Millennial fandom and the failures of "Switched at Birth"'s sexual assault education campaign
Since the emergence in the 1970s of the ABC Afterschool Special series, networks have sought to distance themselves from the what critics saw as the crass, shallow spectacle of mainstream television. Indeed, contemporary teen programming increasingly rejects black-and-white messages and didacticism in favor of provoking discussion both within the text and online. How, then, do "very special episodes" play out in an age of social TV, online fan discussion, and culturally edgy teen programming? By exploring a 2015 sexual assault story arc on ABC Family's teen drama, <em>Switched at Birth</em> (2011–17), and the network's accompanying social media fan engagement, I argue that fan conversations on social media about divisive or sensitive topics have the potential to disrupt the educational messages within teen programming. ABC Family's #SwitchedAfterChat exemplifies the ways in which fan engagement strategies that fail to adequately support online conversations surrounding sensitive or controversial topics have the potential to thwart educational messaging and to shut down lines of conversation opened by the television text itself, not only in teen programming but in television storytelling more generally.
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