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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: If we aren’t “consumers” of entertainment, what should we call ourselves?

In response to yesterday’s QOTD — about whether we are reinventing ourselves as people who watch movies and TV, listen to music, read books, and play games in light of the ever expanding choices we have for how we do these things — reader LaSargenta commented:

I take umbrage at having to call myself a “consumer” like it is an identity. I’m a person, a citizen and, because one does if one is alive, I do consume stuff — air, food, bed linens, books, movies, whathaveyou — but, I am not a Consumer. (And, yes, I noticed that MAJ did not capitalize the word up there. It capitalized itself in my brain.)

She makes an excellent point.
Just to be clear, I don’t think of myself as a Consumer, either, and I also dislike the notion of “Consumer” as an identity. What’s more, the word consumer implies a passivity that does not apply to me, nor, I suspect, to most people who read this site: Part of what makes entertainment different today is not only the array of options we have but that we are no longer passive in the face of it. We tweet our reactions to a movie; we create fan sites and write fan fiction; we edit mashup videos; we discuss the latest episodes of hot TV shows on Internet forums. (Indeed, much of what is very popular today on TV, from Lost to American Idol, would not exist without the back-and-forth between and among audiences and creators.) Critics and very serious, very intense fans have always pushed back against passivity, to a certain degree. What’s new in the last 15 years or so is that many, many “ordinary” “consumers” of entertainment do this. (And it was happening on a smaller but still notable scale going back perhaps 25 years or more, with printed-on-paper fanzines, videotape exchanges, and other fan activity.)

But if you’re going to watch movies and read books and listen to music and play games, you have to get ahold of that material somehow. That’s all I was referring to when I used the word consumer. I’m all for finding a better word.

If we aren’t “consumers” of entertainment, what should we call ourselves?

Fan and its synonyms (buff, enthusiast, etc.) don’t quite cut it. Activist is perhaps a little closer but comes laden with associations of its own that are wrong for this usage.

I’m flummoxed. We need to invent a whole new word, perhaps.

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • JoshDM

    Bitches. We are entertainment’s bitches.

  • LaSargenta

    Yeah, ^ that!

    JoshDM, you rock. And just for that, here is a very apt lyric that Just Happened ;-) to be playing on my Pandora while reading this…

    I’m so bored of televisio
    TV dinner on a TV tray.
    Join the Pepsi Generation
    That’s the American way

    –Agent Orange off of Living in Darkness

  • Prosumer, perhaps:


    …although its range of meanings seems to go beyond what you’re referring to here.

  • funWithHeadlines

    There is no one catch-all word that covers it because we are many things to many situations:

    When we enjoy a meal, we are diners.

    When we enjoy a book, we are readers.

    When we enjoy a movie, we are viewers.

    When we enjoy a purchase, we are buyers.

    When we create a screenplay, we are writers.

    When we create a meal, we are chefs.

    We are children, parents, mates, friends, citizens, readers, writers, viewers, achievers.

    We are amazing in our complexity.

    We are humans.

  • “Humans” seems to be the catch-all word, then. ;-)

    And–bravo. Well-said.

  • LaSargenta

    Actually, I thought of something that may or may not belong here…about the interaction of entertainment and the entertained…

    back in the ‘zine days, yes, there were a lot of zines that cross-pollinated pretty heavily with the more mass-market stuff (like Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.) but, too, much of the zine milieu was self-published work that actually had nothing to do with somebody else’s production except, perhaps, as a reaction and rebellion.

    One zine that comes to mind is Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist. Although I only can appropriately use the first word in that title to describe myself (well, and occasionally the second depending on the company) I have to say that the comic hit a chord with me all those years ago, especially in respect to her relationship to the industrial-media-complex.

    I think I still vote for JoshDM’s word. Sorry Bluejay. Prosumer has its good points, but, I’m currently more thinking like entertainment can end up being a machine that sucks us in.

  • How about Entertactors

  • or, maybe Mediactionators (as in action, not actors…)

  • Isobel

    Has anyone read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas?

    I ask because the An Orison of Sonmi ~451 section is set in a future ‘corpocracy’ with people referred to only as ‘consumers’, with their bank accounts referred to as their ‘souls’. Anyway, it seemed pertinent.

    Perhaps we are patrons of entertainment?

  • Isobel

    I just tracked the book down on Amazon.com to see what the American audience might have made of it – the cover is completely and utterly different. The kind of cover I wouldn’t even have picked up in Waterstones. I wonder why the publishers thought it would appeal?

  • Burnhams and Durdens, from American Beauty and Fight Club, natch. Of course, the world is full of Burnhams who think they’re Durdens and vice versa but it’s better than “prosumer” which sounds like something an ad man would make up.

    Then again, if prosumer ever catches on, why not proformist? A person who “conforms” to the people around him or her but in a positive sense! Like at the beginning sequence of Pleasantville in which all of Reese Witherspoon’s friends are wearing the same type of T-shirt and no one–not even film critics–bothers to comment on it because it’s become such an accepted sight…

  • the rook

    ‘Users’. we are users of entertainment and media.

    the media industry has been trying to label their customers as Consumers for years for many of the the reasons made above – Consumers are passive. Consumers have no rights to media and entertainment other than to simply watch or listen what is offered.

    ‘Users’, the term comes from the computer industry, are active. Users use entertainment. Users can passively watch and listen to entertainment, but the label implies that they can and will use entertainment for other purposes as well (like creating mash-ups, Downfall parodies, etc.) for someone to be a User, they have to have more rights to entertainment media than the media industry would like to give.

  • nyjm

    It may sound high-falutin’, but there’s a perfectly apt word that’s been in use in communication theory for decades:


    Just as MAJ points out, even the average person who isn’t as engaged as many of us on this site (and so many others) “talks back” to the media s/he interacts with. We share and discuss more rapidly and more interactively than ever before. The relation of the public at large is no longer a one way street (if it ever was) – we’re part of a constant dialog.

  • ‘Users’. we are users of entertainment and media.

    For some reason, I feel a Beck song coming on.;-)

  • ‘Users’. we are users of entertainment and media.

    For some reason, I feel a Beck song coming on.;-)

    Sorry for the double post.

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