Praxis

The cultural economics of performance space: Negotiating fan, labor, and marketing practice in Glee's transmedia geography

Matthias Stork

University of California, Los Angeles, California, United States

[0.1] Abstract—The Fox television show Glee (2009–present) constitutes a cultural phenomenon of the digital age. Through its multiplatform marketing of musical and theatrical performance, the show has attracted a substantial fan base and created a self-sustaining economy of cultural expression. As a serialized narrative with a focus on the underdog's struggle for fame, it constructs a populist forum for fans to live their dream of becoming a star vicariously and learn how to realize it in real life—how to make it. Glee's marketing approach postulates performance as the essential element in forming an intimate relationship between the show and its core fans, the Gleeks. Performances are distributed across several spaces, including a multitude of video and audio channels, to satisfy Gleeks' desire for maximum content. The show's cast and crew further offer to discuss these performances and grant special insights into their creation. Glee's promotional discourse overtly characterizes fans as equals, positioning its programming as a gift to them. The overarching message of this marketing methodology is that Glee rewards its fans for their investment and loyalty by offering up content and interaction in a variety of performative spaces—a transmedia geography—that transcend television. By using an interdisciplinary framework of political economy, cultural geography, and transmedia communications, Glee may be examined in relation to its diegetic and nondiegetic conceptualization and commodification of performance space. Doing this illuminates how the show negotiates—indeed exploits—the concepts of fan and labor practice in contemporary media industries.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan community; TV

Stork, Matthias. 2014. "The Cultural Economics of Performance Space: Negotiating Fan, Labor, and Marketing Practice in Glee's Transmedia Geography." In "Fandom and/as Labor," edited by Mel Stanfill and Megan Condis, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 15. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2014.0490.

1. Introduction

[1.1] With a show like Glee that starts with a cult following, you have your hard-core fans who we love very much [ … ], it's important to have the fans feel like they have an inside look into who we are along with our characters. It's really important to be attached to your fans [ … ] and to share things with them.

—Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina on Glee)

[1.2] Everything we put online gets a push right away. We see people sending it to their friends and commenting on it. We've had this amazing thing happen on YouTube where people are actually using the music from the show in the background and then they sing their version.

—Laurel Bernard, senior vice president for Fox Marketing

[1.3] I think it's a show that the fans made. They found it, they loved it, they bought the music, they turned it into a phenomenon, they bought the tickets for those concert tours, they created the ability to do multi-platforms, they had a really strong proprietary grasp on it.

—Ryan Murphy, Glee show creator, executive producer, writer

[1.4] The Fox network's musical show Glee (2009–present) has established itself as one of the leading pop culture sensations in the television landscape of the 21st century. Currently in its fifth season, Glee's legacy includes live appearances at the White House and the World Series, a tied-in casting show, a comprehensive set list of cover and original songs, consistently high ratings with competitive market shares, and a unique merchandising profitability, with 30+ million digital downloads and 15+ million CD albums sold worldwide to date. Through its multiplatform marketing of musical and theatrical performance, the show has attracted a substantial fan base and created a self-sustaining economy of cultural expression, meaning its product consistently inspires fan engagement on multiple levels.

[1.5] The official spaces of Glee's transmedia geography (figure 1) include the Fox Web site, a Facebook page, a Columbia Records Web site, Twitter accounts, a YouTube channel, a Tumblr page, a MySpace site, a Comic-Con presence, digital distribution channels, and live-tour performances. Unofficial spaces include fan practice across all of these channels as well as, to a lesser extent because not visually oriented, fan fiction Web sites.

A collection of logos for Glee, the Fox television network, facebook, Columbia Pictures, Twitter, YouTube, tumblr, Myspace, San Diego Comic-Con, and Glee live concerts

Figure 1. Glee's transmedia geography map. [View larger image.]

[1.6] As such, Glee has positioned itself as a space for American Idol (2002–present) acolytes, teenage digital citizens who approach TV entertainment harboring the dream of gaining fame by breaking into the much-mythologized culture industry. In fact, there are several ties between Glee and American Idol: both shows offer up the dream of becoming a star, both feature highly stylized stage performances, and both are situated in the musical genre. Within this genre, musical performance and the commonly televised teenage dream of stardom are neatly packaged as pleasurable, easily consumable, and inspirational pop culture. Glee not only presents a narrative that explicitly reflects and caters to this specific emotional moment in contemporary American youth culture but also equally constructs a forum that allows audiences—fans in particular—to live their dream vicariously through the show and, purportedly, learn how to realize it—how to make it. Glee's marketing approach postulates performance as the essential element in forming an intimate relationship between the show and its core fans, known as Gleeks. Performances are distributed and shared across several spaces, including a multitude of video and audio channels, to satisfy the Gleeks' desire for maximum content. The show's cast and crew further offer to discuss these performances and grant special insight into their creation. Glee's promotional discourse characterizes fans as like-minded peers, and by positioning its programming as an act of benefaction, it asks them to engage in the show's engineered sharing economy. The overarching message of this marketing methodology is that Glee thanks/compensates its fans for their (emotional/discursive) investment and loyalty by offering up both content and interaction in a variety of performative spaces that transcend television. Within this gift economy (Caldwell 2009), Glee essentially cultivates a business model that exchanges content for fan labor and the attached cultural buzz.

[1.7] By examining this approach more closely and analyzing defining features of Glee's corporate and fan culture through a framework incorporating cultural studies and political economy, the show's creation and usage of a transmedia geography may be seen as a site for extensive interrelated narrative and promotional practices designed to address specific fan sensibilities. By carefully studying and illustrating Glee's marketing vis-à-vis the show's conceptualization and commodification of performance space, I illuminate how it negotiates—indeed exploits—the concepts of fan and labor practice.

