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Affective Networks in Ensemble Character Dramas

Page history last edited by Hannah Goodwin 8 years, 3 months ago


Affective Networks in Ensemble Character Dramas

By Alston D'Silva and Hannah Goodwin



Our project aims to use social networking tools to analyze affective relationships and racial and sexual difference in multi-season television dramas, including Lost, Friday Night Lights, and Star Trek: Next Generation. We believe that social network graphs can illuminate the extent to which minority characters are integrated into, or segregated from, their larger fictional communities. By flattening other dimensions of the shows, like time, dialogic content, and plot turns, these networks make character interaction across difference starkly visible.



We began with the premise that certain kinds of textual deformance may expose affective relationships between characters that might not otherwise come to the fore. The supercut, or a video that compiles clips of recurring tropes across multiple episodes of a show (or even multiple television shows or movies), is one example of such a deformance. YouTube user tarnationsauce2 assembled a supercut that accrues the many instances that Lt. Worf's contributions are sidelined, belittled or shut down in his interactions both professional and personal over his multi-season television show Star Trek: The Next Generation. For the viewers that might follow the show, the supercut emphasizes how frequently Worf's concerns generally turn out to be justified. Perhaps unsurprisingly, commentators underscore the racial undertones of the tendency, complicating the liberal politic of race in the Star Trek ethos.   



Through a type of deformance, this supercut seems to makes legible, tracable and definite in the aggregate affective charges of social networks what might only be a suspicion in the disaggregate, linear and discrete approach to the same material. Large ensemble cast in multi-season shows have become an increasingly common form in television. The escalation of scale in terms length, characters, plot and relations as well as the quantity of knowledge created seem to invite approaches of criticism that can exploit and come to terms with network, both within and outside the text.



Our project has explored these possibilities to examine difference (race, sexuality) in texts such as Friday Night Lights and Lost by:

  • a process of deformance wherein we took an episode and erased every instance of a character. In doing so, we were interested in how a character's absence would affect the text's legibility, and whether new insights might become legible.
  • networking the affective relations of characters while indicating aspects of identity made legible by the text (race, gender, national origin, access). We have drawn on information from fan wikis to construct a network that spans multiple seasons, and also drawn on the text itself to do mappings of individual episodes for comparison. Such affective mappings have revealed the horizon of social relations imaginable for characters within the parameters of their universe, and the extent of interaction across difference.
  • deforming the graphed networks much in the way that we will deform the text itself, exploring how the shapes and connections in the graph change when a certain character is removed. We have considered certain basic aspects of graph theory, like the degree of connectedness of certain nodes, and thus their centrality in the power dynamic of the social structure.

While we have only begun to do so, in the future we might further pursue networks outside the text, such as relationships of show creators across franchises, or the relationships between certain writers what characters they tend to highlight in the episodes they write.


Tools Used

In the process of trying to create social networks that would adequately reflect the aspects of character interactions we were most interested in looking at, we experimented with several different software "tools." Each had its own peculiarities, and the software that could do the most also tended to have the highest learning curve. For the graphs included on this website, we have used the following software to varying degrees:

Individual Project Pages

Friday Night Lights

I (Hannah) have chosen to do a social network analysis of racial interaction on the show Friday Night Lights, which aired from 2006 to 2011 on NBC. Click the above link for access to my project page, which includes an explanation of the show, several social network graphs, and some preliminary analysis of my findings.


Alston's Presentation Media

Affective Networks Media Page

Affective Networks Media Page 2

Affective Networks Media Page 3



Fan Models of Character Mapping

From the methodology we used to the data we collected, much of our work on this project has drawn on fan sites dedicated to the shows we have analyzed. We acknowledge the work fans have done to make our project possible, providing publicly a wealth of information about characters and their relationships. We also acknowledge the ways in which our project mimics mappings produced by fans. Here is an example of an such an affective social network from a fan site. Click to Enlarge. 

X-Men Universe Relationship Map 


Here is another example of an affective character mapping of a different nature, called a Moral Alignment Meme



In drawing on fan methodologies and data, we hope not to appropriate but to make explicit the valuable interpretive labor that fans do, and that we think should be recognized and respected by television scholars.


Annotated Bibliography




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