Book review

The culture industry and participatory audiences, by Emma Keltie

Mel Stanfill

University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida, United States

[0.1] Keywords—Participatory culture; Political economies; Social media

Stanfill, Mel. 2018. The Culture Industry and Participatory Audiences, by Emma Keltie [book review]. In "Social TV Fandom and the Media Industries," edited by Myles McNutt, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 26.

Emma Keltie. The culture industry and participatory audiences. New York: Springer, 2017. Hardcover $99.99 (152 p) (ISBN 9783319490274); e-book $79.99 (ISBN 9783319490281).

[1] Emma Keltie's The Culture Industry and Participatory Audiences examines the important contemporary conjuncture that has resulted in the media industry increasingly encouraging audience participation. The book argues that "such participatory cultural practices are being colonized and capitalized by the culture industry" as well as that government regulations "operate to legitimize some cultural texts over others through funding and traditional distribution" (2017, 2). To do so, Keltie walks readers through competing theoretical models of dystopian (chapter 2) and utopian (chapter 3) approaches to industry-audience interaction. Keltie then offers an overview of fans and their practices (chapter 4) and outlines the media industry environment in Australia (chapter 5). Finally, Keltie draws on these threads to discuss her own experience producing The Newtown Girls (2012), a queer web series set in Australia (chapter 6).

[2] Chapter 2, "The Culture Industry and Audience Agency," revisits Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno's ([1944] 2007) Dialectic of Enlightenment—as the chapter title suggests—as well as that of other Marxist media theorists such as Louis Althusser (1971), Antonio Gramsci (1971), and Stuart Hall (2001). Keltie argues that juxtaposing such theorists with utopian views of participatory culture reveals that "tensions between structure and agency emerge" (13). By this, she means that Horkheimer and Adorno, with their dystopian view of media control, seem to foreclose the possibility of agency, while participatory culture utopians are at risk of positing total agency in a way that ignores the effects of structure. The chapter provides a good overview of these theorists for those who might need an introduction. However, several decades worth of more recent and nuanced work examining the culture industry, such as several articles by Mark Andrejevic (2008, 2009, 2012) and Christian Fuchs (2002, 2010, 2012) are strikingly absent.

[3] In the third chapter, "Agency in Practice: A Participatory Utopia," Keltie describes how "participation occurs within the bounds of structured spaces that those participating did not create" (36). Much of the chapter engages with the work of Pierre Bourdieu (1984) and, like chapter 2, it is a very helpful introduction to Bourdieu's thought; students doing examinations come to mind as a constituency who would find it useful. However, as in the discussion of Marxist theorists in chapter 2, it's not clearly explained why using this particular framework and exploring it at such length is the most productive choice for the book given how much has changed since Bourdieu was writing about the field of cultural production.

[4] Chapter 4 outlines various fan practices, pointing out how media industries leverage them for their own gain. In this process, Keltie notes, "sanctioning of certain fan texts and fan interactions over others reinforces the inherent power structure of media distribution" (73). Readers of Transformative Works and Cultures may question how Keltie delimits fan cultures and practices. While the chapter purports to be a history of fan participation, it centers primarily on fan fiction. This creates the impression that fan fiction is the entirety of fandom. This narrow focus on fan fiction and the omission of vidding poses problems for the book's analysis of the web series The Newtown Girls, since, for a web series, vidding is an additional and important precedent. As with the previous chapters, there's also a marked absence of engagement with contemporary work on fan studies. The chapter primarily relies on Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet (Hellekson and Busse 2006). While this is an important collection of fan studies scholarship, it was published in 2006, and it focuses specifically on fan fiction. Given this, while this chapter could be used as a primer for people who need an overview of fan studies up to the mid-2000s, there are several other short pieces that better serve the purpose, such as Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington's (2007) introduction to the first edition of Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World.

[5] The fifth chapter, "Producing Culture: Australian Media and Creative Policy," provides an overview of the Australian television distribution system and government funding process. Keltie asks "to what extent, then, are governments enabling, or at least complicit in" the ways "the culture industry typically colonises new spaces carved out by agentic audiences" (79). Ultimately, Keltie finds that government policy has acted to preserve the status quo despite technological change. This chapter offers a comprehensive look at television in an Australian context and will provide a helpful lay of the land for researchers looking at Australian cases.

[6] In chapter 6, "Participation in Practice," Keltie turns to her case study, an analysis of The Newtown Girls, a web series that tells the story of a group of lesbians living in Sydney. Keltie was personally involved in this project, serving as co-creator as well as directing some episodes. Through their own free labor and donations from local businesses, Keltie and her collaborators were able to create and release ten six– to ten-minute episodes. Ultimately, Keltie argues, "whilst Web series, as a medium, offers a platform for creators to resist and challenge the culture industry by providing an alternative source of entertainment," they nevertheless are constrained by modeling themselves on TV and using corporate distribution platforms like YouTube (120). That tension, between the possibility to produce and the constraints on it, echoes the structure-agency tension set up in chapter 2. Overall, it is an interesting case study that differs from other accounts of researchers producing their own web series because of its Australian context.

[7] The book's final chapter asks how audience participation may be understood as labor and asks why certain kinds of participation are treated as legitimate and encouraged over others. Keltie argues that "authorised participation as a concept proposes the notion that participatory culture, espoused as a form of democratic engagement with the culture industry, is instead governed by structures that are contested and challenged by users" (133). These are vital questions with which many fan scholars are currently engaged, and Keltie adds a needed non-American case study to this scholarship. However, The Culture Industry and Participatory Audiences does not engage with this broader conversation. Given the Australian context for Keltie's work, it would be useful to hear how this context complicates the work of scholars like Suzanne Scott (2009, 2011, 2015), Abigail De Kosnik (2012, 2013), and myself (Stanfill 2013, 2015) who have focused primarily on US cases. Aymar Jean Christian's (2011) research on web series by marginalized people, published in Transformative Works and Cultures, is also notably absent, which is particularly unfortunate given that Keltie, like Christian, is writing about a queer web series that she helped to produce; a discussion of how her research has converged with or diverged from his would be fascinating and productive.

[8] Overall, The Culture Industry and Participatory Audiences introduces its readers to early work on culture industries and early Marxist media theory. These chapters may provide a useful and accessible history for undergraduate students. Chapter 5's overview of Australia's system for television funding and distribution will also be useful for researchers interested in an Australian context. However, the book's analysis would be richer if it used these foundations to connect to a broader range of contemporary scholars and theories.