2. Creating the Gleek community—The integration of cultural and economic space

[2.1] Glee's aesthetic framework marks it as an emblematic artifact of the postnetwork era in American television. Although the show's core commercial text primarily centers on a serialized narrative revolving around amateur musical performances and creative (self-)expression in a fictional Midwestern high school setting—a trope fans have enthusiastically embraced, as evidenced by their music purchases, vidding, and performance videos—its overarching conceptualization of textual content is designed to have it flow beyond the box (Ross 2008) in the form of interrelated paratexts (note 1). These paratexts complement, extend, and/or enrich the original text, thus adding value of both cultural and economic import (Caldwell 2008). This value is cultural in that it provides more information about the show's narrative and mythology, and economic in that it promotes and markets the show as popular entertainment to growing audiences. Glee is thus to be understood not simply as one self-enclosed televisual text but, as Jennifer Gillian (2001) notes via her model of multiclick TV, a multiplatform network of texts designed to address a digital fan base. Fans are seen not only as active receivers but as large-scale distributors. The Glee text network is thus engineered to facilitate the spreading of content.

[2.2] The notion of a multiplatform network does more than add nuance to the concept of the text in contemporary media culture. It introduces and posits the concept of space as a crucial component in understanding media texts and their industrial dimensions. Glee represents a volume of commercial texts—the core text and its (un)official paratexts—that manifest themselves across multiple platforms, both analog and digital, in a set of transmedia spaces. Per Henry Jenkins (2006a, 2006b), such a transmedia environment, composed of real and virtual spaces, constitutes a construct in which integral textual elements are coordinated and dispersed systematically for storytelling and marketing purposes. These spaces primarily function as delivery channels for the process of entertainment reception and promotion, a crucial component of which is the interaction between the show and its audience. Thus, these spaces enable—indeed ask and invite—audiences not only to receive but also to spread, create, and send information. Within this culture of converging spaces, they are able to engage with a show's text on several levels, to act as active consumers as well as producers/distributors—that is, laborers.

[2.3] Fans are the central agents within the paratextual dimensions of transmedia spaces, rigorously tracking information. They view videos (including online previews and trailers, deleted/bonus scenes, interviews, films, and DVD bonus features), play games (console or Internet based), use online applications, read (electronic) books, Web sites, and/or blogs, and listen to music via MP3 or CD. They make an effort to consume the additional content provided by official paratexts, partially or entirely, and their efforts are reflected in the show's revenue figures. Moreover, many fans are also inspired to create (produce) new paratexts hosted in similar yet unofficial (not originally corporate driven) transmedia spaces. This includes writing fan fiction, discussing scenes and/or characters in online message boards or social media networks, and reediting/recording and uploading video footage on YouTube, all practices that admittedly had currency with active audiences before the digital era but have now become more widespread and even de rigueur. Whether they consume or produce, by acting within these spaces, fans interact with and participate in the show's text, performing a labor of love. They derive and share extra information and contribute new information. The properties of transmedia spaces thus reconfigure the formerly passive (one-dimensional) relationship between texts and their audiences as an active, spatially framed interaction and discourse, one of teleparticipation (Gillian 2011). Glee is especially notable in this context because it cultivates a variety of transmedia spaces, all of which are designed to engage a specific audience and extract promotional labor in exchange for transmedia pleasure.

[2.4] Glee's focus on popular music and dance ensures wide mainstream appeal. The show's core audience, although substantial, still comprises a niche group of spectators with distinct cultural sensibilities. Known as Gleeks, these young fans, coveted by advertisers, are reflected in the show's celebration of the underdog: the trials and tribulations of the social outcast, the (self-referential) emphasis on pop culture, music in particular, and the art of showmanship (Kjus 2009). This mix of narrative and performance is postulated as Glee's essence, its brand; thus it is consistently emphasized in its promotional campaign. It is extravagant entertainment that encourages teenage fan viewers to channel their energy and talent into musical (and digital) performativity as a form of fun labor. Essentially, Glee narrativizes the format of reality competition shows such as American Idol (Rickman 2010), cultivating a new approach to commercialize the reality TV juggernaut's popular youth appeal. Not coincidentally, Glee's pilot pre-premiered after the American Idol finale in May 2009, several months before its official premiere in September.

[2.5] This release strategy served two purposes: first, to broadcast the show in a manner that capitalized on Fox's synergy and the substantial viewership of American Idol; and second, to narrowcast it to reach, or even create, a niche fan base, and then to anchor it within online fan discourse. After the pre-premiere, Fox made the pilot available in several commercial transmedia spaces, including its Web site, Hulu, and iTunes. The marketing campaign specifically touted this service as a gift for Gleeks. Fox also asked the show's producers (note 2)—including cocreators and writers Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuck, and Ryan Murphy; actors Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, and Dianna Agron; and many other above-the-line personnel—to talk up the show on Facebook and Twitter, directly engaging fans of the pilot. At the same time, Fox increased the personalized Gleekian media campaign by circulating a short TV spot (simultaneously released on YouTube) that tapped into the pilot's narrative about performance and teenage dreams.

Video 1. Glee season 1 promo teaser.

[2.6] The 1-minute video features a stylized musical montage of the main characters reciting the phrase, "You're a Geek! I'm a Gleek!" set to an updated version of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. This short paradigm of televisuality (Caldwell 1995) established the identity of the Glee fan: a pop culture geek who likes Glee, the teenage outsider with a dream about fame who constantly faces challenges from peers and authority figures—the Gleek. With the introduction of the Gleek, Fox reacted to the early fan buzz surrounding the Glee pilot, directly addressing fans' sensibilities and tailoring the show's public image to their interests. The Gleek is a concept created for fans, a model they can identify with that fosters their investment in the emerging show and its characters, and that provides an opportunity for corporate gain by containing audience fragmentation. The video further provides a social meme by disseminating an identifying gesture (and device for social bonding) for Gleeks: the actors shape an L with their fingers and place their hand on their forehead. By using this gesture, Glee appropriates and redeems the former negative connotation of the term loser, situating the show within a historical discourse about the underdog and the high school outcast (Lewis 2012). Fox subsequently launched the Biggest Gleek Challenge on Facebook, offering a prize to the fan who most frequently and vigorously discussed the show in their Facebook profile, including status updates, "likes," friend invitations, and threads, thus offering a reward for active engagement or competitive consumer labor. The official text of the original Facebook post (https://www.facebook.com/notes/glee/fox-invites-glee-fans-to-join-the-biggest-gleek-competition-at-wwwfoxcomgleek/136157066788) emphasizes the Gleek community in order to increase fans' engagement with the brand, addressing fans as Gleeks to underscore the validity of the concept, solidify its cultural significance, and solicit measurable fan responses in various media channels. A week before the pilot's official September premiere, a longer director's cut aired in the form of a tweet-peat. A live-tweet event, the broadcast compiled many of the tweets fans had generated about the show since its pre-premiere, with the writers and cast members responding to questions and comments in real time (note 3). Fox incorporated real spaces in the transmedia marketing campaign, organizing a Glee panel at the San Diego Comic-Con (engaging in an already established hard-core fan milieu) and taking the cast on a Gleek tour across youth-oriented Hot Topic stores performing songs from the pilot and selling "I am a Gleek" T-shirts.

