Book review

Teen television: Essays on programming and fandom, edited by Sharon Marie Ross and Louisa Ellen Stein

Mary Dalton

Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, United States

[0.1] Keywords—Teen; Television; TV

Dalton, Mary. 2008. Teen television: Essays on programming and fandom, edited by Sharon Marie Ross and Louisa Ellen Stein [book review]. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 1.

Sharon Marie Ross and Louisa Ellen Stein, eds. Teen television: Essays on programming and fandom. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008. $35.00 (259p) ISBN 978-0-78643-589-0.

[1] Teen Television: Essays on Programming and Fandom, edited by Sharon Marie Ross and Louisa Ellen Stein, is a timely anthology that offers multiple perspectives on the quickly evolving world of teen television. In the introduction, the editors define teen television as a fluid genre designated by "content, audience address, programming context, or demographics of reception (or any combination of these elements)" (4). They also argue that these programs are both "culturally transgressive yet commercial" (7) in ways that inform the content of the programs and the various responses of fans. It is this tension between the transgressive and the commercial, explored in a number of the chapters, that creates a unifying theme among the essays beyond the overarching categories of teens and television. Even though some key scholarly works on the influence of youth culture have been produced in the last 25 years, including at least one volume looking specifically at television, Teen TV: Genre, Consumption and Identity (Davis and Dickinson 2004), there is still much work to be done, and Ross and Stein make a strong contribution to the literature with Teen Television.

[2] There are 12 chapters in the volume, which are divided into three topic areas: part I—"The Industrial Context of Teen TV"; part II—"Teens on TV"; and part III—"Cultures of Reception." The book's general approach is to examine television programs in the larger contexts of modes of production, textual analysis linked to theoretical frameworks, and reception studies, which is both appropriate and useful. This type of critique is more expansive and persuasive than a collection focused solely on textual analysis, but the emphasis here on American television unifies the collection despite the various perspectives included. A number of these essays delve into several of these contexts at once to develop the complex relationships among programs, various cultural constructs, and fandom, revealing a great deal about female teen culture.

[3] In part I, Valerie Wee ("Teen Television and the WB Television Network"), Sharon Marie Ross ("Defining Teen Culture: The N Network"), and Ben Aslinger ("Rocking Prime Time: Gender, the WB, and Teen Culture") contribute chapters that discuss the emergence of the WB as the first "teen" network, the development of the N as a narrowcasting network, and the role of music as a component of teen television. Each of these essays offers a compelling look at the interplay between industry and audience and draws on larger themes that help designate and reinforce the genre, fluid though it may be. The section begins with an essay by Jeff Martin on the show TV Teen Club, which aired from 1949 to 1954. While "TV Teen Club: Teen TV as Safe Harbor" is an interesting read and offers some limited context for the later series, especially in terms of the use of music, the temporal gap between this show and the other programs addressed in the volume (which premiered in the 1990s and 2000s) makes it an uneven fit for the book.

[4] Probably because of the theoretical frameworks informing the analysis, the chapters in part II of the anthology are the most cohesive group in the collection and offer analytical tools and critical insights that the reader can use in thinking more broadly about other television programs and genres. Francesca Gamber's essay "Riding the Third Wave: The Multiple Feminisms of Gilmore Girls" is a particularly nuanced look at complex and competing discourses of second-wave and third-wave feminisms, and it should have broad applications beyond Gilmore Girls as a way of interrogating various media texts. Gamber says of the teen character in the series, "The immediate task facing Rory in the navigation of multiple feminist models is that of distinguishing herself from her mother," and the author's essay itself provides an artful navigation of multiple feminist models. At first I was confused about the inclusion of Six Feet Under in a volume on teen television, but Barbara Brickman's essay "The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Fan: Consumption and Queer Inspiration in Six Feet Under" is provocative, adding an interesting take on how a program that is not actively marketed to teens can still include the signifiers of teen television in ways that are central to the series. The other three chapters in this section are Caralyn Bolte's "'Normal is the watchword': Exiling Cultural Anxieties and Redefining Desire from the Margins," Andrea Braithwaite's "'That girl of yours—she's pretty hardboiled, huh?': Detecting Feminism in Veronica Mars," and Sue Turnbull's "'They stole me': The O.C., Masculinity, and the Strategies of Teen TV."

[5] Part III is the most problematic, and in some ways the most interesting, section in the volume: problematic because of the methodological challenges of conducting research using online fan sites, but interesting because of the insights these authors bring to their subjects and the expansive nature of the analysis. The final chapter in the book, Louisa Ellen Stein's "Pushing at the Margins: Teenage Angst in Teen TV and Audience Response," is more general in scope, but the other two essays look at specific series and fan responses. In "Fashion Sleuths and Aerie Girls: Veronica Mars' Fan Forums and Network Strategies of Fan Address," Jennifer Gillan provides a multilayered look at the way fans engage the series, interact in online communities, and express their fandom in the larger consumer culture inspired by the show. While this type of research is necessarily messy, it offers a necessary examination of the interplay among the text and various related texts and contexts to give the reader a sense of the dynamic and intertextual way fans experience Veronica Mars. Melanie E. S. Kohnen introduces a reconceptualization of televisual spectatorship in "The Adventures of a Repressed Farm Boy and the Billionaire Who Loves Him: Queer Spectatorship in Smallville Fandom." Her point is not simply that straight people "can and do see queerly," but that in certain contexts they "understand it as a pleasurable, active, and communal way of seeing" (209). By examining the interplay between the series and fan site discussions, Kohnen makes a compelling case for expanding the range of spectatorial positions available to the viewers beyond the "straight" and "gay" binary that has marked previous conceptions (popular and scholarly) of television.

[6] Teen Television: Essays on Programming and Fandom is an excellent resource for media studies scholars and might make a good supplementary text in graduate seminars, particularly those that include a component on reception studies. It would have been useful for the collection to have addressed the viewing cultures of teen boys either across sections or in a chapter devoted to comparing teen television viewing between girls and boys. Although the focus of the anthology is specific and limited to a particular genre, there will be applications in these chapters for researchers working in all areas of television studies. Furthermore, these essays bring the previously underexplored area of teen television from margin to center. While other books have looked at teen culture broadly and some have looked specifically at the individual television series considered in these essays, this volume fills an important gap in the literature by looking specifically at American teen television programs and should be included in libraries supporting media studies programs.

Work cited

Davis, Glyn, and Kay Dickinson. 2004. Teen TV: Genre, consumption and identity. London: British Film Institute.

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