Teen Wolf's previous attempts to elicit and encourage participation in their Tumblr fandom, it would be difficult to recognize and track the ways in which their promotional strategies were honed and refined between 2011 and 2015. With the benefit of a diachronic approach, however, the context that forms and informs industry's promotional practices is readily apparent. While it is impossible to definitively state whether or not these changes reflect a genuine change in Teen Wolf's or MTV's conceptualization of fans, they do demonstrate the development of their fannish literacy. Though Tumblr fandom has more or less abandoned the fan mentorship model, industry has not: they are constantly observing and mimicking the codes, norms, and practices they see in fandom. Supplementing a close analysis of the #TeenWolfExhibit with a diachronic perspective makes plain the evolution of this literacy.

[11.2] In any ecological or diachronic study, "context is not something that simply exists; it's something that the participants in the ecological system create through their various fannish activities and, importantly, the textual traces of those activities" (Turk and Johnson 2012, ¶2.6). The importance of context and temporality, as the basis of fannish literacy and the value of a diachronic perspective, cannot be overstated. However, it is shortsighted to limit the definition of participants to fans only. The activities—fannish, promotional, or both—of all participants in a shared ecological system like Tumblr are significant. They continuously construct, deconstruct, and challenge the ever-evolving context of fandom and fan/producer dynamics. Without a more holistic study of all the moving parts that comprise various fandoms, we will not be able to develop holistic understandings of larger trends such as legitimization, monetization, and professionalization. More pressing, perhaps, is the concern that we will not be able to keep pace with the rapidly adapting industry. If they are indeed adopting and refining fannish literacy skills in order to operate more effectively and organically within fandom, fan scholars need to adopt research models and designs that are better equipped to evaluate that adaptive process.

12. Acknowledgments

[12.1] I am indebted to Suzanne Scott for her guidance and encouragement. I would also like to acknowledge Tisha Turk and Joshua Johnson; their article on the ecological model has been both inspirational and instructive for me as a fan scholar.

13. Notes

1. For more information on the mercurial relationships between Teen Wolf fans, especially those on Tumblr, and producers, see Ballinger (2014).

2. Because I was unable to physically attend the gallery exhibition in New York City, I followed the event via the #TeenWolfExhibit hashtag and reconstructed the layout through photographs.

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