Fandom and fan cultures are one thing; participatory fandoms and fan cultures are a whole other ball game. Whilst it is quite easy to be a casual fan of a thing, be it a television show, a musician or even a sporting team, being a fan who actively participates within a fandom (by writing fanfiction, creating fan art or some other means) creates a whole new world of opportunities. But the world of fandom, and the way that fans interact within them, is one which is constantly changing and evolving.
Fandoms and fan cultures are not a new phenomenon. ‘Modern’ fandoms have been around since the late 1890s, with fans of the original Sherlock Holmes books widely credited to make up the first fandom, when they held public mourning’s after he was killed off in 1993 and creating some of the first records of fanfiction as early as 1897. But comparing fandoms of the 19th Century and now is like comparing chalk and cheese. Changes in technology and the internet, as well as the rise of social media, have drastically changed the way that fandoms operate, and individual fans participate. In recent years, fan interactions have been making the move from relying heavily on physical events, such as conventions, to being able to interact with people who share an interest every second of every day through social media. Not only has this made it easier for to fans interact on an international scale, it has also made it easier than ever to access content, be it the original work or fan work, which may not be available in a persons’ native country.
With this change has come the rise of transmedia storytelling and content, which at its most basic level means stories told across multiple media platforms, which can include participatory mediums such as fanfiction (Stein, 2015, p. 196). All of these changes are now allowing fandoms to span across countries and even continents, as fans use social media to find, interact with and create new fandoms.
The Nature of Participatory Fandoms and Fan Cultures
According to Jenkins et al. (2009), participatory fan cultures and fandoms are ones which specifically consist of:
- Relatively low barriers for artistic expression and civic engagement
- Strong support for creating and sharing these creations with others
- Some type of informal mentorship, wherein the more experienced members of the culture pass on their knowledge to the ‘novice’ members
- Members who believe that their contributions matter
- Members who feel some degree of social connection with one another and care about the opinions of each other
In terms of actually participating within these fandoms and fan cultures, there a few methods which are common among a lot fandoms, particularly those with their roots in pop culture. These can include the creation of fanfiction, fan art and fan videos, physical participation such as cosplaying and attending conventions and forming large online communities on platforms such as Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram, which are used to share these and other creations among fans, and in some cases the original creators, as well as to simply interact with other fans.
SKAM: An International Transmedia Masterpiece
These characteristics and benefits of participatory fandoms and fan cultures are all present in someway within the fandom of the Norwegian web series SKAM (Norwegian for ‘shame’) created by Julie Andem and produced by the government-owned NRK. Heavily driven by participatory fan culture, SKAM is particularly unique as a fandom given the nature of its source content; the show was originally aired clip-by-clip and innovative in its incorporation of transmedia storytelling methods, including Instagram accounts made for the main characters, text conversations that were posted to the NRK website and the integration of YouTube in Season 4, all being done in real time as the characters experienced the events.
The show addresses themes and topics which regularly affect teenagers and young adults, including relationships, personal identity, eating disorders, sexual assault, homosexuality, religion and mental health. It was the raw and honest portrayal of these themes, as well as seeing actual teenagers playing teenagers and dealing with real life situations, that resulted in the show attracting a large (almost cult like) international following, particularly on social media. The original show aired between 2015 and 2017, however the SKAM fandom is in no way dead; the international popularity of the show resulted in the creation of seven adaptions in France, Germany, Italy, the United States, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium, four of which are currently still in production. The adaptions follow the same premise of the original show, including roughly the same plot, however alterations are made in order to greater appeal to the shows native audiences.
SKAM and its adaptions have attracted significant acclaim for not only their accurate portrayal of teenagers and their experiences which are not always addressed in other media, but also the unique method of transmedia distribution, which shows an acknowledgement of and adaption to changing viewing styles (Bengtsson et al., 2018). Each episode is released in short 2 – 8 minute clips throughout the week (usually in an online format), before being collated in a single episode each Friday. On days without a clip (and sometimes days with clips), there is some other kind of content, usually an Instagram post from one or more characters or text conversations posted to the networks website. This method of distribution gives viewers a fully immersive experience, as they are able to connect with the story anywhere, anytime, on any device. This reflects changes within the TV industry as a whole, with transmedia storytelling becoming a necessary characteristic in order to maintain an active audience in the ever-changing industry (Rustad, 2018).
In order to understand the SKAM fandom and the ways that it is influenced by participatory culture, it is important to have a basic understanding of the shows plot and themes. The original Norwegian series focuses on the fictional lives of teenagers at the very real Hartvig Nissen School in Oslo, Norway (Pearce, 2017, p. 156). Each season follows a different ‘Central’, the character who endures the bulk of the challenges and also the perspective through who the whole season is seen. Each season also focuses on and deals with a few key themes which are relevant to teenagers. For the four seasons, the Central characters and key themes addressed were:
- Eva Kviig Mohn – themes of relationships, friendships, trust and personal identity
- Noora Amalie Sætre – themes of relationships, sexual assault and eating disorders
- Isak Valtersen – themes of sexuality, mental health and masculinity
- Sana Bakkoush – themes of religion, relationships and personal identity
Each of the remakes has (so far) followed a very similar structure and plot to the original, sometimes changing the order of seasons or the characters who each season focuses on to greater appeal to their own audience, but always addressing the same themes in one way or another. The production of each remake further emphasises the transmedia nature of the show, as they are produced and aired by different networks, actively utilising platforms such as YouTube and Facebook Watch. SKAM France is the first remake to be renewed past the original four seasons into seasons five and six, partly to address the demand from the ever-growing international popularity of the franchise.
