‘The More Accuracy the Better’?: Analysing Adaptation Reception in Reaction Videos

‘The More Accuracy the Better’?: Analysing Adaptation Reception in Reaction Videos Abstract Casie Hermansson argues that ‘There are…signs of increasing value placed on the lay perspective and thus on fidelity as a critical…tool’ (149–50) because, as Dudley Andrews argues, ‘Fidelity is the umbilical cord that nourishes the judgments of ordinary viewers as they comment on what are effectively aesthetic and moral values’ (27). While audiences may discuss adaptations in terms of fidelity, fidelity does not have a stable meaning across all audience members. As Stam argues, ‘The question of fidelity ignores the wider question: Fidelity to what?’ (57). Viewers desire adaptations to remain true in different ways, and it can be difficult for producers and scholars alike to discover what exactly audiences want in a ‘faithful’ adaptation. Scholars need effective tools to measure how audiences perceive fidelity, and reaction videos can be one of these tools. This article traces the history of film reception studies and how changing media requires changing analysis tools. Then, it gives a general theorization of reaction videos, including what they are and the benefits and limits of using them. Finally, the article ends with a case study of reaction videos of Netflix’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events to more concretely demonstrate how these videos illuminate fidelity, paying close attention to how these videos, and their comment sections, depict clashing desires around fidelity. The ultimate aim is to offer the beginnings of a new methodology that might allow scholars to interrogate the way contemporary audiences experience fidelity. Reaction videos, adaptation reception, fidelity desire, A Series of Unfortunate Events Over the past two decades, there has been a ‘growing and articulate chorus of adaptation scholars who critique the language of fidelity and its consequential denigration of adaptation as an art form’ (Cobb 28). Scholars often cite the simplification of both source and adaptation; for example, Brian McFarlane argues that ‘Fidelity criticism depends on a notion of the text as having and rendering up to the (intelligent) reader a single, correct “meaning” which the film-maker has either adhered to or in some sense violated or tampered with’ (8), flattening possible readings of both the source and the adaptation. Fidelity also privileges the source text over the adaptation, often to the harm of film and adaptation as art forms. Robert Stam argues that fidelity ‘quietly reinscribes the axiomatic superiority of literary art to film’ (58). Thomas Leitch also argues that fidelity only permits praise of the source text: ‘adaptations will always reveal their sources’ superiority because whatever their faults, the source texts will always be better at being themselves’ (161). Fidelity thus forces scholars to privilege source texts to the harm of individual adaptations and film studies in general. Because fidelity requires an adaptation to be compared to the source text, Gary R. Bortolotti and Linda Hutcheon argue that the ‘common determination to judge an adaptation’s “success” only in relation to its faithfulness or closeness to the “original” or “source” text threatens to reinforce the current low estimation (in terms of cultural capital) of what is, in fact, a common and persistent way humans have always told and retold stories’: adaptation (444). Adaptation, a fundamental story-telling method, thus becomes derivative rather than creative. In essence, scholars argue that fidelity criticism is often simplistic, privileges the literary text over the filmic one, and belittles the field of adaptation. That being said, recently, adaptation scholars have called for a new tactic to address fidelity, one that emphasises reception theory. Both proponents and opponents of fidelity recognize that it remains a tool because audiences so often use it; for example, even while criticizing fidelity, Dudley Andrew argues that ‘Fidelity is the umbilical cord that nourishes the judgments of ordinary viewers as they comment on what are effectively aesthetic and moral values’ (27) while fidelity-proponent Victoria De Zwaan notes that fidelity ‘is of course rampant in newspaper reviews and fan culture’ (247). As De Zwaan explains, ‘readers—fans, students, and/or critics—come to film adaptations of novels with certain sorts of expectations about how an often very familiar text is interpreted in the adaptation’ so ‘It seems unlikely…that adaptation studies can be unmoored from’ fidelity studies (249). In fact, after surveying audience responses to the third Lord of the Rings film, Anne Jerslev found that although ‘there are, in theory, numerous options to use the films’ context to explain’ viewers’ reactions, many viewers discussed their experience ‘by explicitly comparing the film to the book’ (209). The survey responses she received regularly discussed the film in relation to the books, demonstrating how these viewers framed their discussion of the adaptation through fidelity. Because of fidelity’s popularity among general audiences, Colin MacCabe argues that ‘While many of the recent studies [which decry fidelity] add to our knowledge of the performativity of adaptation, they ignore how audiences talk about film adaptations’ (7), and Casie Hermansson argues that ‘There are…signs of increasing value placed on the lay perspective and thus on fidelity as a critical…tool’ (149–50). Moreover, Christine Geraghty argues that ‘the perennial question of faithfulness is not a matter for textual analysis but rather for work on reception’ (3). Although fidelity is not always the best tool with which to analyse an adaptation, it may be the most valuable to help understand how general audiences experience these texts. While audiences may discuss adaptations in terms of fidelity, fidelity does not have a stable meaning across all audience members. As Stam argues, ‘The question of fidelity ignores the wider question: Fidelity to what?’ (57). Viewers desire adaptations to remain true in different ways, and it can be difficult for producers and scholars alike to discover what exactly audiences want in a ‘faithful’ adaptation. We need effective tools to measure how audiences perceive fidelity, and I argue that reaction videos can be one of these tools. In this article, I trace the history of film reception studies and how changing media requires changing analysis tools. Then, I give a general theorization of reaction videos, including what they are and the benefits and limits of using them. Finally, I end with a case study of reaction videos of Netflix’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events to more concretely demonstrate how these videos illuminate fidelity in reception, paying close attention to how these videos, and their comment sections, depict clashing desires around fidelity. My ultimate aim is to offer the beginnings of a new methodology that might allow us to interrogate the way contemporary audiences experience fidelity. RECEPTION STUDIES THEN, CHANGING MEDIA NOW In order to theorize how reaction videos can be used to understand fidelity reception, I must first depart from fidelity to address the history of reception. Since its inception, media reception studies have debated the best way to measure audiences’ reactions. Media reception studies scholar Janet Staiger argues that ‘one of the earliest and still the most prevalent method for finding evidence about the reception of media texts is scholarly analysis of written and oral texts from which the critics then make claims about what readers do’ (Media 8), even though ‘speculation about real readers based on academic readings of texts does not take us very far before running up against rampant and remarkable deviations’ (Perverse 2). This method has fallen out of favour in reception studies because ‘practitioners of “reception studies” assume that film texts have no innate, essentialist reading’ (Stokes 7) so that ‘the objective of reception studies is, according to Janet Staiger, to try to establish “not the so-called correct reading of a particular film but the range of possible readings and reading processes at historical moments” (Stokes 7–8). Discovering this range, however, creates ‘tribulations…over how evidence of reception is gathered’ (Media 14) because of the methodological issues of gauging audiences. As film scholar Carl Plantinga argues: Estimations of the actual historical reactions and interpretations of audiences will always be somewhat speculative, unless one limits oneself to self-reports, the empirical observations possible through viewing audience behavior or measuring physiological response, or the measurements of heart rates and facial expressions. The most interesting actual audience responses are quite often lost to history, and for the reception historian, the best means to recover what they might have been—through movie reviews, for example—are often as questionable and/or partial as film-based estimations. (13) Even if the means are questionable, ‘there were signs already evident in the 1980s that abstract theories of spectatorship might, at some stage, need to be reconsidered in the light of accounts of the individual and collective response of “real” spectators (i.e., viewers) to the cinematic experience’ (Stokes 5). Since then, scholars have found many ways to measure reception, but, as with all methodologies, each has its limits. One classic way to measure audience reactions is through surveys. Unfortunately, survey responses are created after a viewing; they give an overview of what the person felt and not a moment-by-moment depiction of affective response. In fact, in describing the limitations of her own survey, Jerslev explains that a survey response ‘is not a description of the actual experience at any one time during viewing but a verbalised condensation of the many different emotions’, meaning that the response is ‘not necessarily the exact emotions felt during viewing’ (206). Melvyn Stokes even argues that many film theorists fear that surveys do not ‘offer any real means of understanding either the subjectivity of individual spectatorial response or what shaped the nature of that response’ (5), making the highly subjective film experience into objective data points. Surveys deliver audiences’ overall impressions of a text, but they condense the individual reactions, perhaps disguising some of the more complex reactions viewers have that they may be unaware of experiencing. Luckily, we live in a world where people write much and often about what they think and feel, so movie reviews (both professional and amateur) are easily accessible online without needing to create surveys and elicit responses. A researcher can easily and quickly access hundreds of professional and amateur reviews through sites like Rotten Tomato, IMDb, and Metacritic. However, the conventions of reviews can mar reactions since they ‘are produced for one reason and appropriated by reception scholars for another’ (Staiger, Media 14). Plantinga argues that the review only captures the experience of the reviewer, which is not a broad sample, and ‘such a review is a heavily mediated, institutionally constrained report of the public response of a professional reviewer who may or may not share much in common with other viewers’ (13). Due to increasing access to amateur reviews, we do have more points of view than a few professional reviews, but the conventions of reviews limit what we can learn, offering the polished impressions of a handful of viewers but not play-by-play reactions. To avoid this reaction condensation, reception scholars have borrowed an approach from anthropologists: the ethnographic study. In their review of reception studies, Ingunn Hagen and Janet Wasko explain that ‘ethnographic audience research means that audiences are being interviewed and observed in their “natural environment” or context’ but argue that ethnographies are ‘most relevant for studies of, for example, youth groups or other subcultures’ and not for ‘studying normal family or household viewing’ (8) because it is hard to maintain the ‘natural environment’ of a home. Thus, ethnographies have often focused on large-group situations like cinema. Moreover, Staiger notes that ethnographies have ‘a strong record of criticism…including the power differential between ethnographers and their subjects and more specific matters such as leading audiences and interviewees toward answers that the interviewers desire’ (Media 14). Researchers using ethnographies can thus affect their study through their influence on the test subjects and their line of questioning. Because ethnographies, like many reception studies, permit researchers’ accidental influence, researchers have begun to use autoethnographies in which they use their own experience as evidence. This method overtly acknowledges the effect the researcher has on the subject since they are one in the same. However, as Staiger notes, ‘autoethnographies are by no means any sort of random, unbiased source of information about audiences’ (Media 14) because scholars are a very specific sub-set of the population, much like professional reviewers. Moreover, ‘self-reports are themselves problematic, because the subject may have many motivations for censoring, altering, or fabricating such a report’ (Plantinga 228). Scholars have particular aims (publication) when they self-report for autoethnographies and so may not be capable of giving a completely unbiased description of their reactions. While all of these methods have their limits, they have also been valid tools for measuring reception. However, as media changes, so must our tools. Staiger notes that some media reception scholars have ‘devote[d] close attention to the conditions of moviegoing as influencing the mode of reception and affect on the audience’ (Perverse 18), and Hagen and Wasko argue that ‘Reception analysis has mainly been performed on TV viewers’ (8). However, media-use is changing so that cinemas and traditional television viewing are not the main sources of people’s media consumption today. Film scholar Anne Friedberg argues that the cinema ‘has become embedded in—or perhaps lost in—the new technologies that surround it’ (270) so that ‘the apparatus we came to know as “the cinema” is being displaced by systems of circulation and transmission which abolish the projection screen and begin to link the video screens of the computer and television with the dialogic interactivity of the telephone’ (271). Friedberg goes so far as to say that ‘Computer “users” are not spectators, not viewers’ as we have understood the terms (277). Audience scholar Philip M. Napoli echoes Friedberg, arguing that media has significantly changed so that ‘individuals have ever-growing levels of control over when, how, and where they consume media’ (1). Audiences’ growing control over their media ‘has undermined traditional analytical approaches to media audiences’ because they ‘fail to capture all of the important dimensions of audience behavior that are exhibited when audiences’ relationship with media becomes more interactive in nature’ (Napoli 8). As audiences consume media differently, reception scholars need to find new ways to gauge their reactions. THEORIZING REACTION VIDEOS While changing media necessitates new methods, changing media may also provide the material for those methods. As Napoli explains, the ‘new media environment is one in which there are substantial opportunities for audiences to interact with media’, including ‘providing feedback, influencing outcomes, responding directly to advertising messages, or generating parallel content’ (8) so that ‘various dimensions of participation, appreciation, and feedback are now expressed in very public forums online that are accessible to, and are being readily accessed and analyzed by, both commercial and academic audience researchers’ (9). I argue that reaction videos are one such dimension readily available for reception scholars, especially those studying adaptations, because these videos show how reactions develop rather than relying on viewers to give an accurate description after the fact. For those unfamiliar with what Sam Anderson calls ‘one of the most fascinating entries in America’s ongoing anthropology of itself’, reaction videos are ‘recordings of individuals or groups of people reacting to an outside stimulus’ (‘Reaction Videos’). Heather Warren-Crow, in an article about the gendered reactions in reaction videos (one of the few scholarly pieces on these videos), describes them as a ‘genre of user-generated content dependent on the perceived authenticity of a highly charged emotional response,…usually record[ing] the expressions and vocalizations of people watching screen media’ (1113). Reactors explain their reactions extensively because the videos are created so the audience can experience the reactions with and through the reactors, making them ideal for reception study. While John Powers calls reaction videos ‘a loose cannon format for a review’, most recent reaction videos of screen media (e.g., trailers, series, iconic moments in movies) take a similar format. The person or people running the video introduce themselves, explain why they created the video as well as their credentials, play the video with the camera focused on their face and often a small window at the bottom showing exactly what they are reacting to as the text plays, and end with a short, off-the-cuff review. Reaction videos are particularly apt for reception research because these reactions are captured in the comfort of people’s homes. Dairazalia Sanchez-Cortes et al argue that ‘Conversational social video’, such as reaction videos, ‘is a popular genre in which people simultaneously share what they look like, what they think, and how they feel, in a format that is…natural’ (9:2). Reaction videos have an almost universal ‘radical vérité home-movie aesthetic’ that highlights the everyday nature of the reviewers and their environment (Anderson). Cats walk between the camera and the reactors, family members intrude on the recording, reactors eat and fall asleep; they depict (or at least replicate) ‘real-life’ situations and thus capture portrayals of themselves in their natural habitat. Reaction videos are designed to show people react to a text for the first time in conditions they are comfortable with, and this very ‘naturality…enable[s] the study of human mood in this medium’ (Sanchez-Cortes et al 9:2). These videos effectively allow us to study each other, as Anderson suggests. In particular, reaction videos exist and are framed through the lens of adaptation, so they can help adaptation scholars study how audiences approach adaptations. Reactors explain that they are reacting to adaptations as adaptations, going into detail about their relationships to the source text and framing their reactions as reactions to adaptation, not just original texts. In a Wired article examining the popularity of reaction videos of Game of Thrones’s Red Wedding, Laura Hudson found that the ‘reason most reaction shots exist at all is because someone in the room knew exactly what was coming, and decided to press record and capture the fallout’. While the particular reaction videos Hudson studies are much less formal than the reaction videos studied below, the same holds true: people record themselves reacting to adaptations because they already know the source text and thus believe they will generate interesting reactions for others to view. Moreover, due to reaction videos’ public nature, they may be influencing producers of adaptations. De Zwaan argues that ‘theorists [should] take seriously the vital impact of audience expectation on the film adaptation industry’ (249), and reaction videos are an important link between the audience and the industry. Henry Jenkins, as early as 2006, noted that ‘Some sectors of the media industries…have sought greater feedback from their fans, and have incorporated viewer-generated content into their design processes’ (150), using reviews, blogs, social media, and other venues to track what fans want. By 2011 (the year that reporters began writing about reaction videos), Napoli argues that ‘new media technologies’, such as vlogs, ‘are making it possible for media industries to fundamentally redefine what media audiences mean to them and how they factor into the economics and strategy of their business’ (4) so that ‘clear-cut distinctions’ between audience and producer ‘no longer can be made’ (12). As media producers, like scholars, can easily access audience opinions, they can and do change their material to coincide more with what viewers want, making the audience part of the production process. Reaction videos allow scholars to see what producers see and thus get a sense for how the adaptation industry may be changing. While I find reaction videos wonderful tools, they also have limits that must be addressed when working with them. First of all, like any study, those who are being watched (in this instance, by a camera and internet viewers) act differently than they might when not being observed. Powers argues that ‘the content is staged and played up’, while Witney Seiboldby argues that ‘By filming yourself having an “honest” reaction, you are suddenly—by the very virtue of being observed—lending an air of disingenuousness to your reaction’ so that ‘However honest your reaction may be, your honesty is undercut by the very fact that you want other people to watch in’. Even the way that people sound may be used to evince rather than represent reality; Warren-Crow argues that ‘presumed authenticity of the reaction video is based largely on the perceived authenticity of the vocal performance’ so that ‘Viewers…are often asked to disregard the fakeness of what we see…in favor of the supposed truth of what we hear’ because the ‘insistently embodied voice naturalizes the reactions, generates much of the affective energy, and in its (apparently) uncontrolled affect, demonstrates spontaneity’ (1115). Reactors ‘scream[] like a girl’ (Warren-Crow 1113), not necessarily because that is how they would normally react but because it sounds ‘true’. Reactions in these videos may thus be affected by their performative nature. Both Powers and Seiboldby, however, acknowledge that performativity is a problem with any kind of review, and, I would argue, with any kind of reception study. Video reactors may exaggerate their reactions, but exaggerated reactions hint at how people believe they should react. Furthermore, people who post reaction videos are a subset of the population and thus may not represent a general reaction. After all, it takes a particular kind of person to film themselves reacting to something for people to watch, just as it takes a particular kind of person to write an article about their own emotional reaction to a text. That being said, online commentators of reaction videos argue that reaction videos tend to be remarkably consistent. Powers argues that ‘these are responses all of us produce’, suggesting that these videos may demonstrate reactions that the rest of the audience would have. Anderson goes so far as to claim that ‘The most striking thing about reaction videos, if you watch a string of them, is their sameness…everyone basically has the same response at the same moments’. We need not follow Anderson in assuming such uniformity, but with people from a range of socioeconomic, regional, ethnic, religious, gender, and sexuality groups creating reaction videos, studying several reaction videos highlights similarities in reactions across multiple identities, allowing us to find reaction trends. Finally, reaction videos are often emotional, so analysing them is highly subjective. Staiger explains that ‘Each [reception] method has advantages and deficits, but these advantages do not include objectivity’ because ‘Every approach has the same basic problem of researchers eventually interpreting evidence they have gathered in some way’ (Media 13–4), and reaction videos exaggerate the objectivity problem due to the highly emotional tenor of the genre. Jenkins argues, ‘When fans talk about meaningful encounters with texts, they are describing what they feel as much as what they think’ (140), and reaction videos epitomize emotional, rather than logical, descriptions, often offering sounds when words cannot suffice. Warren-Crow finds that ‘the soundscapes of reaction videos are testaments to the power of the voice when language proves insufficient: laughs of various timbres, haptic sobs, quavering screeches…demonstrate our fascination with screaming like a girl, as girls are discursively understood’ (1113). This soundscape can be difficult to analyse and describe in a critical manner, especially because many wordless reactions are coded feminine, as Warren-Crow argues. In using reaction videos, scholars must be careful how they describe reactions, giving as literal descriptions as possible and avoiding negative depictions of femininized behaviour such as screaming and crying which occur often, no matter the reactor’s gender. WATCHING FIDELITY DESIRES COMPETE: A CASE STUDY Thus far, I have addressed reception methodologies and reaction videos in the abstract. Now, I offer a model of how to use this emerging reception tool by analysing four different sets of reaction videos made about the first season of Netflix’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017–) which adapts the first four books of A Series of Unfortunate Events (ASOUE, written by Daniel Handler under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket from 1999 to 2006) and which also draws on a 2004 Nickelodeon film adaptation of the first three books.1 These reaction videos offer a unique opportunity to study adaptation reception because Netflix’s series draws on both the book series and the film as source texts and so viewers react to multiple layers of adaptation. ASOUE follows Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, three talented children whose rich parents die in a horrible fire at the beginning of the series, as they struggle to survive the devious plans of Count Olaf (a villainous and terrible actor determined to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune) and the incompetency of Mr. Poe (the banker who is in charge of their fortune until they come of age and who places the children with one incompetent adult after another). Death surrounds the children as Olaf kills anyone in his way, and the series is a testament to children’s resilience as the Baudelaires invent, research, and bite their ways out of danger. Because of the unfortunate events and the dark humour with which they are presented, this series encourages affective responses, making it ideal material for studying reactions. While many people created reaction videos to the trailer and