Video 2. Glee Hot Topic store performance on October 5, 2009 (TalkofFame Video Report).

[2.7] Fox's overarching goal was to create a Gleek community of fan-producers and distributors to create visibility and buzz for the show in an increasingly permeable transmedia environment. The initial marketing was very successful. In fact, it yielded more than just visibility and buzz; it created discursivity. The show's perceived uniqueness, its appropriation of contemporary youth culture's desire for fame through performative musical talent á la American Idol, and its effective corporate branding and opt-in marketing techniques turned the text into a media phenomenon. Glee evolved from a text into an ongoing discourse that generated additional texts. This formation of other texts manifested as a form of concrete labor. As fans engaged with the Gleek community, they began to adopt the show's aesthetic of performance by creating and uploading sing-along videos, musical montages, and scene remixes, organizing flash mobs, and forming singing groups, all the while creating "performative copies of the original" (Leavitt 2013) in an impressive display of collective authorship and showmanship—essentially a uniform labor practice. They openly performed their fandom by emulating the style of the show, thereby establishing alternate transmedia spaces—fan-driven spaces—to interact with the show in a more production-oriented fashion (Lancaster 2001). The Gleeks' cultural expression—labor as leisure and fun that manifests itself as an ongoing practice of discursivity—sustained the show's public momentum, cementing it as a hit. For some fans, Glee evolved from a TV show into an outlet for their artistic ambitions.

[2.8] Many of the early fan videos showed Gleeks performing Glee's version of Journey's 1981 classic song, "Don't Stop Believin'," while others repurposed scenes from the pilot. Yet Fox did not take any legal action against the materials circulated within these fan spaces, ignoring issues of copyright infringement in favor of a large-scale free-for-all marketing campaign that fostered discursivity, though certain types of fan activities were not encouraged, particularly slash fiction (Hellekson 2012). Fox integrated the cultural space of fan performance into its economic-centric marketing space, capitalizing on the aforementioned labor of fan love. Thus, niche fan space was centralized and rendered economically productive. Referencing a narrative tidbit from the pilot—Rachel Berry's (Lea Michele) personalized award system—Fox publicized a so-called Gold Star contest online, asking fans to submit their Glee performance videos and photos with the prospect of winning a trip to the Kid's Choice Awards accompanied by members of the Glee cast—again requiring competitive performance labor as a prerequisite for the corporate gift. Fox thus set out to, as Clarke (2012, 11) terms it, "operationalize fan activities," rather than discounting or penalizing them, as is often the case, thereby constructing a new space of cultural economics in which creative performance—whether professional or fannish—functions as promotional commercial product while masquerading as intimate Gleek producer-fan interaction. This choice reflected Scott's (2005, 1) point about "the aestheticization of the economy and the commodification of culture." The Gleek community evolved into a social marketing network with ideal producers and consumers who would persistently advertise the show's Gleek brand (Jenkins 2007).

[2.9] Fox's formative marketing campaign for Glee constructed a transmedia environment with sites of interaction for Gleeks (both Glee producers and fans), incorporating both official and unofficial spaces. Focusing on the act of performance—both musical (singing and dancing by characters, actors, and fans) and discursive (social media activities)—these spaces are operationalized as promotional venues for the show, although paradoxically they are generally touted as interactive spheres of fan self-expression. Fans saw their own performances as an opportunity to express and interact, but Fox openly utilized them as marketing labor. In this sense, the transmedia discourse facilitated both promotion and self-expression; however, its overall purpose remained economically rather than artistically driven. This unspoken contract between fans and the corporation, based on mutual benefit, defines Glee's cultural economics of performance space. Fox expanded the Gleek spaces during season 1, leading to a proliferation of fan spaces. Fox's marketing team then set out to create a hub to organize and coordinate this expansion to optimize Glee's brand promotion.

3. Synergizing Gleek performances—Glee's geography of transmedia marketing

[3.1] Fox continued to foster the ostensible intimacy of the Gleek community by furnishing more opportunities for producer-fan interaction. The spectacular success of the first season (with an average of 15 million to 17 million viewers per week) (note 4) had demonstrated, in Green and Jenkins's (2009, 213) more general observation, that fans represent "the drivers of wealth production in the digital economy." Glee's marketing accordingly sought to increase fan involvement in—and labor for—the show through the construction and implementation of a type of ritual media space (Moore 2009) that promotes the spectacle of performance, designed to ensure consistent fan engagement by specifically targeting one of the fans' favorite element of the show: the display of musical talent and the vicarious pleasure of dreaming oneself into this performance space. Iterations of Glee's musical vignettes therefore came to dominate the show's paratextual marketing. Fox used these as building blocks for expanded transmedia spaces, establishing a vast geography.

[3.2] Glee's transmedia geography is predominantly composed of virtual spaces, which include televisual and filmic channels. Within these spaces, paratextual promotional content is regularly distributed to fans in order to foster their engagement with the show and substantiate the Gleek community. The spaces differentiate between corporate-driven marketing and producer-driven branding. The former refers to official Fox spaces, while the latter points to personal virtual channels maintained by certain producers of the show, which are put in service of the show's marketing. All of them are performance-centric and enable fans to interact with and feel part of Glee—and Gleeks make an active decision to support their show by directing their attention, energy, and creativity to these various spaces of media consumption, willingly opening themselves to the practice of fan labor and fostering discursivity.

