I love Jenkin’s chapter “Buying into American Idol” the best because his section on gossip and ethics in a new media context are spot-on. Jenkins writes that there is material value in so-called “trash” reality television because it “encourages a public discussion of ethics and morality that reaffirms much more conservative values and assumptions” (84).
Recently, I did a video essay on reaction videos (how recursive!), brief videos that document the first-time reactions of an individual or a group to a shock site. A shock site is a website that hosts an image or a video – normally of an obscure origin – that is extremely violent and/or sexually “deviant” (which essentially means non-heterosexual or fetishistic) in nature. I found that reaction videos demonstrate to viewers not only what is inappropriate (through the guise of a titillating, purposefully ambiguous title), but what kind of emotional, so-called natural responses are appropriate, too: inserting a glass jar into your anus is not ok; neither is it to sexually play in fecal matter with a same-sex partner.
When users upload their reaction videos to websites like YouTube, and when viewers reciprocate by enthusiastically commenting on them, all actors are publicly controlling their reputations as determinedly “healthy”, heteronormative netizens. Reaction video producers validate Jenkin’s assertion that it’s not really about what they’re watching but how they’re watching, and most importantly, “who [they] are talking with that matters” (84).