first episode of Netflix’s series, I chose four sets of reaction videos posted on YouTube (three of which have reaction videos for all eight episodes of the first season and one of which has videos only for the first four episodes) for this case study because they are the only sustained reactions to the series. The sets include reactors of varying gender, nationality, ethnicity, personality type, and age, and they are the most popular reaction videos for the Netflix series, with each reaction video receiving several thousand views in the first two months they were posted. While my sample is small, the reactors vary enough to give a representative view into reactions other viewers might have. The reactors, described below, are FandomReactions, GeekHouse, TheTrophyMunchers, and ParaDoxic. • FandomReactions is a group of American women who are ‘best friends since High school living the college life and watching TV’ (FandomReactions ‘About’). The group consists of Brianna, Christi, Chardin, and an unnamed woman who appears for only two videos,2 all of whom are familiar with the books and film, so much so that they line up the books in front of the camera throughout their videos. Each has a favourite book she looks forward to being adapted, though all four are disappointed in the film. All four women are very expressive with their emotions and evidently love the Netflix series. • GeekHouse is an American husband-and-wife duo in their mid- to late-twenties who describe themselves as a ‘bored man and his bored wife watch[ing] movies, play[ing] video games, and discuss[ing] various things about nerd culture’ (GeekHouse ‘About’). GeekHouse is the least knowledgeable about the books as Joey (the husband) has never read the books but enjoyed the film, and Avalon (the wife) read the books as a child but has not read them in years. While Joey is less emotive than FandomReactions, Avalon is particularly stoic, talking rarely and expressing emotion more rarely still. They also generally like the Netflix series but dislike some of the episodes. • TheTrophyMunchers is a man from Great Britain (also somewhere in his twenties). He read some of the books as a child, but likes the film better than the Netflix series. He only posted four videos because he dislikes the Netflix series so much he stopped watching it. His dislike of the series gives insight into a resistant audience, and his fondness of the film gives a different view into the adaptation because he is the only reactor who prefers the film to the series. He is more emotive than GeekHouse, but less so than FandomReactions. • Finally, ParaDoxic is another twenty-something man from Great Britain. He read the books shortly before the series came out but has only finished five books of ASOUE (one more than Netflix’s first season adapts). He has seen and appreciated the film (though seemingly not as much as the Netflix series). He expresses his emotions similarly to FandomReactions and has the longest videos with the most analysis of ongoing emotions. These videos, while generally useful, have one further methodological limitation: Although the Netflix episodes are approximately 45 minutes long, the reaction videos vary in length from eight to fifty minutes (the longer of which include lengthy reviews and thus limit the reaction time to closer to 30 minutes). The videos’ length, or lack thereof, means that the reactions have been edited. It is unclear what has been cut, though in one comment ParaDoxic justifies cutting his reaction to one scene by explaining that there was ‘not much of a reaction, so there wouldn’t have been anything for people to look forward to’, suggesting that some of the editing may have been done in order to keep viewers interested. This editing reminds us that these videos are polished pieces and so researchers need to be aware of how the reactions may be manipulated. For instance, the Netflix series changed the race of several of the main characters, including Mr. Poe, Uncle Monty, and Aunt Josephine. This change is only noted once by one of the reactors: ParaDoxic says that the change in Uncle Monty’s race is not ‘going to be a problem’ because he did not ‘remember [Monty’s] race being mentioned in the book, so it should be fine’ (PD 3).3 We cannot assume that no other comments were made about the change in race or that comments were made and then edited out; either phenomenon would be interesting, but because these videos are edited, an argument cannot be made one way or the other. Thus, researchers must be careful in making broad, sweeping statements about reactions. I argue that these videos highlight the competing desires book fans have while watching adaptations. Plantinga argues that ‘our desires…emanate from diverse psychic and bodily registers, and unsurprisingly, they sometimes conflict with…each other’ (43). Although these reactors clearly desire fidelity, their videos demonstrate that this desire competes with other desires and allow scholars to analyse when and why these desires clash. Moreover, the comments sections below these reaction videos demonstrate people’s reason for watching the videos: a desire to experience others’ fidelity desires. As the scholars discussed above note, adaptation audiences largely desire fidelity, and the reactors under study corroborate this over and over again, particularly in appreciating the many details Netflix takes directly from the books and film. Before the third episode, Christi from FandomReactions argues that Netflix has discovered the correct way to make adaptations (making two episodes per book), saying that ‘they should do this with all major book series…so that every [pause] single [pause] detail can be included’ (FR 3). For her and the rest of FandomReactions, the Netflix series is a success because they desire the fidelity that it offers to its source. Likewise, ParaDoxic believes ‘the more accuracy the better’ (PD 1), constantly pointing out similarities and differences between the show and the books/film. He even says that he wants to read more of the books before the second season so that he can make ‘more accurate judgments’ about the show, suggesting that comparison to the books is a top criterion for him (PD 1). Moreover, comments about specific details demonstrate the reactors’ desire for fidelity. For example, Joey from GeekHouse comments several times about how similar the children in the Netflix series look to the children in the film, saying that ‘The kids remind me of the kids from the movie, as obviously they should’ (GH 1). What is interesting about his comment is not only that he thinks the children look similar but that he thinks they should. Violet and Klaus in the film only vaguely look like the Violet and Klaus in the illustrations, yet Joey and several of the other reactors admit that they appreciate the similarity because it is a clear tie to the previous source. Their desire for fidelity prompts these reactors to assume that fidelity is the proper course for Netflix to take. It is important to these viewers that the Netflix series remains true to its source text; they desire to see the details they already know. We can also see how viewers desire fidelity when Netflix changes things, to viewers’ dissatisfaction, as can be seen in the reaction to Mr. Poe. Mr. Poe, in books, film, and Netflix series, is a quite useless banker who continuously puts the Baudelaire children in the hands of greedy or equally useless adults. Netflix exaggerates this uselessness by having the actor playing Poe (K. Todd Freeman) be ridiculously cheery, even during the direst situations (such as when he tells the children that their house burned down and their parents died in the fire). The reactors negatively respond to this change, often citing how they read or saw Poe in earlier renditions in their complaints of this Poe. TheTrophyMunchers, who grows to hate Poe and claims Netflix’s portrayal of the character is one of the reasons he stops watching, argues that ‘the guy in the film was more sympathetic towards’ the Baudelaires, especially when dealing with their parents’ deaths (TM 1). He seemingly feels Netflix shifted Poe’s demeanour too far from the filmic text he knows so well, citing the interaction between Poe and the Baudelaires as the main difference and thus problem with the new Poe. Brianna from FandomReactions (along with most of the reactors) appears angry at how ‘stupid this…Poe is’ during the third and fourth episode, where we begin to see the depths of Poe’s incompetency (FR 4, emphasis in original). Her emphasis on ‘this’ suggests that the problem is with Freeman’s Poe, not with the character in general. Many of the reactors begin cursing heavily at Poe during these episodes, noting how they were never this mad at him during the books or film, suggesting that there has been a notable shift in the way Poe is presented.4 What is interesting here is the consensus; Poe in the book is made up of lines and descriptions of actions with little indication of delivery style. Yet almost all of the reactors react negatively to the new Poe. Whatever Netflix’s Poe is, he is not the Poe the reactors imagined in the books and he is certainly not the Poe from the film. While these reactions demonstrate the reactors’ desire for fidelity, the reactors also struggle when their desire for fidelity clashes with their desire for the safety and happiness of the characters. This struggle shows viewers finding where they need fidelity and where they would rather the plot change. ASOUE spells out the unfortunate lives of the Baudelaire orphans, and to stay true to the plotline means to hope for misfortune to fall on good children. The reactors respond to this conundrum differently at different times. Sometimes, the reactors want something terrible to stay. For instance, ParaDoxic seemingly approves when Olaf slaps Klaus in the first episode (with a replay in the second episode) because it ‘was a reference, I’m glad they kept it’ (PD 2). Even though in other scenes ParaDoxic desires the children’s safety when that safety does not counteract the books’ plot, here he desires fidelity over their well-being. It seems a perverse desire to want an adult to slap a child, but he desires it because ‘it was a reference’ to the book and thus necessary in order to stay true to the book. Sometimes, on the other hand, the reactors desperately want things to change, particularly around the death of Uncle Monty, perhaps the only competent adult in the books whom Olaf kills in order to get a hold of the Baudelaire fortune. Almost every reactor has a moment when they plead for Monty to live; even TheTrophyMunchers, who quits watching the show from dislike, emphatically says, ‘Oh, Montgomery, don’t die; change the way’ (TM 3). The reactions to Monty’s death clearly demonstrate a desire for more possibilities beyond the source text. TheTrophyMunchers explains that Monty’s death is ‘one of those things where you know it’s coming but you hope it doesn’t’ (TM 3). He knows that, if the show follows the books, Monty has to die, but he still hopes that Netflix will choose a different path from the books. Likewise, when Monty confronts Olaf, Brianna tells him ‘Kick his ass! I know what happens, but kick his ass!’ (FR 3, emphasis added). She knows that Monty is supposed to die (‘I know what happens’), but she desires other possibilities (‘but…’). She expresses this desire by trying to convince Monty to act differently than in the book; she wants other possibilities available to the characters, clearly desiring to break the fidelity that she highly praises in other places. This struggle between desires escalates over one of the biggest changes in the series: its treatment of the Baudelaire parents. In the books, they are dead from almost the first page; there are a few places late in the series where readers think they may be alive, only for hopes to be dashed. Conversely, Netflix features a Mother and Father trying to escape prison and get back to their three children; it is heavily implied for the first six-and-a-half episodes that these are the Baudelaire parents, but the seventh episode reveals that they are actually the Quagmire parents (who subsequently die in the eighth episode to create the Quagmire orphans the Baudelaires meet in the fifth book, which will be the beginning of season two). The reveal moment even suggests that the parents are reuniting with the Baudelaires as both the children and the parents approach a yellow door only for the audience to discover that they are two different yellow doors. The reactors respond differently to this change, demonstrating their different desires besides fidelity. TheTrophyMunchers enjoys the intrigue around the parents, explaining that ‘These two are interesting because I don’t actually know who they are’ (TM 4). Much like his desire for more possibilities around Monty, he likes the parents because they give the story more possibilities. The group dynamics of FandomReactions openly demonstrate the competing desires. Brianna and Christi fully endorse the parents being alive; Brianna admits that the change is weird, ‘but it’s a good weird’, and that ‘This is the one book adaptation that I’m okay with that they changed’ (FR 7). Brianna’s reaction is particularly telling because she acknowledges that other changes are not acceptable but that her desire for the family to be complete overrides her desire for fidelity. Chardin, on the other hand, resists the idea of the Baudelaire parents