Booth, Paul. 2012. The Television Social Network: Exploring TV Characters. Communication Studies. 63(3):309-327.
Instead of simply applying literary techniques to television, Booth wants us to look at TV through what he calls the social network mode which focuses on the way character relationships intersect in complex television narrative. This is an example of “social network analysis as metaphor” (which we talked about previously) where the focus is on social networks, relationships that create social structure, but does not include the formal analytical components in the methodology. Studies that use “SNA as metaphor” are still useful in the theoretical concepts that come up, but combining both analysis and metaphor together is even better.
For Booth, the key aspect of the network concept is its identification of interwoven complexity – the attention paid to the way “elements are related to other elements in more than one manner, and objects intersect with one another multiple times” (Booth 2012, 310). Using the social network mode to understand television narratives is more important precisely because on changes in the way television is consumed – what he calls television textuality. With digital media and the internet, people relate differently to television shows (and to each other) because of the new ways in which fans of particular shows can interact with each other (and with the television show characters). One example of this (that Booth does not discuss) is the explosion of fan fiction – we’ve had fan fiction ever since we’ve had books, but its creation, consumption, and entering into popular discourse has accelerated.
Booth further adds, based on his examination of the television show Lost (2004-2010), that using the social network mode reveals that the postmodern consumption of poplar media is not only leading to fragmentation, but instead a dualistic model of fragmentation and stability through the creation of new social structures (from the network).
Through his examination of this television show, one of the points that Booth asserts is that “as viewers, we don’t recognize ourselves as solitary, nor do we necessarily recognize ourselves as part of an immense global group, but rather we see ourselves as individuals within more personal and social networks … even when by ourselves, we have an understanding of the collective viewership of those in immediate social proximity to ourselves.
While the connections between television characters and their audience are good to think through, the analysis could be further refined by focusing on the show itself, the social networks of the characters. Think about how you would account for the different edges that could be created based on Booth’s explanation of Jack Shepherd (2012, 318).
One thing that struck me after reading Booth was the issue of genre – is there something about speculative fiction that is something more culturally-crucial in the postmodern, posthuman, digital age? Notice that many of the shows mentioned that contain narrative complexity are SFF (Lost, Fringe, GoT, Doctor Who, etc.).