[3.3] The central spaces of Glee's transmedia geography are the official Fox Glee Web site, the show's Facebook group, the Twitter account GleeOnFox, the eponymous YouTube channel and Tumblr blog, and a (rarely updated) MySpace page (figure 1). Except for the MySpace page, Fox has enlisted the service of the most popular virtual sites of social interaction (MySpace, a now obsolete network, is mostly included because it is owned by the media conglomerate News Corporation, just like Fox) (note 5). All of these virtual spaces are interrelated—synergized—via hyperlinks and offer similar promotional paratexts via daily and weekly updates. The following are released in all spaces: preview videos, videos of musical performances from specific episodes, preview posters, cast and crew interviews, episode photos, music samples, and calls to preorder Glee merchandise (mostly DVDs and CDs). However, each individual space has specific offers as well; by this diversification, Fox ensures an even distribution of fan engagement across the transmedia geography. This sustained engagement is ultimately achieved by sustained labor. The Fox Web site functions as the merchandise hub. Although it incorporates a library of fully viewable episodes (four at a time), numerous performance clips, Glee episode recaps, and behind-the-scenes footage, it primarily supplies links to free downloads and places to purchase Gleek memorabilia, such as quizzes, games, wallpaper, iTunes content, iPhone apps, the karaoke video game, DVDs, CDs, and clothing. It thus offers physical objects designed to create an additional sphere of material fan devotion.

[3.4] The Facebook group is international, reaching fans all over the world. It currently has 24 million subscribers. Although it equally advertises Glee merchandise, its focus rests on measurable fan labor and discursivity, encouraging Gleeks to "like," post or repost, or thread the show. It creates daily updates to maintain consistent interest and buzz, thus further cultivating distinct media rituals such as the Gleek of the Week contest (fans share their personal Glee stories to enter), which honors one Glee fan with a post on the official page every week (yet another gift/reward for high-class work performance), daily episode lead-ups, and photo-video streams addressing fans who have questions about favorite characters, performances, and story lines. Occasionally the group hosts contests for live video chats with actors, enabling the most interactive/productive users to meet their heroes in person. The Twitter account GleeOnFox (2.75 million followers) fulfills the same functions, but it equally creates intertextual links to the accounts of fans and producers, again emphasizing the communal nature of Gleek culture. Twitter hashtags allow Fox to centralize and direct fan discourse over longer periods of time. The account organizes official live tweets for every episode, pre- and postviewing discussions, and daily reminders about the latest episode. Glee's Tumblr blog puts up posters and videos on a weekly routine, resulting in numerous reposts from fans who use this social media service.

[3.5] The Fox YouTube channel (over 1 million subscribers and over 200 million video views) constitutes an exceptional marketing space, as it provides an abundance of copyrighted material, featuring promos, cast and crew interviews, Comic-Con footage, and full performances from every Glee episode. Furthermore, it hosts the Fox Glee Lounge, featuring short conversations between the show's actors about their personal lives. Although Fox licenses Glee episodes to Netflix and Hulu, it offers the essential parts of each episode—the musical performances—free of charge, all to satisfy a large community of fans and to encourage them to maintain a high degree of discursivity and labor by sharing these videos and/or reproducing them by creating similar amateur ones.

[3.6] The corporate-directed spaces are complemented by the personal spaces that individual Glee producers occupy. Glee's show runners and writers, casting agent, choreographer, and the entirety of the cast maintain Twitter accounts where they foster the brand of the show by engaging the Gleek community. Of course, their rhetoric is still corporate directed, yet their tweets have a more personal touch because they not only share Glee-related information but also give insights into other professional projects as well as their private lives. This strategy serves both corporate branding and self-branding, as Weprin (2009) has noted. Although not all of the Twitter accounts are regularly active, the most popular are, including show runner Ryan Murphy (600,000 followers) and actors Chris Colfer (2.6 million), Darren Criss (1.6 million), and Lea Michele (4 million). These producers present themselves as professional Gleeks who give back, offering information not available in other spaces of the transmedia geography, particularly an inside look into the show's mythical production space. Glee is shot on the Paramount lot in Los Angeles. It is a closed-set production. The producers regularly offer photos or videos from the set, allowing fans to become a (passive) part of the production process yet an active part of the promotional process. They enable fans to see through their eyes, then pass that information on. This illusion serves to mythologize Glee's production space in order to generate more fan discursivity about the show as a whole.

[3.7] Although the geography is mostly composed of virtual spaces, it features a small set of real-world sites with a media component. These sites complement the virtual dimension of the marketing geography in that they offer tangibility, thus deepening the ostensible intimacy within the Gleek community as fans receive an opportunity to meet the show's producers in person. The Glee live events are invariably characterized as an expression of the producers' gratitude toward the fans, although ironically, they are not free of charge. Thus, Glee has regularly offered a Comic-Con panel since its inception, providing Gleeks with tantalizing tidbits about upcoming seasons. Furthermore, the show's producers frequently attend question-and-answer sessions in and around Los Angeles, many of which are open to the public. At the end of the first season, Glee embarked on a 21-city live North American tour, giving a total of 31 concert performances. In 2011, at the end of season 2, the cast gave nine more concerts, eight in England and one in Ireland (note 6). The content performed in these real-world spaces only reaches a limited fan base, however. The producers thus distributed this content via transmedia geography, synergizing the performances across multiple spaces—a concert movie in theaters and on DVD; CDs; YouTube videos; photos on Facebook and Twitter—again facilitating fan labor as fans disseminated the content.