being alive. She has a look of disgust on her face as they supposedly get closer to finding the children, and says she would ‘be slightly disappointed if they reunite right now because it would be so weird’ (FR 6). For Chardin, fidelity is more important than the children finding their parents; she appears physically repulsed by the idea of changing the plotline that much. Brianna, on the other hand, wants her favourite characters to be happy and so cares less about fidelity. These reaction videos show people forming their fidelity judgments as viewers discover where they are willing for changes to happen and where they are not. There is another interesting desire that these videos reveal: the desire for fidelity desire. As helpful as I find these videos, they were not created solely for scholars to analyse but rather for a general public to watch and enjoy. Reaction videos posted to YouTube, like these, reach an ever-widening audience; even ‘In 2014, for the first time, YouTube reached more 18–34-year-olds than any cable network’ (Smith and Telang 112), and some of these reaction videos have over 14,000 views because of the popularity of both YouTube and reaction videos as a genre. It might seem odd that thousands of people purposefully watch others reacting to something instead of watching the text itself, but, according to Ars Technica writer Valentina Palladino, there may be a scientific explanation to this odd behaviour: mirror neurons. Palladino quotes University of Southern California neuroscientist Lisa Aziz-Zadeh explaining that ‘Mirror neurons are active both when you pick up a cup and when you see someone else pick up a cup’; mirror neurons react the same way when we do something and when someone else does the same thing, suggesting that when we see others experience emotion, those neurons experience that emotion as well. As Palladino summarizes, ‘React[ion] videos provide a two-fold experience: we feel satisfied because we know the emotions being conveyed in the video, and we bond with the reactor because we can share their emotions’. In other words, when people watch reaction videos to adaptations, they may do so in order to feel the same desire for fidelity that the reactors themselves feel. The comments section on the reaction videos corroborates this idea. Many of the substantive comments5 reveal the commenters’ relation to the source texts and their appreciation of the adaptation (e.g., comments like ‘I haven’t read the books at all’ from Pokemon & Moon or ‘Yess I loved the books in elementary school’ from UnicornKhan379). These video viewers give two general reasons for watching. First, many viewers love the adaptation as an adaptation and want to enjoy the fidelity (or commiserate in the infidelity) with others: QueenInTheNorth comments, ‘Oh gosh, I had the exact same reaction. I loved these books as a kid, and was just freaking out the whole time’; and banks comments, ‘I love hearing yall’s thoughts on the secret society, because it’s almost entirely not a part of the first four books, yet they understandably introduced it earlier here…so it’s been really fun watching as a huge fan of the books and seeing everyone’s reactions’. Second, viewers want to see if the Netflix series is true to the source text. amararanchan2 comments, ‘So I want to watch this show but I want to know if Lemony Snicket supported this version of [sic] before I do since he felt his work was ruined so badly from the movie version’, suggesting that (s)he knows the source texts and wants to make sure the series is faithful before watching.6 John Dowd, on the other hand, comments, ‘Not being of a generation that read the books I cannot say if what we’ve seen so far is faithful to the books’ and watches the videos in order to test the fidelity of the series. Both types of reasons exhibit the desire to experience and understand more fully the fidelity of the series. Viewers’ desire to experience others’ fidelity desire is especially evident when that desire is not met, specifically in the case of the Quagmires. Many of the video reactors take time to remember the Quagmire children, often not understanding who the children are until the final episode. Their commenters are not amused at their forgetfulness. A few of the many irate comments on FandomReactions’ and GeekHouse’s seventh video include: Puff and Fluff commenting, ‘Wait did you actually forget…THE VERY IMPORTANT QUAGMIRE CHILDREN IN THE BOOKS?? just reread the books, you might have forgotten over time’; PeeWee McQuestionable commenting, ‘they have all the books displayed on their table, but they don’t recognize the quagmire triplets?’; Jamie Rae commenting, ‘The Quagmire Tripelets how do you guys not remember them?!?! You read the books right?!?!’; and Emma commenting, ‘it’s too bad you didn’t read the books more often. I screamed when they said Quigley Isadora and Duncan. You didn’t seem to remember the Quagmires’. These comments are the only consistent reactions across the four sets of reaction videos, with people either raging at or explaining to the video reactors when the reactors seemingly fail in their purpose of exposing fidelity. These comments demonstrate how the viewers react negatively when their desire to experience fidelity through others is stifled, suggesting that this desire is a driving force for watching the reaction videos for many of these viewers. This desire suggests that, with the rise of the internet, audiences may be experiencing adaptations communally in new ways. As the dominant media experience has shifted from the cinema full of people to the family-oriented television to the seemingly lone computer viewer, it seems that viewing media has become an isolated activity. However, these reaction videos and their comments suggest that audiences have found new ways to experience adaptations together. As Hudson explains, ‘watching [adaptations] with others—not only in our living rooms, but again and again through reaction videos—offers a bit of the same thrill that comes from watching a slasher film in a crowded theater and screaming along with everyone else…: a way to see our own horror and sadness reflected in the faces of others, and thereby somewhat allayed’. These reaction videos exist because audiences still want to experience adaptations together. For some viewers, one reactor is not enough; they want an entire community rather than a single partner. For example, UnicornKhan379 comments on videos from FandomReactions, ParaDoxic, and TheTrophyMunchers, and serotoninshot comments on videos from FandomReactions and GeekHouse, suggesting that at least some viewers watched more than one set, creating a network rather than one point of contact. Book fans want to see others experience the same thrills and disappointments. These reaction videos may provide the same experience as a midnight release of Harry Potter or Twilight or any of the new comic book movies: the chance to experience a beloved text for the first time with others. When an adaptation is only available streaming, audiences turn to reaction videos to fulfil that communal desire. CONCLUSION Reaction videos can expand our knowledge of audience reception, especially of how audiences perceive adaptations. These videos show how audiences’ desires for fidelity compete with other desires as reactors struggle with them, allowing us to see how the desires interact differently throughout a single viewing. They also suggest that reaction videos may be the new way that audiences experience fidelity communally. Instead of having to rely on reviews, surveys, ethnographies, or autoethnographies that flatten responses to one given point in time (the time of writing which occurs after the viewer has completed the text) or that are influenced by the scholar, reaction videos show reactions as they happen, granting us a more detailed and dynamic depiction of how audiences interact with adaptations and ideas of fidelity. Reaction videos are a helpful tool in any form of reception studies, allowing scholars to research when/how people react to films and specifically to newer forms of online media. Since many viewers enjoy films and television not in a theatre but rather in their own home, often on a laptop, reaction videos attempt to recreate this environment and thus may allow us to study how people interact with newer forms of film and television outside the much-studied cinema. REFEERENCES amararanchan2 . 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Friedberg , Anne . “ The End of Cinema: Multimedia and Technological Change .” The Film Theory Reader: Debates and Arguments . Ed. Marc Furstenau . Abingdon : Routledge , 2010 : 270 – 281 . GeekHouse . “ About .” YouTube 18 Mar. 2008. 19 Dec. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/user/joeyandkaela/about. ——. “ Series of Unfortunate Events - Episode 1 - REACTION !” YouTube 13 Jan. 2017. 19 Dec. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OW3cZ8QTUFI&t=305s. Geraghty , Christine. Now a Major Motion Picture: Film Adaptations of Literature and Drama . Lanham : Rowman & Littlefield , 2008 . Hagen , Ingunn and Janet Wasko . “ Introduction: Consuming Audiences?: Production and Reception in Media Research .” Consuming Audiences?: Production and Reception in Media Research . Eds. Ingunn Hagen , and Janet Wasko . New York : Hampton P , 2000 : 3 – 28 . Hermansson , Casie . “ Flogging Fidelity: In Defense of the (Un)Dead Horse .” Adaptation 8 . 2 ( 2015 ): 147 – 160 . 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Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events . Devs. Mark Hudis , and Barry Sonnenfield . Netflix , 2017 . MacCabe , Colin . “ Introduction: Bazinian Adaptation: The Butcher Boy as Example .” True to the Spirit: Film Adaptation and the Question of Fidelity . Eds. Colin MacCabe , Kathleen Murray , and Rick Warner . Oxford : Oxford U P , 2011 : 3 – 25 . McFarlane , Brian. Novel to Film: An Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation . Oxford : Clarendon P , 1996 . Napoli , Philip M. Audience Evolution: New Technologies and the Transformation of Media Audiences . New York : Columbia U P , 2011 . Palladino , Valentina . “ The Science behind the Insane Popularity of ‘React’ Videos on YouTube .” Ars Technica 3 Apr. 2016. 19 Dec. 2017. https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2016/04/the-science-behind- the-insane-popularity-of-react-videos-on-youtube/. ParaDoxic . Comment on “A Series Of Unfortunate Events S1E8 The Miserable Mill Part 2 Season Finale Reaction and Review.” YouTube . 30 Aug. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89xEh2FUDCM. ——. “ A Series Of Unfortunate Events S1E1 A Bad Beginning Part 1 Reaction and Review .” YouTube 17 Jan. 2017. 19 Dec. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZfy1k7afq8&list=PLEHOWfIpwUE3OEqLMZJwOHB7mPXy6XLRt. ——. “ A Series Of Unfortunate Events S1E3 The Reptile Room Part 1 Reaction and Review .” YouTube 22 Jan. 2017. 19 Dec. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPZY5FLVoEA. ——. “ A Series Of Unfortunate Events S1E2 A Bad Beginning Part 2 Reaction and Review .” YouTube , 18 Jan. 2017. 19 Dec. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NU24532nE0&index=2&list=PLEHOWfIpwUE3OEqLMZJwOHB7mPXy6XLRt. PeeWee McQuestionable . Comment on “A Series of Unfortunate Events S1E7.” YouTube . 19 Dec. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeTmNi29ODg. Plantinga , Carl. Moving Viewers: American Film and the Spectator’s Experience . Berkeley : U of California P , 2009 . Pokemon & Moon . Comment on “Series of Unfortunate Events - Episode 4 - REACTION!” YouTube . 19 Dec. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2rD0VEfUOA. Powers , John . “ On YouTube Reaction Videos, Pop Culture’s Embarrassing Little Brother .” Diamondback 1 Mar. 2017. 19 Dec. 2017. http://www.dbknews.com/2017/03/01/youtube-reaction-videos/. Puff and Fluff . Comment on “ A Series of Unfortunate Events S1E7 .” YouTube . 19 Dec. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeTmNi29ODg. QueenInTheNorth . Comment on “A Series Of Unfortunate Events S1E1 (Classics With Christi).” YouTube . 19 Dec. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gmsNdLx84A. “ Reaction Videos .” Know Your Meme 2015. 2 May 2017. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/reaction-videos. Sanchez-Cortes , Dairazalia et al. “ In the Mood for Vlog: Multimodal Inference in Conversational Social Video.” ACM Transactions on Interactive Intelligent Systems 5 ( 2015 ): 1 – 24 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Seiboldby , Witney . “ Editorial: Why Your Trailer Reaction Videos are Stupid .” Crave 21 July 2015. 19 Dec. 2017. http://www.craveonline.com/culture/879173-editorial-trailer-reaction-videos-stupid. Smith , Michael D. , and Rahul Telang . Streaming, Sharing, Stealing: Big Data and the Future of Entertainment . Cambridge : MIT P , 2016. Staiger , Janet. Media Reception Studies . New York : New York U P , 2005 . ——. Perverse Spectators: The Practices of Film Reception . New York : New York U P , 2000 . Stam , Robert . “ Beyond Fidelity: The Dialogics of Adaptation .” Film Adaptation . Ed. James Naremore . New Brunswick : Rutgers U P , 2000 : 54 – 76 . Stokes , Melvyn . “ Introduction: Historical Hollywood Spectatorship .” Hollywood Spectatorship: Changing Perceptions of Cinema Audiences . Eds. Melvyn Stokes , and Richard Maltby . London : British Film Institute , 2001 : 1 – 16 . TheTrophyMunchers . “ A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 1 Episode 1 - ‘The Bad Beginning: Part One’ Reaction .” YouTube 14 Jan. 2017. 