For my final project, I researched how the website for HBO’s “The Pacific” was used as a space for viewers to discuss their thoughts about the show. What drew me to this idea was my own interest in the show and how this non-traditional space for discussion was used. What I wanted to know was: what type of comments did people leave? What do they talk about? What is their background in history or the military? What parts of the show do they have issues with? How many posters are having a dialogue versus leaving a few posts?
In going through the site, I was both reassured and surprised at what types of comments were left and what prompted discussion. In my paper I argue that history presented on television is a one sided dialogue because viewers cannot ask producers what they were thinking when creating the show. Unlike museums where a visitor could ask a tour guide or staff member why decisions were made, a viewer can only hope to find answers online. The other issue with this is that unlike an exhibit, once the show is made there is no going back to make revisions for future viewing. With these restrictions in place, I was interested to see how people reacted to the particular stories and information the show covered.
For the threads I studied in the “Talk” section on the website, I entered the data into charts to see what the ratio of reactions were to any particular conversation thread. Using this data I was able to make general conclusions about how people felt about the show and its content. For the two pages outside of the “Talk” section that I studied, I found that viewers were very attached to parts of history that had personal meaning to them. One of the comments that had most consistent responses was a post that criticized HBO for inaccurately portraying who burned the Turkish city of Izmir. Personally, I could not recall this part of the series and since there was a much larger message the show was trying to convey, I did not hold on to that short scene. However, there were several viewers with Turkish backgrounds who took great offense at HBO’s portrayal of the event and they questioned the integrity of the historians doing the research. This is the best example of how memory is a powerful tool for influencing what people perceive is the right type of history.
Overall, I really enjoyed writing this paper and learning about how websites like “The Pacific” are used to prompt viewers to post their opinions. The site was not a traditional blog in that less than five of the 100+ comments I studied were past the year the show came out. Viewers also tended to leave one, maybe two, comments about the show. Unlike our class site where comments go back and forth, that was not the usual practice on this site. This project was useful for studying the role of public memory and the changing media used to teach history. It will be interesting to see if this will change at all in the future or if the nature of sites like this is such that they will only hold the attention of viewers as long as the series is on the air.