By: Chaveli Concepcion
The noun public when looked up on dictionary.com is defined as “the people constituting a community, state, or nation” or as “a particular group of people with a common interest, aim, etc.” However, Michael Warner writes within his essay, “Publics and Counterpublics,” that there is more than one kind of public that exists; there is the general public which is a sort of social totality made of people in general and there is a public which is described as a concrete audience or crowd in a given space for a certain time period and event. A third sense of what a public might be, one specifically emphasized by Warner, is “the kind of public that comes into being only in relation to texts and their circulation” (pg.413). Warner argues his position through a seven-point analysis of things that make up a public. The focus of this essay will be how you, the audience of the television show How I Met Your Mother, are a good example of how strangers can identify with each other over various commonalities. Such commonalities between that public being how each person watches and through what medium each person watches, how each individual discusses the show, and how everyone experiences and identifies with the show. There is also the option of publics disagreeing and breaking off, but I know you are all very loyal fans!
There exists certain camaraderie between people who can find special similarities between themselves, like two people who both watch HIMYM and understand the reference “suit up”, which is one of Barney’s famous lines from the very beginning in Season 1 Episode 1 of the show. The show HIMYM itself revolves around a group of friends that were once strangers and came to be very close—the episodes have real life themes of love, sex, work, and friendship which help the audience form a connection with the show and other viewers. If that goal of sharing something more real and meaningful occurs then the viewers can belong to a larger social entity.
Once individuals know that others watch the same shows, a communal watching event can be held to bring its public even closer together. This is not only a way to enjoy HIMYM well accompanied, but also a way to create further interaction with people whom used to be strangers. When cast interviews are held and “Meet the Cast” trips are available strangers come together to worship and greet their favorite characters and take pictures with the new famous friends of the show. This all calls on the public to get closer not only with the characters of the show and their work itself, but also with the public being shared.
In modern times the world has become highly technological and there are many things that circulate through internet data bases. Online communities are modern and interactive tools that are available for many different reasons—some are for advertisement, others for facts and questions, but overall many aim to be fun and immersive. Online discussion boards and forums like Wiki, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter and this blog are available for How I Met Your Mother and its followers from all over the world to interact with each other over the show.
People can ask questions, comment, vote, criticize, see visuals and more on these websites where everyone is on the same subject without feeling judged because it is the one place shared for those exact reasons. After a few conversations or maybe even comments with another internet user people can start to diverge into new topics of conversation and actually get to know and understand the person typing on the other end of the computer screen. Online communities give a wide range of people the chance to get together in a few common sites and meet others based on a commonality (HIMYM) and discussions that circulate HIMYM as the given medium.
However, there is always room for exceptions and disagreements; the case is such when strangers do not get to the point of forming a public. On a microscopic scale, it is rather clear to realize that all the approximately nine million strangers that watch HIMYM would have different opinions on the show and have preferences for certain characters. These things cause the main public to break down into smaller, more concentrated groups. On a larger scale of viewing things and analyzing how HIMYM defies Warner’s second point in his theory of a public are competing shows that have been broadcasted or are being broadcasted simultaneously. A good example of that is the show Friends, another sitcom that aired prior to HIMYM and was based off a group of adult friends in New York who hung out at a bar that then turned into a coffee shop. Instead of a public being drawn together, it was divided in half due to textual similarities and individual preferences, where they chose to only support one show. The disagreements and separation of HIMYM‘s public directly relates to Warner’s fourth point of analysis—“[a] public is constituted through mere attention” (pg.419)—and how “publics… cease to exist when attention is no longer predicated” (pg.419).
The idea Warner suggests of a sense of public coming into being only in relation to texts and their circulations is supported by his second point of a seven-point analysis, which represents a public as a relation between strangers. His argument is emphasized with the audience of How I Met Your Mother and how you all interact with the show itself and the rest of the public that revolves around this amazing show. This itself allows there to be more thought about how the general audience, people everywhere, interact with all sorts of strangers across the world that make up the audience of television as a medium of its own.
Warner, Michael. “Publics & Counterpublics.” Quarterly Journal of Speech. N/A. November 2002. 413-425. Print.