19 Dec. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uawcEhi-PU4&t=240s. ——. “ A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 1 Episode 3 - ‘The Reptile Room: Part One’ Reaction .” YouTube 24 Jan. 2017. 19 Dec. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xBzym__OnY&t=287s. ——. “ A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 1 Episode 4 - ‘The Reptile Room: Part Two’ Reaction .” YouTube 5 Feb. 2017. 19 Dec. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cV_P1EaWDY&t=369s. UnicornKhan379 . Comment on “A Series Of Unfortunate Events S1E1 A Bad Beginning Part 1 Reaction and Review.” YouTube . 19 Dec. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZfy1k7afq8. Victoria Odegaard . Comment on “A Series of Unfortunate Events S1E7.” YouTube . 19 Dec. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeTmNi29ODg. Warren-Crow , Heather . “ Screaming Like a Girl: Viral Video and the Work of Reaction .” Feminist Media Studies 16 . 6 ( 2016 ): 1113 – 1117 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS De Zwaan , Victoria . “ Experimental Fiction, Film Adaptation, and the Case of Midnight’s Children: In Defense of Fidelity .” Literature-Film Quarterly 43 . 4 ( 2015 ): 246 – 262 . NOTES 1 Because the book series, the film, and the episodes themselves all have the same name, ASOUE will only refer to the book series, while I will refer to the other two as the film and the Netflix series. 2 When analysing reactions of the groups, I will always give both the group name and the individual’s name for clarity. 3 Because the titles and names for each of the reaction videos are similar, I will cite them by giving the initials of the reactors (FandomReactions=FR, GeekHouse=GH, TheTrophyMunchers=TM, and ParaDoxic=PD) and the number of the episode they are reviewing in that reaction video. 4 While race is only mentioned once by any of the reactors, most of the reactors (and many of the commenters) disliked the new Poe and Josephine, two of the three characters who are played by people of colour. They never say that this dislike comes from the actors’ race, but there does seem to be some troubling correlation, especially since these two characters are played by the only prominent Black actors. 5 By substantive comments, I mean comments that refer to the content of the videos or Netflix series rather than comments unrelated to the content, such as the lengthy discussion about Brianna’s feet which happened throughout the comments of FandomReactions or the requests for the reactors to react to other series. 6 amararanchan2 uses Daniel Handler’s pseudonym (Lemony Snicket) rather than his real name, perhaps suggesting that this commenter has only surface knowledge of the author or that they prefer to represent the author in his fanciful characterization. Either way, this use is an odd juxtaposition with the concern of a real person’s feelings. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Adaptation Oxford University Press

‘The More Accuracy the Better’?: Analysing Adaptation Reception in Reaction Videos

Adaptation , Volume Advance Article – Jan 23, 2018

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Abstract

Abstract Casie Hermansson argues that ‘There are…signs of increasing value placed on the lay perspective and thus on fidelity as a critical…tool’ (149–50) because, as Dudley Andrews argues, ‘Fidelity is the umbilical cord that nourishes the judgments of ordinary viewers as they comment on what are effectively aesthetic and moral values’ (27). While audiences may discuss adaptations in terms of fidelity, fidelity does not have a stable meaning across all audience members. As Stam argues, ‘The question of fidelity ignores the wider question: Fidelity to what?’ (57). Viewers desire adaptations to remain true in different ways, and it can be difficult for producers and scholars alike to discover what exactly audiences want in a ‘faithful’ adaptation. Scholars need effective tools to measure how audiences perceive fidelity, and reaction videos can be one of these tools. This article traces the history of film reception studies and how changing media requires changing analysis tools. Then, it gives a general theorization of reaction videos, including what they are and the benefits and limits of using them. Finally, the article ends with a case study of reaction videos of Netflix’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events to more concretely demonstrate how these videos illuminate fidelity, paying close attention to how these videos, and their comment sections, depict clashing desires around fidelity. The ultimate aim is to offer the beginnings of a new methodology that might allow scholars to interrogate the way contemporary audiences experience fidelity. Reaction videos, adaptation reception, fidelity desire, A Series of Unfortunate Events Over the past two decades, there has been a ‘growing and articulate chorus of adaptation scholars who critique the language of fidelity and its consequential denigration of adaptation as an art form’ (Cobb 28). Scholars often cite the simplification of both source and adaptation; for example, Brian McFarlane argues that ‘Fidelity criticism depends on a notion of the text as having and rendering up to the (intelligent) reader a single, correct “meaning” which the film-maker has either adhered to or in some sense violated or tampered with’ (8), flattening possible readings of both the source and the adaptation. Fidelity also privileges the source text over the adaptation, often to the harm of film and adaptation as art forms. Robert Stam argues that fidelity ‘quietly reinscribes the axiomatic superiority of literary art to film’ (58). Thomas Leitch also argues that fidelity only permits praise of the source text: ‘adaptations will always reveal their sources’ superiority because whatever their faults, the source texts will always be better at being themselves’ (161). Fidelity thus forces scholars to privilege source texts to the harm of individual adaptations and film studies in general. Because fidelity requires an adaptation to be compared to the source text, Gary R. Bortolotti and Linda Hutcheon argue that the ‘common determination to judge an adaptation’s “success” only in relation to its faithfulness or closeness to the “original” or “source” text threatens to reinforce the current low estimation (in terms of cultural capital) of what is, in fact, a common and persistent way humans have always told and retold stories’: adaptation (444). Adaptation, a fundamental story-telling method, thus becomes derivative rather than creative. In essence, scholars argue that fidelity criticism is often simplistic, privileges the literary text over the filmic one, and belittles the field of adaptation. That being said, recently, adaptation scholars have called for a new tactic to address fidelity, one that emphasises reception theory. Both proponents and opponents of fidelity recognize that it remains a tool because audiences so often use it; for example, even while criticizing fidelity, Dudley Andrew argues that ‘Fidelity is the umbilical cord that nourishes the judgments of ordinary viewers as they comment on what are effectively aesthetic and moral values’ (27) while fidelity-proponent Victoria De Zwaan notes that fidelity ‘is of course rampant in newspaper reviews and fan culture’ (247). As De Zwaan explains, ‘readers—fans, students, and/or critics—come to film adaptations of novels with certain sorts of expectations about how an often very familiar text is interpreted in the adaptation’ so ‘It seems unlikely…that adaptation studies can be unmoored from’ fidelity studies (249). In fact, after surveying audience responses to the third Lord of the Rings film, Anne Jerslev found that although ‘there are, in theory, numerous options to use the films’ context to explain’ viewers’ reactions, many viewers discussed their experience ‘by explicitly comparing the film to the book’ (209). The survey responses she received regularly discussed the film in relation to the books, demonstrating how these viewers framed their discussion of the adaptation through fidelity. Because of fidelity’s popularity among general audiences, Colin MacCabe argues that ‘While many of the recent studies [which decry fidelity] add to our knowledge of the performativity of adaptation, they ignore how audiences talk about film adaptations’ (7), and Casie Hermansson argues that ‘There are…signs of increasing value placed on the lay perspective and thus on fidelity as a critical…tool’ (149–50). Moreover, Christine Geraghty argues that ‘the perennial question of faithfulness is not a matter for textual analysis but rather for work on reception’ (3). Although fidelity is not always the best tool with which to analyse an adaptation, it may be the most valuable to help understand how general audiences experience these texts. While audiences may discuss adaptations in terms of fidelity, fidelity does not have a stable meaning across all audience members. As Stam argues, ‘The question of fidelity ignores the wider question: Fidelity to what?’ (57). Viewers desire adaptations to remain true in different ways, and it can be difficult for producers and scholars alike to discover what exactly audiences want in a ‘faithful’ adaptation. We need effective tools to measure how audiences perceive fidelity, and I argue that reaction videos can be one of these tools. In this article, I trace the history of film reception studies and how changing media requires changing analysis tools. Then, I give a general theorization of reaction videos, including what they are and the benefits and limits of using them. Finally, I end with a case study of reaction videos of Netflix’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events to more concretely demonstrate how these videos illuminate fidelity in reception, paying close attention to how these videos, and their comment sections, depict clashing desires around fidelity. My ultimate aim is to offer the beginnings of a new methodology that might allow us to interrogate the way contemporary audiences experience fidelity. RECEPTION STUDIES THEN, CHANGING MEDIA NOW In order to theorize how reaction videos can be used to understand fidelity reception, I must first depart from fidelity to address the history of reception. Since its inception, media reception studies have debated the best way to measure audiences’ reactions. Media reception studies scholar Janet Staiger argues that ‘one of the earliest and still the most prevalent method for finding evidence about the reception of media texts is scholarly analysis of written and oral texts from which the critics then make claims about what readers do’ (Media 8), even though ‘speculation about real readers based on academic readings of texts does not take us very far before running up against rampant and remarkable deviations’ (Perverse 2). This method has fallen out of favour in reception studies because ‘practitioners of “reception studies” assume that film texts have no innate, essentialist reading’ (Stokes 7) so that ‘the objective of reception studies is, according to Janet Staiger, to try to establish “not the so-called correct reading of a particular film but the range of possible readings and reading processes at historical moments” (Stokes 7–8). Discovering this range, however, creates ‘tribulations…over how evidence of reception is gathered’ (Media 14) because of the methodological issues of gauging audiences. As film scholar Carl Plantinga argues: Estimations of the actual historical reactions and interpretations of audiences will always be somewhat speculative, unless one limits oneself to self-reports, the empirical observations possible through viewing audience behavior or measuring physiological response, or the measurements of heart rates and facial expressions. The most interesting actual audience responses are quite often lost to history, and for the reception historian, the best means to recover what they might have been—through movie reviews, for example—are often as questionable and/or partial as film-based estimations. (13) Even if the means are questionable, ‘there were signs already evident in the 1980s that abstract theories of spectatorship might, at some stage, need to be reconsidered in the light of accounts of the individual and collective response of “real” spectators (i.e., viewers) to the cinematic experience’ (Stokes 5). Since then, scholars have found many ways to measure reception, but, as with all methodologies, each has its limits. One classic way to measure audience reactions is through surveys. Unfortunately, survey responses are created after a viewing; they give an overview of what the person felt and not a moment-by-moment depiction of affective response. In fact, in describing the limitations of her own survey, Jerslev explains that a survey response ‘is not a description of the actual experience at any one time during viewing but a verbalised condensation of the many different emotions’, meaning that the response is ‘not necessarily the exact emotions felt during viewing’ (206). Melvyn Stokes even argues that many film theorists fear that surveys do not ‘offer any real means of understanding either the subjectivity of individual spectatorial response or what shaped the nature of that response’ (5), making the highly subjective film experience into objective