SKAM: An International Fandom Breaking Transmedia Boundaries

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.

transmedia
A diagram of some of the platforms that can contribute to transmedia storytelling, including social media

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
participatory culture
Key characteristics of participatory culture

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.

remakes
The Central character of season 3, Isak Valtersen, and his counterparts in other remakes

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:

  1. Eva Kviig Mohn – themes of relationships, friendships, trust and personal identity
  2. Noora Amalie Sætre – themes of relationships, sexual assault and eating disorders
  3. Isak Valtersen – themes of sexuality, mental health and masculinity
  4. Sana Bakkoush – themes of religion, relationships and personal identity
skam meme
A SKAM meme publicly shared on Tumblr, original source unknown

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 WatchSKAM 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.

fanart
Fan art for SKAM posted publicly to kkhymmmm on Tumblr

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,

Jess x

References

(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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Participatory Fan Cultures: How they are helping to make fandoms a truly international phenomenon

Fandom culture has always been something that fascinates me. The interaction between a thing, (whether it be a person, TV show, movie or something else) and the people who have a shared, specific interest in that thing is something that is constantly changing and evolving. With the rise of the internet and social media over the last 20 or so years, online participatory fan culture within fandoms is something which has become almost commonplace amongst fandoms of everything from music to TV shows to sport.

Participatory Fan Cultures and Fandoms: What does that even mean?

According to Jenkins (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

Given the largely online nature of these types of fandoms, it is not surprising that a lot of their membership is made up of teenagers and young adults. Participatory fan cultures are not only a ‘trivial’ way of creating and communicating with other members of a fandom. There is also the potential for it to curate a ‘hidden curriculum’ which can assist in the learning and socialisation of the teenagers and young adults who make up a large portion of their membership. There is growing research (Jenkins, 2009) surrounding the benefits of participatory culture particularly for these teenagers and young adults, which can include, but is not limited to:

  • opportunities for peer-to-peer learning
  • changed attitudes toward intellectual property
  • diversification of cultural expression
  • development of workplace valued skills
  • empowered concept of citizenship

While these are definitely benefits of participatory fan culture, it is also important to acknowledge that there are some concerns surrounding factors such as unequal access to skills, opportunities and experiences and obliviousness to the way that media can shape ones’ perceptions of the world and

In terms of participatory fandom culture, there are a few methods of participation which are common amongst a lot of fandoms, particularly those related to pop culture. These include the creation of fanfiction and fan art, as well as the formation of large online communities on platforms such as Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram, which are used to share these and other creations, as well as to directly interact with other fans.

SKAM: Participatory Fan Culture at its peak

One particular fandom which has been heavily influenced and driven by participatory culture on an international scale is the Skam fandom. Skam was a Norwegian web series produced by NRK, which was aired clip-by-clip while incorporating transmedia storytelling methods, with a majority of the characters having Instagram accounts run by the production team and text chats between the characters, all being posted to the NRK website.

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 which resulted in the show attracting a large, almost cult like, international following. Even though the original show finished airing in 2017, 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 still airing. The creation of these adaptions has meant that despite the original show ending almost three years ago, the online fandom continues to be as active, if not more so, as ever.

The participatory culture of Skam and its adaptions extends further than the typical methods of fan participation, largely due to its international nature. As is the case in any international fandom, the language barrier is one which poses a difficulty for participation, but also one which is easily overcome by members of the fandom who are able to, in the case of Skam, translate and re-distribute the clips and text conversations to the rest of the fandom who may not be able to access or understand the originals because of their location. In a sense, it is the participatory nature of the fandom which has made it the global fandom that it is.

As well as translating content, there is also the conventional methods of artistic expression which fans participate in, including fanfiction and fan art, as well as many large, very dedicated, online communities which now tend to span across both the original show and one or multiple remakes. Based on experience, the largest and most participatory of these communities is the Tumblr community, which has a lot of overlap in fanbase across the eight shows. It is this particular community which I want focus my ethnographic research on, specifically looking at the reasons why people are drawn to and remain in the Skam Tumblr fandom, how they participate (whether it be through creating or consuming fan made content) and what sets the fandom apart from others based on its participatory nature.

Ethnographic Study: The Methods

In terms of being able to ethnographically research the Skam Tumblr fandom, I have the distinct advantage that I am already somewhat immersed in the participatory culture of it. Because of this previous and current immersion, I have been able to observe the reactions and creations of the fandom in real time along with the show, as well as directly benefit from contributing to a participatory fan culture.

As it is an online community, I will not be able to directly speak to or meet any members of the community, however I will be able to message and communicate with them through direct messages and public posts from my own account. Using these tools, I am planning to ‘interview’ and survey members of the fandom from literally all over the world, providing a direct insight into how people from different countries and cultures react to and participate in the Skam fandom. When combined with the existing academic research on both participatory fan cultures and the unique nature of the Skam format and fanbase, I am hoping to reinforce the benefits of participatory fan cultures previously mentioned by Jenkins (2009) and discover how Skam has been able to maintain such an international fandom, based on its participatory nature.

Catch ya on the flip side,

Jess x

 

References and Background Readings (to be used more extensively in final project)

Bengtsson, E., Källquist, R. & Sveningsson, M., 2018. Combining New and Old Viewing Practices: Uses and Experiences of the Transmedia Series “Skam”. NORDICOM Review, July, ii(39), pp. 63-77.

Jenkins, H., 2009. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, Cambridge: MIT Press.

Williams, B. & Zenger, A. A., 2012. New Media Literacies and Participatory Popular Culture Across Borders. New York: Routledge.

 

How to get to the Top of the Stack: An Idiot’s Guide to Getting ‘Noticed’ on Twitter

As a fangirl, it has always been a dream of mine to be ‘noticed’ by one of my ‘faves’ on Twitter. Whilst that might sound lame (and to be honest, it kind of is) being noticed is a big deal in the fandom world. But being noticed doesn’t just happen and there a few steps you must take to make it to the top of the fandom stack.

1. Own a device

This step is crucial. Without a laptop or smart phone, you don’t have access to Twitter, and it’s pretty hard to get noticed if you’re not even on Twitter.

2. Download Twitter and make an account.

Again, this step is crucial. What you make your Twitter account about is up to you, but generally people have accounts based around their love for a particular person or thing, which makes it a lot easier to get noticed.

3. Get followers

Accounts with more followers are likely to appear further up in a person’s feed and so are therefore more likely to be noticed. It’s just common sense.

4. Reply to EVERYTHING

This step can only be completed when you have completed all other steps. You must reply to everything your ‘fave’ tweets in the first thirty seconds after they tweet it, otherwise you have no chance of that elusive notice.

5. Repeat step 4 until you are successful

Now, all you can do is continually tweet at your ‘fave’ and hope that one day they take notice of you. And when they do, that is when you have officially made it to the top of the fandom stack.

Catch ya on the flip side,

Jess x