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Mad Men fans speak via social media: What fan voices reveal about the social construction of reality via dramatic fiction

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Fans of complex television dramas often watch because of eudaimonic motivations – the desire to make meaning from media, to explore their own emotions and to learn about the human experience through the exploration of novel experiences that audio-visual fiction affords. This study analyses the psychology of how fans of Mad Men (2007) construct social realities via online discussions of some of the major relationships and storylines on the show. Our primary goal was to understand how fans create reality from fantasy and our focus was on social relationships and individual character analyses. Using a social science approach, we performed both a computer-automated and an expert-driven thematic analysis on 209 fan comments harvested from social media. The automated analysis revealed common emotional expressions, such as associating hate with the character Betty Draper. The expert analysis revealed that many of fans’ social media conversations centred on evaluating Don and Betty Draper as parents, spouses and people, either condemning or defending them in each of these roles. Fans were evenly split between Betty supporters and detractors. Betty was most likely to be defended as a person and condemned as a mother. In contrast, three fourths of fans condemned Don. This condemnation was mostly directed towards him as a person and spouse, not as a father. We situate these findings in an interdisciplinary literature and explain the psychology behind why and how fans use fiction both to empathize with others and to explore their own realities. We explain from a positive psychology perspective that our analysis of fans’ social media commentary exemplifies how television fandom for complex dramas can be healthy and psychologically beneficial.
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Keywords: Mad Men; blogs; eudaimonic appreciation; fandom; hedonic enjoyment; meaning making; social media; television shows

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Fielding Graduate University

Publication date: June 1, 2015

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  • The multi – disciplinary nature of fan studies makes the development of a community of scholars sometimes difficult to achieve. The Journal of Fandom Studies seeks to offer scholars a dedicated publication that promotes current scholarship into the fields of fan and audience studies across a variety of media. It focuses on the critical exploration, within a wide range of disciplines and fan cultures, of issues surrounding production and consumption of popular media (including film, music, television, sports and gaming), The journal aims to address key issues in fans studies itself, while also fostering new areas of enquiry that take us beyond the bounds of current scholarship.
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