By Greeshma Magam
Published in 2002, Michael Warner’s essay, “Publics and Counter Publics,” offers an analysis on his individual perception of what a public should constitute of. He initially informs the readers of the multiple senses of the word ‘public’ and differentiates them between ‘a public’ and ‘the public.’ He believes that ‘a public’ is a concrete audience and ‘the public’ is a general audience, a trans-historical given, and a set of assumptions; basically anything that is not private. He believes that there is also a third sense, a public that “comes into being only in relation to texts and their circulation” (413). Warner explains those senses further and gathers seven main arguments in which he believes this definition of a public would fall under. His opinions are as follows: a public is self-organized, a public is a relation among strangers, the address of a public speech is both personal and interpersonal, a public is constituted through mere attention, a public is the social space created by the reflexive circulation of discourse, publics act historically according to the temporality of their circulation, and a public is a poetic world making. Although Warner uses these beliefs to describe a public surrounding texts and circulation, it seems as if it can also be used to describe a public surrounding this new television era and relate to television shows just as easily.
In my opinion, I believe that many teenage drama television shows can have the effect of creating an audience similar to how Warner described, primarily because there is a common ground where viewers of a similar demographic can communicate about their most desirable topics related to the show and share to other viewers. This can be through writing, or the use of the internet, which has increased the realm of circulating texts and generating a larger audience. Warner believes that our lives would not be the same if we knew everyone we were surrounded by, essentially not having any strangers. For some reason, it seems that people can easily speak their minds about a television show that they are deeply involved in, which can be served as an icebreaker at events to socialize strangers and connect them to each other over something that is purely fictional. It seems as if Warner’s belief is true when it comes to Gossip Girl, as there is a huge fan-base surrounding the show that has continued even after the show itself has concluded, which continues to increase the public surrounding the show.
What is most interesting, however, is that these points are not only true for what occurs around the entire show, but inside the show itself. Warner’s thought that “a public is a relation among strangers” (417) can be compared to the infamous character, Gossip Girl, from the hit CW television series, Gossip Girl. The character of Gossip Girl is one that uses personal secrets to exploit the fictional power people of New York. However, I believe that a major reason why Gossip Girl can influence people so well is due to their ability to influence the strangers that surround the prominent people in the show. Warner believes that the definition of ‘a stranger’ has changed from once being a “mysterious, disturbing presence requiring resolution” to now being “an environment that is a necessary premise of some of our most prized ways of being” (417). Throughout the show, we see how the smaller characters, the strangers, in New York City drive the main characters to do things that they would not normally do, and I believe this is a direct response to the power that an anonymous blogger can have on their public, the strangers. More than the influences that Gossip Girl directly has on the elite members of New York’s society, the strangers of the society constitute a public for which these members do not wish to be written badly about. Gossip Girl proves to be a medial source where ‘outsiders’ can unite to learn the private secrets of their most prized people, and also demand to learn more.
Another one of Warner’s descriptions of ‘a public’ that was most impacting is that a public is “constituted through mere attention” (419). This description is one that directly defines the public as viewed by Gossip Girl. In the series, Gossip Girl is an anonymous blogger who spills secrets about the New York’s Upper East Side’s elitist members and it seems as if their public is one that truly relies on attention. Throughout the show, we monitor the progression of Gossip Girl’s impact on the people they speak of, and the strangers who seem to be more concerned with the private news of those affiliated. Warner believes that “attention is the principle sorting category by which members and nonmembers are discriminated” (419) and often throughout the series, there are many principle characters who wish to shut down the Gossip Girl blog, by introducing a new, but similar, website. To me, this proves Warner’s point, that if the attention is drawn away from Gossip Girl, and to some other site, then they can eliminate Gossip Girl once and for all. Although used in a fictional sense, this seems to be another point that Warner was correct about.
Although ‘a public’ and ‘the public’ are different in many ways, Warner’s third sense of a public is the one that is the most unique definition of the term, and the most interesting. All in all, I believe that Warner’s descriptions of the third sense of a public can be deemed as true, at least when using Gossip Girl as an example to support some of his major thoughts and claims. It is most interesting, in my opinion, to take this idea of a public that was produced around texts and be able to apply it to our new generation of technology, television and internet. What is more interesting, however, is to see these beliefs generate around a show, and in the show itself.