Maximilian Stobbe has obtained a master’s degree in English studies at the Freie Universität Berlin as well as a master’s degree in media and communications at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He has received a scholarship from the German National Academic Foundation and worked as a student editor for the Shakespeare Jahrbuch. His research interests range from (digital) serial narration, postmodernity, and popular culture over intertextuality and adaptation studies to social media practices and affect theory. His media studies thesis investigated the affectivity of the immensely successful ‘reaction video’ genre on YouTube, principally focusing on reactions to prominent TV series like Game of Thrones. His present research focuses on the ways in which current strategies of serialized adaptation on digital platforms like Netflix prompt specific modes of (affective) audience engagement online.
"Strategies of ‘Reactivity’: Netflix’s Model of Digital Serial Adaptation and its Affective Implications in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events" (Dissertation Project)
Dissertation in Culture
First supervisor: Prof. Dr. Frank Kelleter
Second supervisor: Prof. Dr. Sabine Schülting
Third supervisor: Prof. Dr. Lisa Blackman
This project, at its core, argues that several emergent characteristics of digital serial adaptation – with a special emphasis on those found in Netflix’s approach to adaptation – provide a medial framework that affords specific modes of audience interaction online, characterized by observably recurring affective practices and regimes. These forms of affective exchange predominantly revolve around what I call ‘reactivity’: Unlike the psychopathological concept of “emotional reactivity”, my use of ‘reactivity’ describes online routines of formulating, circulating, and collectively coordinating one’s past and present affective responses to concrete fictional elements, usually coinciding with performances of immediacy and high intensity. In other words: My project makes a media ecological argument that seeks to explore and highlight how the production of serialized adaptations increasingly generates, as well as actively courts, processes of immediate “networked affect” (Paasonen et al., 2015) among great numbers of audience members. As a result, the ongoing reception of other, personally unfamiliar recipients’ affective responses to the serial text – which warrants distinction from the already thoroughly theorized interpretative collectives prompted by serial narratives (e.g. Hayward, 1997) and the digitally enabled narrative “feedback loops” between audiences and a still running series (Kelleter, 2017) – has arguably become more thoroughly entangled with the reception of the text itself than in predigital manifestations of (adapted) serialized fiction. Research at the nexus of affect theory, media studies, and seriality studies has yet to grapple in depth with the transformative implications this has for both the reading process and for conceptualizations of seriality. For “connected” viewers who are thoroughly enmeshed in a “multiscreen ecosystem”, as Holt and Sanson put it (2014), experiencing the serial text and experiencing the experience of fellow viewers have become largely co-constitutive. To a certain degree, these claims apply to numerous forms of seriality in our present moment of the digital era, but as my case study exemplifies, the prominence of this phenomenon is at times amplified by the specific mode of (digital) adaptation, as well as by the various “knowing” and “unknowing” audiences that the very process of adaptation conjoins (Hutcheon and O’Flynn, 2013).
Netflix’s recent approach (2017-19) to adapting Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events book series (1999-2006) functions as a particularly useful exemplar to showcase and think through these observations. Published roughly during the course of “the so-called digital revolution” and hence significantly informed by the creative promises of medial “convergence” (Jenkins, 2008) and “metamediality” (Starre, 2015) – all the while paying homage to much older media and genres of narrative seriality – the original Unfortunate Events books already displayed an enormous interest in functionalizing “transmedial” storytelling (Jenkins, 2008) as a tool to foster audience participation and affective collectivity. The series’ incarnation on Netflix, in turn, elicits many of its surrounding affective practices online through its gestures towards a “remediation” (Bolter and Grusin, 1999), rather than a mere adaptation, of ‘the books’ with all their metamedial and transmedial exuberance; yet it furthermore employs intricate strategies of stitching together new and in-built audiences, of assimilating the characteristics of the source material into the specificity of the Netflix platform, and of inserting itself into Netflix-adjacent digital networks to similar ends. Most noticeable among the thus prompted affective regimes of reactivity are online practices of reactualization, collectivization, and realignment – each of which will be explained and scrutinized thoroughly.