“My MySpace Schedule Keeps Me Way Too Busy to Date”: Glee and Social Networking Sites

Curator's Note

Rachel Berry claims to the audience as she vigorously types away at her gold star-decorated laptop, “I try to post a MySpace video every day, just to keep my talent alive and growing.” In reality, Rachel’s social networking counterpart doesn’t post everyday to her MySpace, Twitter, or Facebook pages, although when she does, the same post usually can be found across her networked world. Rachel is not alone in her social networking meta-verse for Glee; the characters Finn Hudson, Quinn Fabray, and even Sue Sylvester, among others, all regularly post to these same social networking sites. Their posts range from humorous comments in line with their characters to clips and previews for upcoming episodes of Glee.

From the beginning, social networking sites were seen as a key marketing vehicle for the program. In an April 2009 article for Television Week, Joe Earley, the executive vice president in charge of marketing for Fox, claimed that he would be “deepening engagements with characters from the show over the summer, working with social networks.” The pilot aired after the season finale of American Idol in May and discussion of the episode quickly became ubiquitous on social networking sites. The pilot was re-aired in September as a tweet-peat; that is, it featured a scrolling bar on the bottom with comments and questions submitted by fans via Twitter as well as responses from key creative personnel. Within 24 hours of the airing of Glee’s last episode before its months-long hiatus in December 2009, it logged nearly 80,000 tweets. And announced recently, the show is now promoting an open casting call through MySpace to fill roles for the show’s second season, a synergistic masterstroke since both Fox and MySpace are part of the same media conglomerate, News Corp.

Given the young demographic that the show regularly attracts, it is hardly surprising that the characters— and, by extension, the show’s marketers—have migrated into social networking sites to interact with these same viewers, viewers who typically spend hours daily online. While Rachel’s hectic schedule may not leave her any time to date, she realizes the importance of using these communication venues as a way to seek fame. Whatever it may do for her talent, her MySpace profile does allow for her fame to grow, measured by the number of fans following her across her social networking profiles (nearly 46,000 fans on Facebook and just over 40,000 followers on Twitter as of April 4, 2010).

While the tweet-peat strategy was largely criticized for making the episode difficult to watch, it is a clear indication of how marketers as well as network executives envision the future of television: trackable marketing data in the guise of additional content and interactivity. Ultimately, Glee’s omnipresence on social networking sites is a sign of the ongoing transition to social TV. Several venues all carrying the same Rachel tweet, “I’m confident that at some point, I’m going to be huge in Japan,” means she won’t be the only one having to clear her schedule for her MySpace work. As fans of the program following all of the characters’ social network profiles, we will too.


Do you regard these posts, presumably "in-character", as being a part of the series' narrative, such as with the online comics of Heroes, BSG's webisodes or the posts of Dawson's Creek? Is it more like a supplement to it, like the spin-off novels of Star Trek? Or is it completely separate entity from the narrative, such as photo shoots of the actors or Buffy the Vampire Slayer lunch boxes? Or all three?

I confess to being profoundly ambivalent about such material. On the one hand, it expands the text beyond the rigid constraints of broadcast. That's a good thing, as such material can be insightful and innovative. On the other hand, it expands the text... which is the last thing that television studies needs. If Glee lasts 7 seasons, that'll be more than a hundred hours to handle as it is. I'm not really enthused about adding the work of studying thousands of tweets and MySpace posts to write a paper on how a narrative works.


At this point, I don't see them as necessary for the narrative at all.  We have no way of knowing whether the actors, producers or writers are at all involved in the constructions.  More likely, a marketing intern is being paid to manage all of the characters' social network profiles.  No new stories or background info are opened up in these venues (yet).  Still, they do illuminate how the network wants us to see the characters and that in itself may be useful to examine.

However, I do think the show's diverse ways of using social networking sites is an important part of Glee's production narrative.  I'm very curious to see what will come out of the open casting call via MySpace.  From what I have gleaned from producers who have tried this, they don't usually find any of the talent this way, instead relying on more traditional casting calls.  I'm also curious to see if they'll use more of a model like they supposedly did with Lost--creating new characters based on talent they wanted to work with.

But in either case, I think Glee, like so many other current TV shows, does point to a need to expand current definitions of the text.  And, unfortunately, that does mean more work for us, both in our scholarship and, perhaps most importantly, in the classroom.

It's not just more work for us professionals.

I've run a seminar on Buffy the Vampire Slayer at two schools and one of the problems facing television studies is that you can't show all of the central text in class, as you could with a film or a novel. The usual solution is to expect students to watch the series before entering class. (I understand that some literature professors have reading the novels prior to the start of class as an unwritten expectation.) That has its own set of concerns, not least of which being that adding 100 hours of work has a disproportionate impact based on the student's class background (whether they work, have children, etc.) And, of course, every class would be better if the student would do 100+ hours of work before the semester started, but we surely can't expect that from them for every class. As soon as we "add" to the canonical text, the student's work to "master" the course's subject matter gets that much more time-consuming.

But a tight definition of the canonical text has problems as well... There are important things to be learned outside the tight definition, especially since they influence how actual people actually experienced and understood the series. 


Viz. Josh's comment about rushing to check Lea Michele's (or Jenna Ushkovitz's) Twitter updates after seeing the characters on Glee do their own social networking:

I totally do the same thing! Rather than bringing me deeper in to the convergence universe pimped by Glee's characters, I'm inclined to do some old school fannish stalking of the "real" players. In fact, I find myself more likely to seek out YouTube videos of Lea Michele or other cast members singing beyond their Glee-ful contexts and constraints. 

What do we make of this rather old fashioned encounter with "peripheral platforms" and the desire to brush up against the "touch of the real"?

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