[3.8] Glee's transmedia geography utilizes the new role of the producer in the postnetwork era of television. Although Glee's producers regularly appear in official media outlets such as premieres and TV and radio interviews, they are equally expected to promote the show in virtual spheres, not only acting for fans but also interacting with them on a regular basis, forming a community that emphasizes intimacy. Furthermore, this construction of a commercially interrelated and overtly fan-centric marketing macrospace is designed to invite fan participation and position the corporate network as a mediator between stars and fans. Thus, "by emphasizing the active participation of the viewer …, the show positions itself and its network as 'benevolent' … —graciously inviting the viewer to be producerly" (Ross 2008, 89)—that is, to labor. The Gleeks largely embraced the interactive opportunities of the official spaces, but they equally engaged in typical grassroots fan practice, creating a vast amount of unofficial spaces, ranging from individual Glee blogs and YouTube channels to large-scale Web sites, the most comprehensive of which is Gleeksource (https://www.facebook.com/gleeksource), which centralizes all the spaces from the show's transmedia geography, bundling the content, including merchandising, in one place. The overarching fan tenor thus reflects Fox's marketing strategy of discursivity: to have fans act as multipliers (McCracken 2005). Fans primarily reproduce the content of the official transmedia spaces, reposting and commenting on corporate-released videos and photos on their social media sites and engaging with the producers on Twitter. Their enthusiasm mirrors what John Fiske describes as "empowering play" (1987, 236), the affect of wishing to be a part of Glee, to be a member of the community.

[3.9] However, the Gleeks also feel inspired by the show, which has led to an influx of creative Glee performance videos on YouTube. These videos can be divided into two categories: the Glee song video with lyrics and photos, and the fan performance covering a Glee song, some of which generated millions of views during the first two seasons. Fans created the videos to further increase their ties to the show and the Gleek community while refashioning their identities as hard-core Gleeks. They are consumers as well as producers; they are not necessarily laborers but rather devout fans who live and breathe the show, dreaming about an opportunity to be in the limelight (Carpenter 2012). Stein (2010, 138) aptly says of this type of fan behavior: "Media fans understand themselves as authors and performers in online spaces, and often take pleasure in blurring the lines between diegetic and non-diegetic performance." Although those fan-producers—"the people formerly known as the audience" (Rosen 2006)—utilized the videos as a source for fan and self-expression, Fox perceived them as additional promotional paratexts, with creative fan-producers acting as brand advocates for the show, especially for the music covers (Edwards 2012, 2). Fox thereby created synergy between the official corporate and unofficial fan spaces, prodigiously expanding the scope of its transmedia geography. The network's willingness to release vast amounts of copyrighted material is attributable to the corresponding rise in user-generated content, which at almost no point opposed or counteracted what Baughman and Wood (2012, 341) aptly characterize as "the commercial and ideological practices of dominant culture." In fact, it immensely contributed to them. The Gleeks, consciously or unconsciously, accepted their role as Glee marketing agents in exchange for the manufactured intimacy of the interactive Gleek community. Gleeks thus largely represent an affirmational fan base, although fans of noncanonical scenarios are equally active in a transformational vidding practice, albeit in a more furtive manner; and much of their work, while unconventional, ultimately exists within the boundaries of the Glee system, as no narrative or stylistic risks are taken. (For the affirmational/transformational divide, see obsession_inc 2009; it should be noted, though, that Glee reconfigures the author's gender argument about affirmational/transformational fans in that the show projects a stronger female affirmational audience.) They follow, indeed celebrate, the official rhetoric set forth by Fox and the Glee producers. Gleeks rarely have any communal schisms, although they see themselves as gatekeepers for the show's public perception, policing its dominant discourse in order to contain resistant readings and misreadings (Hills 2002; Johnson 2007). This is not to suggest that all Gleeks are the dupes of Fox. Gleeks might be viewed as a romantic fan base, but all of them make a conscious choice to support the show, realizing that their engagement sustains their beloved product and provides them with more content while experiencing interactive labor as fun (De Kosnik 2013). In this regard, it can be argued that fans potentially choose not to confront the show critically because of the personal gains afforded to them by the show and its transmedia geography. Nevertheless, some Gleeks expect more from the network-authored Glee experience than others, and Fox, through its creation of a controllable environment that mobilizes fan activity as a form of marketing labor, has actively seized on these expectations. I do need to acknowledge here that Glee's legacy includes instances of fan resistance and agency in non-Fox-affiliated online forums, particularly with regard to the show's gender politics.

[3.10] Glee's transmedia geography can thus be defined as a synergy of corporate and fan spaces, all of which communicate the acts of expression and performance as promotional material to sustain discursivity about the show. The corporate message is that fans form part of an intimate Gleek community that fosters interaction between audiences and producers. Although this is true, the community's primary agenda is to capitalize on these interactions to market the show. In this regard, the community resembles a market that economizes culture. On the outside, Glee's transmedia spaces appear to form what Lessig (2008) defines as a sharing economy—a market devoid of monetary concerns that distributes goods altruistically. Indeed, it does offer gifts/rewards to its users. Behind this benevolent veneer of cultural discourse, however, is revealed an elaborate commercial economy. Labor is partially rewarded, albeit noneconomically, but more is constantly asked for. To use French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's (1986) terms, the transmedia geography rigorously fosters Glee's cultural capital to be cashed in as economic capital. Its social construction effectively operationalizes fans' involvement in the show, economizing their emotions and cultural activities as marketing rhetoric. This pseudo-collaborative (one might even call it protoexploitative) practice went to further extremes after the zenith of Glee's popularity at the end of season 1.

4. Commodifying the Gleek—Spatial convergence and nouveau professionalism

[4.1] In light of the proliferation of Gleek fan videos on the Internet, Fox reconfigured the geography of its transmedia spaces to yet again maximize discursivity, complementing the concept of interaction and communal intimacy between producers and fans with the process of mobility—upward mobility, to be precise. The marketing thus seized on both the show's generic ties to live musical competition shows and fans'—as well as mainstream youth audiences'—enthusiasm for (and active engagement in) online video singing performances, introducing an open MySpace casting call for Gleeks. The call offered up the dream most of them share: to become a star like their favorite actors on Glee, to truly become part of the show, to evolve from a fan Gleek into a producer Gleek. Although this marketing ploy openly revealed the social hierarchy within the supposedly equal Gleek community (which was divided into Gleek producers, active Gleek fan-producer-distributor-consumers, and mere Gleek consumers), it also lowered the boundaries between the professional and fan spaces, which had direct ramifications on the show's on-air narrative. The prospect of choosing an amateur to become part of a professionally produced, multimillion-dollar narrative TV show intensified the established practice of what I term nouveau professionalism, cultivated on reality TV shows like American Idol. Nouveau professionalism denotes the process of an amateur transforming into a corporate entity with cultural and economic capital. Fox's strategy aimed to select a fan from within its niche audience and posit (groom, market, promote) him or her as an emerging star. In this regard, the spaces of Glee's transmedia geography not only expanded but converged, ostensibly facilitating the possibility for fans to break into the show and, by extension, the TV industry, albeit not as a fresh outsider but as a corporation-created and -directed product.

