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Shared Content Worlds

The communities included in our study are actively involved with, or at times even center around, participatory culture entities and engagements. Whether rooted explicitly in fandom (in the case of the Harry Potter Alliance and Racebending ) or tending more towards a more loosely defined affinity based in shared practices and visual cultures (in the case of Invisible Children and Living Room Gods) all the communities included in our study emerge out of relationships, interactions and expressions  central to those entities.  Throughout our case studies, we struggled with how to define the aspects of the communities we studied that were not directly political. What is the relationship of Verb Noire to science fiction? Of the Harry Potter Alliance to the Harry Potter series? It was difficult to describe these foci using pre-existing language. Therefore, we coined the term "content world." A content world is a story-world shared by the members of a particular community. A content world can be as explicitly fantastical, as is Harry Potter, or it can be as subtle as any work of realist fiction. A content world can be designed and created by the community, or it can stem from a pre-existing story. A content world can be championed, critiqued, or treated both ways at different times. However, all content worlds are rooted in stories, and all content worlds serve as a touchstone for a community, bringing the members together and serving as a point of shared experience and understanding.


Duncombe calls for progressive political and activist groups to embrace the appeal of fantasy, outlining a theory of "dreampolitik." He argues that "instead of asking for sacrifice, we could try appealing to people's hopes and dreams, weaving them into a tale that ends with their lives being better than they are now."  Duncombe's vision of the way that fantasies and stories can motivate people for political and activist ends maps onto our case studies very well. However, Duncombe also cautions readers that "this entails looking deeper than the current vogue of celebrating commercial culture as a 'site of resistance' ... there is a big difference between rereading reality and acting to make it anew ... furthermore, this sort of 'resistance' is often cultivated by marketers who understand it – correctly – as another way to get consumers engaged with their product."


This challenge leads us to look at each of our case studies more deeply. How are these activist groups using their content worlds? When the content worlds are borrowed from commercial products, do they continue in service to those products, and do they actually lead to change? When they are not, do they become commercial products? Or are content worlds actually serving as a point of unity and inspiration for the activist groups we have studied? Certainly, they are serving as a model for civic action. The Indian movie Rang de Basanti, which emphasized nationalism and social change, featured a candlelight rally at India Gate. Another group which has a realist content world is Invisible Children. Their 2008 annual report and their website explicitly state that they are "a social, political and global movement that uses the transformative power of stories to change lives." They emphasize that they are not just storytellers, though: they describe how they began with a story (the documentary they were shooting) and have moved on into taking action within the community. In some respects, their content world - the documentary - is actually the real world, in that it deals in facts.  Verb Noire also emphasizes the power of stories to change people's behaviors, but rather than relying on a particular story to inspire its volunteers, it critiques the failures of our culture's common content worlds.

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