Who’s Watching: Who makes up the SKAM Fandom
There is no single type of person that watches or participates in SKAM or any of its remakes. Whilst the original show was based on the experiences of and designed to address the needs of teenage girls (Rustad, 2018), as the show and its remakes has progressed, fans of the show have come from all corners of the world, usually coming together on social media platforms (especially Tumblr.) to share their thoughts, original content and sometimes just memes relating to the show.
Beginning with season three (aired from October 2016), the show which had up until that point been a relatively small but loved Norwegian show, became a global cult-like phenomenon as the story of Isak Valtersen and his struggle with and eventual acceptance of his sexuality attracted a huge social media following. The theme of sexuality in pop culture is one which is regularly latched onto by fans on social media as it is something which is relatable for a lot of people but not always represented, so it is not surprising that the show quickly ‘trended’ on social platforms like Tumblr, Twitter and YouTube.
Moving into 2017, stories about the show quickly began popping up on websites dedicated to pop culture, and it became one of the most popular TV shows on social media, even going so far as to be the number one live-action TV show on Tumblr in 2017 (beating out the likes of Game of Thrones, Riverdale and 13 Reasons Why). And even though the original show finished over two years ago, the popularity of the franchise is in no way slowing down. At one point in April 2019, six out of the eight versions of SKAM (including the original) were among the top trending TV shows on Tumblr.
Given the very public online nature of the SKAM fandom, its pretty easy to make assumptions about the types of people within the fandom and what it is about the show that interests them, but nothing is certain. In a survey conducted of SKAM fans contacted through Tumblr, 50% said they originally discovered the show through social media, while 40% said that the story line of season three focused on Isak played a significant factor in their initial attraction to the show. This reflects what we already know about the timing of the shows rise in popularity coinciding with season three.
In the same survey, 70% of participants said they considered themselves as part of the SKAM fandom in 2017 or later and only 10% said they became involved in 2015, the year of the shows creation. This can in part be credited to the immense social media following which has been built around the show in the last three years. From personal experience, a lot of the SKAM fandom share similar interests outside of the fandom so tend to already be moving in similar online circles, and it becomes very easy to discover new shows when all your online friends begin posting about them (this is the exact way that I found SKAM – it literally took over my Tumblr feed and I was sick of not knowing what was going on). The popularity of the franchise is not limited to only one or two version of the show either – of the eight versions, five had been seen by over 50% of the survey participants, with the original, SKAM France and the German DRUCK having the highest viewership.
Fanfiction, Fan Art and Fan Vids, Oh My!
The ways in which fans actively participate within the SKAM fandom is not limited to one creative means, with 80% of the survey participants saying they creatively participate within the fandom in some way. The ways in which fans participate can vary from simply running a social media account which is in some way related to the show to literally providing the rest of the fandom with the means to be able to watch the show.
As is generally the case with any pop culture fandom these days, Fanfiction is one of the most prevalent means of creative expression that fans utilise. The SKAM tag on Archive of Our Own has over 5000 works, and there are thousands of other works within the remakes tags on both Archive of Our Own and Tumblr.
Fan art is also common throughout the fandom with hundreds of artists using Tumblr and Instagram to share their works with other fans, who then like, comment and reblog their works, effectively sharing them to an even larger audience.
Perhaps one of the most common (and important) methods of fan participation within the SKAM fandom is the translation of content. Following the rise in international popularity of the show, there was calls for NRK to add English subtitles to the original clips, however due to licensing laws this could not be done. This led a small (but incredibly vital) part of the fandom to begin doing God’s work; translating and distributing the clips and other transmedia content to the international fanbase. For some of the versions, geoblocks mean that for some, the only way to watch the clips is through the means that the translators distribute them, usually through Google Drive’s, YouTube or blogs. In this sense, it is literally the participatory nature of the fandom which has allowed the SKAM fandom to grow into what it is today.
No End In Sight – And That’s A Good Thing
With the announcement of seasons five and six of SKAM France coming in 2020 and other remakes still showing the possibility of being renewed past season four, the SKAM fandom shows no signs of slowing down. Whilst there is still original content being produced, fans will continue to create and distribute their own creative material and the participatory nature of the SKAM fandom will continue to thrive.
Catch ya on the flip side,
(Not all sources were directly referenced in this project but were used as background reading)
Bengtsson, E., Källquist, R. & Sveningsson, M., 2018. Combining New and Old Viewing Practices; Uses and Experiences of the Transmedia Series “Skam”. Nordicom Review, 39(2).
jagodzinski, j., 2008. Television and Youth Culture: Televised Paranoia. New York: Palgrave Macmillian.
Jenkins, H., 2009. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education in the 21st Century. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
Krüger, S. & Rustad, G., 2017. Coping with Shame in a Media-saturated Society: Norwegian Web-series Skam as Transitional Object. Television & New Media, 20(1), pp. 72-95.
Pearce, C., 2017. Reality and Fiction in Contemporary Television: The case of Skam. The Drama Review, 61(4), pp. 156-161.
Pearson, R., 2010. Fandom in the Digital Era. Popular Communication, 1(8), pp. 84-95.
Rustad, G., 2018. Skam (NRK, 2015-17) and the rhythms of reception of digital televsion. Critical Studies in Television: The International Journal of Television Studies, 13(4), pp. 505-509.
Spigel, L. & Olsson, J. eds., 2004. Television After TV: Essays on a Medium in Transition. s.l.:University Press.
Stein, L. E., 2025. Millenial Fandom: Television Audiences in the Transmedia Age. s.l.:University of Iowa Press.
Turner, G. & Tay, J. eds., 2009. Television Studies After TV: Understanding Television in the Post-Broadcast Era. London: Routledge.