[4.2] The Fox-MySpace-News Corporation synergy launched the casting call for one of three new roles on the show at the end of season 1 in 2010, effectively setting out to co-opt the show's fan spaces, complementing its gift economy with the (ludic) principle of rewarding performance. Clear rules were formulated and publicized online; they asked fans to perform a song that had been featured on Glee (thus ensuring continued commercial investment) and to explain why they wanted to be on the show. This approach underscores the motif of the underdog, particularly social alienation and the chance of a lifetime; Glee effectively calls on this motif to recruit belief in the show. Promoted by the Glee cast by Internet videos directly addressing the audience as Gleeks, the call received 34,000 submissions, along with 23 million video views and 1.3 million MySpace friends ("Glee Launches Casting Call on MySpace" 2010). The project generated a lot of media attention, exposing Glee to an even wider audience and increasing fans' emotional ties to the show and its aesthetics of stylized "amateur" performance. However, the project ultimately did not come to fruition. Whether submissions were reviewed remains unclear, yet Glee returned to its second season with three new traditionally cast industry professionals (performers with representation), thus exposing the call as a potential marketing scheme (O'Neill 2010). Fox's until then effective customary strategy of disguising its marketing as a benevolent gift/competitive reward for fan labor had, to a certain degree, publicly failed. Yet Gleeks did not engage in any resistance to the show. Rather, they embraced it even more vigorously, making the season 2 debut an enormous success. There was no call for public resistance against Fox or the show; the issue just faded away. I advance the assertion that, at this stage, the Gleek community had reached a point of evangelical devotion, blindly (and, granted, in some cases grudgingly) accepting corporate dictum, regardless of its ethical implications. Of course, it is equally possible that fans cared more about a passive form of teleparticipation than an active form of nouveau professionalism. At any rate, Fox had established a type of fan ecosystem, subject to the outside control and calculated input of the network. Fans' investment in the show was so strong that the prospect (hope, desire) to become part of the show itself effectively contained any efforts at large-scale resistance.

[4.3] The casting call had another major impact on Glee's fan culture, earning the producers of the most-viewed videos what Mark Deuze (2009) calls a networked reputation—a high amount of cultural capital measured quantitatively in video views and qualitatively in "likes" (termed Gold Stars). This form of capital further increased the layers of social hierarchy within the Gleek community and added an additional dimension to its discursivity: that of self-promotion. As a consequence, the myth of spatial convergence, although now proven to be an illusion, manifested itself in the consciousness of hard-core Gleeks. Fans began using Twitter and Facebook to circulate their videos to the show runners and actors, hoping mostly for a professional compliment and more virtual face time (a form of cultural capital in itself), or even the miracle of being offered a role and realizing spatial convergence. Glee's transmedia geography thus evolved into a marketing forum for both the show and its fans—a sphere of artistic expression and labor. The myth of spatial convergence grew even more. Fans turned their attention to Glee's production space, traveling to the Glee set, perhaps harboring the hope of somehow finding a way to make it on the show despite the closed set. I interviewed three seasoned tour guides at Paramount studios, all of whom reported of a few instances when fans left audition DVDs and letters on the lot or asked the guides to pass them along to Ryan Murphy. Generally, visitors asked the guides questions about how to audition for the show, erroneously considering the guides to be industry insiders. The guides further stated that about 30 percent of visitors, in their estimation, attend the tour to see Glee specifically, in many cases well knowing that the set is closed. The belief in spatial convergence, as set forth by the faux casting call, emphasized the notion of capital within the Glee fan spaces, with fans positing their videos not only as expressions of Gleekian devotion but as forms of cultural capital potentially enabling them to move from fan to professional, corporate space. The notion of labor was thus fully realized. Although the transmedia geography overall served as a marketing construct for Glee, both the show's producers and fans commenced to utilize its spaces for self-branding. Or, to recontextualize Mark Andrejevic's (2004, 196) work, Glee practiced "the paradigm of active participation as a form of self-commodification" on all spatial levels.

[4.4] In 2011, Glee cocreator Ryan Murphy reacted to the fan craze and returned to the idea of amplifying fan interest through nouveau professionalism. He conceived of a new show, titled The Glee Project, to cast new talent from the Gleek community, now fully embracing the show's generic ties to the American Idol formula. Although Fox did not believe enough in the project to finance it, in order to retain the possibility of creating major marketing hype, it outsourced the production to NBC Universal's network, Oxygen, receiving licensing fees in return (and thereby externalizing risk in case the show underperformed). The show's principle was the same as that of the MySpace casting call. Fans were asked to perform official Glee songs and upload them to the Oxygen portal with the prospect of being cast to compete for a seven-episode arc in Glee's third season. This time, however, the involvement of Ryan Murphy, cocreator Ian Brennan, choreographer Zach Woodlee, vocal arranger Nikki Anders, and casting agent Robert Ulrich, as well as members of the cast serving as guest mentors, lent authenticity to the new endeavor. Furthermore, the online video auditions were complemented by live casting calls in select major American cities, further underscoring the legitimacy of the venture.

[4.5] The Glee Project's (2011–12) marketing campaign underlined the show's conceptualization as fan service, with the promo footage consistently emphasizing the concept of spatial convergence within Glee's transmedia geography as well as fans' ability to transition from fan to professional space through sheer talent and devotion to Glee; the show's rules even intimated that those familiar with the show's style and music would create performances that appeal to the jury, hence underscoring the significance of Glee viewing knowledge and merchandise ownership.

Video 3. The Glee Project season 2 promotional trailer.