data points. Surveys deliver audiences’ overall impressions of a text, but they condense the individual reactions, perhaps disguising some of the more complex reactions viewers have that they may be unaware of experiencing. Luckily, we live in a world where people write much and often about what they think and feel, so movie reviews (both professional and amateur) are easily accessible online without needing to create surveys and elicit responses. A researcher can easily and quickly access hundreds of professional and amateur reviews through sites like Rotten Tomato, IMDb, and Metacritic. However, the conventions of reviews can mar reactions since they ‘are produced for one reason and appropriated by reception scholars for another’ (Staiger, Media 14). Plantinga argues that the review only captures the experience of the reviewer, which is not a broad sample, and ‘such a review is a heavily mediated, institutionally constrained report of the public response of a professional reviewer who may or may not share much in common with other viewers’ (13). Due to increasing access to amateur reviews, we do have more points of view than a few professional reviews, but the conventions of reviews limit what we can learn, offering the polished impressions of a handful of viewers but not play-by-play reactions. To avoid this reaction condensation, reception scholars have borrowed an approach from anthropologists: the ethnographic study. In their review of reception studies, Ingunn Hagen and Janet Wasko explain that ‘ethnographic audience research means that audiences are being interviewed and observed in their “natural environment” or context’ but argue that ethnographies are ‘most relevant for studies of, for example, youth groups or other subcultures’ and not for ‘studying normal family or household viewing’ (8) because it is hard to maintain the ‘natural environment’ of a home. Thus, ethnographies have often focused on large-group situations like cinema. Moreover, Staiger notes that ethnographies have ‘a strong record of criticism…including the power differential between ethnographers and their subjects and more specific matters such as leading audiences and interviewees toward answers that the interviewers desire’ (Media 14). Researchers using ethnographies can thus affect their study through their influence on the test subjects and their line of questioning. Because ethnographies, like many reception studies, permit researchers’ accidental influence, researchers have begun to use autoethnographies in which they use their own experience as evidence. This method overtly acknowledges the effect the researcher has on the subject since they are one in the same. However, as Staiger notes, ‘autoethnographies are by no means any sort of random, unbiased source of information about audiences’ (Media 14) because scholars are a very specific sub-set of the population, much like professional reviewers. Moreover, ‘self-reports are themselves problematic, because the subject may have many motivations for censoring, altering, or fabricating such a report’ (Plantinga 228). Scholars have particular aims (publication) when they self-report for autoethnographies and so may not be capable of giving a completely unbiased description of their reactions. While all of these methods have their limits, they have also been valid tools for measuring reception. However, as media changes, so must our tools. Staiger notes that some media reception scholars have ‘devote[d] close attention to the conditions of moviegoing as influencing the mode of reception and affect on the audience’ (Perverse 18), and Hagen and Wasko argue that ‘Reception analysis has mainly been performed on TV viewers’ (8). However, media-use is changing so that cinemas and traditional television viewing are not the main sources of people’s media consumption today. Film scholar Anne Friedberg argues that the cinema ‘has become embedded in—or perhaps lost in—the new technologies that surround it’ (270) so that ‘the apparatus we came to know as “the cinema” is being displaced by systems of circulation and transmission which abolish the projection screen and begin to link the video screens of the computer and television with the dialogic interactivity of the telephone’ (271). Friedberg goes so far as to say that ‘Computer “users” are not spectators, not viewers’ as we have understood the terms (277). Audience scholar Philip M. Napoli echoes Friedberg, arguing that media has significantly changed so that ‘individuals have ever-growing levels of control over when, how, and where they consume media’ (1). Audiences’ growing control over their media ‘has undermined traditional analytical approaches to media audiences’ because they ‘fail to capture all of the important dimensions of audience behavior that are exhibited when audiences’ relationship with media becomes more interactive in nature’ (Napoli 8). As audiences consume media differently, reception scholars need to find new ways to gauge their reactions. THEORIZING REACTION VIDEOS While changing media necessitates new methods, changing media may also provide the material for those methods. As Napoli explains, the ‘new media environment is one in which there are substantial opportunities for audiences to interact with media’, including ‘providing feedback, influencing outcomes, responding directly to advertising messages, or generating parallel content’ (8) so that ‘various dimensions of participation, appreciation, and feedback are now expressed in very public forums online that are accessible to, and are being readily accessed and analyzed by, both commercial and academic audience researchers’ (9). I argue that reaction videos are one such dimension readily available for reception scholars, especially those studying adaptations, because these videos show how reactions develop rather than relying on viewers to give an accurate description after the fact. For those unfamiliar with what Sam Anderson calls ‘one of the most fascinating entries in America’s ongoing anthropology of itself’, reaction videos are ‘recordings of individuals or groups of people reacting to an outside stimulus’ (‘Reaction Videos’). Heather Warren-Crow, in an article about the gendered reactions in reaction videos (one of the few scholarly pieces on these videos), describes them as a ‘genre of user-generated content dependent on the perceived authenticity of a highly charged emotional response,…usually record[ing] the expressions and vocalizations of people watching screen media’ (1113). Reactors explain their reactions extensively because the videos are created so the audience can experience the reactions with and through the reactors, making them ideal for reception study. While John Powers calls reaction videos ‘a loose cannon format for a review’, most recent reaction videos of screen media (e.g., trailers, series, iconic moments in movies) take a similar format. The person or people running the video introduce themselves, explain why they created the video as well as their credentials, play the video with the camera focused on their face and often a small window at the bottom showing exactly what they are reacting to as the text plays, and end with a short, off-the-cuff review. Reaction videos are particularly apt for reception research because these reactions are captured in the comfort of people’s homes. Dairazalia Sanchez-Cortes et al argue that ‘Conversational social video’, such as reaction videos, ‘is a popular genre in which people simultaneously share what they look like, what they think, and how they feel, in a format that is…natural’ (9:2). Reaction videos have an almost universal ‘radical vérité home-movie aesthetic’ that highlights the everyday nature of the reviewers and their environment (Anderson). Cats walk between the camera and the reactors, family members intrude on the recording, reactors eat and fall asleep; they depict (or at least replicate) ‘real-life’ situations and thus capture portrayals of themselves in their natural habitat. Reaction videos are designed to show people react to a text for the first time in conditions they are comfortable with, and this very ‘naturality…enable[s] the study of human mood in this medium’ (Sanchez-Cortes et al 9:2). These videos effectively allow us to study each other, as Anderson suggests. In particular, reaction videos exist and are framed through the lens of adaptation, so they can help adaptation scholars study how audiences approach adaptations. Reactors explain that they are reacting to adaptations as adaptations, going into detail about their relationships to the source text and framing their reactions as reactions to adaptation, not just original texts. In a Wired article examining the popularity of reaction videos of Game of Thrones’s Red Wedding, Laura Hudson found that the ‘reason most reaction shots exist at all is because someone in the room knew exactly what was coming, and decided to press record and capture the fallout’. While the particular reaction videos Hudson studies are much less formal than the reaction videos studied below, the same holds true: people record themselves reacting to adaptations because they already know the source text and thus believe they will generate interesting reactions for others to view. Moreover, due to reaction videos’ public nature, they may be influencing producers of adaptations. De Zwaan argues that ‘theorists [should] take seriously the vital impact of audience expectation on the film adaptation industry’ (249), and reaction videos are an important link between the audience and the industry. Henry Jenkins, as early as 2006, noted that ‘Some sectors of the media industries…have sought greater feedback from their fans, and have incorporated viewer-generated content into their design processes’ (150), using reviews, blogs, social media, and other venues to track what fans want. By 2011 (the year that reporters began writing about reaction videos), Napoli argues that ‘new media technologies’, such as vlogs, ‘are making it possible for media industries to fundamentally redefine what media audiences mean to them and how they factor into the economics and strategy of their business’ (4) so that ‘clear-cut distinctions’ between audience and producer ‘no longer can be made’ (12). As media producers, like scholars, can easily access audience opinions, they can and do change their material to coincide more with what viewers want, making the audience part of the production process. Reaction videos allow scholars to see what producers see and thus get a sense for how the adaptation industry may be changing. While I find reaction videos wonderful tools, they also have limits that must be addressed when working with them. First of all, like any study, those who are being watched (in this instance, by a camera and internet viewers) act differently than they might when not being observed. Powers argues that ‘the content is staged and played up’, while Witney Seiboldby argues that ‘By filming yourself having an “honest” reaction, you are suddenly—by the very virtue of being observed—lending an air of disingenuousness to your reaction’ so that ‘However honest your reaction may be, your honesty is undercut by the very fact that you want other people to watch in’. Even the way that people sound may be used to evince rather than represent reality; Warren-Crow argues that ‘presumed authenticity of the reaction video is based largely on the perceived authenticity of the vocal performance’ so that ‘Viewers…are often asked to disregard the fakeness of what we see…in favor of the supposed truth of what we hear’ because the ‘insistently embodied voice naturalizes the reactions, generates much of the affective energy, and in its (apparently) uncontrolled affect, demonstrates spontaneity’ (1115). Reactors ‘scream[] like a girl’ (Warren-Crow 1113), not necessarily because that is how they would normally react but because it sounds ‘true’. Reactions in these videos may thus be affected by their performative nature. Both Powers and Seiboldby, however, acknowledge that performativity is a problem with any kind of review, and, I would argue, with any kind of reception study. Video reactors may exaggerate their reactions, but exaggerated reactions hint at how people believe they should react. Furthermore, people who post reaction videos are a subset of the population and thus may not represent a general reaction. After all, it takes a particular kind of person to film themselves reacting to something for people to watch, just as it takes a particular kind of person to write an article about their own emotional reaction to a text. That being said, online commentators of reaction videos argue that reaction videos tend to be remarkably consistent. Powers argues that ‘these are responses all of us produce’, suggesting that these videos may demonstrate reactions that the rest of the audience would have. Anderson goes so far as to claim that ‘The most striking thing about reaction videos, if you watch a string of them, is their sameness…everyone basically has the same response at the same moments’. We need not follow Anderson in assuming such uniformity, but with people from a range of socioeconomic, regional, ethnic, religious, gender, and sexuality groups creating reaction videos, studying several reaction videos highlights similarities in reactions across multiple identities, allowing us to find reaction trends. Finally, reaction videos are often emotional, so analysing them is highly