For the past year I’ve watched the Degrassi online community explode beyond the beautiful point it was back during the days of Seasons 3, 4 and 5. At one point last year there were literally only a handful of Degrassi-related blogs/websites out there; Degrassi-Fans and DegrassiBlog were the go-to sites because there were simply no other active sites around.
It started off with others forming their own blogs to chronicle the Degrassi universe from their perspective. Now most Degrassi fans have a twitter and tumblr of their own. Now every Degrassi fan has become a Degrassi news source.
It was a huge deal when Stephen Stohn joined twitter, after spending years posting updates in the legendary “Shooting Season 3” thread at the official Degrassi message board. Now Degrassi cast members having a twitter account is borderline mandatory.
This social media surge has allowed for not only more Degrassi information to be shared, but for said information to be spread quickly.
On April 16th, we watched the advantage of having 24-hour access to Degrassi information backfire. Badly.
Who’s at fault for that situation getting out of hand? Everyone. The person at MTV who decided to use that clip made a dumb decision. The fans who decided to directly quote the clip on twitter and post screencaps of it on tumblr also made dumb decisions that day. Despite traces of the spoiler disappearing by afternoon, it was too late.
Several days later, DegrassiBlog posted spoiler promo pics from the DTW Part 2. They were twice as spoilerish as the MTV clip, but because I urged fans to re-post the pics with discretion only the people who wanted to see the pics saw them (for the most part), avoiding an MTV-like disaster that would’ve happened had some random, overly-excited fan on tumblr found and posted them first.
There will always be three layers of responsibility: the responsibility of Epitome, the media and the fans. As fans it’s our job to not act like an extreme fangirl or fanboy over every single thing, to the point where we can’t rationally think when it comes to posting sensitive or spoiler information. Epitome and the media go hand in hand; Epitome has to do a better job of making sure the media doesn’t blow it by revealing too much information.
How do we go about creating a Degrassi online environment that’s exciting and suspenseful, without basically giving away everything?
1) USE *SPOILER TAGS* people.
It’s a really simple concept, but seldom used (and seldom needed until NOW). Degrassi fans are under the naive impression that if someone in a position of power decides to do something about it, spoilers will completely go away. Reality check: spoilers will NEVER go away, and they will ALWAYS be a mouse-click away. Saying “If you don’t wanna know, then don’t get online” is a stupid, unreasonable response to those who don’t want to view spoilers.
The solution is to always give people the OPTION to see the spoiler or not. Don’t just post it right in their face (it’s a far bigger problem on tumblr than twitter). Fans are now in a paranoid state of mind, initially assuming that every new piece of information is a leak or spoiler, even if they’re not. If you have something that could be deemed a spoiler, how about doing everyone a favor and letting them know it might contain spoilers? That way if they view it and get pissed because something’s been ruined for them, it’s their own fault.
2) Enough with the sneak peeks and exclusive clips.
“Sneak peek” is the most overused word in the Degrassi universe these days. This may work on the teenie bopper fans that browse the TeenNick forums, but the sneak peeks they release every week are overrated because of their predicatbility. It’s the opening scene of the upcoming episode…which is generally the most boring part of any given episode. For that reason alone I don’t see the point in them. I also find it ironic that many fans will complain about things being leaked because they’re afraid of things being spoiled for them, but will jump to see a sneak peek in a heartbeat.
In 2010 we saw Epitome starting to use social media to its advantage. They created fictional character twitters that tweet about their lives on the show. They reached out to Degrassi fansites to have them release information. Their biggest misstep in my opinion was releasing extended clips from episodes.
With Degrassi Take Manhattan, they had the people making cameos release clips of their appearances on twitter. This was a smart, ambitious idea, promoting the show organically. However, skip forward to last week, and we’ve got some random gossip magazine posting two different clips (totaling almost 2 minutes) from Drop The World Part 1 the morning before it aired. Why? Why is this random guy on a random celebrity gossip website giving away stuff about the most-anticipated episode of the season? Combine that with the TeenNick sneak peek and any other footage that might’ve been released (legitimately by the way), and we’re talking several MINUTES of the episode were out there, released with permission. At that point, why not just go ahead and let the few Degrassi fans with the ability to do so leak the full episode? To be honest, I’m just fine with seeing nothing more than a promo each week.
3) Produce better promos.
TeenNick’s promos are fast-paced and exciting, but normally give away too much. MuchMusic’s promos are less revealing, but it’s to the point where they’re boring. I wish someone could consistently come up with promos that combine the best attributes of both networks: make a promo that builds suspense without being overdramatic, or being overly obscure. It’s all about telling a story in 30 seconds. One of the best Degrassi episode promos ever:
4) Extra content.
Remember the days when after you watched an episode, you could go to TeenNick.com and watch Degrassi Minis, On-The-Sets and other behind-the-scenes videos? Those days are long gone, and are now replaced by an overload of cast interviews (interesting, but nowhere near as interesting as minis or on-the-sets).
Degrassi Minis, one of the best ideas ever come up with as far as extra content, have been dwindled down by the networks to virtually the length of a promo. Epitome has yet to fully unlock their full potential through social media. Last year Stefan brilliantly posted pics of him and cast hanging out on set while they filmed Season 10. It made us, the fans, feel like we were there, and the pics gave nothing away about the season. But after a while that stopped. And once the filming was done so was this interaction we were used to.
The Art Department creates so much work that’s used to make the Degrassi world so incredibly detailed, but it’s rarely acknowledged. Recently @RealEli (Degrassi’s Eli twitter account) posted a picture of the comic book that Stalker Angel is featured in. I loved that they finally posted it, but it would’ve been even more fantastic had “Eli” posted it on the day Dropped The World Part 1 aired as opposed to posting it several days later. I think back to the beginning of the season when Holly J and Sav were running against each other for class president. I think about how amazing it would’ve been if something like iron-ons were available (The-N had tons of them years ago) that fans could print out to create t-shirts for the person they’d want to vote for.
All of this might come off as nitpicking, but I’m convinced small details like that can have a huge impact on a fanbase as enthusiastic as Degrassi’s. I look for little enjoyable moments like that, when I look online one day and I see that I can download the Three Tenners’ song. It was fun watching people asking Stephen for months if Munro was ever going to sign up for twitter; then the day Munro finally joined the twitterverse it was so huge they made an event out of it. These are things that couldn’t happen when I first started watching the Degrassi; social media has blurred the line between us (the fans) and them (Degrassi’s cast and crew). But we all have to make sure that that line doesn’t become so ambiguous that it starts affecting our enjoyment of this show we love in the way it has recently.