[4.6] The 1-minute TV spots repeatedly feature the phrases, "Do you want to be on Glee?" and "You can be on Glee!," directly targeting hard-core Gleeks as well as a mainstream audience of American Idol–weaned teenagers. (All of the spots also fetishize the Glee set through long shots of and slow track-ins to the McKinley High School stage and auditorium, creating an aura of performance that unites Gleeks.) In this regard, The Glee Project marketing directly tied in with Fox's strategy of promoting performance space. For season 1 of The Glee Project, 12 contenders were chosen, all supposedly amateurs. During the course of the show, they received professional singing, dancing, and performance lessons from Glee producers. These manufactured moments of contact constituted the main appeal for Gleeks watching the show, catering to its communal and intimate sense of fandom. Overall, season 1 of The Glee Project functioned as a nine-episode-long advertisement for Glee's upcoming season, averaging 800,000 viewers and a high share in the show's key demographic as well as a breeding ground for new talent. (The second season of The Glee Project consisted of 12 episodes and marketed Glee's upcoming fourth season.) The show chose a talented Gleek to be part of Glee; it simultaneously created a new star type, the former fan turned Glee professional. Elizabeth Ellcessor (2012, 48) provides a functional framework to analyze the overarching marketing strategy of The Glee Project as making a star through the lens of the "discursive construction of the star." She argues that in the digital era, the creation of a star persona requires a set of interconnected sites of expression and that the constructed "transmedia story of the star is formed through repeated connections between these discursive sites." The Glee Project and Glee itself aim to create these subcultural forms of stardom through their convergence of performative marketing spaces.

[4.7] The fan-turned-professional-Gleek concept was rigorously marketed within Glee's transmedia geography. The Glee Project had its own Web site, Facebook group (over 1 million fans), Twitter account (420,000 followers), and YouTube channel (55,000 subscribers, 14 million views), and all of them were connected with Fox's official marketing spaces. The Glee Project's focus rested on the fan community, further cultivating an already strong sense of solidarity among Gleeks, with the contenders now actually working/laboring for the fans (in achieving their commonly held dream) rather than for the corporation that owns, commodifies, and profits from Glee—at least in idealistic terms. The transmedia spaces enabled Gleeks to follow their favorite Gleek on The Glee Project. The Gleeks on the show, in return, regularly posted personal messages to their fans (who could join teams on the Web site), fostering the sense of communal interaction that has come to define Glee's (fan and marketing) culture. The winners of the respective two seasons of The Glee Project who went on to appear in several Glee episodes (and indeed received extended contracts) subsequently shared their now-professional insights with the Gleeks on how to succeed on the show and make it to Glee. These videos, clearly corporate driven, consciously evoked the style of a self-made home video (released in YouTube's commons, and not an official channel), underlining that those who made the video just want to give back, thus continuing Fox's gift economy marketing, which posits freely circulating transmedia materials as gifts for fans' devotion to the show. It also referenced the new reward system by emphasizing the competitiveness of The Glee Project.

Video 4. "The Glee Project Casting."

Video 5. "Cameron and Damian Tips."

[4.8] Video 4 presents the actors in a studio setting (code: official and real), while video 5 shows them in a private space (code: intimate and real). Although the two videos are stylistically different, they carry the same connotation. The Gleek producers want others to succeed in the competition. This manufactured intimacy is a key component of the show's marketing.

[4.9] Although the show mirrored Glee's rhetoric in ostensibly celebrating the underdog—the raw musical jewel with a heart of gold and a dream—the main contenders had at least some professional experience in the entertainment industry. In fact, the finalists of both seasons did not even go through the initial application stages of the public casting call but were discovered through industry channels. Moreover, the show's proclamation that contenders should display their own personality in order to win was undermined by an obvious typecasting process; the contenders all exhibited characteristics known from characters on Glee. Hence, The Glee Project can be accused of negating its call for diversity through the fabrication of Glee clones as well as undercutting the notion of nouveau professionalism because the winners were in fact (quasi-)professionals—or at least more professional than the average Gleek. However, this information never entered the official Gleekian discursivity, as Gleeks continued to embrace and celebrate the show, leaving little room for critical reflection (or deliberately choosing not to engage in critical reflection) (note 7). Uncertainty and suspicion must have surely existed within the fan community, but the strong emotional investment of the Gleeks (a natural fan reaction) still dominated the discourse.

[4.10] The Glee Project continued Glee's notion of the empowered fan, the Gleek, being given the opportunity to move from fan to professional through performative labor and spatial convergence within an industrial transmedia geography. At the same time, it commodified the Gleek as a commercial entity to generate ratings and revenue while it acted as a promotional engine for the show. On the one hand, it extends the promise that fans have a shot at fame, an opportunity to realize the common teenage dream that Glee narrativizes in its stories about social outcasts, thereby deepening fans' emotional investment. On the other hand, it subverts this promise, exploiting fans' emotionalism and creative activity as corporate promotion.

5. Gleek-x-ploitation—Confronting the dichotomy of fan agency and corporate labor

[5.1] With the marketing for Glee and The Glee Project, Fox and Oxygen aimed to position themselves as benevolent networks that enable fans to interact with the people they admire in a communal and equal space while facilitating and legitimizing creative fan practice in form of media performance as a way to break in and get on Glee. The overarching effect of this network strategy, however, was the integration—indeed exploitation—of fans' cultural activity as promotional labor. Although this approach seemingly fosters fan-producer collaboration with mutual benefits for both groups (and these benefits indubitably exist, particularly in terms of emotional economics), its implications for fans as consumers and new media producers ought not be misinterpreted. Glee's increasing interest in human capital and the modern consumer (Hartley 2009)—a widespread phenomenon in the digital economy of culture—manifests itself most explicitly in its conceptualization of fans as media outlets (note 8), mere data channels that produce objects measured exclusively in economic value.