subjective. Staiger explains that ‘Each [reception] method has advantages and deficits, but these advantages do not include objectivity’ because ‘Every approach has the same basic problem of researchers eventually interpreting evidence they have gathered in some way’ (Media 13–4), and reaction videos exaggerate the objectivity problem due to the highly emotional tenor of the genre. Jenkins argues, ‘When fans talk about meaningful encounters with texts, they are describing what they feel as much as what they think’ (140), and reaction videos epitomize emotional, rather than logical, descriptions, often offering sounds when words cannot suffice. Warren-Crow finds that ‘the soundscapes of reaction videos are testaments to the power of the voice when language proves insufficient: laughs of various timbres, haptic sobs, quavering screeches…demonstrate our fascination with screaming like a girl, as girls are discursively understood’ (1113). This soundscape can be difficult to analyse and describe in a critical manner, especially because many wordless reactions are coded feminine, as Warren-Crow argues. In using reaction videos, scholars must be careful how they describe reactions, giving as literal descriptions as possible and avoiding negative depictions of femininized behaviour such as screaming and crying which occur often, no matter the reactor’s gender. WATCHING FIDELITY DESIRES COMPETE: A CASE STUDY Thus far, I have addressed reception methodologies and reaction videos in the abstract. Now, I offer a model of how to use this emerging reception tool by analysing four different sets of reaction videos made about the first season of Netflix’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017–) which adapts the first four books of A Series of Unfortunate Events (ASOUE, written by Daniel Handler under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket from 1999 to 2006) and which also draws on a 2004 Nickelodeon film adaptation of the first three books.1 These reaction videos offer a unique opportunity to study adaptation reception because Netflix’s series draws on both the book series and the film as source texts and so viewers react to multiple layers of adaptation. ASOUE follows Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, three talented children whose rich parents die in a horrible fire at the beginning of the series, as they struggle to survive the devious plans of Count Olaf (a villainous and terrible actor determined to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune) and the incompetency of Mr. Poe (the banker who is in charge of their fortune until they come of age and who places the children with one incompetent adult after another). Death surrounds the children as Olaf kills anyone in his way, and the series is a testament to children’s resilience as the Baudelaires invent, research, and bite their ways out of danger. Because of the unfortunate events and the dark humour with which they are presented, this series encourages affective responses, making it ideal material for studying reactions. While many people created reaction videos to the trailer and first episode of Netflix’s series, I chose four sets of reaction videos posted on YouTube (three of which have reaction videos for all eight episodes of the first season and one of which has videos only for the first four episodes) for this case study because they are the only sustained reactions to the series. The sets include reactors of varying gender, nationality, ethnicity, personality type, and age, and they are the most popular reaction videos for the Netflix series, with each reaction video receiving several thousand views in the first two months they were posted. While my sample is small, the reactors vary enough to give a representative view into reactions other viewers might have. The reactors, described below, are FandomReactions, GeekHouse, TheTrophyMunchers, and ParaDoxic. • FandomReactions is a group of American women who are ‘best friends since High school living the college life and watching TV’ (FandomReactions ‘About’). The group consists of Brianna, Christi, Chardin, and an unnamed woman who appears for only two videos,2 all of whom are familiar with the books and film, so much so that they line up the books in front of the camera throughout their videos. Each has a favourite book she looks forward to being adapted, though all four are disappointed in the film. All four women are very expressive with their emotions and evidently love the Netflix series. • GeekHouse is an American husband-and-wife duo in their mid- to late-twenties who describe themselves as a ‘bored man and his bored wife watch[ing] movies, play[ing] video games, and discuss[ing] various things about nerd culture’ (GeekHouse ‘About’). GeekHouse is the least knowledgeable about the books as Joey (the husband) has never read the books but enjoyed the film, and Avalon (the wife) read the books as a child but has not read them in years. While Joey is less emotive than FandomReactions, Avalon is particularly stoic, talking rarely and expressing emotion more rarely still. They also generally like the Netflix series but dislike some of the episodes. • TheTrophyMunchers is a man from Great Britain (also somewhere in his twenties). He read some of the books as a child, but likes the film better than the Netflix series. He only posted four videos because he dislikes the Netflix series so much he stopped watching it. His dislike of the series gives insight into a resistant audience, and his fondness of the film gives a different view into the adaptation because he is the only reactor who prefers the film to the series. He is more emotive than GeekHouse, but less so than FandomReactions. • Finally, ParaDoxic is another twenty-something man from Great Britain. He read the books shortly before the series came out but has only finished five books of ASOUE (one more than Netflix’s first season adapts). He has seen and appreciated the film (though seemingly not as much as the Netflix series). He expresses his emotions similarly to FandomReactions and has the longest videos with the most analysis of ongoing emotions. These videos, while generally useful, have one further methodological limitation: Although the Netflix episodes are approximately 45 minutes long, the reaction videos vary in length from eight to fifty minutes (the longer of which include lengthy reviews and thus limit the reaction time to closer to 30 minutes). The videos’ length, or lack thereof, means that the reactions have been edited. It is unclear what has been cut, though in one comment ParaDoxic justifies cutting his reaction to one scene by explaining that there was ‘not much of a reaction, so there wouldn’t have been anything for people to look forward to’, suggesting that some of the editing may have been done in order to keep viewers interested. This editing reminds us that these videos are polished pieces and so researchers need to be aware of how the reactions may be manipulated. For instance, the Netflix series changed the race of several of the main characters, including Mr. Poe, Uncle Monty, and Aunt Josephine. This change is only noted once by one of the reactors: ParaDoxic says that the change in Uncle Monty’s race is not ‘going to be a problem’ because he did not ‘remember [Monty’s] race being mentioned in the book, so it should be fine’ (PD 3).3 We cannot assume that no other comments were made about the change in race or that comments were made and then edited out; either phenomenon would be interesting, but because these videos are edited, an argument cannot be made one way or the other. Thus, researchers must be careful in making broad, sweeping statements about reactions. I argue that these videos highlight the competing desires book fans have while watching adaptations. Plantinga argues that ‘our desires…emanate from diverse psychic and bodily registers, and unsurprisingly, they sometimes conflict with…each other’ (43). Although these reactors clearly desire fidelity, their videos demonstrate that this desire competes with other desires and allow scholars to analyse when and why these desires clash. Moreover, the comments sections below these reaction videos demonstrate people’s reason for watching the videos: a desire to experience others’ fidelity desires. As the scholars discussed above note, adaptation audiences largely desire fidelity, and the reactors under study corroborate this over and over again, particularly in appreciating the many details Netflix takes directly from the books and film. Before the third episode, Christi from FandomReactions argues that Netflix has discovered the correct way to make adaptations (making two episodes per book), saying that ‘they should do this with all major book series…so that every [pause] single [pause] detail can be included’ (FR 3). For her and the rest of FandomReactions, the Netflix series is a success because they desire the fidelity that it offers to its source. Likewise, ParaDoxic believes ‘the more accuracy the better’ (PD 1), constantly pointing out similarities and differences between the show and the books/film. He even says that he wants to read more of the books before the second season so that he can make ‘more accurate judgments’ about the show, suggesting that comparison to the books is a top criterion for him (PD 1). Moreover, comments about specific details demonstrate the reactors’ desire for fidelity. For example, Joey from GeekHouse comments several times about how similar the children in the Netflix series look to the children in the film, saying that ‘The kids remind me of the kids from the movie, as obviously they should’ (GH 1). What is interesting about his comment is not only that he thinks the children look similar but that he thinks they should. Violet and Klaus in the film only vaguely look like the Violet and Klaus in the illustrations, yet Joey and several of the other reactors admit that they appreciate the similarity because it is a clear tie to the previous source. Their desire for fidelity prompts these reactors to assume that fidelity is the proper course for Netflix to take. It is important to these viewers that the Netflix series remains true to its source text; they desire to see the details they already know. We can also see how viewers desire fidelity when Netflix changes things, to viewers’ dissatisfaction, as can be seen in the reaction to Mr. Poe. Mr. Poe, in books, film, and Netflix series, is a quite useless banker who continuously puts the Baudelaire children in the hands of greedy or equally useless adults. Netflix exaggerates this uselessness by having the actor playing Poe (K. Todd Freeman) be ridiculously cheery, even during the direst situations (such as when he tells the children that their house burned down and their parents died in the fire). The reactors negatively respond to this change, often citing how they read or saw Poe in earlier renditions in their complaints of this Poe. TheTrophyMunchers, who grows to hate Poe and claims Netflix’s portrayal of the character is one of the reasons he stops watching, argues that ‘the guy in the film was more sympathetic towards’ the Baudelaires, especially when dealing with their parents’ deaths (TM 1). He seemingly feels Netflix shifted Poe’s demeanour too far from the filmic text he knows so well, citing the interaction between Poe and the Baudelaires as the main difference and thus problem with the new Poe. Brianna from FandomReactions (along with most of the reactors) appears angry at how ‘stupid this…Poe is’ during the third and fourth episode, where we begin to see the depths of Poe’s incompetency (FR 4, emphasis in original). Her emphasis on ‘this’ suggests that the problem is with Freeman’s Poe, not with the character in general. Many of the reactors begin cursing heavily at Poe during these episodes, noting how they were never this mad at him during the books or film, suggesting that there has been a notable shift in the way Poe is presented.4 What is interesting here is the consensus; Poe in the book is made up of lines and descriptions of actions with little indication of delivery style. Yet almost all of the reactors react negatively to the new Poe. Whatever Netflix’s Poe is, he is not the Poe the reactors imagined in the books and he is certainly not the Poe from the film. While these reactions demonstrate the reactors’ desire for fidelity, the reactors also struggle when their desire for fidelity clashes with their desire for the safety and happiness of the characters. This struggle shows viewers finding where they need fidelity and where they would rather the plot change. ASOUE spells out the unfortunate lives of the Baudelaire orphans, and to stay true to the plotline means to hope for misfortune to fall on good children. The reactors respond to this conundrum differently at different times. Sometimes, the reactors want something terrible to stay. For instance, ParaDoxic seemingly approves when Olaf slaps Klaus in the first episode (with a replay in the second episode) because it ‘was a reference, I’m glad they kept it’ (PD 2). Even though in other scenes ParaDoxic desires the children’s safety when that safety does not counteract the books’ plot, here he desires fidelity over their well-being. It seems a perverse desire to want an adult to slap a child, but he desires it because ‘it was a reference’ to the book and thus necessary in order to stay true to the book. Sometimes, on the other hand, the reactors desperately want things to change, particularly around the death of Uncle Monty, perhaps the only competent adult in the books whom Olaf kills in order to get a hold of the Baudelaire fortune. Almost every reactor has a moment when they plead for Monty to live; even TheTrophyMunchers, who quits watching the show from dislike, emphatically says, ‘Oh, Montgomery, don’t die; change the way’ (TM 3). The reactions to Monty’s death clearly demonstrate a desire for more possibilities beyond the source text. TheTrophyMunchers explains that Monty’s death is ‘one of those things where you know it’s coming but you hope it doesn’t’ (TM 3). He knows that, if the show follows the books, Monty has to die, but he still hopes that Netflix will choose a different path from the books. Likewise, when Monty confronts Olaf, Brianna tells him ‘Kick his ass! I know what happens, but kick his ass!’ (FR 3, emphasis added). She knows that Monty is supposed to die (‘I know what happens’), but she desires other possibilities (‘but…’). She expresses this desire by trying to convince Monty to act differently than in the book; she wants other possibilities available to the characters, clearly desiring to break the fidelity that she highly praises in other places. This struggle between desires escalates over one of the biggest changes in the series: its treatment of the Baudelaire parents. In the books, they are dead from almost the first page; there are a few places late in the series where readers think they may be alive, only for hopes to be dashed. Conversely, Netflix features a Mother and Father trying to escape prison and get back to their three children; it is heavily implied for the first six-and-a-half episodes that these are the Baudelaire parents, but the seventh episode reveals that they are actually the Quagmire parents (who subsequently die in the eighth episode to create the Quagmire orphans the Baudelaires meet in the fifth book, which will be the beginning of season two). The reveal moment even suggests that the parents are reuniting with the Baudelaires as both the children and the parents approach a yellow door only for the audience to discover that they are two different yellow doors. The reactors respond differently to this change, demonstrating their different desires besides fidelity. TheTrophyMunchers enjoys the intrigue around the parents, explaining that ‘These two are interesting because I don’t actually know who they are’ (TM 4). Much like his desire for more possibilities around Monty, he likes the parents because they give the story more possibilities. The group dynamics of FandomReactions openly demonstrate the competing desires. Brianna and Christi fully endorse the parents being alive; Brianna admits that the change is weird, ‘but it’s a good weird’, and that ‘This is the one book adaptation that I’m okay with that they changed’ (FR 7). Brianna’s reaction is particularly telling because she acknowledges that other changes are not acceptable but that her desire for the family to be complete overrides her desire for fidelity. Chardin, on the other hand, resists the idea of the Baudelaire parents being alive. She has a look of disgust on her face as they supposedly get closer to finding the children, and says she would ‘be slightly disappointed if they reunite right now because it would be so weird’ (FR 6). For Chardin, fidelity is more important than the children finding their parents; she appears physically repulsed by the idea of changing the plotline that much. Brianna, on the other hand, wants her favourite characters to be happy and so cares less about fidelity. These reaction videos show people forming their fidelity judgments as viewers discover where they are willing for changes to happen and where they are not. There is another interesting desire that these videos reveal: the desire for fidelity desire. As helpful as I find these videos, they were not created solely for scholars to analyse but rather for a general public to watch and enjoy. Reaction videos posted to YouTube, like these, reach an ever-widening audience; even ‘In 2014, for the first time, YouTube reached more 18–34-year-olds than any cable network’ (Smith and Telang 112), and some of these reaction videos have over 14,000 views because of the popularity of both YouTube and reaction videos as a genre. It might seem odd that thousands of people purposefully watch others reacting to something instead of watching the text itself, but, according to Ars Technica writer Valentina Palladino, there may be a scientific explanation to this odd behaviour: mirror neurons. Palladino quotes University of Southern California neuroscientist Lisa Aziz-Zadeh explaining that ‘Mirror neurons are active both when you pick up a cup and when you see someone else pick up a cup’; mirror neurons react the same way when we do something and when someone else does the same thing, suggesting that when we see others experience emotion, those neurons experience that emotion as well. As Palladino summarizes, ‘React[ion] videos provide a two-fold experience: we feel satisfied because we know the emotions being conveyed in the video, and we bond with the reactor because we can share their emotions’. In other words, when people watch reaction videos to adaptations, they may do so in order to feel the same desire for fidelity that the reactors themselves feel. The comments section on the reaction videos corroborates this idea. Many of the substantive comments5 reveal the commenters’ relation to the source texts and their appreciation of the adaptation (e.g., comments like ‘I haven’t read the books at all’ from Pokemon & Moon or ‘Yess I loved the books in elementary school’ from UnicornKhan379). These video viewers give two general reasons for watching. First, many viewers love the adaptation as an adaptation and want to enjoy the fidelity (or commiserate in the infidelity) with others: QueenInTheNorth comments, ‘Oh gosh, I had the exact same reaction. I loved these books as a kid, and was just freaking out the whole time’; and banks comments, ‘I love hearing yall’s thoughts on the secret society, because it’s almost entirely not a part of the first four books, yet they understandably introduced it earlier here…so it’s been really fun watching as a huge fan of the books and seeing everyone’s reactions’. Second, viewers want to see if the Netflix series is true to the source text. amararanchan2 comments, ‘So I want to watch this show but I want to know if Lemony Snicket supported this version of [sic] before I do since he felt his work was ruined so badly from the movie version’, suggesting that (s)he knows the source texts and wants to make sure the series is faithful before watching.6 John Dowd, on the other hand, comments, ‘Not being of a generation that read the books I cannot say if what we’ve seen so far is faithful to the books’ and watches the videos in order to test the fidelity of the series. Both types of reasons exhibit the desire to experience and understand more fully the fidelity of the series. Viewers’ desire to experience others’ fidelity desire is especially evident when that desire is not met, specifically in the case of the Quagmires. Many of the video reactors take time to remember the Quagmire children, often not understanding who the children are until the final episode. Their commenters are not amused at their forgetfulness. A few of the many irate comments on FandomReactions’ and GeekHouse’s seventh video include: Puff and Fluff commenting, ‘Wait did you actually forget…THE VERY IMPORTANT QUAGMIRE CHILDREN IN THE BOOKS?? just reread the books, you might have forgotten over time’; PeeWee McQuestionable commenting, ‘they have all the books displayed on their table, but they don’t recognize the quagmire triplets?’; Jamie Rae commenting, ‘The Quagmire Tripelets how do you guys not remember them?!?! You read the books right?!?!’; and Emma commenting, ‘it’s too bad you didn’t read the books more often. I screamed when they said Quigley Isadora and Duncan. You didn’t seem to remember the Quagmires’. These comments are the only consistent reactions across the four sets of reaction videos, with people either raging at or explaining to the video reactors when the reactors seemingly fail in their purpose of exposing fidelity. These comments demonstrate how the viewers react negatively when their desire to experience fidelity through others is stifled, suggesting that this desire is a driving force for watching the reaction videos for many of these viewers. This desire suggests that, with the rise of the internet, audiences may be experiencing adaptations communally in new ways. As the dominant media experience has shifted from the cinema full of people to the family-oriented television to the seemingly lone computer viewer, it seems that viewing media has become an isolated activity. However, these reaction videos and their comments suggest that audiences have found new ways to experience adaptations together. As Hudson explains, ‘watching [adaptations] with others—not only in our living rooms, but again and again through reaction videos—offers a bit of the same thrill that comes from watching a slasher film in a crowded theater and screaming along with everyone else…: a way to see our own horror and sadness reflected in the faces of others, and thereby somewhat allayed’. These reaction videos exist because audiences still want to experience adaptations together. For some viewers, one reactor is not enough; they want an entire community rather than a single partner. For example, UnicornKhan379 comments on videos from FandomReactions, ParaDoxic, and TheTrophyMunchers, and serotoninshot comments on videos from FandomReactions and GeekHouse, suggesting that at least some viewers watched more than one set, creating a network rather than one point of contact. Book fans want to see others experience the same thrills and disappointments. These reaction videos may provide the same experience as a midnight release of Harry Potter or Twilight or any of the new comic book movies: the chance to experience a beloved text for the first time with others. When an adaptation is only available streaming, audiences turn to reaction videos to fulfil that communal desire. CONCLUSION Reaction videos can expand our knowledge of audience reception, especially of how audiences perceive adaptations. These videos show how audiences’ desires for fidelity compete with other desires as reactors struggle with them, allowing us to see how the desires interact differently throughout a single viewing. They also suggest that reaction videos may be the new way that audiences experience fidelity communally. Instead of having to rely on reviews, surveys, ethnographies, or autoethnographies that flatten responses to one given point in time (the time of writing which occurs after the viewer has completed the text) or that are influenced by the scholar, reaction videos show reactions as they happen, granting us a more detailed and dynamic depiction of how audiences interact with adaptations and ideas of fidelity. Reaction videos are a helpful tool in any form of reception studies, allowing scholars to research when/how people react to films and specifically to newer forms of online media. Since many viewers enjoy films and television not in a theatre but rather in their own home, often on a laptop, reaction videos attempt to recreate this environment and thus may allow us to study how people interact with newer forms of film and television outside the much-studied cinema. REFEERENCES amararanchan2 . 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NOTES 1 Because the book series, the film, and the episodes themselves all have the same name, ASOUE will only refer to the book series, while I will refer to the other two as the film and the Netflix series. 2 When analysing reactions of the groups, I will always give both the group name and the individual’s name for clarity. 3 Because the titles and names for each of the reaction videos are similar, I will cite them by giving the initials of the reactors (FandomReactions=FR, GeekHouse=GH, TheTrophyMunchers=TM, and ParaDoxic=PD) and the number of the episode they are reviewing in that reaction video. 4 While race is only mentioned once by any of the reactors, most of the reactors (and many of the commenters) disliked the new Poe and Josephine, two of the three characters who are played by people of colour. They never say that this dislike comes from the actors’ race, but there does seem to be some troubling correlation, especially since these two characters are played by the only prominent Black actors. 5 By substantive comments, I mean comments that refer to the content of the videos or Netflix series rather than comments unrelated to the content, such as the lengthy discussion about Brianna’s feet which happened throughout the comments of FandomReactions or the requests for the reactors to react to other series. 6 amararanchan2 uses Daniel Handler’s pseudonym (Lemony Snicket) rather than his real name, perhaps suggesting that this commenter has only surface knowledge of the author or that they prefer to represent the author in his fanciful characterization. Either way, this use is an odd juxtaposition with the concern of a real person’s feelings. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com

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AdaptationOxford University Press

Published: Jan 23, 2018

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