Cultural Anthropologist Helps Hollywood Execs Understand Their Audience

By Ronald D. White
Los Angeles Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Fascinating look at how hollywood executives are turning to social science to help target and grow their audiences. In this article, we meet a woman who is using her graduate degree in cultural anthropology in a very unique an interesting way.


The gig: Media companies can be caught by surprise by the immense cultural appeal of their fiction. That’s where Susan Kresnicka enters. The 48-year-old cultural anthropologist, who works at Troika Design Group in Los Angeles, has brought social science in to figure out why something becomes popular and help Hollywood executives spot opportunities more quickly.

Cultural stewards: Kresnicka says that media companies aren’t necessarily trying to predict the next blockbuster show, but rather might be thinking of “what it meant to be stewards of culturally iconic shows.” During a recent keynote address at the Scripted Summit conference, Charlie Collier, president of both AMC and SundanceTV, talked about hiring Kresnicka’s team at Troika to “understand why TV has shifted from largely escapist fare toward more immersive content.”

Inner psychopath: Media companies are also watching a shift by audiences who root for career criminals, sociopaths and even serial murderers. “People were out building memorials to Walter White, a fictional character,” Kresnicka said, referring to the ever more heartless and violent lead in AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” “What did they tap into inside of us with that show? It really redefined what ‘good’ and ‘bad’ means. How could he be such a good dad and be so ruthless in this other part of his life?”

Beyond the water cooler: With group fan texting, in-episode tweets, Skype parties and other group media, “there is a lot of work that has to go on reconciling things that are so fundamentally inconsistent,” Kresnicka said. “That doesn’t stop when the show ends. It’s no longer done in isolation. We had a collective reconciliation of what it means to be a good guy and a bad guy when we met Walter White.” “Fandom” is a word that Kresnicka uses a lot to encompass the modern audience’s group examination of “highly immersive content.” “You are completely surrounded by the world of the show, mentally working, emotionally engaged. It leaves us processing very important questions.”

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