[5.2] Glee's transmedia geography of marketing effectively illustrates Mark Andrejevic's (2004, 197) critical observation that "the contemporary deployment of interactivity exploits participation as a form of labor." This does not only apply to fans. Before the 2007–8 Writers Guild of America strike, producers of mainstream network and cable television shows did not receive compensation for their work on a second screen, so they were not ensured a constant revenue stream (Mann 2009). Although these above-the-line workers are now compensated for their efforts and have a platform to promote themselves, fans' reward for contributing to a marketing campaign is dispensed in emotional economics only. They are rewarded in the paratextual realm, with the ability to be close to and interact with professionals and stars, and they are provided with opportunities for cultural repute within the Internet sphere. However, the emotional value may be based on false promises. The strategic exploitation of fan activities as labor—their emotional investment in a pop culture product and the creative expression of said investment—portends a marketing strategy that promotes "the colonization of consumer/producer agency by markets" (Deuze 2009, 148).

[5.3] Viewed through the lens of the Frankfurt School, this dialectic of fan agency and fan labor assumes an even more pessimistic dimension. The notion of a community between producers and fans that empowers fans to actually become a professional constitutes an elaborate system of emotional direction. The emphasis on space within Glee's transmedia geography further strengthens this system in that it facilitates a control over access to specific areas and the forms of capital attached to them. Fans are in fact not part of a corporate-directed community. The Gleeks may rather be regarded as a hive within Fox's media industry, a post-Fordist construction that externalizes risk and generates promotional material without costly employment contracts. Their performances within Glee's transmedia spaces have cultural significance, especially for like-minded peers, but overall, they are predominantly solicited, viewed, and promoted as corporate marketing boosts. Ultimately, Glee's performance registers as an explicit form of cultural labor.

6. Conclusion—Following the Gleeks … further

[6.1] John Caldwell (2009, 161) notes that we need to understand "media industries not just as corporate institutions, but as collective cultural activities and embodied social communities as well." Glee's transmedia geography encapsulates Caldwell's argument through its ties to Fox and News Corporation, its focus on performance as cultural expression and economic value, and its construction of a conformist fan base. Glee's marketing has created elaborate techniques to solicit, control, and exploit fan contributions that serve as additional promotional material for the show. The show promises fan-producer engagement and exchange within an intimate community of Gleeks and extends the possibility of joining the Gleek elite by transitioning from fan into nouveau professional space. Glee thereby enlists fans through an exploitative play with their emotions. Although it is certainly true that the network of interrelated spaces generates emotional reciprocity—fans' input is rewarded with responses from producers and abundant media materials they love—the overarching practice of positing a benevolent veneer of magnanimity for the sheer purpose of economic revenue, while ultimately capitalizing on false illusions, is dubious and needs to be examined critically, especially in the interest of fans whose emotional investment outweighs their critical perception—a state that could potentially result in psychological damage.

[6.2] My analysis has only explored the surface of Glee's transmedia geography of marketing; a more in-depth study is necessary for a more comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon. Interviews with Gleeks who underwent the casting calls for MySpace or The Glee Project constitute the main desideratum of such a project. Furthermore, it is crucial to add a more personal dimension that investigates Glee's transmedia spaces from within, adopting a detached yet informed fan perspective in an effort to learn how Gleeks perceive the dichotomy of fan practice and labor. The affirmational, corporate-centric dimension that the Gleek community exhibits needs to be rendered more lucidly as well, especially because it directly correlates with the input of the corporate institutions that oversee the marketing practices of the show. The model must also be systematically examined across the contemporary TV landscape.

[6.3] Overall, the intricacies of Glee's marketing approach, notably its conceptual use of performance and space, offers a framework through which to analyze fan cultures and their ever-growing ties to the media industries' production of culture. The Gleeks create, traverse, and operate within today's space of cultural economics—and many do so willingly and quite astutely, building their own fan profile, absorbing extra content, and communicating with their idols. They essentially get what they want in exchange for emotional and practical forms of labor. In following their footprints from the inside, we might be able to learn more about the dynamics that inform this space of cultural economics and how they shape fan practice and labor.

7. Acknowledgments

I thank Professor John T. Caldwell (UCLA) and James Gilmore (Indiana University) for their insightful feedback. I would also like to thank the editors at TWC for their dedication to this piece.

8. Notes

1. According to Jonathan Gray (2010, 4), "Paratexts can amplify and/or clarify many of a text's meanings and uses, establishing the role that a text and its characters play outside the boundaries of the show, in the everyday realities of viewers' and non-viewers' lives." Gray's predominantly textual analysis of paratexts effectively establishes the relation between the extra text source and the audience. I focus on how the economic dimension of paratexts factors into this equation.

2. Although the term producer refers to a specific job description, I am using a broader, cultural studies–oriented understanding of the term as someone involved in creating creative (media) content. This thus involves people involved in creating Glee as entertainment spectacle, including below-the-line workers and fans.

3. The tweet-peat was largely targeted at Gleeks, reminding them that the show valued their tweets (questions, comments). As a result, Glee became the most tweeted-about show of 2009.

4. Over the course of its four-season arc, Glee's ratings have steadily decreased, with the fourth season averaging 5 to 6 million viewers per week. Nevertheless, iTunes and CD sales remain high, regularly topping the download and sales charts.

5. This large-scale implementation of popular social networking sites supports Fox's strategy to shape fan reception and production. Hartley's (2009) concept of the economics of attention captures the minutely orchestrated, systematic approach to fan activity very well.

6. In the press release for the initial four-city live tour, cocreator and show runner Ryan Murphy emphasized the concert as the show's thank-you to Gleeks: "The response of the fans to our little show has been so immediate and so gratifying, we wanted to get out and thank them live and in person. And what show lends itself more to a concert than Glee? We can't wait to take this show on the road and the actors couldn't be more excited to perform live for audiences in these four cities" (Weintraub 2010).

7. In fact, the Gleek community is strictly policed, with fans generally ignoring, marginalizing, or openly attacking any critical viewpoints on the show. Ironically, the show itself celebrates diversity and tolerance—qualities that are not commonly displayed in critical discourses revolving around the show.

8. Clay Shirky (1999) argues that the digital age has rendered consumers more powerful in that they now represent media outlets that can either embrace and advertise or reject and undermine the marketing of a media product. Shirky does not mention, however, the dimensions to which this paradigm shift enables media industries to exploit the consumer anew through the controlled illusion of empowerment. Glee's transmedia geography effectively practices this exploitative new labor economy.

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